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Anxiety Over Leaving For Summer Camp

I. Sleep-Away Camp is Not for Everyone

A. Some parents believe summertime is the time children should be free of commitments and schedules; learn to occupy themselves and enjoy creative free play.
B. Sleep-over camp can be very costly.
C. Sleep-over camp became popular for kids who lived in urban areas as an opportunity to spend time in the outdoors in the countryside. It is still seen as a great opportunity to escape for kids from the city.
D. Some parents prefer their children stay home away from an environment of constant activity. Occasional day camp programs, swimming, gardening, and outdoor fun can keep a child busy “enough” without
E.Whether your child goes to sleep-away camp or stays home, summer is a time of freedom from schedules and an opportunity to learn how to creatively enjoy the slower paced days.

II. If Your Child Is Afraid To Leave Home For Summer Camp For The First Time:

A. Involve the child in the camp selection process.
B. Meet with a representative of the camp to view pictures and discuss what camp is.
C. Share some memories of your camp experiences.
D. Explore the various activities the camp offers.
E. Consider having the child take a special memento from home to keep with them at camp.
F. Plan a letter-writing/communication schedule.
G. Practice sleep-overs at friends or family’s homes before camp begins.
H. If the parent AND the child are anxious about sleep-over camp, it’s not a good idea to send them.
1. Possibility of parents adding to child’s anxiety and neither is ready.
2. May enable child to leave camp early, possibly leading to sense of failure or shame.
3. May set a pattern for quitting when things get tough.

III. If Your Child Becomes Anxious As The Departure Date Nears:

A. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings openly and restrain judgement.
B. Do not try to “talk your child out of “ their feelings; explain that anxiety and homesickness is normal and will last a few days into camp. Explain that missing home is part of life and that you can still have fun even if you feel sad sometimes.
C. Recall other times your child was anxious at the beginning of new experiences that turned out well.
D. Do not minimize or negate the importance of your child’s feelings; do not tease them for feeling anxious.
E. Be aware of your own separation anxieties and how/whether they are being communicated to your child.
F. Make specific, persistent fears or special needs known to the camp director or counselor.
G. Tell your child that there are people at camp who will take care of their needs and will help with all of the things that parents take care of.
H. Explain that many good things sometimes come with some reluctance and fear.Share a story of something you were afraid to do or try, and then loved it and the feeling of accomplishment.
I. Express confidence in your child that you know they can do it and grow from it.
J. Make sure they know you want to hear about everything they do; letters, emails, faxes, photos.
K. Tell them that the fun and happy experiences and feelings will likely far outweigh the sad, homesick feelings.
L. If you are confident about sending them to camp and they feel some last-minute anxiety, it is still a good idea to send them.

IV. When To Involve A Professional For Pre-Camp Anxiety:

Homesickness is not a psychiatric disturbance. It is a natural consequence of leaving home.
A. If your child develops somatic symptoms that persist beyond a few days (heart palpitations, stomach aches, headaches, nausea, etc.)
B. Withdrawing from other social or family functions.
C. Excessive crying, change in appetite or sleep habits.
D. If the child’s fears interfere with normal, day-to-day functioning.

Birmingham Maple Clinic | Michigan Mental Health