Whether overnight or during the day, summer camp offers kids a chance to make friends, learn new skills, become more independent, enjoy the outdoors and have fun! But for some kids, spending time apart from family, or even having new experiences, can make them nervous.
Sumru Bilge-Johnson, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Akron Children’s Hospital and a mom herself, offers parents a few tips on how to help kids navigate their nerves before they hit the trail this summer.
1. Ask if your child has any worries about camp.
Whether it’s her first year or she’s gone before, leaving home can be scary. Try to “normalize” her anxiety by letting her know it’s OK to be nervous, but that it shouldn’t stop her from participating. Give ideas about how to solve problems like talking to a camp counselor and remind her that she may discover she enjoys something she didn’t expect like making new friends or new activities.
2. Get specific about camp activities.
Try selecting a camp that matches your child’s interests or characteristics. Whether he’s interested in archery, sailing or other activities, offer him encouragement about the new experiences at camp. You might even review the camp websites together for ideas. If you or your other children have positive camp stories, share them because it may help him look forward to those experiences.
3. Send a piece of home with them.
At some point during camp, your child is likely to get a little homesick. During those times it helps if she has a reminder of home. Have her pack a few mementos from home to take to camp like a family photo or a stuffed animal.
4. Let your child unplug.
Your child is going away to camp and that might even be scary for you. It may be tempting to let him call/text whenever he’s feeling homesick, but that can encourage, rather than discourage, his homesickness. Remind him that talking with a camp counselor or friend can help during these moments. Counselors often have helpful ideas on how to ease worries since they’ve likely worked with other homesick campers.
5. Practice makes perfect.
Think of ways you can help your child practice going away to camp before the big day. Consider having her spend the night at a friend or relative’s house for a weekend before the start of camp. Shorter trips will give her an idea of what to expect when she goes away to camp.