Prepare Your Anxious Child for Camp

By Polly Williams, MSW 

Summer is right around the corner and with that comes the promise of summer camp for many: broadening horizons, learning resilient behaviors, and further developing cognitive and social skills outside of the school year. But for some the excitement also comes with anxiety—especially if it’s your child’s first time at sleep-away camp. Here are some tips to help allay their concerns and prepare them for what’s ahead. 

  1. Talk about drop-off. The beginning of camp can be the hardest part, and it starts with the initial separation when parents say goodbye. Before leaving for camp, review all the camp information and go through the details, step-by-step as they will unfold, so when drop-off day arrives it feels familiar, with no surprises. 
  2. DO NOT give a golden ticket. It’s best not to succumb to temptation: do not tell them they can call you to bring them home. This notion will be in the back of their mind. Instead, give them solid ideas to help get past the initial jitters. Don’t hesitate to reach out beforehand to get staff names so your child knows who to ask for. Let them know how proud you will be when you hear about all their adventures. 
  3. Normalize homesickness. Even the most veteran of campers gets homesick. It’s ok to feel sad and miss their family—it’s temporary, and the staff is there to help your child through those moments, ask for advice, and guide them through all aspects of this experience. In fact, many of them have experienced the exact same homesickness. Homesickness can be contagious: remind your child that they can empathize with their friends, but they can try not to let their friend’s longing impact their happiness. 
  4. Discuss community living. Group living (sleeping, eating, playing, and staying together) is a fun way to connect and meet new friends. Respect, cooperation, and trust with a sense of humor will help forge good relationships. Recognize that every family has different living habits and that’s ok. This new, strange dynamic will wear off in a couple of days, and it’s exciting to go to sleep and wake up with friends. 
  5. Raise food concerns. This can be the most challenging hurdle to accept especially for kids who are picky eaters or have food challenges. Many times, homesickness emerges when a child misses the comfort of home-cooked meals. No need to tell kids to “try new things” as this can create more pressure. Instead, tell your camper that it may take a day or two to figure out the best things to eat and they may need to compromise but they won’t be hungry. It’s ok to ask for a request—especially if it’s going to make them feel better.

Polly Williams has been the IB Co-Director at Farm & Wilderness  for more than four decades. She holds degrees in Health and Physical Education and Social Work. 

Related Smart Kids Topics

  • Summer Camp Guidelines for Kids with LD and ADHD

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