When I was four or five years old, I rode with my mother to buy storage trunks for my brothers to use at summer camp. The first time I saw the chests, I broke out in tears. Here were these huge trunks with large locks on the side, which resembled something you would pack if you were leaving home for good! I remember trembling inside at the thought of my brothers packed in those trunks! I really thought my parents were shipping them off to live for good, since they were always into some kind of trouble. My mother figured out what I was thinking, and cleared it up nicely, however I developed a fear of summer camp. Never mastering this fear, I missed out on a fun childhood experience.
When we send our children to summer camp, and they seem excited about it at the time, it is shocking to find a tear stained letter from them within a few days. To experience some homesickness is normal, and will lessen with age, however for some young children, a short overnight stay with a friend is difficult, much less summer camp!
For these kids, summer camp can produce intense fear, depression, trouble eating, and social problems. Children can be so cruel, and it does not take them long, to pinpoint the child who shows the slightest sign of fear.
It seems children with this fear act out by either withdrawing from their peers, or showing signs of unacceptable behavior in social gatherings. However, there are ways you can help your child, if they are afraid of going to their first summer camp.
When I saw my parents buy the large trunks for my brother’s departure, I saw the desire to send them to camp as a sign of rejection. Therefore, it is best to include your kids when making the decision to send them to camp. Have them help you with the research in finding a camp that matches their interests, and ask them questions about what kind of camp they would like to attend. There is not any point in forcing them to go to one particular camp, like the one you, or your spouse attended when you were children. Since they may say they want to go just to please you, then get there, and want to come home. Do your research on camp policies and procedures for writing home, and schedules during the day. Everyone wants to know the expectations of them in any given situation, and children are not any different.
After doing your research, bring your child to the camp for a visit, and meet the camp counselors. They will be spending time with these people everyday, so it will help if they like them, and can look forward to seeing them again. The advantage in this is they will feel more secure about whom they will share their days and nights for six or more weeks. How would you feel given you were embarking on the same journey?
Next, have them help pack their belongings for the trip and make it fun, by offering examples of what they will be doing, and the fun things you think they will do. Reassure them they can do this, and how proud they will be of themselves when they do. Do not bargain, or make threats, as this encourages them to feel they cannot be honest with you, for fear of letting you down. It also threatens their security about whether camp will really be fun, or if you are just trying to get rid of them for the summer. Children will share your attitude about going away, and facing challenging situations, so be upbeat and secure in your manner.
Let your child know if they call you, they can voice whatever is troubling them, and it will be received without indifference, anger, or judgment. Children need to have a soft place to fall, and for your child, let that place be you.
I certainly hate to think of other children internalizing the thought of being sent to camp in a trunk, so I wanted to share with my readers these important ideas.
However, there are many ways counselors can help you and your child, cope with separation anxiety, after all, they deal with it daily, so keep in touch with them, and your children over their stay.
Remember, you are your child’s soft place to fall, and their example of how to master the many obstacles and fears life will toss out each day.
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