It is summer time and for many children that means heading off to camp. Making new friends, discovering new experiences, camp offers children opportunities they may not normally have. But for some children, separation anxiety makes summer camp a stressful time; the days and weeks leading up to camp full of anxiety and worry.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
- Excessive anxiety about separation from the attachment figure.
- Unrealistic fear that the attachment figure will be harmed.
- Reluctance to attend school.
- Persistent refusal to go to sleep unless the attachment figure is nearby.
- Persistent avoidance of being alone.
- Nightmares involving themes of separation.
- Repeated physical complaints when separated.
- Excessive distress when separation is anticipated.
Tips for Parents
If your child is going to be attending camp this year, and seems unsettled, nervous or agitated, he could be worried about attending camp and being away from home. Children worry about different things, some may worry no one at camp will like them, others may worry about being homesick and others may be concerned because of situations at home, such as a recent death or divorce. Talk to your child to find out what he might be worried about and work to find way to help your child feel more comfortable. However, no matter why your child is concerned, the following tips can help.
Let your child know that everyone gets nervous going away to camp, especially the first time. Sometimes children believe they are the only one who is scared and they think there is something wrong with them because they are scared. Letting children know they are not alone and that being nervous and scared is normal.
Review the reasons your child wanted to go away to camp or why he or she picked out this specific camp. Was there a certain activity, such as swimming, horseback riding, music or arts, that got your child's attention? Go over what the camp has to offer and what types of fun activities your child will be doing at camp.
Show your confidence that your child is going to enjoy their time at camp. If you believe that your child will have fun at camp, he will be more willing to believe it too. If you are nervous about your child leaving for a week, he will pick up on your worrying and it will feed into his anxiousness.
Remind your child about a new experience they previously combated. For example, talk about the first day of school, meeting a new neighbor, joining a sports team or after school club or class. Chances are, your child has recently had an experience that can remind him that he has the abilities to make it through new situations. Talk about what traits helped in that situation. Did his sense of humor make it easier? Did his compassion for other people help him get over his own fears and help someone else? Did his leadership skills help him take charge and get over his fear? These same traits can help him when he goes to camp.
Talk to the camp before your child attends. Find out their policy on children calling home, on accepting calls from parents, on how counselors deal with homesickness. Understanding how the camp works and camp policies can help you come up with strategies for coping with separation anxiety.
Provide your child with paper, pens and envelopes that have already been addressed to you and stamped. Your child might feel more connected to you if he writes a letter. Let him know whenever he is feeling really homesick, he can write you a letter and it is like he is talking to you. Make sure you also send mail to your child as well. You may want to mail a letter a day or two before he gets to camp, that way there will be a letter from you waiting or arriving shortly after he gets to camp.
Give lots of extra attention to your child in the days and weeks before he goes away to camp. If your child is worrying about going away he may need extra time and extra hugs. Separation anxiety can sometimes appear as irritability or clinginess. Rather than getting annoyed, be patient and understanding.
Have your child help in the planning. Camps usually send a list of needed supplies. Go over the list with your child and have him help you gather up supplies and pack his belongings. Getting him involved in the process can help ease anxiety.
Don't drag out your good-byes. It might be tough on you as well, but keep your good-byes short. Dragging it out makes everyone even more nervous. Send your child off with a hug and a vote of confidence that he will have a great time.
For more information:
"Camp Anxiety - What to Do About Kids Who Aren't," 2011. Staff Writer, St. Louis Children's Hospital
"Separation Anxiety, 2009, Jerry Kennard, AnxietyConnection.com
"Separation Anxiety, Reviewed 208, April 20, reviewed by Neil K. Kaneshiro, M.D., A.D.A.M. Health Encylcopedia
Published On: June 07, 2011