Summer Camp Tips for You and Your Anxious Child

summer camp skyYou discussed it, you paid for it and you even started packing for your anxious child’s time away at summer camp. So why is your child still filled with fear?

Fear is one of those fun emotions that can come in waves, but neither you nor your child has to succumb to it or let it ruin your child’s plans for a summer in the great outdoors. Our post asking  Is Your Anxious Child Ready for Summer Camp? can help alleviate some of the fears by reviewing if camp is a viable option. Now we’ve collected some tips to further help you and your child prepare if it is.

Alleviating Your Anxious Child’s Camp Fears 

Even if your child is ready for the great camping experience, the initial reaction may be fear. Not only may your child have some fears, you may have several of your own. While you do want to acknowledge your child’s fears by listening and empathizing with his or her concerns, you don’t want to share your own laundry list of trepidations. 

“Don’t add to your child’s nervousness and anxiety by voicing your apprehension about having him or her gone for a week,” HealthCentral advises.

You also don’t want to poo-poo your child’s fears lest he or she believe the fears are silly, wrong or unacceptable. Such feelings can only serve to pump feelings of insecurity and anxiety.

Another tactic for alleviating the fears and anxiety is to switch the focus to the positive experiences camp offers, such as boating, swimming, fishing and other enjoyable activities. If specific issues are causing anxiety, such as the fear of meeting new people, ask your child for some ideas on ways he or she can handle the particular situation.

  • What will you say when you meet a new friend at camp?
  • What are some things you can talk about?
  • What outdoor or other skills do you already have you can share with others?
  • What other skills can you ask people to help you learn?

Guidance is OK, but don’t force your own solutions into the situation or tell your child ways he or she should handle specific scenarios. Make it a joint effort, not a must-do-this list. 

Additional Preparation Tips

When it comes to preparing the clothes, gear and other items to take, let your children have some say in the matter so they get a taste of independence and being in control. Including a few items that remind your child of home can be helpful, such as photos, a stuffed animal or favorite pillow.

Having practice time away from home, such as spending a night or two at grandma’s house or sleeping at a friend’s, can build up your child’s confidence and alleviate fears about spending the night somewhere other than his or her own bed. 

Sharing positive aspects of your own childhood camping experiences can further boost your child’s confidence. Talk about the new things you learned, the new people you met and how you enjoyed getting up close and personal with nature. Include other positive experiences you had away from home for additional fodder. 

Staying in Touch

Staying in touch with your child is another way to help quash fears. Don’t go nuts with daily phone calls or unwelcome visits, but do write or email if it’s permitted. Fully cutting off communication can make homesickness and anxiety worse, fueling the fear that you may not be there waiting when camp is over and it’s time to go home.

Camp Expectations

You do want to outline what to expect at camp in terms of activities, routines and things like showers and bathrooms. Review the camp website, literature and other materials to give your child a solid idea of what’s to come in the days ahead.

What you don’t want to do is feed other expectations your child may have. Expectations can often do more harm than good, especially for anxious children. That’s because negative expectations are part of what fuels the child’s anxiety in the first place. When children believe they will hate everyone they meet, all their hot dogs will be burnt or they will otherwise have a horrible time, they can pretty much wreck the whole trip.

The same holds true for adults. Negative expectations can lead anyone to spend all their time fretting about the awful things they’re sure will happen instead of enjoying the experience right in front of them.

Positive expectations can also backfire. If your child expects to win the award for tying the fastest square knot, making the best camp art project or cooking a perfect hot dog every time, they can become disappointed and distraught if none of the expectations materialize.

Reminding your child not to expect the experience to pan out a certain way can help, as can relaxation techniques. 

Pack the Relaxation Techniques 

Relaxation techniques alleviate anxiety while helping children bring their mind and focus back the present to enjoy what’s happening in the moment. Many techniques can work at camp as effectively as they work in daily life. And they don’t take up any additional room in the backpack! We picked out two of our favorites.

Summer camp may not be for everyone, but children who do want to go can have a less anxious, more enjoyable time if you keep these tips in mind. They may also work pretty well for quashing your own anxiety, too!


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