Crying, clinging, bad dreams, stomach butterflies… all signs of separation anxiety. And that’s just you! Or maybe you’re excited about the prospect of some adult time during summer vacation, but your child is nervous about the prospect of new kids, camp counselors, or sleeping away from home. Now that you’ve chosen a summer camp, you might be experiencing some nervousness. Anxiety over new experiences is normal for kids and grownups alike. As parents, we can allay our fears somewhat by choosing programs that we know are safe and suit our child’s needs and interests. Dealing with our children’s anxieties may seem trickier, but there are strategies you can use to reassure them and help ensure a successful and happy camp experience.
- Don’t project. I’m the type of parent who is a nervous wreck about sending my kids off on any new adventure… compared to me, my kids are quite relaxed. If this is you as well, it’s important to keep your own anxieties in check. They are pros at picking up on mom or dad’s anxieties, and this can give a child the idea that he should be worried too, even if he wasn’t to begin with.
- Show empathy. If your child is nervous, reassure her that everyone can get homesick or feel anxious about meeting new people. Let her know that she’s not alone. At the same time, express your confidence in her. She can do this, and she will be fine. And remember that you can do this, too!
- Focus on the good stuff. You and your child chose this camp for a reason; what was it? Remind him of all the things he’ll be doing over the summer. The exciting activities and new learning experiences are probably going to keep him too busy for him to focus on his nervousness, and you can use that now to give him something to think about other than his fears.
- Let them suggest a solution. Discuss with your child what strategies – besides staying home – will help her feel more comfortable and less nervous. Let her offer some solutions. Will bringing a favorite stuffed animal or picture of the family help ease her worries about the separation? Would packing her a special lunch help her feel more comfortable about day camp? Your child might have a simple suggestion that could make the transition easier.
- Keep the good-byes short and sweet. It’s not an easy thing to peel off a child that is crying and clinging, give a kiss and walk away. But it’s a challenge that we as parents may have to face, and it’s really the best strategy. Hanging around or giving in and taking them home will just confuse them. The odds are that the crying will stop as soon as you’re out of sight and there are new and interesting things to focus on.
Remember that separation anxiety is normal, and that it can happen even if your child is excited and happy about going to camp. Once he gets into the swing of things, it should fade on its own. As for you, keeping busy and doing some kid-free activities of your own will get you over your anxiety faster than allowing yourself to sit around and stew.
What are some of your best strategies for banishing summer camp anxiety?