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Seven ways to help your child cope with summer camp anxiety

a kids front shot during a summer camp activity

Schools are out for summer, and camps are definitely in! Summer camp is a place where children and teens can come together to experience new adventures, learn new skills and most importantly, learn more about themselves. Camp provides children with a community — of peers and of caring adults who are there to support and guide.

Along with those great opportunities can often come varying levels of anxiety on the child’s part. According to Dr. Despina Hatziergati, Unit Chief/Child and Adolescent Inpatients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Westchester Division in White Plains, “Anxious children might have many questions and worries about what it means to attend a particular camp. They might want to talk with their parents — what the camp’s schedule is like, where are they going to sleep, can they return home if they do not like the camp, who will help them, etc.”

It is important that the ultimate selection of a camp accommodate the needs, interests, goals, and expectations of both parent and child. “Parents should include their child in the camp selection process, whether it be a day camp or sleep away camp. They should pay attention not only to the way their child responds but also to the child’s body language, and look for signs of anxiety. It’s also important for parents to control their anxieties about separating, and not transfer it to their child,” advises Dr. Hatziergati.

In the end, navigating through feelings of trepidation will prove to be well worth it for your young ones. At camp, they will benefit from opportunities that help them gain confidence, develop new skills, grow more independent, be physically active, learn social skills and make new friends. 

Here, Dr. Hatziergati offers some ways you can help your child get the most out of their summer camp experience:

  1. Don’t be so quick with the safety net: Be careful not to promise to pick up your child as soon as they gets homesick. Instead, ask your child to do their best to cope and talk again in a couple of days if needed.
  2. Focus on fun: Talk about the specific activities that await that day at camp, which might change your child’s attitude toward camp from one of fear to one of anticipation.
  3. Do a dry run: If the decision is made for a sleep-away camp, it might be beneficial to visit the camp ahead of time. A shorter weekend stay away from parents, before the day of camp, might give your child the opportunity to experience being away from home and to practice ways of soothing himself. Discussing the daily schedule — sleeping and eating arrangements, the different kind of activities, how and when to contact parents — can be helpful strategies.
  4. A comforting critter: Having a favorite stuffed animal to hold at night could be reassuring.
  5. Keep in touch: If phone calls or e-mails are allowed, schedule a daily time to communicate with your child. If that is not allowed, pack stamped envelopes and paper for letters. You can even send a letter or a package with goodies before the child leaves home, for them to find it at camp upon arrival.
  6. Practice makes perfect: Role-play different scenarios and coping skills with your child for several weeks before leaving for camp. This way they will know exactly what to do if such a situation arises.
  7. Help is always at hand: Just because your child is away from you, they still have a support system at camp. Encourage them to talk with a camp counselor about potential difficulties and questions they has. You might also want to alert the camp director and counselors— especially if your child is anxious— of what might be helpful to reassure and calm them.

To find a pediatric specialist for your child, please visit nyp.org/pediatrics or call 800-245-KIDS.