Ah, summer camp… Arts and crafts, playing sports, making new friends, and eating together at the cafeteria. When you were a child, summer camp might have been something you really looked forward to, and you enjoyed every single minute of it—even the pranks. Now you’re a bit older, and you have children of your own. To your surprise, when you bring it up, the response is summer camp anxiety. So, how do you help your child overcome separation anxiety to enjoy their time there?
Explaining separation anxiety in children
Some kids are always looking for new adventures, so summer camp is what dreams are made of. Maybe they feel homesick from time to time, but it only lasts for a few minutes. They have so much going on and so many new things to try, new kids to talk to that they quickly forget about it.
But some kids don’t see going away from their family and everything they’re familiar with as a fun-filled break. Especially younger kids can get very anxious at the mere thought of being left in a place full of people they don’t know.
It doesn’t matter how nice and friendly they are. They might even develop physical symptoms like stomach problems and headaches. Instead of dreaming of adventures, they have trouble sleeping and nightmares about separation.
To someone from the outside, it may seem silly. They’re only going away for a few days, and they’ll be with other kids their age.
But for them, it’s serious and frightening. The good news is that there are some things you can do to help your child overcome separation anxiety and enjoy summer camp.
Acknowledge and validate their anxiety about camp
Their apprehension might seem silly to you, at first. You’re sure that once they get to summer camp, the anxiety would dissipate and they would enjoy themselves.
While that may be true, what matters is how they feel about it right now. Even if they’ll change their minds after going, it’s important that you acknowledge and support how they feel in this moment.
If they get a sense that you think their concerns are silly or wrong, it can add to their fears and insecurities. Instead, it’s better to help them verbalize their feelings and talk through them.
Start a conversation by simply mentioning summer camp. If they don’t say anything but you can tell from the look on their face that they’re not exactly thrilled, say something like: “I get the sense that you’re a little nervous about going to camp.”
Then simply listen to the youngster and resist the urge to contradict them or come up with solutions. Show that you want to hear them out by paraphrasing them.
Active listening is a great way to help a child overcome separation anxiety by feeling safe to express themselves. Also, ask your girl or body what specific concerns they have about camp. Kids often get nervous about new situations because they imagine catastrophic scenarios.
You can put their mind at ease by telling them about your experiences with summer camp, including having anxiety at first too. Explain how other kids felt nervous too, but it turned out to be a positive experience. It also helps to remind them of other times they were afraid to do something but ended up enjoying themselves.
How to tell when they’re ready for camp
After listening to their anxiety-inducing concerns, talk to them about what they think might happen at summer camp. Then, discuss what they can do in different situations, such as missing home or having trouble making friends.
You will need to decide whether or not they should go camping. But how can you tell they’re ready?
They might just agree to please you even though they’re still anxious about it. Of course, you could base your decision on what they say and their body language, but you can also test it.
Depending on where you’re from, you can google, for example, summer camps in Brooklyn NY, and find day camps. This is a much more comfortable alternative for children who are anxious about leaving home.
They’ll get a chance to experience the fun activities you usually do in summer camp while knowing you’ll pick them up at the day’s end. That means they’ll get to sleep in their own bed.
A good way to help them feel more comfortable with sleeping away from home is to arrange sleepovers similar to those at camp. Having these experiences with people they’re familiar with, such as grandparents, can be a gentle way to introduce the camp experience.
See how they respond to these situations, and if they seem to be doing well, you can try arranging for them to go to summer camp with a friend. It will be easier for them to step outside their comfort zone if they know they have a familiar face they can rely on.
Your own anxiety: Are you ready to send them to summer camp?
We’ve mostly been focusing on how your little one feels about summer camp, but what about you? It’s not uncommon for parents to get a bit anxious the first time they’re sending their kids to summer camp.
And of course, when you know that your child is nervous about it, this gives you more reason to worry. So, what can you do if you have separation anxiety from your child?
Well, you do what adults do: research. It’s best not to talk to your kids about your concerns the way they talked to you because this might make them think of more bad scenarios.
But you can go online and see if the camp you’re sending them to is accredited. Also, browse the reviews, check the staff-to-kids ratio, and read about the staff’s credentials. If you have concerns regarding the coronavirus, reach out to the organization to ask questions about policies and activities.
Most camps also have open house visits, so you can go see the camp in person and talk to them about your concerns, whether it’s COVID-19, super lice, bullying, or something else. In the end, all you want is to send your kids somewhere safe to have a good time.
Most parents go through this process where they’re talking to other parents about what camps they should choose. Doing online research and visiting or phoning different places to speak with the staff makes sense. Having more detailed conversations about their camp helps you decide if it’s a good fit.