Whether you’re planning for a day camp or an overnight camp, there are several ways to conquer your fears and minimize the anxiety.
“One of the things we all have to acknowledge is the fear for your children is real, and the anxiety involved is real, so you have to deal with it and there are a variety of steps you can take to recognize and work through it,” says Dave Devey, director/owner of Falcon Camp in Carrollton.
He says other common fears parents are concerned about include, “Are they going to make friends?” “Are they going to get along?” “What’s the food like?” “What are the camp rules for communication?” If they are younger children, “Who’s going to tuck them in at night?” “What happens if they wet the bed?” or “What happens if they don’t feel well, or they get sick?”
“I often say to parents, use your gut feelings, use your instincts as a parent,” Devey says. “If you’re not comfortable with some answers you’re getting, look somewhere else. There are lots of different programs. Not every program is best suited for your child, so you have to sort some of that out, and you’ll feel better as you do.”
Rhonda Rickelman, director of auxiliary programming at Gilmour Academy says it’s normal to be nervous or anxious but parents shouldn’t dwell on the “what if’s?”
“It’s important to dwell on what is going to happen and focus on what will be there,” she says. “There will be people there that will care for you. There will be safety in the activities children participate in.”
Eric Stinehelfer, executive director at YMCA of Greater Cleveland, French Creek Family YMCA says it’s essential for parents to understand the camp’s policies and procedures, because every camp is a little different.
Read on as these area camp experts offer insight on seven of parents’ most common fears about sending kids to camp and why that anxiety is normal.
1. Health and Safety of Your Child is a No. 1 Priority
“As a parent, I can’t imagine anything more important than the health and safety of your child, so, that’s going to be number one on everyone’s list,” Devey says.
Rickelman adds parents often worry that kids will be injured, harmed, or bullied.
“In most camp brochures, it will say we will contact you, or the nurse will take care of cuts, bruises and things like that,” she says. “Anything more than that, we’ll call home for, so you know you’ll be getting a call about those kinds of things.”
2. Calming a Fear of the Unknown
Many parents and their kids often have a fear of the unknown. Parents have questions like, “Who is the camp staff?” “Who are the people that will be caring for my child, and how will they care for my child?”
One way to put a fear of the unknown to rest is communication with the camp director, who is usually a phone call or an email away. Another helpful tip is to learn more about the camp’s staff.
Another way to face these common fears is to talk with other parents about their camp experiences.
“I just answered an email from a brand-new family who has never been to camp before, and they wanted to know if they can speak with someone else in their child’s age group who went to camp last year, so mom and mom can talk or mom and dad can connect, or whoever,” Devey says. “It was a mom that wrote to me. I wrote back and said absolutely. Here’s 10 names of families who came last year that you can call and talk with them. So, that helps lower the anxiety level when you can talk with other people.”
3. Making New Friends at Camp
“What do I do if my child is new, and they don’t know anyone?” is another top question camp counselors frequently answer. Camps have plans and activities in place to help campers make new friends.
“Here at our branch, at our camp last summer, we had about 130 kids a day in our camps,” Stinehelfer says. “They are going to make new friends. That’s what kids do. So, I’d be pretty confident that kids would come away with at least a couple new friends.”
Rickelman adds the camp staff know what to do if they see kids aren’t making friends or being accepted.
“Parents sometimes worry that kids won’t be liked, they won’t make friends, they’ll be rejected, or they won’t be accepted,” she says. “That’s the camp’s job to make that work, and if there needs to be a conversation about that, the camp should have a conversation with the parent if things are not going well. I know at our camp, we don’t let that go. If in the first four hours we’re finding that this kind of stuff isn’t happening, we will call the parents and say, ‘what can we do to make this better?’”
4. Camp Rules Provide Guidance for All
Stinehelfer says that seeking information from each camp and reviewing their policies and procedures is helpful in preparing for camp.
“Almost every camp has a parent handbook that has everything documented from lunches, breaks and swimming procedures to discipline policies, what they can bring to camp and what they can’t bring to camp,” he says.
Then, if parents still have questions, Stinehelfer stresses, they can call the camp director, have a conversation and ask those questions. “Getting that information firsthand, always gives you peace of mind as a parent,” he says.
“Part of the idea of raising children is to raise them to be independent, and to be able to make decisions, and be able to have the self-confidence to stand on their own two feet,” Devey says. “And going away to camp is wonderful prep work for some of those kinds of things. It’s important for us as parents to recognize that. You want to help your child grow, and be able to make decisions, so they can be independent.”
Going to a camp open house is also beneficial for parents and children alike. This experience will allow families to see what the camp has to offer. Plus, they will have an opportunity to meet camp team members and engage with other kids and families.
5. Communicating with My Child at Camp
Parents often want to know if they will be able to communicate with their child, because most camps encourage kids to put their cell phones and tablets away so they can be present for the experiences at camp.
Devey says camps will often post pictures throughout the week. That’s one of the ways camps can let parents know what’s going on. Another way to keep in touch with your child throughout the week is for parents to write their kids nice notes or letters before they leave for camp that can be placed in a child’s backpack or suitcase.
“Make them positive, so kids will get excited about what they are learning or doing,” Devey says. “You can’t say, Gosh, I’m writing because I miss you so much. You’re creating anxiety for yourself and for your child.”
Most camp directors feel like camp should be a time where kids can unplug. This allows kids to focus on the camp experience. The benefits of disconnecting can include connecting with other campers, giving kids a break from being in front of a screen, or allowing kids to experience something different, like exploring outdoors, or participating in an activity.
6. Camp Food and What Your Child Will Eat
Going into camp, parents always want to know “What kind of food will they have at camp? Or “What are kids going to do for meals?” To go along with that, personal care is another concern parents wrestle with. They worry about things like if kids are going to brush their teeth, or change their clothes, and who is going to look after them when it comes to things like that, especially with younger children.
Parents should also communicate their child’s needs with the camp, so the camp is aware of them. It could be something as simple as having a conversation or filling out the camp’s paperwork and sharing your child’s needs.
“Some of those are relatively easily alleviated,” Devey says. “We try to communicate as much as we can beforehand. We set up opportunities to have conferences with our health directors, and with our nurses prior to camp, especially if a child takes medicine or has any kind of physical or mental needs, or parents can meet with our kitchen manager if there’s a food issue.”
7. What Will My Child Do At Camp?
When you understand what to expect from a particular camp, your expectations will be identified ahead of time and there won’t be any surprises, come week two or week three of camp. Parents should understand what they are getting into. Find out what the fees include and if they include things like extended care, late pick-up or early drop-off. Camps also fill up, so it’s also important to register early when registration opens up in January or February.