It’s normal for children to feel slightly apprehensive about going to camp — day or residential — for the first time. Give your child the opportunity to discuss some of his fears while remaining positive yourself, and make sure you communicate your confidence in his ability to successfully handle the experience.
Allowing your child to be involved in as much of the process as possible will help him feel a sense of ownership. This includes letting him be part of deciding what camp to attend to supply shopping and packing for the adventure.
Heading Off Homesickness
Kids get their first taste of independence at summer camp, and for some, it’s also their first encounter with homesickness. The ACA offers the following tips for parents to help their child deal with homesickness when they are away:
- Practicing separations, like sleepovers at a friend’s house, can simulate the camp environment.
- Involve your child in the selection process. The more your child owns the decision, the more comfortable he will feel being away.
- Discuss what it will be like before your child leaves. Try role-playing anticipated situations.
- Reach an agreement ahead of time on calling each other. If your child’s destination has a no-phone-calls policy, honor it.
- Send a note or care package ahead of time to arrive the first day.
- Pack a personal item from home, like a favorite stuffed animal.
- If a “rescue call” comes from your child, offer calm reassurance and put the time frame into perspective. Avoid the temptation to bring him home early.
- Talk candidly with the director about his perspective on your child’s adjustment.
- Trust your instincts. While most instances of homesickness pass in a day or two, there is a small percentage of cases that are severe. If your child is not eating or sleeping because of anxiety or depression, it’s time to go home. But don’t make your child feel like a failure if his stay is cut short. Focus on the positive and try again next year.
The Importance of Camp Friendships
Your kids will come home from their summer camp experience with loads of fun stories to share — activities they experienced, games they played and most importantly, the friendships they create.
More often than not, friendships formed at summer camp have a lifelong impact on children. According to the ACA, having special camp friends is not only fun and eye opening for campers, but it’s also critical to their well-being.
“A persona’s happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of their social connections — their ties to other people. Camp gives kids a wonderfully rich opportunity to extend both the breadth and depth of their relationships,” says Psychologist Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents (Ballatine Books, 2011).
ACA research supports the idea that campers extend their connections at camp. Ninety-six percent of campers say, “Camp helped me make new friends,” and 94 percent say, “Camp helped me get to know other campers who were different from me.” Quality camp providers create an arena for intentionally increasing friendship skills in their campers by ensuring staff manage group dynamics, form unique relationships with each camper and encourage a positive environment.
The camp experience enables kids to be who they truly are, contributing to the authenticity of their relationships. When campers share that experience with other kids in their community, it’s no wonder camp friendships often have such a lasting and meaningful place in campers’ hearts.