Summer camp can be one of the greatest memories of childhood. At the same time, it can be a challenging transition for your child. Overcoming the normal fears that come with entering a new situation can be a positive and self-affirming experience for your child. Several years ago, a study showed that kids who visited their sleep-away camp before the summer reported significantly lower rates of homesickness. Children who cannot visit but who see a video would also have this benefit. You want to prepare your child by familiarizing him with the camp and its activities. Most camps have excellent websites and I would visit the website with your child, focusing on the photos, the map or layout of the campgrounds, and the activities offered. Often, it is the unknown that your child is responding to, so when fueled with information, he will feel relieved.
Normalizing your child’s anxiety or reservations about going is very useful. I often tell children I work with, “If you didn’t feel nervous about going, then that would be strange. The idea is to acknowledge your anxieties and then not let it affect your choices.” Kids really get this- they can feel nervous about going but know that that feeling won’t affect their decision to go. The message is to be proactive and let your decisions be influenced by your values/what’s important to you, rather than how you feel in that moment. The good news is that they can expect that all the other kids will feel this way, too.
Finally, it’s a great idea to give your child a few tips on what he can do when he feels homesick. Looking at some photographs of family/pets, writing in a journal, writing letters, doing calm breathing or yoga, using positive self-talk such as “I can handle this” and using distractions or playing games are strategies that will help. For distraction, I have kids make lists such as “5 things that are green” or “my 5 favorite movies” or use the alphabet to make a list of jobs (Artist, Baker, Chemist, Dentist) or cities/states (Alabama, Bethesda, Colorado, Deerfield), etc. Many times, just having a list of what he can do provides that confidence that he can do it!
By Dr. Bonnie Zucker, Psy.D, Activity Rocket’s Expert Child Psychologist
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Read all about Dr. Bonnie: Meet Dr. Bonnie Zucker – Activity Rocket’s Expert Child Psychologist