How To Help Kids Prepare For Sleepaway Camp

Dana Kite, Director of Lake of the Woods Camp, shares tips for parents

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Going away to sleepaway camp for the first time is both scary and exciting. The anticipation of camp may stir up nervous feelings for both kids and parents. Dana Kite, Director of Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods Camps shares some advice for parents on how to talk to their kids during the months and weeks leading up to camp.

Question: How can I ease my child's worries about going to sleepaway camp for the first time?

  • Normalizing those feelings. Many exciting experiences can be mixed with feelings of nervousness. It is completely normal for kids to experience anxious feelings as the summer gets closer. Validate and normalize your child's feelings. Sad days or moments at camp are normal and will usually pass quickly. Parents can help by letting their kids know that it is okay to miss home AND still have a great time at camp. Children sometimes need permission to feel both!
  • Talk about fears. Talk with your child about what they are fearful of, helping them talk about their fears and have a plan for what they should do when they feel that way at camp.
  • Provide coping skills. Instead of focusing so much on the "what if…" try and focus on "what will I do when I feel this way." I think it helps kids feel more prepared to tackle those feelings once at camp. Help your child make a list of all the things might help them feel better when they are feeling sad at camp. Some examples might be: doing a fun activity with a friend or counselor, talking about home and sharing pictures or writing a letter home. 
  • Explain their summer responsibilities. Parents should explain to their child that they have 2 responsibilities while at camp: 1) To have fun! 2) Tell someone if something is bothering them! Whether it is homesickness, issues with a peer or not enjoying an activity, the counselors and directors want to help and are there to help. It is important that kids never feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help or support.
  • Focus on the positive. Talk with your kid about activities they are excited to try. Include them in packing, buying camp clothing and other pre-camp activities. Make them part of the process.​

Question: My child is a picky eater. How can I prepare him for camp food?

  • Share your concerns with directors. If your child is a picky eater or has special needs, be sure to call the camp and discuss.  We talk with parents all the time about all different food options we have at camp.  I think it helps campers feel excited about camp if they know what to expect and don't feel there are too many surprises.
  • Look at menus. Ask the camp to share past menus with you so that your child can get a feel for typical meals served at camp. Parents can help their child by saying "So you don't love tacos,  let's talk about what else you can eat on taco night." These small things help kids feel prepared and allow them to focus on the fun stuff when they get to camp.​​

Question: My child is worried she won't make any new friends? What can I do to help her?

  • Trust the staff. The camp staff are there to help facilitate fun games and bonding activities so that campers get to know one another better.
  • Meet other campers before camp. Camp is a place where kids actually learn to make authentic connections with peers.  If your child is going to camp without a buddy, call the camp in the spring and get some information on the other campers in his or her grade. Are there other new campers? Other campers who live in the area? Maybe your child can meet or email with another camper before camp! 

Question: I am having my own separation anxiety about my child leaving. How can I monitor and ease my feelings?

  • Camp is an amazing experience for your child. Remind yourself that you are giving such an incredible gift to your child. Camp will give your child the skills and tools they need to be healthy, successful adults, so focus on the personal growth and fun your child will have.
  • Keep your anxious feelings to yourself. Do not share your anxiety with your child! Make every effort not to make statements like "You are going to have fun, but I don't know how I am going to survive without you." That sends your child mixed messages. Many children already worry about their parents when they are at camp, so it is important that parents don't share their nervous feelings with your child.
  • Talk with the directors. As a camp director, I love getting the chance to talk with parents before camp and ease their minds.  As a mom myself, I understand and want to make sure the parents know that we are available for them throughout the summer too! 

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