How to Prepare Your Child for Sleepaway Camp

campfireFor some children, heading off to an overnight summer camp is natural and easy, and their parents aren’t too concerned. For others, especially those who are younger, more prone to anxiety, or who have special needs, the approaching first day of camp can be daunting.

Whether your child is spending a week or the whole summer away from home, here are a few tips to help you prepare your child (and yourself!) for a smooth transition to camp.

Manage your own anxiety.
Maybe you’re questioning your decision to send your daughter away to camp at her young age. Maybe you’re nervous that both you and your son will spend the first few nights of camp crying. Fears are natural, but don’t let your kids know how worried you are!

Take care of yourself and your needs first. Speak to friends and family about your anxiety, but make sure that you convey an excited, optimistic attitude when talking to your child. Remind yourself why you wanted to send her to camp in the first place. Making new friends, learning new skills, playing in the fresh air, and gaining a sense of independence are all wonderful experiences that will benefit her. You can also look forward to getting a brief respite from parenting duties while she’s away!

Whatever you do, never tell your tell child that you will miss him too much or that you wish he could stay home. If he asks if you’ll miss him, let him know that you love him, but that you want him to be at camp and that you can’t wait to read his letters and hear all about camp when he gets home.

Preview the camp schedule.
For anxious children or those who have difficulty adjusting to new routines, checking out the camp’s daily schedule together can be beneficial. These are often available on the camp’s website. If you can’t locate it, email the camp and ask for the schedule for your child’s age group.

With your child, review when wake up, bedtime, mealtimes, and activity periods will be. If he has been waking up and going to sleep on a drastically different schedule, slowly adjusting to the camp’s schedule can help make it more likely that he’ll fall asleep easily when he arrives. Taking a look at photos on the camp website to preview the new surroundings can also be useful.

Make sure to read the list of activities that are offered at camp. Generate excitement for both of you by talking about which new things your child wants to try at camp!

Let the camp know about your child’s special needs.
If your child has special needs, chances are that you have already discussed them with the camp director. If not, make a phone call or send an email to the camp administration to let them know. They will be glad that you shared information that will make the start of camp easier for both your child and for her counselors.

Full-time camp staff are childcare professionals who have seen and heard it all, so don’t worry about upsetting them with this information. Many children who require unique diets, have psychiatric diagnoses such as ADHD, or who have behavior problems in school have wildly successful summer camp experiences.

Although you might feel anxious and want to call multiple times, restrict yourself to one or two communications with the camp before the first day, unless the camp indicates that more are necessary, as camp directors are extremely busy just before and during the summer season.

Practice spending nights away from home.
If your child has rarely spent the night outside the comfort of her own bedroom, practice for the camp experience by having her sleep at friend’s and family member’s houses a few times before camp begins. Don’t call her to say goodnight; allow her to become accustomed to doing her bedtime routine under the watchful eye of another adult. When she returns home, praise her for her success at staying by herself.

Your child might ask if he can come home if he changes his mind about a sleepover or about camp. Reiterate that you’re confident that he will have a great time without you. Prepare him for the experience by saying, “A lot of kids feel homesick on their first few nights away. It’s okay if you feel that way or if you don’t feel that way. If it happens to you, don’t worry that it means you won’t have a good summer anyway.” Never promise your child that you will pick him up if he feels homesick.

Let go.
Once your child arrives at camp, the staff will take care of her needs. If there’s a problem that you need to know about, they’ll call you. Enjoy your freedom and give yourself time to relax while the children are away. Remember, whatever happens, your child will be home in a few weeks!

hassFrom the Real Experts at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone:

Arielle Walzer, MA, PsyM, is a psychology extern at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, and a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University.

Author: Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone

At Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, we understand that caring for infants, children, and teenagers is a special privilege. That’s why we partner with our young patients and their families to offer expert medical and surgical care. Our specialists treat children with conditions ranging from minor illnesses to complex, more serious issues at locations throughout the New York metropolitan area.