5 Tips for Surviving Your Child’s First Overnight Camp Experience

August 6, 2018
Audrey Monke, MA

Your child’s at summer camp?

That’s so exciting!

And hard.

For some of you, an internal “WA HOO!” went off as the bus filled with excited campers and their duffle bags pulled away. But for others, this whole experience of your child not being home is really hard and causes some emotional distress.

In hundreds of conversations with parents over my years as a camp director, I’ve discovered that camp experiences - especially first ones - are much harder on parents than they are on campers. While the camper is engaged in fun, new activities and busy making friends, the parent is home feeling empty because their child is not with them.

I’m hopeful that giving you a few insights and ideas I’ve learned from both sides of the experience – as a camp director working with kids and as a parent who’s sent my own kids away to camps, college, and other far-away adventures – will help your summer as a camp parent be a more positive one.

Years ago, I learned and started using the term “kid-sick” to describe what some parents feel while their kids are at camp. Acknowledging your ambivalence about your son or daughter being away can be important. I’ve heard from parents who have emotional and physical pain when their child is away. I vividly remember a call from a mom who “just had a bad feeling” about what her child was going through at camp. Turns out, after checking on her child, he was doing just fine. She was suffering, though.

When your child is away, the normal routines of your day are thrown off, because the person you’re used to caring for and focusing on is not there. The quiet in the house and the daily tasks that no longer need to be done can create a strange void.

Here's my advice to you: Step confidently into that void, find other areas of focus, and get over your kid sickness! It’s easier than you think.

View the Photos, But Not Too Much

First, if you are making a full time hobby out of viewing and refreshing the photos from camp and are trying to follow your child’s every move from afar, stop; your kid-sickness will not go away as quickly unless you find another way to occupy your time. The photos (if your camp uploads them) can provide reassurance when you see your camper’s smiling face. But when viewed  in excess, I think the photos make parents even more kid-sick.

Now that you know what not to do, here are some things you can try:

Do Something Fun

Is there something you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had time?

A hobby you’ve missed doing or always wanted to try?

A book you’ve been wanting to read?

A movie you’ve been wanting to see?

A museum you’ve wanted to visit?

A trip you’ve been wanting to take?

Think of your child’s time at camp as your chance to create your own “camp” experience. Pursue something fun or new you’ve been wanting to try but haven’t had time for in recent years. I’ve heard from parents who do a variety of different things while their kids are at camp – home improvement projects, trips that kids wouldn’t enjoy, and date nights are just a few of many ideas to fill your time and make it more enjoyable (and go faster).

Deepen Friendships

While your child is at camp making new friends, why not spend some time connecting with your own?

You’ve got more time for adult social events with your camper away, so use it to connect with friends you haven’t had time to see in a while or someone you’ve been wanting to get to know better.

Get Outside

While your camper is outside enjoying fun recreational activities, why not try some of your own outdoor activities? Meet a friend for a hike, rent a kayak or paddle board at a lake or beach, or take an outdoor rock climbing class. Summer is such a beautiful time to spend time outdoors.

Write Your Camper a Letter

For most families, summer camp is the one (and only?) place where parents and kids are not in constant communication with one another via phone or text. This can be a challenging transition. Why not take advantage of this unique opportunity to write your camper some fun, old-fashioned letters? Here are some creative letter-writing ideas.

Camp experiences can be amazing times full of fun and growth for your child. Giving them the opportunity to attend camp is a gift that will provide them with the opportunity for character growth, fun childhood memories, and life-long friendships. Try not to worry while they’re at camp. Soon, your camper will return home, proudly sharing stories of their friendships and adventures.

Maybe you’ll have a few of your own to share, too!

Related/Resources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/young-americans/200808/kid-sickness-the-final-word

Photo courtesy of Gold Arrow Camp in Lakeshore, California.

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, MA, with her husband Steve, has owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp (Lakeshore, California) for the past 30 years. She has been a member of ACA since 1989 and was president of the Western Association of Independent Camps (WAIC) from 2007–2010. Audrey researches, writes, and speaks about camp, parenting, friendship skills, and positive psychology. Her upcoming parenting book (Center Street, 2019) offers ideas for bringing the magic of summer camp home. Sign up for Audrey’s book updates at sunshine-parenting.com or contact her directly at audrey@sunshine-parenting.com.

Originally published at sunshine-parenting.com

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