In the next couple of months millions of children and youth will head off to summer camp. There are 7,000 overnight camps in America, and more than 5,000 day camps.
Summer camp is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn new things, have fun, gain independence and grow. Although most kids look forward to going to camp, some are fearful and some will experience homesickness.
Here are some ways to help prepare your child for a positive camp experience and ways to ward off homesickness.
Christopher Thurber, a board-certified clinical psychologist, camp consultant and co-author of the best-selling Summer Camp Handbook offers the following tips for parents:
• Help your child prepare for camp by practicing being away from home. Your child can try a sleepover at a friend’s house to help “simulate the camp environment.”
• Get your child involved in helping to choose the camp he will attend. The more he knows, and the more he’s invested in the place, the more buy-in he’ll have.
• Talk about camp and what to expect beforehand. Encourage your child to ask questions. You might even role-play situations that are making your child feel anxious about attending such as finding the bathroom with a flashlight.
• Help your child understand that this is an opportunity for her to become more independent.
• Assist her in understanding that she cannot call home if her camp has a no-phone-calls policy. This one may be difficult for you too but be sure to honor the policy. A call from home can sometimes remind the child of home and thus actually encourage feelings of homesickness.
• Send a note that will arrive at camp before your child’s arrival. Be honest and say that you will miss him but also encourage his independence and be positive about what a great time you know he’s having.
Encourage your child to take a familiar item to camp, such as a stuffed animal, that will be a positive reminder of home.
Don’t feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp. For many children, camp is a first step toward independence and plays an important role in their growth and development.
According to Thurber’s studies, homesickness “is the norm rather than the exception.” “But parents don’t have to feel helpless when homesickness strikes. The prescription for camper homesickness is a simple solution of preparation and patience.”
If you are looking for some ideas about summer camps please feel free to contact me. There are three 4-H camps in North Carolina and a delegation from Jackson County is headed to the Betsy-Jeff Penn 4-H Center for camp this June.
For more information about summer camps and preparing your child for camp refer to the American Camp Association website at www.acacamps.org. For more information about N.C. 4-H camps refer to the camping website at https://nc4h.ces.ncsu.edu/camps-centers/.
Heather Gordon is the Jackson County Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development.