Summer and camp go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Summer Camp

Preparing Your Camper

Preparing Your Camper for Success at Camp . . .

is something that your have been engaged in since your child was born!  Why? Because preparing for success in a nurturing, supportive camp environment is the same as preparing your child for success in life itself.  As parents, we want our children to believe in themselves, to learn to develop and trust their own intuition, and to become their fullest and best selves.  Consequently, camp is a wonderful way to encourage children to grow in these ways.

Still, there are things that we can do to prepare children so that they can get the most out of their camp experience and so that you can feel more confident about letting your children test their wings.  Here are a few tips that I have gleaned from experts in the camping world and from personal experience as a parent, counselor, and camp director.

  • Convey confidence in your child’s ability to thrive at camp.  Some degree of “separation anxiety”—is perfectly normal, but so is growing up on the child’s part and letting go on our part.  Children can sense whether we believe they will be successful at going away.  Be proud of your child’s self-confidence.  Think positive.  It is contagious.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Let your child practice spending the night away with grandparents and friends.
  • Believe in the world of good that camp can do for your child. Make sure the camp is one you believe is committed to the safety and health of its campers and staff and whose general philosophy matches your own.  You will believe in the camp and so will your child. Note how the camp is accredited or whether it is accredited. An American Camp Association accredited camp bears a seal of approval by an outside board that observes all camp operations and holds the camp accountable to highest standard practiced in the camping industry.
  • Do not make rescue plans with your child to save him/her from camp.  Such behavior does not fall under the category of positive thinking.  Seriously, it is normal for all campers to become a little homesick or nostalgic at some point during camp.  We train our counselors to deal with this in a respectful and loving manner.  They have had such feelings themselves, as have we all.  Such feelings are the sign of one who loves well.  Of course, we will keep a careful eye on your child, and if we feel that we need to contact you, we will not hesitate to do so.
  • Build up camp.  Talk about the fun that your camper will have living with friends under the trees, led by young adults passionate about nurturing kids and teaching skills that will last your camper a lifetime.  Imagine with your camper the adventures that s/he will have.
  • Open the floor for your camper to talk about anything that might worry him or her about camp.  If homesickness comes up, talk about it.  Have you ever been homesick?  Did you survive?  Do you ever feel homesick today?  Let your camper know that s/he may be too busy to be homesick, and that is okay too, but should s/he feel homesick, it doesn’t last forever. 
  • Write positive letters, not letters filled with longing, setting up a homesick moment or making your child feel guilty for having a great time away from you.  Save news of illness or deaths, including pets’, for after camp when you can be with your child to grieve.  News of operations can also trigger an episode of homesickness, too.  Ask family members to save such news for when they can be with your child.
  • Go out and have an adventure of your own to tell your camper about upon his or her return.  Such a role model encourages children to understand that growing into our full potential is a lifetime process.  They have much to look forward to.

 

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First Time at Camp?  Talking with Your Child—by Bob Ditter, L.C.S.W

Originally printed in Camp Magazine for the American Camp Association.

Sending your child away to camp for the first time is a major milestone for most families.  One of the most important things you as a parent can do to help prepare your child for both these aspects of camp is to talk with your child about it before s/he goes.  In fact, it may be better to have several occasional, shorter talks rather than one long conversation as children often absorb more when there is less to think about at one time.  I also find that children do better with this sort of conversation if it is part a more general conversation and if it is part of a pattern of talking such as at the dinner table or while riding in the car doing errands.

The following are some sample topics for discussion that will help prepare your child emotionally for their big adventure.

Friends

Camp is not anything if it is not about making new friends. If you are shy about meeting new kids, then learn to get to know others by being a good listener.  Remember also that not everyone in your cabin, bunk, or group has to be your friend, and you don’t have to be everyone else’s friend.  As long as you treat others with respect and they do the same with you, then having one or two friends at camp is fine.  If you have more, then that is great!

Activities

There are many exciting things to do at camp, many of which you may never have tried before.  You may not like all the activities, or you may be better at some than others.  That’s normal.  I, however, hope you are willing to try.  The more you put into camp, the more you will get out of it!

Cooperating

You, like every other camper there, will be part of a cabin, bunk, or group.  As your parent, I hope that you will cooperate with others and help out.  That’s part of what makes camp so special—kids helping each other out.  Most kids will help you if you are friendly and help them.

Give yourself time.  One thing about camp is that almost everything is new—the kids, the activities, the routines, the bed you sleep in, the bathroom.  It takes a few days to get adjusted, so be patient with yourself.  Most of the time you will be having so much fun you won’t mind all the changes, but if you do, remember that you will get so used to these things that by the time you come home you will miss them!

Helping Out

Camp is about fun, but it also requires that you help out.  Clean-up is part of camp.  You do it everyday!  As a parent, I hope you will cooperate!

Getting Help

Everyone has good days and bad days.  If you are having a problem, your counselor is there to help you.  At home, you don’t have to wait to tell us if you are upset about something, but if your counselor doesn’t know what might be troubling you, s/he can’t help you. If your counselor doesn’t seem to be concerned or doesn’t help you, then you can go to the unit director, head counselor, etc.  Parents, be sure you know who these “back-up persons” are and how your child will recognize them if they need to.

Talking with your child about these kinds of issues is a great way to show support as your child gets ready to take this important step on the road to being more resilient and self-reliant.  For you as a parent, it can give you more peace of mind as you allow your child to participate safely in a broader world.

To learn more about camp and child development, please visit the American Camp Association’s family-dedicated Web site: www.CampParents.org, or call the toll-free number, 1-800-428-CAMP (2267).

Bob Ditter is a child and family therapist living in Boston who consults extensively with people who work with children.  He was special consultant to the Disney Channel for the series “Bug Juice.”  Ditter has visited over 500 children’s camps in the United States, and has been quoted in Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, Parent Magazine, and the Ladies Home Journal.  He has appeared on The Today Show and the Evening News with Peter Jennings, and is considered one of the nation’s leading experts on camp.