Summer is upon us, which means long days of fun in the sun — at least for our kids. While most of us parents are donning something other than a swimsuit and trekking to work for business as usual, many of our kids are doing the opposite: joyfully getting ready for summer camp (if camp isn't the opposite of work, I don't know what is). But what if it’s their first time away? What if the pre-camp jitters make the prospect of leaving home less-than-joyful? How do you help your kid prepare for sleep-away camp when you're both nervous about being away from one another?
Follow these seven tips to make summer camp prep a breeze.
1. Set expectations
If it’s the first time your kid is going to sleep-away camp, they may not know what to expect. Talk with them about their concerns and share your own experiences or those of others (there are some great books on just this topic). Knowing what to expect, as much as you’re able, will help ease fears and temper everyone’s attitude as the first day of camp approaches.
2. Make a list
Make a list of everything you’ll need to pack so you don’t forget a crucial item; keep in mind your kid's camp may be somewhere remote that doesn’t allow for last-minute drugstore runs. So be sure to pack essentials, like plenty of underwear and socks (all clothes should have your kid’s initials or name written on them), layers for cooler nights, rain gear, insect spray, sunblock and toiletries. And don’t forget to add some small reminders of home (do, though, steer clear of packing any valuables).
3. Do research together
When kids get afraid, it can have a lot to do with the misconception that if something is unknown it's therefore unsafe. But knowledge is power, so do research with your child — on the camp history, activities and the area where it's located. Reading up on it can be great bonding time and a fun way to transform anxieties about the unknown into excitement about what’s to come. You might even plan to spend a little bit of time doing something in the area of camp (a hike, a flea market) before you drop off your child and head home. That way, you'll create memories together that your child can lean on if they feel homesick.
4. Pursue advance socializing
Take advantage of any opportunities to connect with other families attending your child's camp — in advance of start day. Don’t blow off any orientation or social events planned, as attending those can help ease any concerns you or your kids might have about what to expect. Check out the camp's website and social media channels as well, as they can provide an opportunity to connect with people from other geographic regions who might be attending this summer. If your child is lucky, they might even make a camp friend before they get there.
5. Plan your communications
Before your child goes away, discuss plans for regular communication. Avoid pressures to equip them with a cell phone just to stay in touch (as tempting as that may seem); you don't want them to default to texting friends from home and scrolling Instagram instead of fully engaging with camp activities and their little-known, digitally disconnected soul. Instead, use camp as an opportunity to celebrate snail mail — why not let your kid pick out stationery and stamps they like? Pledge to write them a letter per week, and up the frequency if they are having a tough time.
6. Create an escape plan
You don’t want to talk too extensively about an escape strategy — or offer to pick your kid up as soon as they say they want to come home (veteran summer camp parents say this offer is more likely to result in kids giving up early). You can, however, create some set of criteria with your child to ensure they don’t feel stranded or alone.
Maybe offer to visit for the day, or take them out to lunch if they’re feeling really homesick or having trouble. Help them understand that they should connect with a counselor or set up phone time with a close friend and confidante so they can channel concerns or issues in a healthy way — without giving up that hefty sum you paid for them to attend camp, only to have them later regret leaving early. Of course, make it clear that if they no longer feel safe, you will rescue them and protect them always.
7. Set an example
Don’t walk around in the days leading up to drop-off time letting your kid know just how sad you are they are leaving and how much you’ll miss them. This will only serve to increase their anxiety about leaving. Instead, show your excitement about the opportunities they’ll have and get them pumped up about what they’re about to experience.
Sleep-away camp is a huge leap for kids, and it can be nerve-wracking leaving home for what might be the first time — and for what feels like a long time. Stick to these tips, and you'll help ease your child's worries as well as create positive energy around what may well be the best summer of their lives.