Last night, Tony and Laurie had the opportunity to meet with many of our parents of first year campers, at the New Parent Night held in White Plains, NY. With camp quickly approaching for all camp families, but especially for the families sending a child to camp for their first summer, it is normal to have a range of feelings from excitement to anxiety for both campers and parents alike. Below is some of the information that was shared at the New Parent Night that helps prepare both parents and campers for their adjustment to camp whether it is their 1st or 7th summer at Echo Lake!
Advice from Experienced CEL Camp Parents
“You have to know in your heart that you are giving your child/children one of the greatest experiences of their lives, in one of the most supportive environments possible. We knew that no matter what happened at camp – crying, homesickness, etc., we were not taking our son home. He cried and so did we, but in all our letters we wrote how proud we were, what a huge accomplishment he was and continues to make, and what amazing opportunities he has at camp.”
“If this is your first experience sending a child away to camp, prepare yourself. It is quite an adjustment. Your child may have trouble adjusting at first. Try not to take this too much to heart. Obviously, we all love our children and want what is best for them. It is best for them to get some independence in a safe, nurturing environment. This is part of growing up. Remember that even if your child has some difficulty at first, he or she will come around and be a better person for the experience. During the interim, reach out to Tony and/or Laurie for reassurance… comfort… connections.”
“Encourage your child to connect with his/her counselors and reach out to an adult if they are feeling sad or having any difficulties. Let your child know that his/her counselors are their parents away from home and they are there to help in any way.”
Advice from Tony and Laurie
It is very normal for all campers to be a bit nervous about camp at some point before camp starts! A few ways you might see this nervous feeling emerge:
- Your camper becomes sad or weepy a bedtime.
- Your camper has a change in eating or sleeping habits.
- Your camper worries that they will “miss” something that is going on at home while they are at camp.
- Camper may even say, “I don’t want to go to camp.”
Camper anxiety about camp can often cause Parental anxiety about camp, which is very normal too. Campers will need to borrow YOUR confidence about camp if they are struggling with their own. Some things that will be helpful for your camper to hear from you if they are nervous:
- Mom and/or Dad are going to miss you AND we are excited that you are going to have a great summer at camp.
- Mom and/or Dad looked at a lot of camps and talked to Tony and Laurie and we know that Echo Lake is a great camp where you will be safe and have fun!
- Mom and/or Dad are excited to hear about the friends you make, the counselors you have, and the activities you do at camp.
The bus ride to camp can cause some anxiety for campers. This is normal. Both camp and parents can do a number of things to make this an easier experience.
- Our bus staff have the names and ages of all of our campers. Our new campers are marked by a special star. Our bus staff will help campers find kids their age to sit with and help them start to make connections. No one will sit alone.
- Do not send your camper with too much candy, sugar, or too heavy a lunch. The last thing we want is a camper to get sick on the bus.
- When the buses arrive Tony or Laurie boards the bus and calls campers off the bus by group to their staff at the waiting at the bus door.
- Our website will note when the buses arrive at camp.
Homesickness for campers, especially at downtimes like bedtime, rest hour, or mealtime, is very normal for campers, especially in the first few days of camp. Things we do to help with feelings of homesickness.
- Our staff are not only aware of these “trigger” times but are proactive in terms of helping campers with hugs, conversation, and distraction from thinking about missing home.
- Campers should bring things like books, music, coloring supplies, letter writing materials, etc… to distract themselves during flashlight time.
- If campers sleep with a special stuffed animal or blanket (boys too!), they SHOULD bring it to camp!
- Homesickness typically only lasts the first few days of camp at the most and is quickly replaced by great friendships, fun counselors, and exciting activities. v No matter what your child may say before or during camp, DO NOT promise your child that “if they are unhappy you will come and pick them up from camp.”
- This is a recipe for your child to assume that if there is a bump in the road, they can go home.
- If your child is having a problem adjusting to camp we will help them get what they need and contact you to inform you of what is going on.
- If your camper thinks they can go home the minute something goes wrong, they are less likely to work on the problem and will expect that you will do what you promised and come pick them up immediately.
- Together, both you and camp will work to help your child adjust to camp.
It is highly likely that you will receive a “sad” or homesick letter from your camper at some point this summer. The wording may be very dramatic and upsetting. Please keep in mind that:
- These letters are often written during downtime when campers are thinking about missing home.
- Their sadness may only reflect 1% of their otherwise happy day.
- When you receive a letter keep in mind that it was written 3-5 days earlier and the feelings or events of the letter are “old news” now.
- If you are concerned or want to check in, please call us as we are with your children and are happy to let you know how they are doing now and how the sad feelings were resolved.
Phone calls home, even when campers are having fun at camp, can often cause tears from your camper as just hearing your voice can cause them to miss you. Ways you can make your phone calls successful.
- Prepare yourself that your camper may cry on the phone. Do your best to not let them hear you cry on the phone.
- Prepare a list of open-ended questions to “interview” your camper with as it is often difficult for them to create the conversation. (I.e. what activities have you done this week; tell me about your favorite counselor; and what are some things you do with your friends; etc…)
- Know that your camper’s counselor is waiting for them just outside the phone call room and is ready to sweep them up in a big hug, talk to them, and get them right back into the fun of camp. Tears typically stop a few feet outside the phone call room.
- If the phone call was upsetting for you, please call us and we can reassure you of your campers smooth transition back into activities with their group.
- Although campers are allowed 3 phone calls over the summer, many do better with only 2 as the calls can take them away from the fun of camp.
Photos on our website are a snapshot of one moment in time.
- Almost 200 photos are uploaded on our summer website each day. You may not see your camper in a photo every day but that does not mean they are not having a great time at camp, it just means they were not in a photo.
- Pictures are taken very quickly. If your camper is not standing next to a particular camper in a photo, please do not assume it is a reflection of their relationship. It is just a photo of a given moment.
- Photos do not tell the entire story. Photos are viewed out of context. Please do not make assumptions about events before or after a photo is taken.
- Keep in mind that the photos are only snapshots of one moment in the span of many activities and events at camp. We cannot capture every moment and no one moment reflects the entire experience. v If you want to talk to us about your child before camp starts and / or check in on your camper / discuss your campers experience during camp, all you have to do is call or email us and we are happy to talk with you.
- You can always call the camp office and ask to speak with Tony, Laurie or Brenda. During the summer, you will most likely leave a message for us (as we are out on camp with the campers) and can expect a call back within a few hours.
- We will check in with your child and your child’s staff and gather some information to add to what we’ve seen of your camper, before we call you back.
Children love their parents and feel comfortable at home. It is difficult for a child to say that they want to separate from you and home and go away to camp. Rather then asking them to make this impossible decision, campers need to borrow their parent’s confidence that they can and should go to camp.
- It is OK to tell your child that you will miss them but avoid telling them that you are “lonely” or “miserable” or otherwise “devastated” without them. You do not want your camper to worry about you.
- It is OK to tell your child that you will miss them but avoid telling them that you are “having the best time” or “re-doing their room” or “taking their sibling to somewhere really fun” without them. You do not want your camper to think that you are having a ton of fun without them there. o Keep your information to your camper upbeat, informative, and neutral. Be sure to ask them many open ended questions for them to respond to you about.
- Reassure them of your confidence in Echo Lake as a great camp, of your confidence in them to be successful at camp, and of your excitement for them to have a wonderful summer.
Finally, we are partners with you in the health, happiness, and success of your child at camp.
- If you have questions before camp….call us.
- If you have questions during camp….call us.
- If you have questions after camp…call us.
- Your child is going to have a wonderful summer, and so are you!
Advice from Michael Thompson’s book “Homesick and Happy”
Chapter 10 – Childsick and Happy
- Give your child the gift of letting him or her go
- Prepare your child for homesickness
- Do not try to manage homesickness from a distance
- Do not make the “We’ll take you home if you’re unhappy” deal
- Help your children practice the skills they need before they leave
- Use letters, postcards, and other slower forms of communication
- Take a vacation from parenting, have some fun and don’t feel guilty about it!
If you have not checked out Michael Thompson’s book you can find out more about it here.