Tips from a First-Time Sleepaway Camp Parent (who happens to be a child and family psychologist) …
Okay, parents of campers – let’s be honest, for some of us, the mere thoughtof dropping our kids off at sleep away camp causes our stomach to drop and our eyes to water. We are going to miss our kids so much! For others, we cannot wait to have some down time and our “to-do” list is growing by the day. Perhaps for many of us, we find ourselves somewhere in between—excited for some kid-free time but worried that we will be the ones crying on Incoming Day as we wave goodbye.
Wherever you fall, let me start by saying this: it’s okay! It is completely expected and “normal” to experience a myriad of emotions upon separation from our children (whether it’s the first time or the tenth time you’ve been separated!); it’s known as “kidsickness.” Here are five tips and reminders to help you (and therefore your soon-to-be camper!) relish the camp experience:
- Remember the Benefits
There are numerous reasons we send our kids to camp: a positive experience and strengthening of their character, establishing new friendships, learning new skills, experiencing the outdoors. Think through why your family chose to send your child to camp. Remembering the specific reasons will remind you of the gift you are giving your child by sending them to sleepaway camp!
Going a little deeper – be assured that:
- Getting kids outside of their comfort zone leads to growth.
- Sending children to camp gives them the oh-so-important message you can do this; it empowers them and helps them develop tenacity and grit.
- When kids are away from home, they learn decision-making and problem-solving skills, which in turn increases their competence and self-confidence.
- Living, playing, and working together encourages teamwork and increases collaboration and negotiation skills.
- Being unplugged and outdoors not only promotes appreciation and stewardship of God’s creation, but also allows children to delay gratification, reflect, slow down, and fully embrace human connections (which is what we are created to do)! Taking a break from technology also improves sleep. Note: this is true for all of us!!
2. Stay in the Present
As parents, it’s natural to want to protect our children. We want to keep them from harm and make sure nothing goes awry. We might even believe that somehow, if we worry just enough, we can control things and make them go right. However, this often leads us down a path of anxiety as we begin to parent out of fear. So when you find yourself thinking of “what if” scenarios, ground yourself in the present, evaluate whether your concern is based on fact or fear, and think about realistic and reasonable courses of action.
3. Focus on the Positive
Optimistic thinking is a resiliency skill that we develop in face of hardship or stress. Although it won’t change the situation—in other words, it won’t bring your child back home from camp tomorrow—it gives us perspective and changes our attitude.
4. Keep in Touch
Often times, one highlight of our kids’ day is the million dollar question of “Did I get mail?” There is no better time and place for good, old-fashioned letter writing. So do it yourself and model it for your kids! (This is a great skill to teach your kids, not just the lost art of writing a letter, but addressing an envelope!)
5. Practice Self-Care
While your kids are away at camp, this is the perfect opportunity to take time for yourself! Be mindful to not fill all your time with additional tasks, but rather enjoy activities that you wouldn’t otherwise do with kids in tow (e.g., a long or strenuous hike or bike ride; spa day; eating out at an adventurous restaurant; sleeping in; a romantic weekend getaway, etc!).
As summer approaches and you and your child make your packing list for camp, tuck these reminders away in your head and heart, breathe deeply, and trust that the Maker of heaven and earth goes before us, behind us, and beside us.