There are two different anxieties at play when you pack your kid off to camp for the first time. One, your child’s anxieties about fitting in, making new friends, being homesick, having a good time. But those anxieties may pale in comparison to your own anxiety of being a parent and sending your kid off to fend for him or herself. (I would like to point out that there are many kids who may jump on the bus, offer a quick wave and return smiling a month later. Count those blessings!)
Here are a few suggestions on a smooth transition from home to camp.
- Do your homework. Read the camp brochures or explore the camp website with your child. Point out all the new experiences that they will be having. Let them go into the summer knowing what to expect.
- Include your child in planning for camp. Be it what clothes to buy or packing it up, working together to head off to camp allows your child to talk about his/her apprehensions and what excites them. It will also give them a feeling of some control over an unfamiliar experience.
- Pack some familiarity for them. While some kids may be excited to get a new set of sheets for camp, many may appreciate a touch of home with an old set of familiar favorites. Include a favorite doll, book or quilt to give them a small taste of home.
- Have a letter waiting for your child when s/he gets up to camp. The first few days are the hardest. Let them know you are thinking about them.
- Include little notes of love letters in their suitcases. A quick note or two for your child to discover when unpacking their toiletries or sweatshirts gives them the feeling of being loved.
- Family pictures. Send a small album of family and friends for your child to flip through when s/he is feeling homesick.
Then, and this is the hardest part, step back and give your child space to enjoy their experience. Too much parenting undermines the goal of summer camp: to foster independence and growth in your child. Write letters, send packages, come visit but let your child have their own camp experience.