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 My daughter will be attending sleepaway camp for the first time this summer. She’s excited, but I am super nervous! How can I prepare her well for the experience so she has the best chance of having a good experience? 

In general, parents spend many hours worrying about their children. Add to that component sending their children away for their first sleepaway camp, the worries go up triple time! 

But don’t panic. We will get through this new experience and help your child grow with it.

In the month leading up to camp, discuss the summer camp program with your daughter. Review all the paperwork together and try to familiarize her with the routine. Some overnight campers have never spent a night away from their parents. One idea you can do to prepare them mentally is to send them away for sleepovers with trusted friends and relatives.  

To ease the process, create an open and honest line of communication with the camp director. Whether your child takes medication, sleepwalks, or occasionally wets the bed, disclose all potential issues before camp begins. 

In many ways, the overnight camp experience is about your child pushing boundaries and becoming more independent. So, let your daughter take charge of the preparations — with your assistance of course! Shop together for supplies. Have her choose practical items and a few fun things, too. After you’ve finished shopping, do the packing together.  

As a first-time camper, your daughter may feel uncomfortable, awkward, and just plain scared. Validate her feelings. Explain that other newbies at camp will most likely be feeling the same. Let her know that the first few days might be tough, but by pushing past her comfort zone she will grow emotionally and feel a sense of accomplishment. Stay positive yet realistic. Otherwise, at the first sight of an issue, she’ll be calling you to pick her up. Brainstorm with her to come up with five goals she can reach at camp. For instance, make a friend from another school or learn a new craft or sport. 

Sleepaway camp is an incredible adventure filled with fun from start to finish, but it doesn’t mean that homesickness won’t come into the equation now and then. When you’re packing together, make sure to add a couple of photos from home. Additionally, pack lots of writing materials. Whether it’s a personal journal or paper for letter writing, provide her with a medium to jot down her feelings. Another idea is to write letters and leave them in various spots so that as she unpacks she will feel your love from afar. You can also send letters to camp. Whether she replies or not, she will be thrilled to receive mail from home! 

However, you send letters, be cautious of what to include.  Don’t make her feel guilty (i.e. “It’s so lonely here without you”). Avoid adding bad news (i.e. “Aunt So-and-so is sick”). Avoid amazing news that will make them think home is much more awesome than camp (i.e. “We got a new pool!”) Instead, try to dwell on the camp experience. Ask loads of questions and if possible, send a cool care package.

Be careful not to make promises that will spoil the camp experience! For example, don’t promise to pick her up early if she isn’t having a good time. Even if she struggles with homesickness for a while, the result will be newfound confidence if she sticks it out instead of receiving a free pass to escape. If she calls you with complaints, don’t diminish her feelings with phrases like “Don’t worry, you will get used to it” but instead say “I hear what you saying about how that girl was mean to you” or “I understand that it’s frustrating that the showers are always cold”.  Ask, “What do you think you could do about it?” There may not be anything you can do, but listening and validating is important. Remind her that it takes time to get used to camp and she can do it! Research shows that joining a summer camp program can build up resilience in children and is very helpful in helping them learn to make good decisions.

Drop-off day for summer camp is exciting yet daunting. The seemingly hectic process may leave you and your child feeling anxious. Whatever you do, don’t engage in a long, emotional, and tearful goodbye. It won’t do any good for you or your daughter. If you drag it out, she might feel sad and even guilty. So, keep it together, and give her a farewell that’s full of excitement and hope. Feel free to cry once you get back in the car! This is an exciting next step for you and your child. Wishing you both tons of hatzlachah

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