By Erica Feinman
Camp Directors all over are preparing to make this summer the best summer ever for your kids and kids like yours all over the country. Some of the things we do in the months and weeks leading up to camp are training staff to deal with all kinds of situations that may arise. In addition to training we like to help parents feel prepared for summer as well. Below are a few tips on how to deal with your campers heading off to summer without you and making this a successful summer for your campers and you!
Whether this is your child’s first summer at Camp, or they are a returning camper, many children struggle to be away from home. Allowing your child to navigate this challenge will help them develop independence, confidence in their abilities, and a deeper sense of self. Here are three tips to set your child up for success.
Provide a Vote of Confidence
1. Be positive and express your confidence in your child’s capacity to be away from home and navigate the challenges that will inevitably arise while at Camp. Reinforce how proud you are and provide constant encouragement.
Avoid making deals about early pick-ups
2. This innocent but destructive attempt to curtail pre-camp anxiety sends the message that you don’t think they can make it through Camp and typically exacerbates homesickness. Rather than make deals, speak to your child’s anxiety about being away from home by allowing them to share their fears and by providing reassurance and encouragement.
Watch Your Emotions
3. Parents are often nervous about sending their child to Camp and must be cognizant of how this impacts their child. Make sure your child knows that you’ll be fine while she’s gone and that you’re looking forward to hearing about all their adventures when you pick them up at the end of the session.
Letters from your campers
It is a good idea to send envelopes and stamps in a zip-lock bag to protect them. With your younger campers, it’s a great idea to send pre-stamped envelopes that are already addressed to you. This will insure that the letters won’t return to Camp because of an unclear address.
The first letter you receive may not be the happiest. Please expect this and remember that campers often take a few days to feel completely comfortable in a new environment. The letters will be more upbeat once they are settled in.
Your child’s letters may be short, leaving you hungry for more information. Try sending a letter with blank spaces for your camper to fill in. When the blanks are all filled in, the letter can be sent back to you (My favorite activity is…The names of my new friends are…Last night’s evening program was…etc). Pre-printed “Letters From Camp” are available in most stationery stores as well as finding some great ideas on pinterest.
Please keep in mind that mail from Camp can be slow. In the past, some letters have taken anywhere from two days to seven days to reach home.
Letters to your campers
Campers love receiving mail, so write often. If you get tired of writing letters, be creative. Send comics from the newspaper, sports articles, funny cards, etc., each with a short note. Rotate through your family, with parents writing one day, Grandma the next, and Auntie the next.
Try not to write about great family parties you went to, or amazing shows or movies you saw. It is in the camper’s best interest not to feel like he or she is missing too much at home. Be careful not to tell him how much you miss him, or how quiet the house is without her. Your child should not feel anxious about your well-being while he or she is at Camp. Instead, ask lots of questions about his activities and friends. This will help him structure his letters to you. Keep the closing of your letters simple¬—“I love you and miss you,” is great. “I’m so lonely without you. I can’t believe you’ll be gone for so long,” is not.
So what is camper sickness? It’s a little bit of the separation anxiety any parent experiences when dropping their kids off to go to camp. You spend all day every day thinking about them and taking care of them, and now for a short period of time, worrying about their daily needs will be up to someone else. These feelings of anxiety are perfectly normal and totally understandable. Some things that are helpful to keep in mind are that your children are safe, supervised, and the utmost care is being taken of them. Your children are meeting new friends, experiencing new things, and growing throughout their time at camp, and while you might miss them and feel sad from time to time, rest assured, they are having the time of their lives and this is a gift you have given them. Lastly, just remember that the first letter may take up to a week to arrive. Don’t assume that something is wrong just because you haven’t heard from your child right away. You’ve got this, and once you are starting to get used to your camper being away it will be time to pick them up and hear all about the amazing time they had this summer at camp!
Erica Feinman is one of the Assistant Directors at Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps. This will be her 19th summer at sleep away camp!