Camp 101: Preparing Emotionally for the Summer of 2015March 11, 2015
Dear Camp Parents,
This third installment of our Camp 101 series explores the ways in which preparing for Camp can affect both parents and children emotionally. While there is a lot of logistical and practical planning to be done in the coming weeks, we want to make sure that you feel supported, educated and ready on an emotional level too.
Please remember that we are your year-round partners and are happy to discuss any issues or questions with you at any point. Please don’t hesitate to contact us!
A couple of Important Dates were incorrect in previous versions of the Camp 101 emails.
Please scroll to the bottom of this email for the correct calendar and apologies for any confusion!
THIS EMAIL CONTAINS INFORMATION TO HELP YOU:
- Talk with your child about Camp in a confident and positive manner
- Steer clear of common pit-falls like “early pick up” deals
- Brainstorm homesickness coping strategies
- Anticipate and cope with your own feelings
- Prepare your child (and yourself!) for a successful and transformative summer
Fortunately, severe homesickness is very rare. Research has shown that only 1 in 5 children have a bothersome amount of homesickness, and only about 1 in 14 has a truly distressing degree of homesickness. At Kenwood and Evergreen, I think our numbers are even better. While practical experience has helped us to develop a number of truly effective ways to deal with homesickness at Camp, there are some simple things that you can do before Camp starts to reduce the chance that your child will experience a bothersome or distressing amount of homesickness. In addition, there are lots of things that you can do to support your child if he or she should experience serious homesickness while at Camp.
Prior to the start of Camp, talk with your child about homesickness. Most children are pretty good at predicting how strong their own homesick feelings will be, and talking about homesickness won’t cause it, or make it worse. Let your child know that there might be times when she will feel a little homesick, even though she is having a great time at Camp. Let him know that there are lots of things to think about or do to feel better if he feels homesick. Many kids have found that the following things help to reduce homesickness atCamp:
- Do something fun —staying busy at Camp, in activities or with friends in between activities, makes a huge difference.
- Do something to feel closer to home —writing letters to family, looking at pictures, reading letters, all have made kids feel better at Camp.
- Think about the good side of being at Camp —looking on the bright side has a big impact. Think of all the cool things you can do at Camp, things that you can’t do at home!
- Try to be happy and have fun —try to change the way that you feel…sometimes just thinking about feeling good is enough to change your mood.
- Remind yourself that Camp isn’t really that long —seven weeks isn’t really that long a time…school lasts about 40 weeks! Remembering how short Camp really is can make a huge difference.
- Talk with someone who can help you feel better —at Camp, there are more people around you who are there to support you than almost anywhere else! Talk to your counselors, your unit leader, your head counselors or to Scott or Phyllis. Their only job is to make sure you have a great summer, and they are experts at helping kids get over their homesickness!
A few more pre-Camp tips:
*If possible, avoid moving in the weeks before or during Camp —it increases a child’s anxiety, and makes the adjustment to Camp much more challenging.
*Be truthful about stressful issues —despite what we said above, hiding a move or separation from your child, and doing it behind his/her back while atCamp, can be devastating. When children return home, and are confronted with a new situation, they can become mistrustful of their parents and fearful of spending time away from home.
*Keep doubts to yourself —again, despite what we just said, try not to say things that will make your child worry about how you’ll feel when she’s away atCamp. If you are uncertain about your child’s ability to cope with homesickness, it is also best to keep those concerns among your child’s adult caregivers, including our staff. Children need to hear positive messages from their parents. If you let them know that you believe they can do it, they’ll be much more likely to succeed. You children know your moods. They can read your concern on your face and sense your anxiety. If you are anxious and your child is not, or even if your child is anxious too, please do your best to insulate your child from your own concerns or worries. Practice your “poker face”.
*Send your child a letter at Camp before the first day —receiving mail atCamp helps children to feel loved and remembered. Personal, positive letters from home are often the cure for almost any illness.
Do not make deals about early pick-ups!
Parents occasionally make pick-up deals in an innocent attempt to reduce pre-campanxiety. Experience teaches us that this is a very destructive strategy. It’s normal for children to feel nervous and excited as Camp approaches. Second thoughts are common. It is normal for first-year campers to be worried about homesickness and ask themselves whether Camp is such a good idea in the first place. Unfortunately, some well-meaning parents have tried to comfort their child by saying something like, “Well, if you still feel homesick after a week, we’ll come to Camp and pick you up.” This promise almost guarantees that the child will be homesick, and that the parent will be forced to fulfill the promise. What’s worse, the child will not gain independence or self-confidence, but may even feel like a failure. It will also invariably end theircamp career.
There are two reasons why pick-up deals usually backfire. First, the deal contains a negative message. The message is “Mom and Dad don’t think you can make it through Camp. We think you will be so homesick that the only solution will be to leave Camp.” The second reason these deals backfire is they give children a powerful, home-related thought to dwell on: The Pick-Up. Then, every time the child encounters a stressful situation at Camp, or feels a twinge of homesickness, his thoughts turn to The Pick-Up. “My parents said that if I don’t like Camp, they’d come to pick me up.” This thought becomes a mental crutch. The child leans on it, rather than his or her own developing power to cope.
If your child asks you straight out, “Mom, will you come pick me up if I get really homesick and hate Camp?” the best answer is something like, “You sound a little nervous about going to Camp. But I think you’re really going to love it. It’s normal to feel nervous before you go. Also, remember that even if you do have some homesick feelings at Camp, you’ll know what to think and do to make things better, and you’ll have lots of people who can help you through those feelings. So, even though you might have some homesick feelings, I think you’re going to have a great time atCamp.”
Learning to cope with homesickness is a skill your child can use the next time he’s away from home. Once children recognize the feeling of homesickness, cope with it, and survive a brief separation from home, their confidence about future separations skyrockets. They really do gain independence, and their self-confidence shapes their attitudes on an on-going basis. Having a confident, positive attitude is one of the best predictors of having a good time at Camp. In a way, the cure for homesickness is actually overcoming an initial bout of homesickness. It’s like exercise. It may hurt a little, but it makes you stronger.
If you’re like most of our parents, you’ll also have some mixed feelings about your decision to send your child to Camp. You want your child to have a great time atCamp, but you’re nervous about whether she’ll be OK on her own. You’re not there to personally supervise your child. No one knows your child better than you do. How could they?
Is this part of your inner dialogue? It is for many of our parents. Fortunately, you chose a great summer camp. We know how to keep your child safe and happy. We know how to run a Camp. If you are like 95% of our families, your child will want to come back to Camp every year for the foreseeable future. We’re shooting for 100%. When your child returns, you will see the results of this incredible experience.
Despite all of this, many of you will still have anxiety about this summer. Any stress that you may feel may be shared by your child. Anticipating your child’s departure is also stress producing. There are two important things to remember about your mixed feelings. First, avoid expressing them to your child. Remember that “poker face”. Instead, strive to convey a uniformly positive message about Camp. Your child needs your absolute confidence.
How can I avoid expressing mixed feelings? Some of your concern or ambivalence about Camp will eventually rub off on your child. He will sense if you are nervous, and that will make it harder for him to feel good about leaving for a few weeks. Kids are constantly looking to their parents for guidance on how to feel. This is especially true about new challenges. Be conscious of this impact, and do your best to insulate your child from any ambivalence you may have. In addition, parents often find the following steps helpful in reducing their own level of stress.
Second, learn some ways to cope with your own concern or anxiety. Let’s focus on a few ways to manage these feelings that many of our parents have found to be successful.
- For parents of new campers, attend the new camper parties, and stay for the entire time. We devote a substantial amount of time to our parent discussion and it will provide you with an opportunity to ask questions and gain important knowledge about Camp.
- Talk with other Camp parents. We have a wonderful community of caringCamp parents. Get to know a few other parents.
- Stay busy.
- Write often.
COMING UP NEXT WEEK: Camp 101: Good To Know – Some Camp Policies
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