7 Ways to Prevent Homesickness at Sleepaway Camp
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Whether your child has been begging you to send her to sleepover camp, or you've been trying to convince her to go, you may be unsure about what signs of readiness you should be looking for. A kid who can easily handle a sleepover party and seems independent and enthusiastic about camp will probably be ready for the camp experience. Some children, however, can't easily communicate what they need, and they may not even realize that sleepover camp would be helpful to them.
“Some kids need camp for the very reasons which would make it hard for them to explain if they are ready: like being shy, nervous or needing help with their social skills,” explains Gregg Parker, Owner/Director of Camp Waziyatah in Waterford, Maine. “The parent’s job here is to know what’s best for their kids.”
Research by the ACA (American Camp Association) has shown that campers can receive lasting benefits from attending sleepover camp, such as increased self-confidence, adventurousness, and the ability to stand up for themselves. “Be the parent,” says Parker. “Don’t let fear rule the day. You shouldn’t force your child into camp, but encourage them strongly so they don’t back out of something that will be wonderful and a great experience for them.”
Prepping Your Child
So you think that your child is ready for sleepover camp, but you’d like to do your best to make sure that this first year will be a good one. Here are some tips you can use to make sure that your child will be ready for the independence that sleepover camps provide:
- Encourage your budding camper to attend sleepovers at friends’ houses to get used to the idea of being away from you.
- Look at the camp website and any brochures or other materials that the camp may have sent. Get excited! Talk up all of the fun activities that are available at camp, including sports, social events and camp-wide get-togethers. Any available videos, slideshows, or pictures from previous summers can get your child pumped up for the camp experience.
- Start packing for camp early, and don’t hesitate to have fun with shopping for camp gear. (Just remember: Whatever you pack is likely to get ruined, so don’t send anything you really want to make it back home!)
- Encourage your child to read books about sleepover camp, preferably those that paint camp in a positive light. If your child enjoys mysteries, try The Summer Camp Mystery (about the Boxcar Children) or Cam Jansen: The Summer Camp Mysteries. Non-fiction options include Lights Out!: Kids Talk About Summer Camp and Sleepaway: The Girls of Summer and the Camps They Love.
Even once children have decided that they’re ready to go to camp, they may still get nervous once the summer approaches. “Most kids are excited about going to camp and have no worries at all, but some are a bit nervous, which is understandable,” says Parker. "It is our opinion that if kids have agreed to go, it would be a bad choice to allow them to back out. We don’t believe that it teaches them the right values to quit on something simply based on normal nervousness. However, if you've made your efforts to prepare your kids and you still feel they're absolutely unable to handle camp, then this may not be your year. Consider a camp visit in preparation for attending the following year.”
But how can you minimize the chance pre-camp fears cascading into full-scale homesickness?
- Recruit a friend. Talk to the parents of your kid's friends to see if you can recruit a camping buddy for your child to go with. A familiar face can help to smooth over the transition.
- Get the scoop. Talk to the camp director about your child’s concerns before camp. If he's afraid of horses or allergic to peanuts, it's your job to ensure that your little one’s needs will be taken into account.
- Comfort, delivered. Consider sending a care package with an encouraging note before camp begins that'll be waiting when your child arrives on the first day of camp. That way, you'll help ease his anxiety and get his experience off on the right foot.
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