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10 Steps for Preparing Your Child for Sleepaway Camp

another_blue_village_sceneSchool is over and summer is officially here! For many of our children, this means summer camps and sleepaway camps in particular. Part of your child’s success at camp depends on the preparations you make together before he/she ever leaves home. Here are some ideas for making the experience smoother – for both your child and you!

1).  For many kids, their most common concerns are fitting in socially, coping without mom and dad, and feeling pressure to succeed at activities outside of their comfort zone. To help your child prepare, review some of the things they did well this past year and explain how at camp they’ll have an opportunity to build on these skills and develop new ones. Be sure to listen to both difficulties and successes and explore how they can deal with similar situations at camp. It’s also important to have realistic expectations about camp. Just like life, there will be high and low points – there will be times when your child will feel great and other times when they might feel unhappy or bored. This is normal, and be sure your child knows these feelings might happen. Remind them that they might not want to do every activity offered at camp but encourage them to try anyway, to stay positive, and to look forward to participating in an activity they do enjoy later.

You and your child will be surprised what she can accomplish without mom and dad around!

2).  With your child, review the camp’s brochure and website and feel free to call the camp director with questions you might have. Learn the details of the facilities. Will your kiddo have to walk to the bathroom at night? Practice using a flashlight at home. Will they be exposed to lots of bugs and wildlife? Talk about the sort of nighttime sounds they may encounter that will be unfamiliar.

3).  Prepare your child with possible scenarios and how to react. What if they don’t like the food that’s offered? What if they forgot sunscreen? What if they had an accident and wet the bed? Tell them to find a counselor they like and trust and to be sure to communicate with the adults. They need to be open and honest and get help; there is no need to suffer and the camp counselors are there to help them with all of their needs.

4).  Discuss with your child that they will encounter children with different backgrounds than themselves and rehearse how they might respond to those things. They will meet children from different geographic, racial, and economic backgrounds and need to be prepared how to be respectful and open to the differences they will encounter.

5).  Have your child help with the packing process to give him/her a feeling of ownership over the experience. Be sure to use the list that the camp provides and send clothes that have already been worn and washed so they’re comfortable and you’re sure they fit. If your child has a lovey (a sentimental item like a stuffed animal or blanket), let them bring it. If they’re concerned about getting embarrassed for having a lovey, stuff it at the bottom of their sleeping bag. Your child will take comfort knowing their item is waiting for them at the end of each day yet will avoid any potential embarrassment.

6).  Explain how to keep their possessions organized and how to handle clothes and toiletries. They’ll be cohabitating with other children and should keep their possessions easy to access yet not spilling over into someone else’s space. I send my son with a small toiletry bag and tell him to return all items (shampoo, soap, toothbrush) to the same bag after each use. Discuss how to keep dirty and clean clothes separate and what to do with wet clothes. One mom uses Ziploc bags to pack each day’s outfit (underwear, clothes, and socks) and then tells her daughter to put the dirty clothes into that day’s Ziploc after she’s done with them.

7).  Send a letter or care package ahead of time to arrive the first day of camp. Serving as a transitional object of sorts, it reminds your child of their connection to home and helps make them feel more at ease. A family photo can also help. Be sure to keep your messages very positive and try to avoid discussing how much you’ll miss your child. Keep the focus on them and their positive experience. For example, say, “I’m so excited for the good time you’re going to have at camp and all that you’ll get to do. I can’t wait to hear all about it!” Postcards are a great tool as they’re short and sweet.

Sleepaway camp is all about the new: new friendships, new skills, new experiences, and new independence!

8).  DO NOT say “If you don’t like it, have them call me and I’ll come get you.” This message sabotages your child’s efforts to succeed on their own and encourages them to focus only on when they get to leave, rather than trying to have a good time. Do encourage your child to send a letter (be sure to pack stationary and stamps) and if you can, send a camera with them. Tell them how much you’re looking forward to seeing the photos of their incredible experience.

9).  If your child has responsibilities and chores at home, ensure he/she knows that these responsibilities will be taken care of and not to worry about it. Tell them that you want them to have this experience and everything will be just fine while they are away.

10).  Finally, for the parents, don’t feel guilty about encouraging your child to go and stay at camp. For many children, camp is a first step toward independence and plays an important role in their personal growth and development. This is good for them, and for you. You might even have a spare second for a date, a glass of wine, or doing something for your own sanity and independence!

Happy Camping!


This post was written by Fayth Ross, who is also an employee at Reno Moms Blog community partner, Sierra Nevada Journeys.  Check out their website!  


Sierra Nevada Journeys


About Fayth Ross

Fayth Ross
Fayth moved from a no-stoplight town in rural Utah to Reno in 2006. She’s happily married with three kids ages 11, 6, and 2. Fayth is a Director of Development for a Reno-based non-profit. When she’s not working, doing endless amounts of laundry, or helping with homework, Fayth loves her Keurig, reading, pedicures, baths without children, naps, Mommy juice, and dancing to 80’s music while cooking. Fayth embraced life in the biggest little city and, despite the multiple stoplights on her daily commute to work, loves living in Reno.

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