Summer camp can be a fun, exciting time in a child’s life. But for children with anxiety, it can also bring about feelings of fear. Here are some things you can do, as a parent, to help ease your child’s anxiety and prepare for a fun experience.
Help your child become familiar with the camp before he gets there. If the camp itself is too far away to visit before camp starts, take time to look at the camp's website with your child, pointing out items and activities of interest. Read the counselors' profiles, if available. Go over what a normal day would look like at camp. Once your child arrives at camp, seeing places and people who are familiar from the website will help him feel more comfortable. Children with anxiety feel more in control when they know what to expect.
Be on the lookout for signs of anxiety. Your child might have trouble sleeping, have nightmares, be irritable or complain of physical problems, such as nausea or headaches. Your child might not know that these symptoms mean she is anxious about camp. Talk to your child about how she is feeling.
Talk about camp. If your child seems anxious, you might want to avoid discussing it -- but not talking about it might just add to her fears. Instead, ask questions like, “How are you feeling about going to camp?” Avoid leading questions such as, “Are you afraid of meeting new people?” This can signal there** is** a reason to be afraid of meeting new people.
Ask your child if she has any questions about camp. If you can’t find the answers on the website, you can usually email the camp director to find answers. Providing your child with information can provide a sense of empowerment to him or her.
Include your child in planning for camp. Let your child pick out a few items to bring with him. Have him help with using a checklist for what he needs and with packing. He might choose to bring one or two items, such as a blanket or special pillow, from home to help him feel less homesick.
Find out in advance the camp’s policies on communication. Can your child receive phone calls or emails? If so, don’t inundate her every day. Instead, communicate occasionally -- but regularly -- to let your child know you are thinking of her. Provide your child with pre-stamped envelopes, paper or postcards to you and to other family members or friends so he or she can write and let those who care about her know how things are going.
Put your own fears aside. You might worry about your child being away from home for an extended time. If so, don’t talk about these concerns with your child, as it can add one more thing to a list of worries. Instead, be positive and upbeat about the camp experience.
Communicate with the camp ahead of time about any medications, special needs or concerns you might have. If your child is afraid of horses, for example, and there is horseback riding, let the director know. If your child is on medication, find out what documentation you need from your child’s doctor and how you need to provide the medication. Be prepared for any potential problems.
Address your child’s fears. Telling your child that there is nothing to be afraid of can sometimes escalate fears and cause your child to feel isolated. Ask questions about how your child might handle fearful situations. For example, ask, “What will you say when you meet a new friend?” Also be willing to talk about your child's fears without feeding into them. End the conversation by reminding her of activities that she will find enjoyable.
Talk about what to do when your child is feeling anxious. Provide practical ideas such as taking several deep breaths or talking to a counselor. If your child is prepared to be anxious, if and when it happens it won’t be quite so scary.
See more helpful articles:
Do’s and Don’ts for Sending an Anxious Child to Summer Camp
What Not to Do When Your Child Is Anxious
Separation Anxiety: Tips for Parents When Your Child Has Anxiety About Going to Camp
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of 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.