By Matthew Waugh, MD
Department of Pediatrics
A stay at a sleep-away summer camp can be a memorable and cherished experience of childhood. While summer camp can often help children build confidence and strengthen their independence, it’s not uncommon for first-time campers to be a little reluctant to go. The tips below may help ease some your child’s anxiety and help them to enjoy their camp experience to the fullest.
- Set expectations. Before camp starts, talk with your child about what they can expect. Discuss the camp environment and what activities will be a part of the experience.
- Be aware of camp medical policies. If your child has a food allergy, medication needs, or other special health concerns, it’s important to communicate ahead of time with the camp administrators to ensure you have a good plan in place.
- The buddy system can help. Even though your child is sure to meet new friends at camp, sometimes registering your child with a friend at camp can reduce initial camp anxiety.
- Check, then double-check that packing list. A sleep-away camp will always provide a packing list. Review it early so you have time to gather the necessary items for your child. Label everything with your child’s name to prevent mix-ups with other campers. Involve your child in the packing to help ensure they have everything they need and make them feel more “at home” when they arrive.
- Remind them of your experiences. If you, or someone in your family, attended camp (sleep-away or otherwise), share your fond memories with your child. Your enthusiasm and positive experience may help your child to adopt an optimistic attitude about the experience ahead.
- Pack a reminder of home. This can help your child adjust better if they are feeling lonely. Something like a group family photo, a favorite sweatshirt or stuffed animal works fine. If allowed, mail your child a mid-week care package but first check which treats are allowed.
- Help them stay in touch. You can encourage your child to communicate home with notes, emails and phone calls (if they are allowed). Let them know it’s also okay if they don’t communicate with you every day.
- Encourage confidence. Leaving home for the first time and being on your own can make even a confident kid a little anxious. Let your child know that you believe they can handle it. The less worried they are, the more they will enjoy the experience.
- Keep good-byes short and sweet. It’s best to avoid long, emotional good-byes when you drop your child off at a sleep-away camp as this could promote anxiety. Just help them get settled and give them a quick hug before saying “see you soon!”
About Matthew Waugh, MD
Dr. Matthew Waugh joined the organization in 2007 after practicing in New York for almost a decade. He credits the excellent team he works with in helping him provide great care for kids. “The pediatrician is a key part of the team in healthcare but it’s really all the nurses and receptionists who make a great office.” Dr. Waugh believes in involving families in the decision process. “Often, there are options such as to treat an...View profile View posts by this doctor