Going to sleepaway camp is a huge milestone for kids. It is a chance to get away, make new friends, try out new activities and figure out how to manage one their own. There are a variety of sleepaway camps that do a wonderful job of creating safe, comforting and fun environments but even so, many kids are terrified of going to sleepaway camp and will do nearly anything to get out of it.
I have found that boys are just as afraid, if not MORE afraid of going to sleepaway camp than are girls. There are different expectations for boys and being homesick is often a sign of weakness. Boys are aware of these expectations and often feel more pressure to be tough and NOT be homesick. Girls can have struggles as well and after parents have paid large deposits and have committed their children to a week or more of sleepaway camp, it is extremely disappointing to have their kids not want to go.
Therein lies the question: Do kids really need to go to sleepaway camp?
Does it really help kids learn how to survive away from home? Offer opportunities to meet new friends? Develop new parts of their personality? Help them become more well-rounded? Independent?
YES. Sleepaway camp does all of these things for kids if they are able and willing to let themselves fully experience it. If they cry every night, have a continual stomachache and say you ruined their lives by sending them, than the answer is NO. It didn’t do what it’s supposed to do which is give kids a chance to develop parts of themselves they wouldn’t otherwise develop in their normal environment.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS TO HELP CHILDREN BE PREPARED FOR SLEEPAWAY CAMP:
1. Have your child buy-in on the front end. Do not surprise your child with signing him up for something that was not agreed upon before. This will lead to resentment from your child.
2. If your child is signed up, stick with your decision. It is common for children to get cold feet before sleepaway camp. If you let your child out of going, you send the message that hard things can be avoided, which is not the message you want to send. Instead remind him of the earlier decision and help soothe him until time to go.
3. Prepare but do not over talk it. Go over packing lists, daily routines, camp layout, etc. but do not check-in with your child about it on a daily basis. This can promote anxiety. If your child is not thinking about sleepaway camp and you bring it up, you remind him of the anxiety and he may become afraid again. It’s sort of like picking a scab.
4. Manage your own anxiety. If you are worried about your child going away, he is likely to pick up on it. Often, parents have just as hard of a time being away from their kids as kids have being away from their parents. Make sure you are supportive and relaxed about your child going away, at least in front of your child.
5. Let your child know how you will communicate. Tell your child when you will be writing, show him what you will be sending (i.e. their favorite things, if allowed) and when you will be picking him up. Go over the procedures for telling a counselor if he needs anything and remind him that you will be available should a problem arise.
6. On the ride to sleepaway camp, be lighthearted and fun. Allow one last use of the iPad or a movie on the way to help ease anxiety.
Finally, remember that sleepaway camp can be an amazing experience for kids. Many kids attend the same sleepaway camp for years and develop friendships that last a lifetime. It is a place with fewer expectations and a freedom that many kids don’t get to experience without getting away. It can also be a great break for parents, too!