For many kids and their parents, summer camp is a rite of passage. Parents who fondly reminisce about their summers spent at sleepaway camp can't wait for their own kids to share the same experiences. But sometimes parents forget how much planning and preparation is involved in sending a child to sleepaway camp, especially if this will be their child's first year attending. While most kids will make memories to last forever at sleepaway camp, there can often be a few tears and some anxiety leading up to their time away from home too.
If you're sending your child off to sleepaway camp this summer for the first time, or even if they're seasoned camp pros, there are things you can do to help prepare not only your child but yourself as well before you drop them off.
Preparation Is Key
The best thing you can do for your child before they leave for sleepaway camp is to talk to them about what they're going to experience. Tell them exactly what is going to happen from where they will meet their camp counselor, how they will find out who they are sharing a bunk with and give them some strategies to help them meet new friends. Make sure your child is excited about going off to camp and okay with sleeping outside of the home.
Sleepaway camp shouldn't be your child's first experience sleeping out, so arranging a few sleepovers with friends before leaving for camp can help your child get comfortable sleeping away from home.
Set Your Expectations
Regardless of whether you loved sleepaway camp as a kid, there is the possibility that it just won't be a good fit for your own child. It's completely normal for your child to feel a bit of nervousness or anxious leading up to camp drop-off and it's important they know this is completely normal. Let your child know that the first few days may take a bit of getting used to, but soon enough they'll be making friends and having a great time. Still, if after a while your child is miserable and wants to come home, camp may not be for them.
There's no shame in letting your child come home early if they truly aren't enjoying the experience but they do need enough time at camp to figure that out. Some kids take a few days to really adjust to camp life and once they do, they love it!
Packing for camp is extremely important because you want to make sure your child has everything they need and that they're not bringing in any contraband. Camps will typically send out packing lists a few months ahead of time and parents are best to follow these lists to ensure their child has all the essentials.
Most camps will require some items while at the same time listing all the things campers aren't allowed to bring so it's best to follow the list and ensure you aren't rushing out to buy something last minute or having to take something home that wasn't supposed to be packed. Ann Sheets, past president of the ACA told Parents Magazine that it's important parents abide by camp rules and not allow their kids to pack anything they're not supposed to bring.
"By encouraging your children to sneak in forbidden items, you're sending the message that they are somehow special and rules don't apply to them," she said. "This will cause problems with the staff and with fellow campers, which won't help your child settle in."
Chances are your child isn't going to come home with everything they took to camp but you can at least give them a fighting chance by labeling everything they bring. For many kids the things they are bringing with them to camp are new so they don't really recognize them. When there's a pile of items in a tent or cabin that needs to be sorted out, having items labeled will definitely help your child figure out which towel or water shoes or pair of goggles is theirs.
Lots of kids end up having the same items as well so labeling will help solve any dispute over who owns what. There are lots of companies that sell labels you can affix to each of their items or you can just use a Sharpie.
Give yourself some time to sit down and ensure everything is labeled before packing it up. It might take you a few hours so you don't want to be rushing at the last minute and miss anything. If not it can be like the Hunger Games with kids trying to figure who owns what and chances are, the odds won't be in your child's favor if their stuff isn't labeled.
Send Some Comfort Items
Tucking a small photo album into your child's camp bag, a sweet note from home or even an item you know will bring them comfort can help your child if they're feeling a bit sad or homesick. Send a letter in advance so your child has something to open once they arrive at camp and begin to get settled to let them know you're thinking of them. They'll appreciate the gesture and it can help calm any nerves they may be having.
Plan Something For You!
While this is a super fun experience for your child, don't forget to take advantage of this child-free time for yourself! For many parents, this is the only time they have without children at home, and they need to take advantage of it! While you may not want to plan a trip far away, planning a day trip somewhere or even an overnighter in a local hotel with some pampering thrown in is a great idea. Take the time your child is away to enjoy a bit of the quiet while knowing they're truly having the time of their lives.
Your child may be homesick and nervous when they're first dropped off, but they will soon be making lifelong friends and having experiences they'll remember forever. Try not to show your child that you're sad or nervous about them heading off to sleepaway camp either because they can definitely pick up on those emotions. Reassure your child they are going to have the best time and be excited for them as they head off on their adventure. Sleepaway camp can be nerve-wracking but those nerves will soon be gone and replaced with excitement!