To prepare kids for overnight camp be supportive, but also be realistic
Overnight camp is a time-honored tradition.
Generations of children recall the experience as among the best of their childhoods. But it also can be anxiety-producing, especially for children who are going to camp for the first time -- and for their parents.
What can you do to ease the process?
In general, focus on the fun things that will happen at camp -- making new friends, having new experiences. But also talk to your child about any uncertainty he or she might be feeling.
"You can talk about when you did something new, and how you had some feelings of nervousness and how you coped," said Jacqueline A. Rhew, LCPC, clinical consultant and community liaison at Amita Health Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital Hoffman Estates. "Also talk about when your child tried something new, and remind the child of how it was a little uncomfortable at the start, but how the child ended up enjoying the experience."
Don't overthink things. "As is true with almost any new experience, the biggest mistake is when parents get nervous and feel they have to over-reassure and set unrealistic expectations," Rhew said. "Realistically, camp is an adjustment, and they might not be happy all the time. But that's part of the experience."
You can involve the child in the planning, shopping for clothes and other items for camp, putting the child's name on everything and packing. Depending on the length of time the child will be at camp, arrange to write letters, have (infrequent) calls, or visit on designated parent days. And remind the child that you can't wait to hear all about it when he or she gets home.
If a child has specific issues, try to address them before camp, Rhew said. For example, if your child has never slept away from home, arrange a couple of sleepovers with friends, grandparents, etc., before camp starts, so that the child has the experience of sleeping away from home and from you.
If your child has a problem like bed-wetting, talk with the child about what will happen if he or she wets the bed at camp. Assure the child that the camp is used to handling issues like this.
Similarly, if your child takes medication, discuss how the medication will be given at the camp. It might be helpful to contact the camp nurse so that the child understands exactly what the procedure will be.
"A lot of times kids are just anxious because they don't know what is going to happen," Rhew said. "You don't want to over-prepare, but preparing does help."
If you communicate with your child at camp, make your letters or calls cheerful and newsy. Don't talk about how much you miss the child or suggest that you can come get the child if he or she is unhappy. But also don't talk about how much fun you are having at home while the child is at camp.
And when you drop the child off at camp, make your goodbye brief. Project the idea that you believe the child is ready to handle this experience.
"Kids often take their cues from their parents," Rhew said. "Remember, if you fall apart, the chances are good that your child will too."
Children's Health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Amita Health, which is comprised of 19 hospitals and more than 230 sites of care, including Amita Health Alexian Brothers Women & Children's Hospital, Hoffman Estates. Amita Health has 900 providers in its medical groups, more than 26,000 associates and 7,000 physician partners and serves over six million residents in the greater Chicago area. For more information about Amita Health's programs, locations and services visit www.amitahealth.org.