Sleepaway camp is a chance for kids to disconnect, have new adventures, and meet new people. It also teaches children valuable skills such as teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and interpersonal communication. But sending a child away from home for the first time can be stressful for both the parent and the child. Follow these tips to ensure your child is a happy camper this summer.
Prepare your child ahead of time
Talk with your child about his upcoming experience before he leaves. Discuss his concerns. Highlight his strengths, and explain that he’ll be able to build on these skills and develop new ones at camp. Talk about problems he may have had at school and how he can better handle them at camp.
Most camps will provide a packing list of items your child will need. Work off that list, but also involve your child in the packing process. Allow her to bring a stuffed animal or blanket she may be attached to.
Send in paperwork early
Most good camps will ask you to fill out forms to let them know how your child reacts to stressful situations, how she interacts with others, etc. Be sure to send these and all medical forms in early to give counselors time to study them.
Keep goodbyes brief
When you drop your child off, check out his cabin and help him settle in. Then put on a brave face, tell him he’ll have a great time, and leave. Lingering too long will make the goodbye even harder.
Keep communication positive
Sending a daily letter or email to tell your child about what’s going on at home will only remind her of what she’s missing. Likewise, saying how much you, her siblings, and the dog misses her will make her sad. So limit communication to a few times per week. When you do write, be positive and focus on her experience. Tell her you hope she’s having fun and that you can’t wait to see pictures. It would also help to slip a letter into her suitcase or to mail one ahead of time so it’s waiting for her when she gets there.
Follow the rules
Many camps have policies about whether family members can call and what can be sent in a care package. Don’t be the annoying parent who breaks the rules—your child will be the one to suffer for it.
Don’t give your child an easy way out
It’s tempting to tell your child you will bring him home if he’s not having fun after a week or two. But doing so will make him less likely to stick around, even if he is having a great time. Short bursts of homesickness are common, and camp counselors usually know how to handle them. They will contact you if they feel your child really needs to come home.
Research the camp
If you would still like to send your child to camp this summer, it may not be too late. Even the most popular camps sometimes have cancellations. To find a reputable camp, visit campparents.org, a Web site created by the American Camp Association (ACA). The site lists camps that are accredited by the ACA.