How to prepare your kids for the social pressure cooker of camp


Published:

Slowly but surely detach the kids prior to sending them off to camp

’Twas the night before camp
and all through the house
Not a creature was sleeping,
not even a mouse.
There was weeping and wailing, cries of: “No I won’t go.”
’Cause the kids weren’t camp-prepped, oh no, oh no, no.

Whether it’s day camp or overnight camp, getting a first-timer ready for day one is like getting them ready to start school, only more so: There are certain skills they need in their “kit bag” in order to thrive, and these skills don’t come naturally to all kids.

Think of day camp as the downscaled version of overnight camp: Many of the same developmental challenges apply to both. Day camp is just as big a separation for a five-year-old as overnight camp is for an eight-year-old. Saying goodbye to mom and dad at the bus feels the same! It’s a huge deal for the child.

Getting ready for that big moment requires practice in separating. If your child has been going to day care or nursery school, he has a leg up on the developmental task of separation; if he’s been on his own at home with a parent or a nanny, there has not been the necessity to learn to say goodbye, and it’s harder to do.

So practice separating! Set up playdates at the other kid’s house. Create as many opportunities as possible for your camper-to-be to separate from you for a few hours or a day. And please note —grandparents, aunts and uncles are fun, but they don’t help a child practice separating because as family they can’t provoke separation anxiety.

Parents need to practice separating too: We spend so much time and emotional energy engaged with our children that we too struggle to separate. Letting go is tough. We worry about them and we feel sad for us. Our job is to keep those sad feelings to ourselves; if our kids know that their departure — even if only for the day — makes us sad, they’ll feel sad too.

Camp (both day camp and overnight) is intensely social. You spend all day every day in a group. There is scant downtime, even less time alone to decompress, and it’s hyper-stimulating. It’s a high octane social pressure cooker. It requires kids — even little ones — to bring social skills to camp. They need to be good at three kinds of sharing: Sharing things, sharing space and sharing the grownups’ attention.

All this sharing takes practice. Talking to your child about the necessity of sharing is helpful; even more so is doing it. Spend time at a playground where kids have to wait in line for the slide or swing. Create playdates where they have to work on sharing.

Afterwards, reflect aloud with your child about what might have been hard about that, what worked or didn’t work, and how that experience of sharing will apply to camp. Make sure you do the asking of questions and he does the answering.

Your goal is to draw learning out of your camper-to-be rather than telling him stuff. That, by the way, is the root of the word “education.”

Get your child to practice soothing herself when mom and dad aren’t around. Tell her it’s normal to feel a little homesick sometimes. Help her make a list of things she’ll do when she feels homesick — like looking at family pictures, or counting off time till she sees you, or talking to a counselor. Make sure she memorizes that list so she has those tools ready when she needs them.

Think about other important but less complex skills that your child will need, and practice them too. Putting on sunscreen, packing away her stuff in a daypack, taking a shower, making her bed, getting up at the right time and getting ready for the morning: All these skills, if practiced, will create both comfort and capacity in your new camper!

Parenting columnist Joanne Kates is an expert educator in the areas of conflict mediation, self-esteem and anti-bullying, and she is the director of Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park.

Edit Module

Join the conversation and have your say by commenting below. Our comment system uses a Facebook plugin. Please note that you'll have to turn off some ad-blockers in order to see the comments.

Edit Module

Follow us on Twitter @PostCity for more on what to eat, where to shop and what to do in Toronto.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

You may also like...

Too Close to Call: Toronto’s frightful faceoff

Too Close to Call: Toronto’s frightful faceoff

In one corner, Dracula from Casa Loma’s Legends of Horror, in the other, Canada’s Wonderland’s Little Dead Riding Hood. Who reigns supreme in this T.O. Halloween creep-out contest?
Posted 2 days ago
Work Out with Monika: Taking out your fall frustrations on a punching bag

Work Out with Monika: Taking out your fall frustrations on a punching bag

Studies have shown that training for a boxing match can be one of the best forms of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. I’m here to find out.
Posted 2 days ago
Is this the ‘Forgotten Corner of Thornhill’?

Is this the ‘Forgotten Corner of Thornhill’?

A building complex, Glen Park Apartments, at the northeast corner of Yonge Street and Clark Avenue is now deemed the “Forgotten Corner of Thornhill” by some residents. A new Facebook page of the same name was established in late July, calling for city officials and building management to address concerns over lack of sufficient infrastructure.
Posted 2 days ago
From Parris with Love

From Parris with Love

Other Side of the Game, premiering on Oct. 18 at the Aki Studio at Daniels Spectrum and running until Nov. 5.
Posted 3 days ago
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleEdit Module