6 Tips to Prepare Your Child for Sleep Away Camp

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Just months ago, your child was full of enthusiasm and ready to conquer the great outdoors…away from home.  But now that the weather is getting just a little bit warmer and the drop off date is looming, suddenly your child is a little less enthusiastic.

Before you make the decision to forfeit that nonrefundable sleep away camp deposit, consider that many children experience cold feet as the school year winds down and camp approaches.  It makes sense.  Leaving the comfort of home and familiar friends for weeks at a time can be anxiety producing.  But it can also result in lifelong memories and increased independence.  Some kids just need a little help preparing for camp.

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6 Tips for preparing your child for sleep away camp:

Tip #1:  Discuss feelings

While it’s always important to remain calm and neutral in the face of your child’s worries about a big transition, be careful not to dismiss their feelings.  Talk about what it feels like to experience homesickness.  Ask your child what she’s looking forward to and what might have her a bit worried.

It’s important to normalize these feelings for kids.  The fact is that being away from home with little communication can feel lonely.  When you are open and honest and listen to your child’s concerns, your child learns that she can rely on you to help her through her worries. 

Tip #2:  Problem solve together

While potential homesickness often tops the list of pre-camp worries, kids also tend to worry about the little things.  When your whole routine is shaken up, it’s only natural to think about the logistics.  While some kids might worry about liking the food, others might be concerned about sharing a bathroom with so many other kids.

Draw up a list of specific concerns, then work together to come up with 1-2 concrete solutions for each child.  For instance, if the meal isn’t tasty your child can eat peanut butter and jelly or cereal instead.

Tip #3:  Practice weekends away

While most campers have experienced a few sleepovers before heading out into the wilderness, many have not experienced extended time away from family.  There is a big difference between one night down the street and four weeks of camp.

Schedule a long weekend away at the house of a close friend or relative.  Prohibit phone calls and texting to mimic the lack of communication at camp.  Help your child pack her bag and talk about following the rules of the other house.  Getting used to a few nights away is a great step toward camp readiness.

Tip #4:  Pack pieces of home

By then end of the camp experience, many kids begin to long for the comfort of home.  Pack a few pieces of home to send with your child.  Pictures, a favorite throw blanket, and something that reminds your child of mom and dad can all help ease the moments of homesickness.

Tip #5:  Remain positive

As much as your child might be dragging her feet, chances are that you are also experiencing some anticipatory anxiety. 

Watch your tone and emotions when you discuss camp.  If your child senses dread on your end, she is more likely to experience increased anxiety.  When you remain upbeat and positive about the amazing experiences she will have, she will be able to focus on the positive.

Tip #6:  Visit

Fear of the unknown is a very powerful source of anxiety.  Would you want to be left in the middle of nowhere with little information?  Probably not.

If possible, schedule a visit prior to enrolling in the camp.  Meet with the director and check out the sleeping arrangements.  If the camp doesn’t allow visits, get online and pore over pictures and information.  Familiarize your child with the available activities.  Knowledge can help decrease that dreaded anticipatory anxiety.

How do you prepare your kids for sleep away camp?

Images via Flickr/Gabofr/vastateparksstaff/2

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6 Tips to Prepare Your Child for Sleep Away Camp

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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1 comment

  1. KaelinRae says:

    Great advice 🙂

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