First Time at Sleepaway Camp: Dealing With Separation Anxiety

Summertime is here again, and that means it’s time for sleepaway camp. If this summer brings your child’s first yearning for the independence and adventure of a week away from home, it’s time to conquer your fears and find that perfect camp. 

The first time away from home might induce homesickness, anxiety, or even excitement. But don’t let your child’s first reaction dominate the conversation. By the end, any good camp will help your child mature and learn responsibility. It will also give you a precious few days or weeks of summer vacation too.

Tread Lightly on the Suitcase

Your might be tempted to over-pack for each and every eventuality, but most kids can survive with fewer clothes than you probably think. Besides that, the less items, the more tidy your child will be able to keep their bunk. Make sure your child’s duffel bag or suitcase is light enough to carry by themselves, and don’t overthink it.

Most camps provide a packing list to help guide you, but there are some items that are so basic that you might already know them intuitively. Extra socks and underwear will save your child at some point. Be prepared for all clothes to get ruined at camp, so leave the cool, dressy, or expensive clothes in the closet. Make sure blankets, sleeping bags, and towels will be comfy and warm. A shower caddy to help them maintain their hygiene (fingers crossed) and flip flops for the shower will help protect their feet from potential nasties. Extra sunblock, bug spray, hats, and sunglasses are always a good idea. Ziplock bags for dirty clothes are essential.

Involve your child in the packing process so that they’ll be able to re-pack their suitcase when it’s time to come home and add in a list of all the items you're packing. That way, they'll have no trouble repacking everything later.

Prepare with Self-Care

Just before camp starts, get your child a haircut and a lice check. There’s nothing more embarrassing than showing up at camp as “that kid with the lice.” Camp counselors will probably check each camper’s hair on the first day and quarantine those who need it, which does not bode well for making new friends.

Take a little shopping trip to get your child a couple of new camp goods. It could be anything from a new toiletry case to a personal fan or a bandana. These new “just for camp” trinkets will get your child excited about the adventure they’re about to embark on and make it that much more fun.

Discuss the Separation

If your child needs to prepare for the long time away from home, try sending them to some overnight sleepovers before camp begins. When they’re at home, discuss what makes them nervous about being away, and reassure them that they’ll have a great time. 

Don't give into statements like "What will we do without you?" or "We're going to miss you so much." Keep your attitude upbeat and positive. Most camps highly discourage parents from telling kids that they can be picked up if things aren’t working out. This simply prolongs homesickness and makes a child focus on being rescued by parents rather than working out problems and trying to adjust. Instead, tell your child that the camp counselors will be available and you have confidence in the child’s ability to work through situations with a good attitude.

Along similar lines, many camps don’t allow cell phones and restrict campers’ ability to call home. Instead, send letters (maybe even one before the camper leaves home) to let your child know you’re thinking about them. Don’t get too sentimental or include lines about how desperately you will miss your child -– that only serves to make them feel guilty for having a good time without you!

On the opposite side of the coin, even if you do feel lonely and sad that your child is gone, this is all part of helping your kid grow up. You’ve chosen the camp wisely, spoken to the counselors and directors beforehand and decided that they are trustworthy. Keep your faith in the people taking care of your child and stand strong!

Let Go with Aplomb

The most important part of camp will be the growing up that both your child and you have to do. Just because you’ve taken care of this little person for the entirely of his life doesn’t mean that as they grow older, they aren’t capable of taking care of themselves.

Learning to live with other kids, accept different routines, adapt to others, eat new foods, try new things, work as a team and yes, even live through and conquer homesickness, will help create a richer and more full human than you left behind on the first day of camp.

As a parent, you’ll learn to let go of the control you’ve been holding onto throughout your young one’s childhood and accept the independence your growing child will continue to demand. So when your child comes home having learned all of these valuable and maturing lessons, you’ll have something to be proud of. And even though you weren’t there, you can still claim some of the credit for that.

How do you plan on preparing your child for summer camp? Share your ideas and stories with us!

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