What did the buffalo say to his son leaving for summer camp? Bison. Now, that could be what you say to your kids as they leave for camp this summer, but maybe there is more preparation involved than just a funny goodbye. We know that camp is as big of a deal for parents as it is for kids. Whisking your kid off to some distant place without you there to make sure they are okay can be rather scary. Fortunately, we have come up with some ways you can help your child prepare for the super fun, life changing, friendship building, memory making experience that it is.
For starters, the essential part of going anywhere is packing. Yes, you must make sure that they have everything that they need, but you also must make sure they will bring it all back. To do this, pack their things with them. That way they know what all is where. Also, it helps them practice doing so for when they come home. Put labels in all of their clothes, so that they don’t get lost. Send a separate bag for dirty clothes and explain to them what it is for. Make sure to send some extra clothes in case they need it. Being outside at camp generally means getting dirty. Make sure your child can handle the bag on their own. This ensures their responsibility for it.
If this is their first time away from home, reassure them that they will be fine without you. If you wish, have them practice spending a night or two at a friend’s house so that they get used to being away from home. If they are still uncomfortable, have a friend go with them to camp. Things are a lot less scary when not done alone. Homesickness is very common in kids going to camp, because it is a big step to be away from home for so long. Send them with your blessing, and let them know that homesickness is normal, but soon they will be having too much fun to even think about home. Don’t say they can call if they get homesick, because this can hinder their transition into camp life. Tell them they will be fine and go over any questions they might have so they are more comfortable. So that you aren’t completely cut off, send them with paper, pen, and envelopes to write home. Put your address and stamps on the envelopes before your child leaves to ensure it will go to the right place. Make sure to write to them. When you do write, don’t mention events/things they are missing while away, because this could trigger homesickness. Tell them how proud you are that they are at camp and being independent. Encourage them to write back and that you look forward to hearing about what they are doing. Another way to calm those being away nerves is to look through the camp website with your child so that they can see photos and get familiar with where they will be staying. For more comfort, you can see about taking a tour.
Go over some safety tips with them. Make sure they know who to talk to about problems or emergencies. If they already know the staff they will be staying with, make sure to tell them. If not, try to introduce them beforehand so that they don’t feel left alone with a complete stranger. For parents, remember that most of these people work with kids/camps for a living, and they know what they are doing.
Practice independent skills well before they leave. Especially for younger kids, parents are generally a large part of their morning/getting ready routine. Make sure they get used to doing these things on their own, including cleaning up after themselves. Hygiene and personal item responsibility are things they must be prepared to do without having you to remind them.
The day that camp gets here, know the drop off schedule 100%. If you know what is supposed to be done, it’ll take the nerves off the kids. Make sure you have all of their things and know the guidelines. Are they taking a bus? Are you driving them? Do you take them to their cabin? Where is their cabin? Talk to your event planner to make the goodbye as smooth as possible.
Finally, tell them about your own church camp experiences, if you have any. There’s nothing quite as reassuring as hearing from someone who has had the experience. Maybe you could even give them some tips you learned that will make their time a little better.
The last thing you can do for your kids is pray for them while they are gone. We know it is hard not to worry about them and that you want to bring them straight home, but it will be alright. We promise. Here is a prayer to help you get through this time without your little angels.
“Lord God, I pray for my son/daughter today, that he/she may experience Your forgiveness and love. I pray that my child’s/children’s heart feels Your healing touch. I offer up all the campers and counselors, as well as the volunteers and youth ministers. I pray for their safety and protection and that they may each experience You more deeply in their hearts. Amen.”