Tips for Sending your Child Away for the First Time
We believe that the camp experience is one of the most wonderful gifts that you could ever give to your child and while preparation for the first-time camper may be somewhat overwhelming, please know that in the end, it is most certainly worth your while.
Here are some tips that we hope will help eliminate some of the potholes and unexpected curves on this new journey.
Before camp begins, there needs to be an open and honest discussion with the Camp Director should your child have special circumstances which might impact the success of his/her summer. Bedwetting, a recent divorce, routine medications, sleepwalking and other significant personal information are treated with utmost confidentiality. It is crucial that together we strategize and have a proper plan in place.
Under absolutely no circumstances should you promise to pick up your child from camp early if he/she is having a “bad time”. Making this promise will only ensure that a struggling camper will make no effort to turn things around. If you make deals before camp begins it is much easier for the child to count down the number of days you’ve promised they must stay at camp than it is to jump into the routine and put in the emotional energy to see it through. Overcoming homesickness provides children with wonderful skills. They gain resiliency, confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Children learn that they can’t just snap their fingers and parents will immediately obey their command. They also gain respect for the fact that you have worked very hard to provide them with this special opportunity. It also addresses the issue of commitment. You can, however, promise them something positive in terms of reward if they do stay after some difficulty and should they have a less than positive experience - which we don’t anticipate – you can promise that they never have to go back again.
Have a “Test” Sleepover
A number of first-time campers have never slept away from home. Going to camp shouldn’t be ‘the practice run’! So make arrangements with a family member or friend to have a sleepover without Mom or Dad present. While it might be uncomfortable and unfamiliar the first time out, practice does make perfect.
Stop and Shop
Many parents respond to their children’s fear of camp by reassuring them that there is nothing to worry about or that they’re about to have the most wonderful time of their lives. While we expect and hope that this is true, it is best to prepare your camper about how they might feel the first few days and nights away from home. They need to know that it is perfectly normal to miss parents, to miss the comfort of home, to miss familiar routines, to find it difficult falling asleep. Brainstorm strategies that you know work best for your child. If they expect only smooth pathways, the first bumps in the road will send them stumbling.
Feeling Better with a Letter
Campers love to receive mail from home. We recommend the following: no need to share bad news when your child is away. If there is unfortunate news to share, please contact the Camp Director and together we will strategize an effective way to handle the issue; no need to provide news that makes home seem more desirable than camp; no guilt trips please. While you might be tempted, don’t include things like “the house is so lonely and quiet without you… I cannot wait for you to come home... I am so sad you aren’t here with me.”
A Happy Snappy Good-bye
Departure day is a soup-pot of all varieties of emotions: ecstasy, anxiety, separation sadness, and overwhelming excitement. Both campers and parents sip from the same pot. But is up to the parents to pull themselves together, to exhibit confidence and speak reassuringly. A tearful goodbye from the parents may well be interpreted by the camper as “I’m guilty that you’re leaving me” or “I don’t really want you to go”. So kiss them goodbye and leave quickly. Prolonging the moment of departure is not beneficial for the camp’s on-time schedule, for your own emotional stability and most important of all, for the well-being of your child.
“Perhaps the most important thing for you to remember as the parent of a camper is that the summer camp experience is a tremendous growth opportunity for your child. This does not mean that there won’t be occasional struggles and difficulties along the way. It is like other experiences in life – we often learn more about ourselves from difficult times than blissful moments. Your children are stronger than they know, and with your support, guidance and partnership with the summer camp director, your child has the chance to grow in ways you haven’t even imagined. Happy camping!”
- Jake Labovitz, Director Windsor Mountain International Summer Camp