Sending your child to sleepaway camp for the first time is one of the biggest milestones of parenthood! We get it – you are excited for them to start this chapter but you are scared to let them go. Even for an independent, confident child – 2 or more weeks away from home can be difficult. And for parents… sometimes even more difficult! Here are a few tips and tricks for first time parents as the lead up to Opening Day approaches.
1. Get them comfortable – It’s never too early to get to know the camp you chose. Together with your camper, check out all of the camps social media pages, watch videos on YouTube and explore the camps website and virtual tour. Use positive language when talking about the camp. If you have the opportunity to meet a Director, ask for a home visit from the camp or take an in person tour– do it! The more familiar your camper is with the camp, the more comfortable they will feel on drop off day.
2. Have a sleepover – Many first time campers have never had a “practice run” before heading off to camp for the first time. Once you decide on camp, start to plan sleepovers with friends or family members so your camper can experience sleeping in a different bed and being in environments without you. This is also a great way for parents to practice being away from your future camper. If they ask, try not to call them or pick them up early. Practice makes perfect.
3. Psych them up – When you are talking about camp with your camper, be as positive as you can. “We are so excited for you!” “We are jealous, we want to go to camp!” and “You are so lucky you get to go to camp” – are great lines to reassure your camper (and yourself!) Try not to focus on things that might go wrong, such as missing each other or homesickness, and focus on the things you know will go right.
4. Shop till you drop – A great way to get your camper both pumped up and comfortable about camp is including them in every step of the process. Bring your camper with you to pick out a trunk, camp linens or even items as simple as toiletries. It is helpful for campers to have tangible objects to get them thinking and preparing ahead for their big camp adventure.
5. Make a plan – Discuss how you and your camper will communicate when they are away. Camps have various different rules and philosophies on phone calls, emails and communication. Educate yourself on the camps policies and agree together on the format and frequency of contact. During moments of communication, remember to keep it light-hearted and happy. Most importantly, understand that for children hearing a parents voice while away brings all kinds of emotions bubbling to the surface. Your camper will want to tell you the highs and lows and will be looking to you for reassurance. Tell them that you love them and that you are confident in their ability to cope.
6. Reflect – While your camper is away from you, try to remember that they are doing all of the things you hoped they would when you first started researching camps all those months ago. Yes, your camper will be participating in activities like waterskiing, dancing on stage or climbing to the top of the rock tower. But additionally, and more importantly, they will experience how to get along and live with others and how to figure things out for themselves, all while learning to be better communicators and growing as individuals. Use this time while your camper is away from you to reflect on your parenting goals for the upcoming school year and to prepare to welcome home your more confident, wiser and braver child.
Director, Camp Chinqueka