It’s summer, and many parents are anticipating sending their child off for a few weeks of swimming, hiking and arts and crafts fun at summer camp. However, this excitement is often mixed with the anxiety of the child going off to camp – perhaps for the first time.
"Even if your child is excited about going away to camp, it still can be stressful to leave home for an extended period," says Catherine Hutter, PhD, a pediatric psychologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
The following tips will assist with a smooth transition from home to camp:
- Get information and help from many sources. Talk to your child, the camp counselor, camp director, parents of friends at camp, etc. Find out how the camp addresses homesickness, and ask for advice. Your child’s pediatrician might have some good suggestions too.
- Focus on all of the good things about camp. Talk to your child about what he will do and learn over the summer. Remember, camp is about learning new things and meeting new people, all of which can build a child’s confidence.
- Be a model of confidence, yet show empathy. Make it clear you understand that being away from home can be scary, but show that you are confident your child can make a successful transition. Kids often pick up anxiety from parents, so if you are anxious, they probably will be too.
- Help your child reassess her anxious thinking. "Anxious children often have extreme thinking – worrying about the worst thing that could happen," says Dr. Hutter. Ask your child what her biggest fear is and talk her through their concerns.
- Ask the child to come up with his own solutions, like what would make him feel more comfortable – short of staying home!
- Encourage your child to bring something that will remind him of home. A note from mom and dad, a picture of the family, or even a parent-delivered kiss on the child’s palm of the hand can be a “transitional object” to comfort him during anxious times.
- Keep the goodbyes short. Difficult as it may be to peel a crying, clinging child off your leg and walk out the door quickly, it’s the best strategy. Lingering may delay the agony and confuse the child. Camp counselors will assure you that most children start mingling with other kids within moments of their parents’ departure.
- Seek professional help. Having your child see a therapist for a few sessions doesn’t mean that he has serious problems, rather that more help is needed. For example, Dr. Hutter and her associates often successfully teach relaxation techniques to anxious children.