Summer camps are always portrayed with pictures of children playing sports or enjoying a swim under the warmth of the sun. You won’t see a child with signs of anxiety in these pictures, even in the background.
Despite the lack of representation, most children experience anxiety, especially when it is their first time sleeping away from home or trying out a new activity. The idea of going to summer camp may be met with a mixture of the excitement of making new friends and experiencing new things and nervousness regarding the unfamiliar.
If you find that your child is reluctant to join such an activity, you might find yourself having second thoughts, too. However, every parent should realize that summer camps are ideal for challenging children and helping them learn valuable skills they may need later in life.
Whether you choose an academic summer camp or a sports or art camp, there are seven things you can try to encourage your little one to spread their wings and not be afraid of a sleepaway camp:
1. Give your child a sense of ownership
Letting your child get a sense of ownership for their first summer camp experience can help ease the anxiety they feel towards it. You can do this by involving them in choosing a camp and shopping for new gear.
It will also help if you bring them to the campsite before the summer camp begins, so they can familiarize themselves with the environment. Teaching them the different camp activities would also ease the nervousness they’re feeling and help them look forward to the activity.
2. Keep your child’s first camp experience short
For most kids, the anxiety of attending a summer camp revolves around the idea of being away from their home for an extended period. This feeling is extra difficult to manage if it’s your child’s first time to sleep in a place that isn’t your home.
To help your child manage their anxiety, you should keep their first summer camp stay short. While there’s no universal formula for this, you can try making it two weeks. This is a better compromise than canceling the trip altogether.
3. Talk to your child the right way
When speaking to your child about the summer camp, you must remember to avoid focusing on subjects that may trigger their anxiety. Avoid questions like “Are you nervous about building your first robot?” as it can trigger the feeling. Instead, rephrase your question into “How do you feel about building your first robot?”
Remember not to use statements that tend to trivialize their concerns about the camp. For example, instead of saying, “You have nothing to worry about,” you should acknowledge what your child is feeling and show empathy.
Also, try to highlight your child’s strengths when talking about the camp. It can be through a review of the great things they accomplished in the year leading to the summer camp. Then, create a connection to camp activities by telling them that these will help them hone the skills they already have. You can also shift their focus on new things they will learn, like riding a horse or swimming.
4. Don’t linger during the drop-off
Avoid lingering during the summer camp drop-off. Like when you brought your child to school during their very first day in kindergarten, you must maintain short goodbyes. This will prevent them from getting mixed feelings about the camp.
5. Keep communication lines open
When sending your child to summer camp, be sure to let them know that you’re within a phone call or email’s reach. Create a schedule for correspondence based on the camp routines and show your child how easy it is to talk to you while you’re apart from each other.
It will also help if you come up with goals for each conversation you have with your child. This will allow them to focus their thoughts on their adjustment and steer your calls away from their homesickness.
6. Help your child formulate goals for the summer camp
Having realistic goals will help your child focus on the positive experience rather than the anxiety they feel from being away. However, you should make sure that you help them come up with realistic goals that they can easily accomplish during the summer camp. This will allow them to experience the thrill of achieving success – albeit, small ones – and take their mind off their separation anxiety.
7. Hide your anxiety
As a parent, it can be difficult to help your child with their anxiety when you are feeling the same way. However, you must remember to avoid showing your own anxiety as it would only fuel the negative feelings your child has for the activity.
Remember that children can pick up on their parents’ feelings even if these emotions aren’t verbalized. Even so, you have to make sure that you say how much you’ll miss them as it would make it harder for them to go.
Instead, tell them how excited you are for everything that they’ll get to do in the summer camp. You should also express your confidence in what they can do in the camp.
Helping children deal with anxiety is a task every parent must undertake whenever a new experience is at hand. Daunting as it may seem, easing your child’s anxiety over summer camp is possible, so long as you know the proper way to do it.
Maloy Burman is the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Premier Genie FZ LLC. He is responsible for driving Premier Genie into a leadership position in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education space in Asia, Middle East and Africa and building a solid brand value. Premier Genie is currently running 5 centers in Dubai and 5 centers in India with a goal to multiply that over the next 5 years.