Tips For Your Child's First Summer Sleep-Away Camp

05/30/2017 04:49 pm ET Updated May 30, 2017

Is your child signed up for sleep-away summer camp this year?

Each year, millions of children attend one of the more than 12,000 summer camps in the United States. Nearly 60 percent of these programs are sleep-away camps for kids. While some children look forward to this time away from home, others may find it to be an emotional experience.

If your child is attending sleep-away camp for the first time, here are some things you can do ahead of time to ensure she has a fun, enjoyable experience.

Tips to prepare your child for summer sleep-away camp:

• Begin with practice sleepovers. Choose a relative, family friend, or your child’s best friend’s house to adapt your child to being away from home for the night.

• Visit summer camps. Fear of the unknown is terrifying for many first-time campers. Familiarizing your child with a summer camp setting will help put her mind at ease. Let her see what a camp looks like and where the important things (dining hall, bathrooms, bunks) are located. Then you select the top three camps you feel comfortable sending your child to, and help your child choose a camp from your top options. This helps her feel invested in the choice, which helps create a positive start to her camp experience.

• Meet the camp director. The camp director often can make or break a child’s first summer camp experience. Introduce your child to the director, and allow the two to interact before camp begins.

• Offer reassurance. Long before the bags have been packed, offer upbeat words of encouragement. Don’t focus discussion on how much your child will be missed back home. Instead, keep the focus on her and the positive camp experience that awaits. Resist calling her at camp too often. This contact can sabotage your child’s efforts to separate and succeed on her own.

• Connect through letters and care packages. Write a letter ahead of time so there is a letter waiting for her when she arrives at camp. Always respond to her letters and send care packages in a timely manner, so that your child is never left waiting while children around her receive letters and packages.

• Remember: this is to be a fun experience. You want your child to have a pleasant experience full of fond memories, and she needs to know that you will be there for her to listen openly to her experience. If a camp is not a good fit, let your child try again next year if she wants, but don’t push it.

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