So you've signed your child up for his or her first year at sleepaway camp. You've just been bombarded with all of the waivers, health forms & packing lists and now you're both faced with fear and anxiety. Don't Panic. We are all in this together and we can help you and your kids through it.
THE TOP SLEEPAWAY CAMP FEARS & HOW WE HELPED OUR KIDS:
“I’ve never slept without you!”
If your child has never been away from you overnight, perhaps a week at camp is not a good place to start. Try a sleepover at a friends house or with a relative. If you can convince a friend or relative, 2 nights away is a great prep for both of you. If your child need a middle of the night pick-up, don’t stress. Just celebrate that this was a good first try and set up another attempt.
"I want you there!"
Some kids are either too young for a sleepaway camp or are just not ready to go on their own. We were able to go to a Family Camp the year before sending our little darling off to camp by herself. This allowed our youngest to have a camp experience with her older sibling and also gave the eldest confidence that she was ready to go it alone. The camp was a fantastic experience for the whole family & as parents, we really enjoyed a stress free vacation! Click here to learn more about Family Camps near Metro Vancouver.
“What if everyone hates me?”
Overcoming the fear of fitting in socially was can be a big one. Our answer was to remind our kids of the things that they are good at socially. “You know from school that you make friends quickly & that you are great at communicating to solve problems”. Remind them of a time that they made a connection with a child they didn’t know.
“I’m going to be bad at everything”
Before heading off to camp, we sat with our kids and listed out all the things they are good at. We let them put anything on the list but we seeded it with skills that will help them make it through the week at camp - good at making friends, kind to others, fun to be with, eager to learn, contagious laughter, can laugh at myself, supportive of friends , etc. “I can’t rock climb” was then easily brought back to I am eager to learn, I try hard and I’m brave. We followed this list with all the things that they have never done before and could try at camp. Archery, canoeing, paddle boarding etc.
“I’m too scared!”
Perhaps you child is really not ready and that's okay. But remember that even the most experienced travellers can get the “pre-trip jitters”. We found that it was important to acknowledge these feelings and then move the conversation to the positive. We accept and move on... “I get that you are feeling a bit nervous, that’s totally normal. I did too before I went to camp (or insert other big event). Once I got there I loved canoeing (or other activity).” We also found that asking our kids "Are you excited for camp?" made them more nervous.
“I don’t know what it’s like!”
Visit the camp before drop-off day. Many camps offer an orientation day before the camp opens for the season. This is a great way for you & your child to see the set up and get a feel for the camp together. Mostly they want to know “Where will I sleep?”, “Where will I eat?” & “Where is the bathroom?”. The counsellors will be on hand that day as well and you can often find one that will be working during the week that your child will be there. This allows them to make a connection before camp. It’s really important to not hover or hold your child too tightly at this orientation. Let them explore at their own pace and know that you are there to support them. Be positive but don’t over do it.
“I don’t know what to do!”
If possible, review the daily schedule with someone at the camp. This could be over the phone or at the orientation day. Just knowing that the rhythm for the days is something like breakfast, small group activity, lunch, large group activity, can be a great help to new camper overcome the fear of the unknown. We also sent our child with a waterproof watch to wear so they can predict how their day was going.
“What if I miss you?”
What helped our kids (& us) a lot with nerves over the missing parents was to talk about missing someone as just being your heart reminding you that you love them. We found that building a plan to stay connected in our hearts really helped our kids with anxiety over not being able to handle missing each other.
Here is what we did:
- Packed a photo the family all together
- Set a plan to blow a kiss goodnight from our beds and to catch the other persons kiss. (even the 10 year old boy liked this although he said he would just send the kiss as a wish. I’m not going to actually blow you a kiss Mom! )
- Pack a camera (single use or cheap) so our kiddo could collect memories to share with us after.
Your hearts are connected by an unbreakable string, so you can both have fun and then tell each other about it afterwards.
“What if I don’t make friends right away”
Heading into camp if you don’t know anyone is very hard. Even as adults we would have a hard time. We took some great advice on packing an icebreaker item. We sent stickers for our son to share and the whole cabin ended up wearing them on their faces. Other ideas for goodies to share with cabin-mates would be extra sunglasses, friendship bracelets, or a game. For children who may be a bit slow to connect to a group, this could be a big help. Be sure not to pack food or treats to share as most camps do not allow food in the cabins.
Parents: Focus on Fun & Never let them see you sweat!
Kids want to know that you have heard their concerns, but they are looking to you for cues as to how to handle their fears. Focus on the positive aspects of camp, redirect fears back to the skills they have to deal with the situations and above all make sure that you are easy-breezy about them being away… right up until the bus has pulled away. Then grab the Kleenex and remind yourself of all the things you just told them. It goes for you too
Born & raised in Vancouver, and co-founder of Healthy Family Media and the Healthy Family Expo, Angela is a reformed divorce lawyer turned healthy family champion! By day, she thrives on connecting conscious brands with busy Vancouver families. By night, you’ll find her wrangling two feisty daughters, choosing between instant pot or healthy freezer meals for dinner, and singing with MomChoir. She especially loves sharing her favourite family-friendly finds with other Lower Mainland parents!