For some children, homesickness lasts about 5 minutes. Once they meet the other children and find activities they enjoy, they are off and running. While they may miss Mom and Dad and think about home, they can put aside feelings of homesickness and relish the summer camp experience. For other children, however, separation anxiety gets in the way. Their anxiousness and homesickness take over, preventing them from having fun. Some may develop panic attacks or physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches. For these children, summer camp isn’t fun…it is a nightmare.
As parents, there are some ways you can help your child be more prepared to go off to camp and hopefully come back a week or two later with new friends and an experience he or she will remember forever. The following are Do’s and Don’ts for helping your child with anxiety prepare for and enjoy summer camp.
_Do _ acknowledge their fears. Show empathy and understanding and listen. Sometimes your child just wants to know that you have heard him or her.
_Don’t _ trivialize their concerns as this may increase their feelings of insecurity and make them feel that their feelings are wrong or unacceptable. Let them express their concerns.
Do choose a camp that is geared toward your child’s interests.Focus on camps that will provide your child with activities based on their unique interests.
Don’t choose a camp because an older brother loved this particular camp or because you had so much fun at science camp when you were a child. Being bored or uninterested in what the camp has to offer can increase homesickness.
Do have your child help with preparations. Bring your child shopping for supplies, have them help with packing.
Don’t try to hide preparations because you don’t want to bring up the topic of camp or because you are worried about adding to their anxiety.
Do keep your own concerns to yourself. Stay positive and upbeat during conversations about camp but don’t overdo it, constantly exclaiming how much fun he or she will have, this may make them afraid to share fears and concerns with you.
Don’t add to your child’s nervousness and anxiety by voicing your apprehension about having him or her gone for a week. This will only increase their fears.
Do focus on activities your child will enjoy and ask questions that don’t focus on fears. For example, you might ask, "What do you think you will like better, going out on the lake in a boat or fishing from the beach?"
Don’t feed into fears by asking questions focusing on concerns, such as "Are you nervous about being in a boat?"
Do pack a few pieces of "home" in your child’s things. You might want to send along a favorite pillow, stuffed animal or blanket. You can pack a picture of you or write a few notes for him to open throughout the week.
Don’t cut your child off from you completely because you feel it will only add to their homesickness. Plan some regular communication, such as phone calls or emails at regular intervals. Children’s anxiety doesn’t always revolve around their activities but may include worrying that something will happen to you when they aren’t around. Regular communication will help assure your child that you are okay. Check with the camp to find out their guidelines about communication.
Do talk to your child about what he or she feels would help the situation. Allow him or her to come up with solutions. Ask "What do you think you can do?"
Don’t offer solutions that you feel would be best and force this idea on your child. He or she is more apt to follow through and work at a solution if it is something he or she wanted or believes will be helpful.
Do teach your child relaxation techniques before heading off to camp. Practice deep breathing or provide other ways they can take a few minutes to relieve their anxiety when feeling out of control.
Don’t make relaxation exercises too complicated. Something like, breathe in and out 5 times is best.
Do go over what to expect at camp. Use literature from the camp, the camp’s website or a visit to the camp to talk about daily schedules, routines, activities and events that are planned for the week.
Don’t avoid discussing camp in an effort to avoid further anxiety.
Do keep your good-byes short. Give a kiss, a hug and a smile and then leave your child in the hands of the camp counselors.
Don’t linger or get emotional during the good-bye. This may only help to fuel your child€™s fears.
While going to camp is often a wonderful experience for a child and one that is remembered throughout their lives, overnight camps aren’t for everyone. Make sure to talk with your child before making plans to gauge their reaction. You may decide that a day camp is better this year and give your child more time to adjust to the idea of being away from home a week or longer.
For more information on anxiety in children:
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.