11 June 2009 04:17 PM

Preparing Your Child For Summer Camp

by Dr. Rick

Okay, you've made the plans for summer camp – they get earlier every year, don’t they? – and now it's almost time for the kids to leave for day- or sleep-away-camp.  For some kids, it's easy, especially the ones who've spent time at camp before.  They're looking forward to seeing old friends, practicing sports, arts and crafts, exploring interests they've put aside during the school year, and discovering new talents.


For other kids, especially the ones for whom this whole camp thing is new, the time can be nearly as stressful as it is promising.  What can they expect?  Will they make friends?  Will it be scary?  If it's sleep-away, will they be homesick?  What if they don't like it?


Now's the time, before camp begins, to address these potential issues and put them to rest as much as possible.  Here are some tips to consider.


  1. As much as possible, decide together what camp experience your child will have.  When the child has a say in the decision, she'll be more apt to be invested in the experience, more inclined to see that her desires and decisions are important to you.  This builds confidence.  So talk about what kind of camp your family is interested in.  One with an emphasis on sports?  Computer skills?  Arts?  A day camp or a sleep-over camp?  Church affiliated?

  2. Emphasize the positive.  Regular readers of my blog have heard me say this repeatedly.  Kids pick up on our moods, our worries, our pleasures, our prejudices.  Talk about the fun things that await them: doing new and different activities that the busy school year doesn't leave time for, spending loads of time on a favorite sport or activity (lacrosse camp, drama camp, computer camp, music camp, soccer camp), having some relaxation time.

  3. Be realistic.  Camp is like real life.  Some days are fantastic, filled with laughter and friendship.  Some days aren't.  The important thing to remember about time at camp – again, just like life – is that it is what we make it.  Teach your kid all year long to recognize and appreciate the good things, to build joyful memories about them (journals and photos help), and to move as quickly as possible beyond the setbacks.  Learn from the setbacks, don't dwell on them.  If you have your own happy memories of summer camp, stories of friends and adventures, tales of how you rose above small disasters, now's the time to share them with your child.  Kids want to be independent, but they need a little help.  Learning from your experiences can be helpful.

  4. Give your child plenty of opportunities to talk about his concerns.  This requires a special balance of listening empathetically and staying positive.  Listen, but don't indulge outlandish "what if" scenarios that kids are so good at visualizing.  (“What if a monster rises out of the lake?” or “What if every single one of the other kids hates me?”)  Bring the conversations eventually back to the promising "what ifs" of good times, friends, exploration, and discovery.  (“What if you make a great new friend!” or “What if you finally perfect that difficult soccer move?”)

  5. Visit ahead of time.  Just like when he's headed to a new school, it's always good to let your child have a sneak peek by visiting, to get the lay of the land.  Same with camp.  If it's practicable, visit ahead of time, with a friend co-camper if possible, to see what the place looks like, to become familiar with it, to make him feel less surprised on the first day.  If you can't visit, look at brochures and videos together or talk with other kids who’ve been to the camp.

  6. Get a camp buddy.  My regular blog readers know what a big proponent I am of "study buddies" during the school year, so they won't be surprised to hear me recommend "camp buddies," too.  If your kid can go to camp with a friend, that's great.  If not, encourage her to make new friends early.  Friendships (and socializing skills) are lifelong blessings.

  7. Keep in touch.  If it's a sleep-away camp, promise your child that you'll keep in touch often through email, text messaging, and letters, as often as the camp allows.  Keep the messages upbeat, supportive, and friendly.  Emphasize the positive.  Express interest in what he's learning, the experiences he's having, and the talents he's developing.

  8. Pack right.  Make sure your child has all the necessities -- extra clothes, underwear, socks, swimsuits, suntan lotion, etc. -- without overloading him like that hapless little brother in A Christmas Story, whose mother suited him up with so many winter clothes he couldn't walk or get up if he fell.

  9. Help the camp counselors.  Just like the teachers at school, the camp counselors want your child to succeed and have an enjoyable experience.  If your child has allergies or special medications, for example, make sure you've communicated that to the counselors.  They don't know what you don't tell them.

  10. Get yourself ready.  If this is the first time your child will be away from home, realize that you'll need some period of adjustment, too.  Plan some time for yourself to relax, enjoy the change in routine (it'll be back to its school-year intensity before you know it), and catch up on chores or reading or your own on-hold interests.

Summer camp, whether day- or sleep-away, can be times of fun, spontaneity, and opportunity to indulge in activities the school year can't fit in.  Regular readers will know how much stock I put in kids' routines.  Well, now take advantage of this break in those homework, study, mealtime, and bedtime routines.   Encourage your kids to have fun and learn new things – kids love to learn new things – which you will "ooh" and "aah" about  warmly and excessively when they come home.


Dr. Rick




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