So your child has reached that magical stage in his life when he is finally ready to pack, and he heads off to camp at night. No mom or dad, no family pets, no family environment, no school friends, no extended family. If this sounds a little scary, then read on. Most kids do very well at night camp… while a small number may have difficulties. How can you, as a parent, make sure your child has a great time? Here are some tips:
1. Make sure your child is ready to jump!
Just because you had your first successful experience at camp at age eight doesn’t mean that all children are ready at that age. If your child responds enthusiastically to the idea of an evening camp, he is likely to be ready. If he’s already spent weekends away from the family and has come back wishing for more, then it’s a good bet that overnight camp will be a successful experience. A child with a positive self-image who is extroverted can reasonably advocate for himself, responds well to time away from family, makes friends easily, and is enthusiastic about new experiences is likely to love night camps at an early age. A hesitant, shy child who longs for a home. Well, you get the idea!
Involve your child in the selection process…..
… and let this be part of the emotion! Decide together how long the camp experience should last and what kinds of activities your child would like to participate in. The most important deciding factor when choosing a camp may not be the location, activities or facilities… but the camp philosophy. That’s why it’s important to read the brochure and website carefully and meet with the director, if possible. How do you select your staff? Do you have a religious affiliation? What do you think of supervision? How do you address nostalgia, bullying, and other issues? Do you offer a competitive or collaborative approach? Finding out as much as you can about a camp is the best guarantee for finding the one that best suits your child.
Stay positive about the camp experience!
Once the final camp selection has been made, the biggest mistake parents make is interrupting their children’s enthusiasm with their own nerves. It can often be more difficult for a parent to be away from their child than it is for the child – but your child doesn’t need to carry this. It’s natural for you to worry – but if your anxieties are passed on to your child, then you may become indecisive about the experience. Never promise a child that he or she can return home if nostalgic – this could guarantee failure. Let your daughter know that you’re excited for her, and that you know it’s going to be a great experience.
4. Fill out camp forms completely and honestly.
Many kids who fight at camp do so because one parent didn’t disclose all the necessary information to the camp principals. One summer, our camp welcomed a belligerent and withdrawn young man. Other campers walked away from him, and his counselors were bewildered by his behavior. It was more than a week before we knew that he had been violently bullied at school, and that he was terrified that the same could happen at camp. With better information, we could have helped this child get to camp much faster. Other details that parents have not told us include recent family deaths, negative experiences in other camps, recent bone fractures and suspected eating disorders. The goal of all camps is to offer young people safe and positive summer experiences, but if parents do not provide all the details about their children’s needs, this can be difficult to do.
5. Involve your child in all preparations!
Read everything the camp says… together. Review the packing list together. Shop together. Pack together. Inviting a child to participate in all aspects of preparation fosters anticipation and self-sufficiency.
6. Prepare your child for what to expect.
Camp food can be very good – and usually is – but it will be different from home. Sleeping on a bunk with other children around will be different. The hours of getting up and going to bed, the bathrooms, the daily schedule… everything may require an adjustment for your child. Discuss these things together – and positively.