How Not to Worry While Your Child Is Away at Camp
Tips and Tricks to Quash the Anxiety
If your kids will go to overnight camp this summer, you may have some worries and what-ifs on your mind.
- What if he wets the bed?
- What if the other kids are cliquish or mean?
- Will the camp director call me if she’s miserable?
Why parents worry about their kids
“Much of our anxiety as parents stems from the fact that there are so many things we cannot control in our children’s lives,” says Paul Donahue, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Parenting Without Fear. You may worry that without structure your child won’t be able to handle routine tasks like showering or getting dressed. One mom I know felt so sure her son wouldn’t change clothes at camp that she packed his outfits in gallon-size clear bags, labeled with the days of the week.
Because parents focus so much on kids’ needs, it’s hard to step back. Even though our protective instincts keep us on edge, sometimes we have to trust others to care for our kids and trust our kids to look out for themselves. Fear of letting go also can come from our own uncertainty about who we are without our kids and what we’ll do while they’re away. Without baseball practice, piano lessons, bedtime routines and movie night, our lives would be slower and saner but emptier.
How to stop worrying about your child going away to camp
Don’t let worries weigh you down. Use them as an opportunity to confront your own needs for safety, control and closeness. Here’s how.
Your thoughts and emotions may be swirling like a tornado around you. Escape the eye of the storm and reflect on your feelings. What (exactly) are your worries? Write them down so you can face them head on.
Question your assumptions.
Fears may be fueled by irrational beliefs. Kids don’t suffer serious malnutrition from week-long candy binges. And wearing dirty clothes won’t kill them, either. Concerned your temperamental child won’t fit in socially? Allow for the possibility she’ll find buddies to hang out with all on her own. Don’t let your beliefs limit your child’s potential.
Keep goals in mind.
Ultimately, parents want kids to become self-reliant, says Donahue, which requires that parents do less for their kids, not more. Camp builds competence and independence. Give your child time to stretch beyond his comfort zone.
Have a plan.
Schedule special time with siblings who aren’t going away to camp. Plan a romantic date or overnight getaway with your significant other. Learn something new, or catch up on your favorite shows. Stay busy in a good way. You deserve a change of pace, too.
Remember and share the fun times you had at camp with your kids. Tell them where you went and what you did, like the time you flipped your canoe and got sopping wet in the lake. Kids love to hear about parents’ camp adventures.
Find fun postcards, print pictures of family pets and collect care-package items to send. Getting mail from home makes kids feel special. Resist the urge to check in every day. Kids need space. Don’t forget to send supplies so your kids can send letters home. They’ll want to share their experiences, and you’ll treasure their letters forever.
Anxiety is understandable, but it shouldn’t stop you from sending kids off to camp. It’s likely that many of your cherished childhood memories involve nature, new friends and time to explore on your own. Summer camp offers all these opportunities and more. It’ll be okay if the kids stay up too late, eat burned marshmallows or lose their swim goggles in the lake. Really.
Heidi Smith Luedtke is a personality psychologist and the author of Detachment Parenting.