How to prepare first-time campers for a fun summer experience
OK, so you have made the excellent decision to give your child the gift of an overnight summer camp experience. Yikes, what now? No need to panic, everything is going to be fine. Sending your child to summer camp is one of the best things that you can do to help you raise an emotionally healthy and well-adjusted human. Just take a deep breath and try some of these helpful tips.
1. Try a sleepover
Some first-timers have never slept away from the safety and security of home. Send junior to stay with a relative for a night. It is good practice for getting used to the feeling of the unfamiliar.
2. Go shopping!
Yes, kids love spending your money, so go ahead and take them to the store to pick out a new tube of toothpaste for camp or a new hand-held water mister. You don’t need to spend a lot to enjoy the benefit of buying them tangible symbols of their adventures to come.
3. Make a checklist
Focus on the positive by brainstorming with your camper a list of four or five specific goals for the summer. For example, chipping away at their fear of heights by going down the zip line or making at least one friend from another country.
4. Manage expectations
Many parents respond to their children’s fear of camp by telling them that they are going to love it and that there is nothing to worry about. This likely is true, and it is great to remain positive. But you also need to let them know that the first few days might be a little tough until they get used to being at camp.
5. Go to Tahiti
Maybe a trip to the South Pacific isn’t in the cards, but use the time that your kids are at camp for some good self-care. You have spent years changing diapers, making grilled cheese sandwiches and helping with math homework. You deserve some time for yourself. Embrace the quiet. It will be over before you know it.
6. “All quiet on the homefront”
Campers love to get mail from home, so send some. However, make sure to avoid the following:
(1) Bad news (“so about your pet goldfish…”)
(2) Amazing news that makes home seem more awesome than camp (“We got a new puppy!”)
(3) Sentiments that make your child feel guilty for having fun at camp (“The house is so lonely and quiet without you”)
In your letters, make home seem neither terrible nor particularly interesting.
7. Come clean
Parents and camp directors are partners in the success of your child’s summer, so there needs to be an open and honest line of communication. If your child has a particular challenge that might impact his/her experience at camp, it is best if it is addressed before camp starts.
8. …And I’ll tell you no lies
This is a big one. Under absolutely no circumstances should you promise to pick up your child from camp early if they are having a “bad” time. Making this promise almost will ensure that a struggling camper will make no effort to turn things around and instead will be looking for the door. There are rare occassions when a child may have to leave camp, but don’t give them an easy out if they are simply feeling a bit homesick.
9. Avoid the long, tearful goodbye
Drop-off day might leave you feeling anxious and sad. These feelings are normal, and you should allow yourself to have them – in the car. The tearful goodbye might feel like love to you, but for your child, it could bring on feelings of sadness and guilt.
Summer camp is a tremendous growth opportunity. This does not mean that there won’t be occasional struggles along the way. But your children are stronger than they know, and with your support and partnership with the summer camp director, your child has the chance to grow in ways you haven’t even imagined.
Jake Labovitz is owner of Windsor Mountain Summer Camp in Windsor.