You can’t wait. Your child is signed up for a week-long overnight camp. This is the same camp you went to every year when you were a child. And now it’s your daughter’s turn.
You loved everything about camp – crafts, canoeing, eating in the cafeteria, getting snacks from the canteen, swimming, and of course, pranks and practical jokes.
As you help your daughter pack, you fill the room with stories and camp memories.
Suddenly, you realize that your child is not sharing your enthusiasm. She is sitting on the edge of the bed, petting her stuffed bear and looking at the floor.
Before you start in again with the joys of overnight camp, take a moment to meet your child where she is emotionally.
A Sample Script for Helping Your Child Manage Summer Camp Anxiety:
- Make an observation about what she may be feeling. You might say, “From the look on your face, I wonder if you are a little nervous about camp.”
- Listen for her reply. She may agree with you, she may add more feelings, she may disagree or she may remain neutral. Your job is to stay connected, comfort and be quiet.
- Reply by restating what you heard her say. Regardless of your child’s response, repeat back a paraphrase of what they said. For example, “Oh, worried and a little sad too.”
- Explain that the feeling is normal. In a few words, help your child realize that their feeling is normal and valid. “I bet most kids are nervous before they get to camp.”
- Listen again, rephrasing as needed. Your child may have more to say about their feelings or thoughts about camp. Continue to listen, do not try to fix anything.
- Brainstorm solutions. Ask your child to help you think of ways to feel less anxious both at home and while she is at camp. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Bring a favorite stuffed animal or trinket from home
- Paint or decorate a special pillowcase
- Create a photo album to look at while at camp
- Teach and practice deep breathing
- Write a story about going to camp
- Buy a notebook and fun colored pens for journaling
- Include note cards and stamps for writing home
- Record a video or audio of family members
- Pack an encouraging letter-a-day from mom or dad
- Plan a special welcome home party or activity
- Make a list of the things she is excited to try at camp
- Role play meeting a new friend or asking for help
- Create a collage of your child’s best traits and skills
- Pack games and activities to share with new friends
- Review things that your child has overcome in the past
Resist the urge to put “call mom every hour” on the list. It may seem like a good coping strategy, but it actually takes away a wonderful opportunity for your child to learn that she is capable of overcoming feelings of anxiety on her own. Checking in is not a bad idea, but help her create a long list of ideas to try before calling home.
Some children feel anxious about going to day camp, sports camp or Vacation Bible School. Even if it seems silly because it is only a few hours a day, you can use the same communication and brainstorming strategy above to help your child communicate and cope with their anxious feelings.
Comments have been turned off to retain the privacy of all families. If you have a question or comment on the topic, you're always welcome to contact me.