Tips For Dealing With Camp Anxieties

By: Mollie Shauger | Friday, June 21, 2019 | Summer Camp

Kids resting at camp.

Sending a child to summer camp - whether it’s the first time or the fifth time - can be challenging for both the camper and parents. Sleepaway camp can be especially difficult because children are not returning home each night to share their experiences.

Whether it’s a day or weeks away, camp can test your child’s anxiety as well as your own. However, children will be busy with daily activities that will help them grow more independent. They’ll be supervised by staff and counselors who go through a thorough screening process, plus several hours of training. Many of them have even been campers themselves in the past, and know what the experience is like.

The Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges offers some advice for managing your camper’s anxiety and fears (and your own) - with additional tips from the American Camp Association, American Psychological Association and Child Mind Institute:

Don’t dwell on possible challenges or difficulties

Your child could sense your uncertainty and start worrying as well. Have a plan in place if something happens, whether it be an injury, family illness or a storm. Being prepared can help be a source of comfort for the whole family.

Acknowledge your child’s feelings

Don’t trivialize concerns or offer glib reassurances, like “There’s nothing to worry about!” or “Everyone loves camp!” Instead, show that you have empathy and acknowledge their concerns. 

Help your child feel excited about camp

Take them shopping for new gear and focus on the fun things to anticipate.

Don’t focus on the anxieties

Instead of asking leading questions like, “Are you nervous about horseback riding?”, ask an open-ended question like, “How are you feeling about riding horses?”

Focus on details

Before and during camp, focus on concrete details in conversations, like the cabins, meals or campfire rituals. Avoid talking about what it’s like to be away from home.

Share positive camp experiences 

Share your positive experiences from summer camp and relate them to what your child will experience.

Practice sleepovers

Have “rehearsals,” like a short-term sleepover at a relative’s house to get your child used to being away from home.

Short goodbyes

Keep goodbyes short, as delaying them can trigger more mixed emotions.

Make communication easy and accessible

Pack envelopes and stamps, and learn about the camp’s policy on communicating by phone and email.

Make goals

Have goals for each letter or conversation, so your child will come away focused on how they are adjusting rather than wanting to come home.

Create camp plans

Help your child form realistic, goal-oriented plans for making friends, toasting the perfect marshmallow or passing a swimming test. The thrill of completing these can give your child a feeling of success and distract from the anxiety.

Inform camp staff

Make sure camp staff know ahead of time about any psychiatric or learning issues - even things like wetting the bed or fear of water. Let your child know that counselors are there to support them. 

Talk about making new friends

Some campers will know people from previous years or have peers at camp. But for first-timers who don’t know other campers yet, talk about how camp is about making new friends.

Let them know that missing home is okay

Reassure your child that it’s ok to miss home, and that other kids and adults feel the same way sometimes. Let them know that they can still have fun though, even if they are sad.

Visit camp with your child

Before it starts, plan a time to tour the camp and meet the staff, so both you and your child will feel more familiar with the program before it starts.

Make a homesickness plan

Since many kids use technology to escape and camp limits access to this, think of alternative ways your camper can manage their stress. Ideas include taking 10 deep breaths, traveling to a happy place in your mind, packing a stuffed animal, or shooting hoops. Don’t make plans like “Give it a couple of days and if you don’t like it, we will come get you.” They’ll be less likely to be confident about staying.

The Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges provides camp opportunities for children of all ages at its seven branches: East Orange YMCA, Fairview Lake YMCA Camps, Greater Bergen County YMCA, South Mountain YMCA, Sussex County YMCA, Wayne YMCA and West Essex YMCA.


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