Q&A Thursday: How Can I Help My Child Prepare for Summer Camp?

As a Director of a summer camp, I have a lot of conversations with parents about their children going away for the first time.  I also see more than a few homesick tears come June and July.  We wanted to give you a few tips to help prevent—or at least provide comfort in the midst of them.

Many children who struggle with homesickness have never spent the night out.  As simple as it sounds, they need practice.  You will do your child and the camp a tremendous favor if your child has a gradual experience of staying away from home before they’re thrust into a high-energy/highly stimulating environment with dozens or even hundreds of other children.

  1. Start with a family member.  Have your child pick a grandparent or an aunt or uncle to stay with for the first time.  Have dinner with them in their home and then leave early enough before bedtime that they have another enjoyable activity to look forward to.  If you leave at bedtime, their tears may be more from tiredness than true homesickness.
  2. For the next sleepover, drop them off.  Let them spend the entire time away from you.  They can still call and be in touch, but they will be proud of themselves for the next step toward independence.
  3. Have them spend the night at a trusted friend’s house.  Make sure you know the parents and the child well.  Let both kids plan and even anticipate the fun activities they’ll do together…that night AND the next morning.
  4. If camp is more than one overnight, have them practice multiple nights with a family member, too.

To Make the Camp Transition Easier:

  1. Send letters as often as you can.  If camp is short, send them every day.  Mail time is often the hardest for kids and to watch other campers open their mail when you don’t have any can make a child have all sorts of imaginative, lonely thoughts such as “My family doesn’t miss me like theirs does.”
  2. Buy them some type of card or even a photo frame where you can record your voice.  Say the prayers you would at night time or whatever you say each night before bed so that they can listen.
  3. Send family photos with them so they can see your face.
  4. Send letters from the dog or cat.  Be playful in how you keep in touch.  Keep your thoughts upbeat and positive about camp AND home.  Too much “I miss you and it’s lonely here without you” can make them feel sad rather than just loved.  The focus is to help them know that you love them and miss them and want them to be free to enjoy themselves away from home.  Too much emotion can cloud that and make them worried that maybe you’re not okay when they’re away.  If you’re not, they won’t be, either.