Whether it’s day camp, VBS or a sleepaway setup, summer camp is a big deal for your little one. If this is her first year, she could be slightly anxious at the thought of being away from you. She may also worry about making friends, what she’ll do at camp and (my kids’ personal Big Fear) whether “the food will taste yucky,” eew!
7 Tips to Get Your Child Off to a Great Start at Camp
1. Make sure she has immediate and ongoing access to you.
No, you don’t want a phone call every five minutes. But your child should always feel you’re just a shout away. If the camp allows and if your child is old enough and responsible enough, get her a limited use phone (WalMart and other stores will have these) and tell her to call if she really needs you. This simple step makes a child feel more secure and less “alone” on her first days of camp.
If your child doesn’t have a phone, check in advance what the camp’s policies are on phone calls. Then let your child know how and when she can call you should any issues arise.
2. Have her bring a friend along.
If you can manage this, get together with another mom or dad and have your children attend camp together. A unified front will not only make them feel confident, it will be a friendship memory for both in days to come.
If this isn’t feasible, find out from the camp whether there’s a phone number/email swap for parents ahead of time and arrange a playdate between your child and one or two other campers.
3. Send her with something that reminds her of home.
Some camps will prohibit your child carrying around large items, such as a teddy bear or blanket. But you can let her wear one of your bracelets, a favorite t-shirt or other item that makes her feel warm and cuddly throughout the day.
4. Fill her up with a BIG breakfast in the morning.
Particularly if the camp serves its own food, you want to make sure she has a full stomach starting out her day. You never know what she’ll like and what she won’t. We encourage our kids to try at least a bite of everything, but there are some foods that really “gross them out.” So we balance “try it” with “you can have your preferences if they’re really important preferences to you.”
5. If she has food allergies or intolerances…
Send her with the appropriate foods each morning, and send extra. If your child has food restrictions, she may feel left out. Send her with “fun” foods within her food restrictions (my kids love a frozen Go-gurt in their backpack; it thaws just enough to drink by the time lunch rolls around).
Also be sure to send extra. Kids who are unrestricted can grab from the community “pot” for seconds (of pretzels, for example). But your child is limited to what you send with her each day. Make sure you stock her up with plenty so she can have her own seconds.
6. Make 100% sure the camp knows about any medical considerations your child may have.
Give the counselor or the office an extra epi-pen, inhaler, etc. with clear instructions from your doctor on how and when to use it. Also have your child carry her emergency items in a secure plastic mini-purse. She can attach it on a chain and put it into her pocket so it doesn’t get in the way of her camp activities.
7. Listen, listen, listen.
All children complain about their situation at times. But some complaints are legitimate — and should be acted on immediately. If your child tells you something distressing about camp, remain calm. Engage her in a conversation about what happened (bullying, a counselor acting inappropriately, etc.). Try to calmly get information from her.
Some children are hesitant to report on negative things that happen at camp or school, so watch for cues that your child is unhappy or that something is going on. By paying attention to your child, you’ll know she’s happy and comfortable at camp… and that’s exactly what you and she both want.