5 Tips for helping anxious kids (and parents) enjoy Summer Camp!

The end of the school shift to camp can be challenging for both parents and children. Transitioning from the built-in structure of school to the independence and opportunity that summer camp provides can be anxiety producing.  Preparing for change improves the likelihood of a positive camp experience.  

Here are 5 tips to help your family enjoy camp and a summer free of worry!

1) Empower your child through participation and preparation. 
Give your child a role in the camp selection process.  Collaborate with them on reviewing summer camp websites together to become familiar with different camp cultures and offerings  Take the time to talk about the similarities and differences between camp life and school life in order to be emotionally prepared.  Develop strategies for managing difficult moments.  When possible, meet staff members and camp counselors so when your child arrives on the first day, there are familiar faces.  Review the daily camp schedule and elective options in advance so that your child is  prepared for the choices ahead of them.

2) Communicate honestly with camp staff.  
Make sure camp administrators and counselors know, in advance, important information regarding your child, like what medications they take and the things that trigger anxiety.  Give them information on other issues that may be relevant like attention, sensory processing difficulty or learning style issues.  In addition to completing the standard camp form, make an extra call to the head of camp to discuss these concerns further.  Appropriate topics could include anxiety around water sports, difficulty with competition (winning and losing) during group sports, sensitivity to loud noises, difficulty in find their voice within a group etc. Reassure your child so that they understand that counselors are there to support them and can help with both big and small problems.

3) Share your own experiences (both positive and negative) as a child at summer camp. 
Young children tend to forget that parents were kids themselves once upon a time who struggled with similar issues and worries. Take the time to share what you enjoyed most and least about your summer camp experiences.  If you have any pictures of yourself engaging in fun camp activities, this can be a helpful  perspective taking activity.  For example, if you remember having trouble initially making friends at camp, share this fact with your child.  Tell them what you did to make friends.  Don’t be afraid to open up!  Vulnerability and transparency can build parent/child engagement and lessen child worry.

4) Help your child to feel excited about camp!
Take them shopping for camp apparel and accessories and focus on fun things about camp that they can anticipate.  If possible, see if there are any other campers that they can meet who will travel on the same bus or be in the same bunk. Try to connect with them prior to day one to say hello so there will be a friendly and familiar face.

5) Validate your child's concern.  
Avoid saying things like “There’s nothing to worry about!” or “Everyone loves camp!”.  These may discourage your child and set up unrealistic expectations.  Instead, show empathy and acknowledge anxiety statements such as “I understand what you are saying” or “I hear you” that show you are listening, that you are concerned and that you want to talk.