I remember when my son went away for the first time. Sure, he had gone for sleepovers at his best friend’s or at grandma’s or my sister’s, but this was his first time away away. It was a school trip and he was in an area I had never been, with people I didn’t know, doing new things. Without me.
When I first heard about the class trip, it conjured up all sorts of images of me of being able to meet friends for coffee or dinner on the fly, or my husband and I being able to share a meal without interruptions of “get your elbow off the table” and “eat your veggies.” For four days, I was going to have complete parental freedom. And, to be honest, I was looking forward to it. Then, about day one-and-a-half of him being away, I caught myself saying more than once, “I wonder what he’s doing.” “I wonder if he’s sleeping ok.” “I wonder if he’s having fun.” “Do you think he misses me?”
It wasn’t until I caught myself sitting in his room, staring at his collection of bobbleheads and books that I realized: I didn’t just miss him — I was actually feeling anxious about him being away.
Now, as I plan to send my son away to summer camp, the feelings of parental anxiety are creeping up again … and I’m not alone.
Feeling anxious about sending your child away to summer camp is common, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). It says it’s normal to feel concerned about your child’s physical and emotional well-being when they are away. The tricky part? You’re not supposed to show it.
“According to researchers, children may observe and mimic parents’ discussion of worries,” says the APA. “And when parents frequently provide verbal warnings, for example ‘be careful,’ children may anticipate danger and fear certain situations. Kids that had less of a say in whether or not they’d be attending summer camp, also demonstrated higher separation anxiety.”
So, in order for your child to have a great time away at camp, parents need to get their anxiety in check. Here’s how:
Remember that your child is resilient. You won’t be there to slather sunscreen on your child or remind him to eat his veggies or brush his teeth and guess what? He’ll be fine! Kids are more adapt to change than us older adults who sometimes get stuck in their ways. So, trust that your child has the capability to go it alone.
Stop dwelling on what can go wrong. What if he gets stuck on a ropes course? What if he wipes out while water skiing? What if he doesn’t do up his shoes and falls and twists his ankle on a hike and then has to be air-transported to the hospital where they will obviously have to amputate? Anyone else think like that? Just me. Anyway, just stop it. Take a deep breath and relax. Dwelling on “what ifs” only makes you feel more helpless. In addition, your child may sense your anxiety and start worrying as well. Worrying stems from uncertainty. Thus, anything you do to reduce uncertainty will help decrease your anxiety. This brings us to the next tip…
Do your research and communicate. Knowledge is key. The more you know about the camp and what your child will be doing while there will only help to relieve some of your concerns. Find out how many camp staff members there are, what is the camper-to-staff ratio and how staff are trained to deal with daily activities as well as any emergencies that may come about. If you can visit the camp beforehand, do it. If you can take a virtual tour, do that, too. While you may not be able to call your child while they are away at camp, at Muskoka Woods they realize that being away from your child may be hard on parents, which is why they allow parents to send one-way emails to their children on a daily basis. The emails are printed out and distributed to guests, so they can hear from you and you’ll feel better about being able to communicate.
Finally, make a plan. Chances are your child will be completely fine. In the slim chance that he gets sick or suffers an injury or maybe your 17-year-old golden retriever, um, expires, make a plan of action beforehand. Is a case of the summer sniffles enough to pull the plug on a camp adventure? Most likely not. A minor sprain can be treated at camp while they can still enjoy a plethora of other activities while it heals. What if Rover rolls over for one final time? Well, maybe agree to keep it a secret until your child comes home and you can grieve together as a family. Either way, discussing a plan of action with your child and your spouse will only make everyone feel more confident that summer camp will not only be a great experience for your child but for you, too.
Rachel is the publisher of inBetween magazine geared towards parents of teens and young adults. Mom to her 12-year-old son, her more than 20 years of experience in journalism have been spent researching and writing about issues closest to families. Rachel, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, she now lives with her husband and their son in Toronto.