There are so many variations of summer camps from sports camps, to science camps, to travel camps and day camps. Each offers their own opportunities for learning new skills, socializing with new and old friends, and developing independence away from home. Some kids adjust easily; others find it hard to feel a sense of belonging and get in step with the camp's routines. How can a parent help their child adjust?
Parenting Tips on Easing Anxiety
First time experiences away from home can trigger separation anxiety at all ages. It's typically expected from the youngest kids but tweens and teens trying out a new experience can feel it just the same.
Here are some suggestions for easing the transition:
• Both younger and older kids like to know the routines to expect. Discuss the daily activities that will be planned for them. Feeling prepared reduces anxiety.
• If your child wants to, go shopping together to get all the sports equipment needed for a sports camp or clothes and other items for a day or travel camp. Having everything that is needed ahead of time gives the child or teen the feeling that they will have a sense of belonging with other kids who will also have the same items needed.
• If it's available, watch a video of the camp that shows the setting and kids playing. This is very reassuring because it's like having a visit ahead of time.
Planning for Travel Camps
Travel camps offer extraordinary adventures for kids to broaden their knowledge of new places and cultures. If your teen is flying solo or going with a friend it still means getting to know new people away from home. Here are some suggestions to help them foresee what's ahead.
• Look at maps together online even using google earth to zero in on the places that will be visited. This gives the teen a chance to get acclimated before they ever step foot out of town.
• Discuss the kinds of contact with parents they might want. Reassure them that you're always glad to hear from them but also trust they'll be doing fine on their own. Make an initial plan for first contacts and then be flexible as the summer moves forward.
• Review their itinerary so they are clear on when and where they'll be going so they know what to expect.
• Learn about sleeping arrangements so they know if they will be camping, staying in hotels, or whatever the plan may be. Find out ahead who they will be sharing rooms with in hotels, for example, so they can correspond with that person ahead of time.
Preparing for Day Camps
The first time experience at a day camp raises high hopes of having a great time mixed with some trepidation about fitting in. Depending on how social your child is and how easy they make friends, preparations vary.
• For children who are on the introverted side and need to warm up to new situations, reassure them by telling them who their counselor will be. Give the camp director some tips on what may help your child get acclimated, such as the counselor meeting them at the bus with a warm greeting.
• If possible, visit the camp ahead of time just to give your child some familiarity with the layout. Maybe the director or a counselor could give a tour of the grounds, so the child realizes they won't get lost and will be in the company of an inviting adult.
• Find out the bus route ahead of time so you can tell your child how long the trip will be. Knowing what to expect is always comforting especially the first few days.
• Days at camp are often longer than a school day and being in the sunshine all day can be exhausting. Plan to greet them at the end of the day with some quiet time with you to hear about their day and recoup their energy with a late afternoon snack.
Getting Organized for Sports Camps
Kids who go to sports camps generally love the sport and want to be good at it. These camps can be very rigorous, demanding strenuous physical activity.
• Kids grow quickly. Make sure their equipment fits well and meets the camp's requirements.
• Although the camp may provide plenty of fluids, make sure your child knows how important it is to be hydrated and give him extra bottles of water to have on hand.
• Discuss your expectations are for having fun, not being the stellar player. This is reassuring and comforting to the kid who drives him or herself hard at being the best on the field.
• If the sports camp is away from home for an extended period of time, find out with whom your child will be rooming so they can make contact before opening day. This eases a sense of security for those who need it when it's their first time away from home.
Most important, regardless of the camp, is for the kids to have a good time. They will be wondering about your expectations for them, not only their own. Make sure to tell them you want them to enjoy themselves and will help them over any rough patches as the summer goes on. Share in their excitement that they are going to have a new experience and you're behind them 100%!
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius and wherever books are sold.