Sending kids off to summer camp is emotionally tough on parents, even if it’s not your first time. It’s normal to be concerned about your children’s physical and emotional well being. But excessive worrying is unproductive and stressful.
Not that you should ignore possible difficulties. However, dwelling on them only makes you feel more helpless. In addition your child may sense your anxiety and start worrying as well.
So how do I stop dwelling? you might be thinking.
Worrying stems from uncertainty. Thus, anything you do to reduce uncertainty will help decrease your anxiety. It’s a two-step process:
- Know the facts
- Have a plan
In other words, know as much as possible about what you’re dealing with, and decide specifically what you will do if it happens.
For example, consider the problem of homesickness. It’s very common, according to research by Dr. Christopher Thurber. Camps have been dealing with it for generations. And despite homesickness, kids often look forward to returning next year.
Knowing this can put your mind at ease. Nevertheless it’s still distressing to get a letter or phone call from your child begging to come home.
That’s where a plan comes in. Decide in advance what you will do. Since most homesickness subsides within a day or two, your initial plan may be simply to talk to the camp director and to encourage your child to stay at camp.
A small percentage of kids develop more serious symptoms such as incessant crying, and problems with eating and sleeping for several days in a row. If that should happen to your child, make a backup plan as to how you will handle it.
What about unforeseen circumstances?
You can’t prepare for every possible situation at camp or otherwise. Even with precautions, accidents do happen; some kids get seriously ill; and weather-related disasters are possible.
But knowing the facts can help put your worries in perspective. Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean that it’s probable.
For example, last summer two boys were attacked by a bear (though not seriously injured) at a state forest campsite. Is this likely to happen again? According to experts, no. Overall the number of bear sightings has actually decreased, with no other attacks.
There’s no guarantee that this won’t happen again. But given that it was an isolated incident, it’s not worth actively worrying about nor preparing for. You may not want your child sleeping in a tent in the woods, but an afternoon hike close to camp headquarters most likely won’t attract bears.
Worrying can distort reality. The more you fret about low-probability disasters, the more real they seem, and the more anxious you become. Therefore, make sure you get the facts. Instead of anticipating the least probable, make plans for the most probable.
What if my child starts worrying about camp?
Of course, you want to be reassuring. But some reassurances can backfire. For example, unless your child mentions anxiety about camp, avoid spur-of-the-moment comments like, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” This will only remind him that there’s something to worry about.
Similarly, don’t give instructions for unlikely events. If you say, “There may be bears, so I’ll give you a whistle to wear around your neck,” your child will become more anxious about bears, not less so.
Address worries as your child brings them up. Help him apply the principles of knowing the facts and having a plan. Visit the camp’s website and share what you know about the area and the people there. Encourage him to imagine himself in that environment, having fun and learning new things.
If he has specific concerns, such as, “What if I miss you?” help him figure out a couple things that he can do if that happens. It’s better if the ideas come from your child; therefore, resist the urge to offer a solution immediately.
If your child has never spent a night away from you, arrange for some sleepovers with friends. The first couple of times you might call or text one another. But work toward being away from each other without contact, because that’s how it’s going to be at camp.
Plan for YOUR first few days without your child
The house is going to feel very empty when your child leaves. Knowing this in advance and making plans will help you weather your own child-away-from-home sickness.