It's also important for both you and your child to have realistic expectations about the camp experience. "It's like the rest of life; it has high points and low ones," says Bruce Muchnick, Ed.D., a Glenside, PA-based licensed psychologist who works extensively with camps. "There are times when your child will feel great and other times she may feel unhappy or bored."
In addition to having these conversations, there are plenty of practical steps you can take to help prepare your child for camp:
- Review the camp's brochure and Web site -- or better yet, attend an open house while camp is in session so your child can get a stronger sense of what it's like.
- Learn details of the facilities. Will your child have to walk to the bathroom at night? Some kids, especially those from urban areas, are unaccustomed to total darkness, so it's a good idea to practice using a flashlight. Will she be exposed to a lot of bugs and wildlife? Consider taking a family camping trip in advance to familiarize your child with the outdoor environment, nighttime sounds, and roughing it a bit.
- Involve your child in the packing process to give him a feeling of ownership over the experience. Work off the list that the camp provides, and make sure clothes have been worn and washed so they're more comfortable. If your child is attached to a sentimental item, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, let him bring it along.
- Explain the basics of cohabitating to your child. "Many kids have never shared a bedroom, and at camp they may sleep in a room with eight children," says Coutellier. Show her how to keep her possessions organized so they're easy to access and don't spill over into someone else's space. Before camp starts, consider having slumber parties or allowing your child to attend more sleepovers as a way to expose her to group living.