As my own kids would say, summer camp is a “different vibe.” More relaxed and less structured, a time to meet new friends and learn new skills. Some kids are born campers and for others, it may take some time to get comfortable. For all kids, summer camp is an important time to practice autonomy and gain confidence. Many of your children might go (or eventually will go) to overnight camp, but we can’t forget that day camp might bring its own feelings of “homesickness” too!
Separation Anxiety is Real
Acknowledge your child’s fears as legitimate. Demonstrate empathy and understanding and be sure to listen. Children’s feelings and fears are very real in their minds, they need to know that you heard them. Validate their feelings by saying, “I know that you are upset.” or “I see that you are sad.” Don’t try to convince them that “It will be okay” or “There is nothing to worry about.”
Feelings of Separation Anxiety are Normal
No matter how independent or self-confident, your child may be reluctant to leave you. Every child experiences some level of stress when facing separation from their loved ones.
That is normal. You provided a loving home, and they miss you!
Stay Calm and Positive
Establish a positive mindset with your child in the days leading up to camp. From an early age kids master “reading” their parents. Positive talk often breeds more positive feelings while negativity and worry tend to breed more of the same. If your child sees you becoming emotional, they are more likely to lose control as well. One of the most important gifts you can give your child is displaying a confident demeanor that camp is safe and that they will be okay.
Involve Your Child in Camp Preparations
This could be as much or as little as you are able, or that you would like to do with them. You could take them shopping for a special camp backpack, swimsuit, clothes and lunch box. You could also have them help you pack their lunch and snacks. Maybe there is a special treat that they only get at camp. You might want to send a special lovie or place a picture of your family in their backpack or lunchbox.
Keep Your Goodbyes Short and Positive
Give your child a kiss, a hug and a smile and then leave. Instead of saying, “Goodbye”, say “See you later” or “See you after lunch”. Try not to linger, as this will likely increase their anxiety. If you need to talk with the counselor, write a note or an email or set up a time to talk on the phone.
Whose Needs are Being Met in this Moment?
It is important to honor your child’s autonomy. In relationships we are sometimes together and sometimes apart. It is normal for your child to have a separate life and have separate experiences from you. The first time you leave your child it is common to feel sadness yourself. If your sadness becomes overwhelming, is a pattern, or leaving your child becomes triggering, it is important that you seek support for yourself.
As Daniel Tiger says, “Even when they go away, grown-ups come back to you.” And your kids will too! Your child will grow this summer in different ways than they grow during the school year. The confidence they will gain, the success in doing more for themselves, and the problem-solving skills they will learn on their own are gifts that will last a lifetime.
Julie Ziessman is the Director of Early Childhood Education at Adath Jeshurun Congregation and the Director of Gan Shelanu Preschool