Ask Dr. Bronwyn
Sleepaway Camp, Part II
Sending your child to camp can be an anxiety-inducing experience for any parent. In this two-part series, Dr. Bronwyn of seedlingsgroup answers your most pressing questions and explains everything you need to know to ensure happy campers. Last week, she addressed how to know if your child's ready and the tools you'll need to prepare them in advance. Here, she gives her best advice for mastering that highly-anticipated goodbye and how to handle homesickness.
So you've decided to take the plunge and send your mini to sleepaway camp. In the second installment of our two-part series, Dr. Bronwyn of seedlingsgroup gives her best advice for saying goodbye and dealing with homesickness. Plus—in case you need a reminder—she runs through all of the amazing things your child stands to gain from their experience.
Is there a best way to say goodbye when it’s time to leave?
Whether you plan on saying your goodbyes at camp, or where the camp bus departs in your area, find out the procedures for drop off and discuss them with your child in advance. On the actual day, make your exit quick and positive. Even if you’re all feeling overwhelmed, don’t get sucked into a lengthy, emotional goodbye. Keep it together and give your child a send-off filled with excitement and confidence.
Should I talk to my child about homesickness, and if so, how?
Yes, definitely. Here are a few tips when it comes to dealing with homesickness.
Get Ahead Of It
Discuss homesickness before your child leaves. Let your child know that missing home is a normal part of being away and that even seasoned campers often feel it at first. Reassure her that it's only temporary. With so many new and exciting things to keep her busy, she’ll probably feel much better after she's had a few days to adjust.
It’s also helpful to discuss ways of handling homesickness before he’s feeling it. See if your child has ideas of his own that he thinks will help if he’s missing home, like playing cards, reading books, writing a letter, taking a swim, talking to a counselor or getting involved in a camp activity.
Identify Sources of Support
Make sure your child knows who she can talk to at camp if she’s having a bad day or feels homesick. Stress the fact that these adults—counselors, activity leaders, directors and nurses—are there to help and that she should never feel embarrassed to approach them.
Don’t Make Promises You’re Not Willing to Keep
Your child may try to pressure you in to making promises of rescue missions if he hates it or special visits and check-in phone calls if he’s feeling homesick, but don’t do it. Giving your child a “get out of jail free” card sends the message that camp just might be as unbearable as he fears and that you have your doubts about his ability to thrive at camp. Plus, counting on the fact that you’ll swoop in to fix things pretty much guarantees he’ll take the easy way out instead of finding ways to make the situation better (skills he’ll benefit from throughout his life).
Express Confidence In Your Child
You can’t promise your child that camp is going to be the best experience of her life, but you can promise her other things like that you’re sure she’ll make new friends quickly, if that’s something she’s good at, or have lots of adventures, if she’s the kind of kid always looking to be challenged. You should also emphasize that even if she has some bad days, you're certain she'll be proud of herself if she hangs in there and makes the best of it.
Make Sure Your Child Feels The Love While He’s Gone
Put a letter in the mail before she’s even left. Your child will really appreciate getting a letter from you, reaffirming your enthusiastic vote of confidence in her on her first night at camp. You can also send an email to friends and relatives with your child’s camp address and care package policy. And make sure everyone keeps their letters chatty and upbeat!
What if most of the fear and anxiety about sleepaway camp is on my end?
First, know that you are not alone. The thought of sending kids away to camp can be scary for parents who are used to being in constant contact with their children. My best advice is to remember why you sent them in the first place and focus on the positive. Here are a few things your children stand to gain:
Without you around to fix things for him when he faces any obstacles, your child will be forced to manage everyday challenges on his own, like not getting his first choice activity or disliking some of the dinners. And when he’s not sure what to do, he’ll also learn how to self-advocate by seeking help from others, an invaluable skill for all children.
You might not consider yourself a helicopter parent, but chances are you do a lot of things for your child that she could do herself. At camp, she’ll be encouraged not only to be more responsible for herself, but to help others as well (e.g., cleaning dishes, starting a campfire, sweeping the cabin floor when it needs it).
Camp kids are inspired to get out of their comfort zones and to take on new challenges like being away from home for the first time, overcoming homesickness or trying something that they’ve always been afraid to do, which all serve as major confidence boosters.
At sleepaway camp, kids can try on new identities. Sure, at home everyone thinks she’s the shy girl, and while that may have been true in Kindergarten, she feels a lot different now. At camp the kids are getting to know the girl she is today. This creates a much-needed respite from the pressures of peer groups, and an opportunity for a child to get to know someone without any preconceived judgments.
With no video games, Snapchat or smartphones vying for campers’ attention, days at camp start early and are filled with lots of physical activity and time in nature. Kids who are usually immersed in academics or lost to electronics acquire new skills they never even considered and discover interests they didn’t know they had.
So, you may be scared to send your child out into the world without you, but she’ll be back home in no time. Consider sleepaway camp as training wheels for her future and trust that—along with the lifelong friendships, memories and camp songs—by allowing your child her first foray into independence, you’ll be giving her far more.