Part of your child's success at camp will depend on the preparations made before she ever leaves home. Whether it's working through pre-departure jitters or knowing what to pack, following a few simple guidelines will ensure that your youngster starts her experience on the right foot.
Some common concerns for kids going to camp, according to Connie Coutellier, director of professional development for the American Camping Association in Martinsville, IN, are fitting in socially, coping away from the support of Mom and Dad, and feeling pressure to succeed at new activities.
"Camp is a very intense experience because it's 24 hours a day away from home," she says. "That's exciting, but it's different from going to school and coming home. It's making new friends and having a new daily routine."
Coutellier recommends that you discuss the upcoming experience by fielding your kid's concerns and highlighting their strengths. "Review some of the things they did well this past year, and explain how at camp they'll have an opportunity to build on these skills and develop new ones," she says. You might also talk about problems they had -- and suggest how they can better deal with similar situations at camp.
And listen to your child describe relationships at school. "Both difficulties and successes there could carry over to camp," says Coutellier. "If a child is being bullied at school or feeling insecure, you could talk to him about the opportunity to make new friends or how she could be a good friend to another child."
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:
Whatever you do, says Coutellier, don't tell your child how much you'll miss her. Though parents often have just as much trouble with the separation as kids do, you'll only make the situation more difficult by expressing this. Instead, she suggests, it's better to say, "We're excited for you and all that you'll get to do."