Many of us can remember going off to our first summer camp with mixed feelings of excitement and dread. And, chances are your parents tried to make light of your fears so as not to focus on them. However, research today suggests that parents can help their campers overcome summer camp anxiety by openly discussing their concerns. Understanding and validating their fears will help to minimize them.
According to the American Camp Association (ACA), more than 8 million children attend summer camp every year. This includes both overnight and day camps. Most of these kids will experience some level of nervousness as the big event approaches. Even veteran campers will feel some anxiety when thinking about making new friends, playing well in sports, or being away from home too long.
As the summer camp date approaches, some of the anxiety symptoms you may see your child exhibit are:
- Persistent stomach aches, headaches or other physical complaints
- Nightmares or trouble sleeping
- Worries about sleeping away from home
- Anxious about meeting or talking to new people
- Refusal to go to camp
- Excessive clinginess and fear of separation
- Unreasonable fears about being lost or injured
Tips for handling summer camp anxiety
- Listen to your child’s concerns with an understanding ear. Empathize by sharing some of your own experiences with summer camp as a child.
- Have family members participate in role-playing certain scenarios such as making new friends, dealing with bullies, or feeling lost.
- If possible, arrange an advance visit to the camp facilities to meet the counselors and become familiar with surroundings such as sleeping arrangements, bathrooms, and recreation hall.
- Send small packages and/or letters for your child to open each day while he or she is away at camp. Family photos, funny stickers, and edible treats can be very reassuring.
Benefits of summer camp
The benefits that participating in a summer camp can bring will help elevate your child’s self-esteem, teach leadership skills, and build character. They will learn social skills that will improve how they communicate with others so they can develop relationships with peers.
It’s natural for any child to experience homesickness and anxiety when away from home and their familiar surroundings. However, kids with mood and anxiety disorders are at higher risk for depression and other behaviors. Before sending your special needs child off to camp, be sure to consult with a mental health professional for guidance on how to make summer camp a great experience for everyone.
Also, ask your therapist for recommendations for summer camps that cater specifically to children with mental and/or physical disabilities. Examples are camps for children with autism spectrum disorders, motor disabilities, and learning disabilities. A list of some of these camps in the Central Florida area can be found on the Orange County Public School website.