Stop Your Sleepaway Camp Fears


Sleepaway camps are a fantastic place for kids to have fun and gain independence, but parental angst can seep in anyway. Here's how to calm your fear about sending your kids to sleepaway camp.


It’s late June, late at night. You’ve spent the day packing the trunks for sleepaway camp. Now the kids are sleeping soundly, but you’re up well into the wee hours wrestling with worries and what-ifs.


What if her bunkmates are cliquish or mean?

What if he wets the bed?

Will the camp director call me if she’s miserable?

Separation anxiety and sleepaway camp

"Much of our anxiety 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. “Concern about the safety of children has become something of a national obsession.”

Is your child "Ready for Overnight Camp"? Click and read to find out.

You may worry that without structure — and your guiding hand — your kids won’t be able to handle routine tasks like showering, brushing teeth or getting dressed. One mom felt so sure her son wouldn’t change clothes at camp that she packed a day’s worth of clothing — one pair of underwear, shorts, shirt and socks — in dozens of gallon-size Ziploc bags, labeled with the days of the week.

Fear of letting go can also be driven by our own uncertainty about who we are without our kids and what we’ll do while they’re away. 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. So don’t let your sleepaway worries weigh you down.

Get a handle on irrational fear

What exactly are you worried about? Fears are often fueled by irrational beliefs. Kids don’t suffer serious malnutrition from weeklong candy binges. Wearing dirty clothes won’t kill them either. Concerned your temperamental child won’t fit in socially? Allow for the possibility she’ll find bunkmates to hang out with all on her own. Write down your fears so you can face them head-on. And don’t let your assumptions limit your kids’ potential.

Keep goals in mind. Ultimately, parents want kids to become self-reliant, says Donahue, and building self-reliance requires you to do less, not more, for them. Camp builds competence and independence. Give your kids time to stretch beyond their comfort zones.

Fill your dance card. Keep anxieties under control by making a plan for how you’ll use your “time off.” Schedule special time with younger siblings who aren’t going to sleepaway. Plan a romantic date or overnight getaway with your spouse. Take a cooking class. Plow through your DVR queue. Stay busy, in a good way. You deserve a change of pace, too.

Stay connected. Getting mail from home makes kids feel special. Find fun postcards, print pictures of family pets and collect care-package items to send. Don’t forget to replenish their letter-writing supplies so they can send mail home. Just don’t expect a ton of return post — not all campers are prolific pen pals — and resist the urge to check in every day: Kids need space.

Share stories. Kids love to hear about parents’ camp adventures, so tell them about your own experiences. The time you flipped your canoe over and got sopping wet in the lake shouldn’t remain a secret.

Remembering that you survived a summer away intact is a surefire way to banish worries. It’ll remind you that your own kids will be OK if they stay up too late, eat burned marshmallows or lose their swim goggles in the lake. Really.

Heidi Smith Luedtke is a psychologist turned freelance writer and mom of two. Read more at


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