If this is your child’s first year to attend sleep-away camp, there are preparations that can be made to help your child acclimate to the experience.
By Judith E. Lipson, M.A., LPC
Building excitement about the trip is usually a benefit. Allow your child to help gather supplies: flash lights, mini-fans, swimsuit, sweatshirts, rain ponchos, flip-flops; the list goes on and on! Having your child help with selections increases excitement. Since it’s not uncommon for items to be muddied, torn, or lost, keep new purchases to a minimum.
For the child who has a tendency to become overly excited or has difficulty with transitions, you might want to delay selections, or keep it low-key by asking your child about types and styles, but not have them at the store for purchases.
It’s also helpful to create camp-type experiences for your child to encounter before the actual event. Have sleepovers at your house (and then friends’ houses) with one or more other children. Kids can sleep in sleeping bags on the floor of a non-bedroom, and walk through darkened hallways to the bathroom with the use of a flashlight. You can even tell silly stories to the children at bedtime.
If you think it’s important to add the scary, ghost story experience, then practice before hand – in the light of day. Talk to your child about this camp routine. Explain that the stories are fiction. Tell stories to your child and pause to ask how he or she is feeling. As needed, stop the story briefly to allow your child to calm; then make jokes about the story. Have your child add really absurd events. Explain that creating ridiculous parts makes the story. Remind your child that at camp the absurdities might not be as noticeable.
Encourage your child to eat the new foods that are served at camp. This is part of the camping experience.
Talk to your child about encountering difficult circumstances while at camp – he or she should talk to the counselor and not hesitate to let the other boys and girls know how she or he feels. This is a teaching opportunity to help your child improve his or her empowerment skills.
Some children don’t like being away from family members. Don’t talk about homesickness or tell your child that they can call home. If it comes up while at camp, the counselors are trained to deal with it. If you wish, provide a small stuffed item for sleeping, but think carefully about sending THE favorite sleep animal because sometimes things get misplaced or ruined at camp. Another possibility is to find an inexpensive item for your child to wear or carry, to represent the nearness of his or her special people.
Help your child realize that writing to you can be a way of connecting. Have your child select stationery or note cards. Then address and stamp the envelopes together.
If there is a camp store on site, discuss budgeting so that the money will last the whole time your child is at camp. You may wish to create a mini-store at home so your child can practice buying, while saving for future purchases. Also consider providing chores at home so your child can earn his or her own spending money.
When your child arrives at camp you will have an opportunity to meet the counselor. If there are any special concerns, DO share these with the counselor. You may wish to have one parent distract the child (go for a walk or begin setting up the bed) while the other talks privately to the counselor. Or you may know it’s most important that you share these concerns in the presence of your child for additional reassurance.
Remember to send mail to your child. Include special words or pictures as well as fun items for personal use and to share with new friends.
Your child will likely return from camp exhausted from the fresh air, physical activity and changed routines. He or she may seem needy, or push you away. Remember also that while in camp, there is a sensation of “freedom” that is not felt at home. The child also misses new friends and recent experiences. Be tolerant, supportive, and listen compassionately.
Summer camp is fun for your child and a great opportunity for siblings to have special time with parents. If you are lucky enough to have all your children in camp simultaneously, enjoy some quality adult-time!
Judy Lipson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and educational strategist in West Bloomfield. She helps clients of all ages who have learning difficulties; work or school related anxiety; ADHD; Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders; and those who wish to Remember and Become Who You Really Are. Contact Judy at 248.568.8665 and firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit www. SpiralWisdom.net for more information.
Published in Metro You Magazine, May 2012