Unlike the past two years, more kids will be going to camp this summer. Children may go away and stay over for a few weeks or attend a daytime program. As a parent, you may be sending your kids away for the first time. Summer camps with extended stays may be the first time your child has been away for more than one night.
Kids may feel homesick or have separation anxiety while away from their families. Summer camps offer many opportunities for children to develop and grow. Your kids will stay active, have fun, and enjoy and appreciate nature. Social and emotional benefits include forming friendships, learning teamwork, and disconnecting from electronics. Children who attend summer camps also establish confidence, resilience, and independence. Kids will take away valuable lessons and memories that they’ll carry into adulthood.
If you’re worried about sending your children away, it’s a normal reaction. You may not know what to expect, but resources are available. You can vet summer programs and research them. Camp counselors need to meet specific requirements and undergo training. Many programs require a background check and documentation from the ACA. The American Camp Association provides resources for families and employees. With a little effort parents can find the perfect program for their kids that’s been accredited.
Your children also need to be prepared to go away to summer camp beyond packing their bags. Parents also need to have conversations about potential homesickness. Talking about the upcoming camping experience is an important part of the planning process.
One of Green Dragon’s authors, child psychologist Dr. Erin Leonard created a list of tips for parents.
She recommends these methods to prevent kids from feeling homesick at summer camp.
- Keep in Touch: Parents can connect with their children while they’re away from home. Most summer camps have phones, and families can speak, keeping an upbeat tone. When a child knows you’re there for them, they’ll feel less uneasy. Encourage your kids to have fun and ask about everything they’re doing at camp.
- Pack Two “Transitional Objects”: Let your children pick two “comfort items” to take with them. One may get lost during the busy activities at summer camp, so the second provides a backup. Make sure that it’s not sentimental jewelry or something that can get lost in the water.
- Encourage Friendships: Your children will likely make new friends at summer camp. The memories will last a lifetime, and so can some relationships. Have your kids talk with their close friends about going away to camp for the summer. Children can express their excitement or nervousness with their closest companions. Peer support helps ease children’s minds instead of talking to an adult. The summer camp may have a “friends and family day.” Everyone can visit and enjoy spending time together. You can also have your child’s friends help with pre-camp activities. Peers can help your family get ready by shopping for supplies or packing.
- Make a Playlist: Let your child make a playlist of five fun, upbeat, and empowering songs. When kids are away at summer camp, they can listen to music if they feel homesick. You can add more tunes, as long as they’re energetic and will send positive vibes.
- Bring a Book or Two: Pack a book for your child if they love to read so that they can “escape.” Their favorite titles will help keep their mind off of any homesickness they feel. You can also get a book with Mandala designs and give them assorted, vibrant colored pencils or pens. Your child can ask friends at summer camp to color with them. This activity provides an opportunity for creative collaboration. Remember, teamwork is one benefit of attending programs. Coloring with others helps build stronger social and emotional skills.
- Write to Your Kids: Write your children a letter and mail it to them at the summer camp. Opening and reading the note will help ease any homesickness they may be feeling. Find out if the program has stamps and sends out mail, and you can include a SASE for your kids. You could also prepare a series of cards or letters to be opened daily with words of encouragement and a family or personal message.
- Monitor Their Homesickness: If your child has trouble adapting and feels homesick, ask them about it. Have them wait a few hours to see if it passes, then follow up with them or the camp counselors. Most of the time, the homesickness will pass.
Some kids may not fare well attending an overnight summer camp. Being that social development is so important, other programs are available. Your local community may have a day camp or program where kids go a few hours a day. Some towns offer them at parks in the neighborhood and break groups down by age. You can find a camp ideal for your children and family on the ACA’s website.
Dr. Leonard, who compiled these tips, has written two books about relationships. Loving Well covers how to form and maintain positive connections in life. This title also covers relationships between parents and children. You can get a glimpse of “Inside the Book” with the feature on our website. Also, her other title Emotional Terrorism: Breaking the Chains of a Toxic Relationship, is available. This book also has the Look Inside feature, and the ebooks can be directly ordered from the publisher.