I’m so excited to return to camp on a full-time basis as your Family Experience Manager! It’s just a month to camp, so it’s time to start preparing…Not packing or shopping but prepping your camper to tackle their own personal challenges this summer.
Here’s some thoughts on common challenges that you can make a meaningful impact on before they arrive at camp!
Preparing to go “Screen Free”
Our addiction to our phones is real. So is theirs. Going cold turkey at camp is easier but it has challenges. Our “entertaining ourselves” muscles are set to solo digital mode. Going without forces us to flex our creativity muscles; our brains work hard to fill the digital gap. Campers often express the feeling as “I was bored.” Picking up a deck of cards and asking someone to play Crazy Eights is a skill.
To prepare them, carve out some screen-free hours or days for your family. Even a few times will strengthen those muscles and ease their transition. Turn off the TV and allow the kids to brainstorm some things you could do together as a family. Cook dinner, play cards, get outside for a hike or a bike ride. Allowing kids to explore boredom fosters imagination and problem-solving skills. Talk with your kids before camp about the screen free policy. Talk about the opportunities at camp to learn something new. Cooking in Mickey’s Kitchen, braiding friendship bracelets, learning to kayak, or simply throwing a frisbee around with their friends.
Let your kids know that you have confidence in their ability to leave their phones and iPads behind. When the whole cabin is in digital withdrawal, you’ll put your child in a position to be the leader, the one who grabs the deck and starts dealing.
Preparing Your Sensitive Soul
Think of the movie Mean Girls. Got that in your mind. Good. Now, we can talk. This is a real thing. If your child has struggled with mean kids or bullying throughout the school year, you’re bound to hesitate when sending them to camp. Or maybe, your kid is the bully. Hard to admit, but if you’ve gotten a call from your child’s teacher about your child picking on someone else…you might be nodding your head.
Here’s the good news: Camp is a great place for kids to explore social situations in a safe environment with support from their counselors. Oftentimes, kids who struggle socially at school, burst out of their shell at camp. Kids who tend to pick on others in school develop some empathy and kindness at camp simply because of the amazing sense of community that is naturally constructed.
If this issue is a concern, sit down with your child and review some of their relationships in the past school year. What went well, what did not. Try to pinpoint why these things are happening: Were kids being mean to her, was she being mean to others, or maybe it’s both.
To prepare your child for relationships at camp, it is important to talk about how they handled the situation and what they could do in the future.
Walk on by: If kids are laughing or whispering, put on your poker face and walk on by. Kids are looking for a reaction, if they don’t get one, they will eventually stop.
Understand what drives them: Explain that when someone makes fun of somebody else, it’s often because she isn’t happy about herself. She is trying to boost her ego by bringing others down. Ask “Is everything okay? You are acting kind of weird right now.” This turns the tables and allows a conversation to bloom.
Laugh it off: Humor often changes the dynamic and shows that your child can stick up for herself when she needs to.
Hold your head high: Slumped shoulders, mumbled speech and other signs of uncertainty are magnets for meanies. Teach your child to walk with her head up and shoulders back, smiling. The more positivity she puts out there, the less likely it is that someone will get the idea she’s a pushover.
Preparing your homesick child
The one we dread the most: our child being homesick. We feel helplessness that we can’t be there to give hugs and comfort in our normal, nurturing way. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s 10 times worse for us than it is them. Feeling homesick is a totally normal experience for campers. As parents, our job is to talk to our kids before they leave for camp to let them know just that – it’s okay. The absolute best thing you can do for your child is to tell them that you believe in them and have the utmost confidence that they can live away from you during this time.
Tell your child that you believe in them and that you are confident that they are ready for this experience
Talk about all the fun things they will do at camp that you can’t wait to hear about in letters
Tell your child that you don’t know what you are going to do without them! This will only build up their anxiety when they think about your unhappiness.
Say “you can always call me if it gets bad”. This not only gives your child out, it shows them that you don’t think they can actually do it on their own.
Camp builds independence in a safe place knowing that there are adults around to support and help them. Homesickness is part of it and being able to navigate those emotions and overcome them is a huge life skill that they will forever be grateful they have.
Dani Frissora has joined camp on a full-time basis after many years in the classroom. In her role as Family Experience Manager, she’s here to help you and your camper create a successful summer adventure! Reach out with your questions!