Camping with the Kids: A Parents' Guide of Do's & Don'ts

Preparing for Camp

Summer camp is more than a country vacation for children.  At camp, kids learn to appreciate the outdoors, develop companionship and pick up skills that enhance self-reliance, cooperation and interdependence.  These skills will remain with them throughout childhood and into adulthood.  Camp also serves as a kind of refuge were children can unburden themselves of the pressures at home.  Camp frees them, gets their creative juices flowing and renews their sense of being kids. 

To help your child have a successful time at camp this summer.  Learning to let go, allows children to develop autonomy and a stronger sense of self.  It also gives parents a chance to take care of themselves and get to know each other again.  When children return, parents can feel refreshed and be available and accessible to them again. 

Prepare for camp together:  Decisions about camp, like where to go and what to pack, should be a joint venture, keeping in mind your child's level of maturity.  If your child feels part of the decision-making process, his/her chances of having a positive experience will improve.  Don't buy a whole new wardrobe:  Camp is more rugged than life at home.  A child doesn't need new clothes, and having well-worn clothes and familiar possessions will help ease the transition.  This is especially important for first-time campers. 

Talk about concerns:  As the first day of camp approaches, some children experience uneasiness about going away.  Children should be encouraged to talk about these feelings.  Ask your child about his/her feelings rather than acting on what you think his/her feelings may be.  Communicate confidence in his/her ability to handle being away from home and remind him/her about successes he/she has experienced in other situations. 

Have realistic expectations:  Camp, like the rest of life, has high points and low ones.  Not every moment will be filled with wonder and excitement.  At times, your child will feel great while at other times he/she may feel unhappy or bored.  And kids may not always get along well with each other.  Solution:  Encourage your child to have a reasonable and realistic view of camp by discussing , in advance,  both the ups and downs.  Camp experiences will provide opportunities for problem solving, negotiating, increased self-awareness and greater sensitivity toward others.  Don't send your child to camp feeling pressured to succeed.  The main purposes of camp are to relax and have fun. 

When your child is at camp:  Don't call within the fist two weeks, if your child will be away at camp for the whole summer.  It takes that long to adjust to being away, and a call from home may disrupt the process.  It's hard to get an accurate sense of how a child is managing over the phone, this can be unsettling for you and your child, so it's best not to call at all. 

Communicate in writing:  Summer camp offers kids and parents the chance to develop a rarely practiced skill, letter writing.  Write as often as you want.  Keep in mind that this is your child's connection to home and family.  Your letters should be upbeat.  It's fine to write that you miss your child, but don't include things like, the house is so quiet without you.  Better:  Ask specific questions in your letters about your child's activities, bunk life, friends, etc.  This will help him/her organize his/her letters home. 

Packages are appreciated every now and then:  But don't send food, its disruptive if some kids in the cabin receive food packages and others receive nothing.  Receiving food packages may be contrary to camp policy.  If your child asks you to sneak food packages, don't.  Even if you think a rule is silly, breaking a camp rule might interfere with your child's sense of right and wrong.  Better:  Send postcards, cartoons, newspaper and magazine articles, comics, game books, puzzles and other items that can be shared with friends.  Example:  Tell your child, I understand that you're hungry.  That's why you have three great meals each day and snacks.  I'll send you some comic books.  Hope you enjoy them.  Why don't you share them with your bunk? 

Don't make major changes at home:  This is not the time to redecorate his/her room or get rid of anything.  When kids return from camp, they like their rooms and their lives to be the same as when they left.  Help your child cope at camp:  Most kids need a few days to adjust to life at camp and being away from home.  During this time, many experience homesickness.  They miss familiar surroundings, parents, pets and friends.  Most kids cope with these concerns and with the help of camp staff, build support systems.  If your child's letters contain urgent pleas for you to bring him/her home, resist the temptation to rush to camp.  Avoid making deals, such as (Give camp one more week.  If you're still unhappy, we'll bring you home.)  Better:  Support your child's efforts to work out problems with the help of the director and the camp 's staff.  Communicate your love and confidence in your child's ability to work through problems.  Remind him/her, if necessary, that he/she has made a commitment for the summer.  Overcoming homesickness and upsets in the cabin and learning to care for oneself are important challenges faced at camp.  Important:  If you sense legitimacy in your child's complaints, talk candidly with the camp director.  Allow the director and staff an opportunity to apply their expertise in helping kids adapt to the routines of camp life.  Follow up with another call a few days later.  Most adjustment difficulties can be worked through. 

Trust your instincts:  The occasional child who is truly not enjoying anything, having a miserable time and not adjusting to camp life at all should be allowed to return home after a reasonable amount of time and effort.  Keep in mind that some kids feel guilty when an experience like camp does not work out for them.  They may feel that they have let their parents down.  If your child leaves camp, let him know he has not failed and there will be other summers with other adventures. 

When your child comes home:  After a summer of fun, adventure and freedom, fitting back into the family and assuming responsibilities may be a challenge for some kids.  Strategy:  Give him/her time and space for this reentry process.  Support the positive changes you observe.  Reintroduce (house rules), with patience and awareness that your child has done some maturing over the summer.

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