Is Your Child Ready for Summer Sleepaway Camp?

FRIDAY, May 17, 2024 (HealthDay News) — Sleepaway camp can be a lot of fun for kids, but only if they’re ready for the experience.

And that’s the tough part — figuring out as a parent when a child is ready to stay away from home, and what they’ll need while they’re at camp, said Dr. Laurel Williams, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

A child who can stay one night away from their family might be ready for camp, Williams said. She suggests a sleepover with trusted friends as a trial run, so they can watch as your kid practices being away from home.

“If it’s the first foray into going away for a while, you may want to do some dry runs where you have your child stay away for a couple of nights with people you trust and extend it longer,” Williams said in a Baylor news release.

Parents also should consider whether their kids like meeting new people. Children who are shy around new folks should start with a short overnight camp or a day camp before parents plop them into a days- or weeks-long sleepaway camp, Williams said.

Parents planning for a sleepaway camp should ask their kid what excites them most about camp, and help them consider all the potential fun activities that might happen there, Williams said.

They also can ask them what questions they have about camp, in case they’re anxious about going away for a bit.

“You never want to pretend something doesn’t exist as an issue, but you want to find out what they’re concerned about, then walk them through solving that problem,” Williams said. “If you have a kid who is quieter and you want to get them to do more, that’s great, but be careful to not put them so out of their comfort zone that they end up having a miserable time.”

Parents also can research a camp ahead of time, to make sure it offers activities your child will enjoy. Kids with autism or other differences might also require more regimentation and scheduling in their camp experience, Williams said.

And while your child is at camp, be sure to reach out to camp directors and counselors if your child expresses unhappiness with the experience, Williams said.

Don’t necessarily jump to conclusions and pull them out. A child might call their parents upset in the moment, then quickly move past it and have a good day.

Part of the job of a camp counselor is to look for warning signs like a child not coming out of their room, not eating, crying or complaining of stomach aches. They will be able to give you a good idea how your child is faring.

“It’s a balance of trusting that the camp directors and counselors are not going to lead parents astray if their child is having a bad time,” Williams said. “Before you make the decision to pull your kid out early, you want to work it out with the counselors and ask about strategies.”

Also keep in mind that camp can help teach kids how to solve problems without relying on their parents. Being with a new group of people, where parent’s aren’t instantly available, can build character and promote flexibility.

“If the camp is actually teaching things that children otherwise wouldn’t learn if they had stayed home, it could open up avenues for kids to be excited about things that they previously never knew they liked,” Williams said. “But it is not attainable for everyone, and people grow up very successfully without going to summer camp.”

More information

Children’s National Hospital has more on how to know when your kid is ready for camp.

SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, May 15, 2024