For many kids, sleepaway camp is an incredible opportunity – a time to be outdoors, make new friends, and the chance to get out of their comfort zones and try new activities. But not all kids are as excited as others to step off the bus on the first day of camp. In fact, many of them may be nervous and apprehensive, and might even be that they signed up for camp in the first place.
Here are five things you can do to help calm their nerves and get your kids excited for their first day at camp:
1. Have them meet other kids going to the same camp
I can’t stress this one enough. When a child knows that they have a friend or two going to the same camp, people whom they enjoy spending time with, they intuitively understand they are not alone. Ask the camp staff to connect you with other families or to make sure that your child attends a pre-camp meet and greet. It will do wonders for your child’s nerves and make a world of difference.
2. Look at the camp website together with your child
Familiarizing your child with the camp’s daily schedule and with the type of trips and activities they can expect in camp is a terrific tool. Uncertainty is one of the key factors that leads to increased anxiety. When your child has a basic idea of what to expect at camp, it can really help to keep them calm. You’ll also get bonus points if you can point out to your child that the camp is offering their favorite program! This will not only dissipate anxiety but also create activities for your child to look forward to
3. Reminisce about your summer camp days
If you were blessed to have attended sleepaway camp as a child, now is not the time to be shy. Tell your kids about all the fun you had on a hike, when your bunk was toilet papered by the older division, or about the smores you made at the campfire. Sharing highlights from your experiences will make your children even more excited to create their own memories.
4. Map out a plan for keeping in touch
If you are sending your child to a camp with a no-phone policy, they might be nervous about missing the family. This is one of those times when you should identify “the elephant in the room” and say to your child: “Wow, it’s going to be hard not to stay in touch for ____ weeks. Let’s go to the store for some stationery and boxes so I can make sure to mail you letters and even a package, and so you can write letters home as well.” Pre-stamping and pre-addressing the letters will further drive home the point that you are serious about staying in touch!
5. Introduce them to the camp staff and let your child share with them
Having your child meet the camp staff in advance is a definite way to help them feel taken care of. Let your child share some things they are excited about as well as what they are nervous about. Knowing that the camp staff will have campers’ well-being in mind, and be there for them when they may be going through a hard time, is comforting for a child. . That 30-minute meeting can make a big difference for your child.ay.
Meira Spivak is the director of Camp Kesher, a Jewish sleepaway camp located in the Pacific Northwest sponsored by NCSY. She brings with her almost two decades of sleepaway camp experience, shifting from camper to staff member and ultimately to camp director.