It took weeks to find a summer camp and now that school’s out, it’s nearing the time to send your child. Then you discover that your child doesn’t want to go after all. There are many reasons a child will not be excited to go to camp. From nervousness, to being worried about making friends, to sleeping in a strange place, these are all normal feelings to new situations.
Rather than get frustrated and cancel camp, here are some tips on encouraging children to enjoy camp:
1. Some children can verbalize what it is they are anxious about. Give your child an opportunity to tell you what things they are excited about and what things they are not so excited about and listen.
2.Validate your child’s fears. Share your own similar experiences and how you coped. Avoid telling your child that they are now old enough to handle certain situations as this may invalidate their fears.
3. One of the best ways to cope with camp anxiety is to role-play. If your child is worried about making friends or how to handle rude children, then have the family participate in role-playing different situations. Role-playing will stick in a child’s brain because it’s very much like the real situation. Make sure to include role-playing how to introduce yourself, how to handle bullies, how and when to ask for help, how to ignore rude remarks, etc.
4. If your child is anxious about a strange place with new people, try to arrange a visit to the camp. Meet with camp counselors and find bathrooms, look at the sleeping arrangements ahead of time. If visiting is inconvenient, then make room in your schedule to arrive ahead of schedule so that a walk through the camp with your child can be arranged.
5. Give your child something to look forward to by sending them off with sealed letters; one letter for each day of camp. The letter can include a family photo, a warm wish, a candy, stickers, etc. Having a bit of home and family can reassure children away from home.
6. Be sure to focus on talking to your child about the benefits of camp. Help your child list the things that they will do at camp that they can’t at home.
7. Prior to sleep away camp, consider your child’s experiences away from you. Arrange for sleepovers with friends or even with family members to give the child a boost in confidence of being away from home base.
8. If possible, talk to your child’s camp counselor especially if it’s your child’s first experience with sleep away camp. Ask them to give your child some extra encouragement through the first couple of days.
9. Be strong and confident and don’t make pick-deals with your child. When your child has stressful moments, he needs to learn to lean on the camp staff and his coping skills rather than dwelling on a pick-up crutch. If your son asks if you’ll pick him up if he’s experiencing a bad time, then acknowledge his feelings by saying, “You sound a little nervous about going to Camp. But I think you’re really going to love it. It’s normal to feel nervous before you go. If you do have some homesick feelings at Camp, there will be many people who can help you through those feelings. Even though you might have some homesick feelings, I think you’re going to have a great time at Camp.”
10. Print out a calendar showing the week of camp and have your child mark off the days until coming home. This visual will help him to understand that camp is not really a long time.
Keep in mind that most children will experience homesickness and stress while at camp, but be reassured that coaching your child through these experiences will increase a child’s confidence, social skills and leadership.