Summer Camp can be a scary place for kids. It’s no wonder why the setting of summer camp has been used in various horror movies. There is something about the unknown of camp that creates fear. But there is something you, as parents, can do to enable your child’s experience at camp to be great.
In a few weeks we’ll be sending our son to summer camp for the first time. For 15 years now, I’ve been on the other side of “Opening Day,” as the Executive Director of Ministries for Pine Cove. I’ve dealt with mad parents, scared campers, and nervous counselors. This summer, I’ll play my new role as father of a first-time camper.
In all those years welcoming thousands and thousands of campers, I’ve seen some parents set their kids up for success at camp, while others make it extremely difficult for them.
So you’ll know, parents of young campers are nervous over roughly the same two questions:
What if my child gets homesick?
What if my child doesn’t know anyone? (Read this post for more on this)
Here are a few tips to help your child’s week of camp to be the best week of their entire year.
1. Have them spend the night away from home a few times before camp. Some kids are just naturally adventurous. My oldest is not. He is very calculated and reserved until he is comfortable. For those kids, help prepare them for camp by allowing them experience the nervousness of not being at home for just a night or two. This could be at grandparents house, or simply with a friend.
You don’t want their first experience away from home to be for 6 nights in some random cabin with 8 boys they’ve never met. Get them ready for summer camp.
2. Watch online videos. If the camp has videos online, watch them with your child. Talk about how fun certain activities will be, and ask situational questions of what they do in a certain scenario. For example:
- What “theme night” clothes would you wear for this party?
- What do you do if someone is picking on you?
- What is the one thing you want to make sure you do while you’re at camp?
3. Practice for an activity they might do while at camp. A friend of mine was sending his son to summer camp a few years ago for the first time. The boy knew they would be shooting BB guns at camp, but wasn’t all that confident about his ability. My friend ended up practicing shooting with his son a few different times just to help him build his confidence before he left.
4. Give the counselor “inside scoop”. If your child wets his bed, make sure his counselor knows. Years ago I knew of a boy camper who was sent to camp with an arctic sleeping bag, yet he was a bedwetter. The bag was too big for normal washers at the time, which made it very difficult to take care of him while he was at camp. If your child occasionally wets the bed, chances are he will do it at camp. Send an extra set of sheets and let the counselor know. Without that knowledge, summer staff are left to “follow their noses” in the cabin to solve the problem. This is not best for the camper.
5. Speak positively and powerfully about them being at camp. Let’s admit it; you are nervous on “Opening Day” of camp as well. However, you need to show your child confidence, not fear. They will pick up on it quickly. At drop-off, say things like, “That looks so fun,” or “You will totally love that part of camp.” Any type of negative comments will be internalized into the heart of your child. This causes fear and insecurity. Don’t do that.
6. Say goodbye and then leave – promptly. I’ve often wondered who has the more difficult experience on opening day – the parents or the camper? After making their child’s bed, and meeting the counselor, and walking around camp, and watching the “swim checks,” and dropping off the mail, and giving the nurse the meds, and talking to other parents, and buying a slush puppie at the camp store, and then walking around some more….. you get the picture. Set a point of when you will actually LEAVE. Then stick to it. Lingering is not good for the campers. It is like tearing their heart out – slowly.
7. Be careful of what you write. You will miss your kids when they are gone. However, you don’t need to drag on about that in every letter you send them. You don’t need to write about how their favorite pet is in mourning since they are gone, or how their brother or sister is depressed in their absence. In the letters you send them, again, speak positively and powerfully about their experience. Remind them of how much you love them and how proud of them you are.
Note: Parents, remember that when campers stop long enough to write a letter home, it is generally during a nap time. This time is when they have to sit still, which lets their mind run wild about back home. If they write about how homesick they are, that is normal. Make sure you keep it in context.
8. Pray for your child and their counselor. I will be asking my son’s counselor about how I can pray for him while my son is in his care. Remember, these counselors are real people as well. They might be missing home, or just experienced a death in the family as well. Covering your child’s counselor in prayer during your child’s time at camp is probably one of the best things you can do.
As part of this post, I gave away a free week of camp to Pine Cove to a couple of people who commented below. Congratulations to “Sback” and “Carol” who were randomly chosen and won a free week of camp for their child!