Many of you have a child registered for a summer camp, or perhaps you’ll be sending them away for sleep-away camp. With so many different camps targeting various interests, they are a great way to offer kids a healthy set of experiences through the summer. While these camps vary greatly in the level of structure and in the type of activities offered, I rarely find children who regret the experience. Instead, most are thrilled and excited about their new friends and all their great experiences, even if hesitant prior to camp.
Why summer camp is good for kids!
There are the obvious reasons, such as increased activity for children, the break for mom and dad and the social connections that allow children to expand their friendships.
Other reasons include learning new skills, experiencing new challenges and developing a sense of independence, all of which can strengthen a child’s self-esteem and promote healthy relationships with peers.
We also get the benefit of a significant disruption and break from TV, video games, IPads and cell phones. It’s a shift from an inside world of sitting being entertained, to being active and engaging with the world outside.
There is also the value of daily structure. Not only do camps focus on kids having fun, but the activities are structured and a routine is in place. Children are not allowed to simply free-flow throughout their day, and they certainly can’t sleep in until noon.
Children thrive on structure, despite their frequent resistance to it. So please don’t decide against summer camp because your son or daughter resists. Many will resist. However, they cannot know whether these experiences will be good or not. For many, they will argue for the familiar and comfortable, and against the novel and challenging. However, it’s our job to know what will bring growth and independence.
Preparing children for summer camp
Here are my essentials for making the transition to camp easier and less stressful for your children, whether day camps or a sleep-away:
• Don’t change daily routines: As the school year ends, keep consistent with daily routines. This will make the transition to summer camps much easier, and keep your life simple. The more that schedules change with each transition to a different camp or summer experience, the more there will be challenges. Yes, some children adapt to these changes easily, but many will struggle. So keep it simple and stick to your daily routines.
• Discuss any concerns openly, but only three times: Some of you will have children who tend to worry or express concerns about summer camps. I would encourage you to discuss these worries, but explain to your child that you will go over this only a couple of times. If you keep talking about these worries, you will most likely heighten their state of fear. While in the moment these talks seem to help (and they do); it’s the repetition that tends to make things worse. Avoid repeated worrisome conversations!
• “Sweetheart, you will get through it.” These are your magic words. Let your kids know that it’s natural to be a bit worried, or scared or even homesick at times. Relate this to some personal life situation of yours, if possible. But in the end, affirm to your children that, “You will get through this.” Then smile, give them a hug and move on. This strong message of normalizing the worry, while simultaneously affirming that they have the strength to get through it, is the most powerful gift you can offer.
• Offer more comments than questions. As camp rolls around, avoid asking questions about what they are thinking or if they are excited. Instead, comment on something you remember about summer camp, or an exciting thought you had for them. For example, you could say, “I was driving by the pool, and I had the thought of how good a swimmer you are and what fun it will be for you to practice getting better this year at camp.” This is a way to direct their attention in positive ways. For some of you, this will be very important…particularly for the worry-prone child.
In the end, it’s about having fun AND at the same time, preparing your children for life. Summer camps are a great opportunity for your children to get both!