How to Make Sleep-Away Summer Camp Successful for your Anxious Child

anxious child and summer campSummer camp season is in full swing, and for parents, the decision to send your child away to summer camp is a big one. But this rite of passage is typically a wonderful experience for children as they learn to handle difficulties and take on responsibilities without a parent being there to solve problems or help with every issue. Children learn to become a little more independent and self-reliant as they take care of themselves and figure out how to handle challenges without a parent’s help.

Although most children are a bit nervous and scared about going away to sleep-away camp for the first time, for anxious children, the idea of going off to summer camp can be particularly difficult. Oftentimes children who are more fearful and anxious thrive in familiarity, consistency, and daily routine. Summer break, along with summer activities, and especially summer camp, can disrupt a child’s daily schedule and for a child with a more timid, anxious disposition, this can be challenging.

Tips for parents & kids:

  • Talk to your child about the camp experience. Let him ask you as many questions as he needs to become more comfortable. If you attended summer camp as a child, share your own summer camp experience with him.
  • Look at the camp’s website and go over what he/she might expect.  Pay particular attention to pictures of other campers enjoying the camp’s various activities.
  • “Practice” being away from home by sending your child to a relative or friend’s house for a sleepover, where the child will have to adjust to a different bedtime routine.
  • If you can, take your child a tour of the camp before the actual camp begins. This way the child can meet camp counselors and get familiar with the environment and see how much other kids are enjoying the camp.
  • Most importantly, reassure your child that even though she may be nervous, you are confident that she will adjust.  Encourage your child by talking to her about the fun things she will do and about the new friends she will make.

It’s important for parents to remember that all children, including children who are anxious, benefit from being in a new environment.  Challenging outdoor activities, living in a cabin, making new friends and being part of a team helps your child to develop courage, resilience and determination.  Being at summer camp teaches your child new skills and gently pushes your anxious child out of his comfort zone and gives him an opportunity to grow in ways he never would if he only stays in situations that are familiar and comfortable, which is what anxious children would really prefer to do.

Anxious children are particularly sensitive to picking up anxiety from their parents. So remember that for you, as a parent, it’s important to model confidence and at the same time show empathy and make it clear that you recognize how difficult and scary being away from home can be while letting her know that you are absolutely sure that she will be okay.

Orlando Child counselors and therapists at GroundWork Counseling that specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) recognize that anxious children think differently than most children. Anxious children typically tend to focus on what could go wrong and they tend to view the world as threatening and dangerous. Their anxious thoughts then lead to feeling anxious and behaving in an anxious way. Anxious children tend to develop coping mechanisms to manage their anxiety symptoms. Often this consists of avoiding situations that cause anxiety or make them uncomfortable or having an adult deal with uncomfortable situations for them. Avoiding a scary situation, like summer camp, will make it more likely that the child will continue to be anxious and be even less able to manage a difficult situation the next time. This avoidance behavior may make it even more difficult for the child to handle difficulties that may come up at school or in other social settings.

Summer camp allows your anxious child to develop skills including flexibility, self-reliance, and self-confidence. At summer camp, your child will learn important tools that will continue to benefit him throughout his lifetime – don’t let him wiggle out of this wonderful learning opportunity.

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