24 May Sleepaway Camp Success
The countdown is on…less than a month until buses descend upon many cities and towns scooping up hundreds of children, ready to take them off to their summer home–sleepaway camp. For up to 7 weeks, kids ages 6-15 are whisked away to a cell-phone free, parentless fantasy land full of sports, arts, the outdoors, color war and many other activities they otherwise would not partake in.
As I see it, the very nature of camp is to push children outside of their comfort zones, introduce them to new people, new activities and new ways of living (i.e., sharing a room with 10 other kids).
If you think this all sounds too good to be true, you wouldn’t be wrong; sleepaway camp helps foster independence from a young age, preparing young people for future endeavors.
So, while you know sending your kid to camp is the right decision for you and your child, it can sometimes be easier said than done. Kids can sometimes get ‘cold feet’ once the reality of going to camp sets in. Fearing the unknown, parting with parents for the first time, venturing into an entirely new situation with new people are all completely valid and understandable worries.
Below are some tips on how to set your child up for success:
1. Validate their feelings.
Make sure your child knows it’s completely normal to be scared or anxious in new situations. Give an example of a time when you were trying something new and were apprehensive. It’s always nice to know that our feelings are valid and that we’re not the only ones who are feeling that way; kids are no different.
2. Be a cheerleader! (pompoms not necessary)
After you validate how your child is feeling, build them up and psych them up. Using phrases like “I know you can do this!” and “You’re going to be great!” can help instill positivity and confidence in your child. It might not happen right away and the more you show them you know they can do it, the more they will start believing it themselves.
3. Do not make Deals or Promises (I repeat, “DO NOT!”)
I cannot stress this enough. Kids will hold onto every word you say. If you tell your child that you will pick them up at camp if they don’t like it after a week, you WILL be getting that phone call 7 days in. If/when your child asks you to make such a deal, instead refer back to validating and cheerleading. If your child persists, you can be honest and tell them you won’t pick them up.
4. Allow for transition time.
Do not be surprised if you get a couple of letters the first week begging you to come get them. Like any life transition, things at camp can sometimes take time to fall into place. Write back with positivity and words of encouragement. Nine times out of ten, by the time they receive your response last week’s issues will be null and void.
5. Do not be a hovercraft parent
…by checking the camp’s photo page all day, refreshing every 10 minutes. If you see one picture of your kid in the background sitting alone and not smiling, don’t assume this means he/she is unhappy and has no friends. A picture is literally the snapshot of one second in time; you have no way of knowing if your child was smiling with friends the minute before or after the picture was taken. Which leads me to number 6…
6. Check the facts!
Are you getting positive letters? Is every other picture on the website of a happy and social child? Was your first phone call filled with nonstop chatter telling you all about his/her new friends and new activities they tried? If all (or most of these) are a yes, then sit back, relax and wait to hear all the amazing stories on visiting day and when they return home at the end of the summer.
Putting your child in the care of someone else is scary (very scary)–I get it. And when you made the decision to send your child to camp, you did so with the intent of putting trust in the camp directors and leadership team that they would do their best to provide a safe, fun and memorable summer for each and every child. So, let go! Trust in the people who are seeing your kid daily. Trust that if your child is struggling, they will let you know. Trust that they, probably just as much as you, want your child to flourish and have successes throughout the summer. Trust that they will do everything in their power to keep your camper safe.
While each child is unique and will have different feelings about camp (excitement, fear, anxiety, happiness, sadness, or a mix of these), it is important to make sure that however your child is feeling, you give them space to openly discuss their feelings and help support them in (what often proves to be) an amazing summer and life experience.
Authored by: Tracey Weiss