Tricounty News

Preparing Your Child for Overnight Camp Experiences Away From Home


            How many parents have thought: "The check is in the envelope.  Do I disregard everything I know about my child, seal it, stamp it, and send it out? Or... should I just hold it another day and have one more talk about what a nonrefundable deposit means?  A week of summer camp is a very big commitment for any child, especially those who don't favor spending nights in a strange bed away from home."

            Many children are contemplating heading off to camp this summer and at least several of their parents might be worrying about the outcome of such an experience.  There are any number of questions that may surface.  Parents and campers will both feel more at ease if they discuss any concerns before the registration is mailed.

            Children lack the experience to know how long two days, a week or a month can be without seeing their families, friends, and familiar surroundings.  Children frequently want to go to camp until they arrive and are faced with many strangers and the reality that their parent's aren't staying.  Going to camp with a friend can help alleviate some of the anxiety.

            Talking about what to do if the child gets lonely may help too.  Anyone who hasn't suffered a bout of homesickness should be prepared to know what it feels like.  Knowing that it will generally only last a day or two before it gets better, will give the child hope for a happier tomorrow and the rest of camp.

            Mail a lighthearted letter, a joke booklet or a pack of their favorite gum that will arrive when they do.  Expect to read a tear stained thank you letter since homesickness makes one appreciate what they have left behind and long to see again soon.

            Request photographs of the camp and counselors for the child who likes to know what is waiting for them when they arrive.  Be early for check-in, so that your child feels they are getting in on everything and everyone will have a chance to check out the camp before signing in.  If your child has questions you can't answer, don't hesitate to call and find out.  Both parent and child will feel more at ease once they have all the information.  Ask "what if" questions to determine what fears might exist for the potential camper.

            Some children are picky eaters, but don't even know it if they are pampered at home.  Parents often make food that the family likes over and over again to avoid the negative remarks that are sometimes served up with a new recipe.  Offer a variety of foods at home to get the child used to different dishes.  Help them problem solve when they don't like the main entrée.  This practice will come in handy at camp, as well as the neighbor's house.  Rest assured that camp cooks know what children generally prefer and cook to their tastes whenever possible.

            Complaining about food is another matter.  Teach basic manners about use "no thank you" and "I don't care for any" as opposed to "what is this stuff?" or "oh gross".

            Children who end up at camp without friends may fall into one of several categories.  First, they may find other children who are interested in the same activities they are and join right in.  Other children in that situation may find the friendly counselor a nice substitute for making same-age friends.  After all, adult attention is always welcome, and certainly nothing bad emotionally or physically can happened if you are in the company of this confident older person.

            Counselors work hard for the whole group and are expected to get people together, solve problems, initiate activities, and interact with all of their campers.  Being a buddy to every child is difficult.  Parents can do some pre-camp work with their child in this area too.  People who know how to initiate conversations with others, share, play fair, forgive, and get on with the next activity are generally more accepted by their peers.

            Another group of children will be longing to break into a group that is unaccepting of new members.  Cliques are seemingly fun on the inside, but can be very painful from the outside.  Learning acceptance and welcoming skills enables the child to expand their world of friends.  Parents who model inviting others into a group or family setting are showing children how to use this skill.

            With a little patience and discussion ahead of time, parents can help their child prepare for an overnight camp experience away home that they will truly enjoy and never forget!


Source:  North Dakota State University Extension Service