How to prepare your anxious child for overnight summer camp

I wasn’t sure how my son was going to react to his first overnight experience at a camp. Sure, he was older now, but the last time I had tried to enroll him (just two years previously) in even just a day camp, I received a tearful call from him, begging to be picked up. 

“Mom… I’m going to puke. I feel sick. Please… pick me up!”

Whether it was right or not, I didn’t make him stay. Instead, I rushed to that camp, picked him up and listened to the sound of my camp money being flushed down the toilet. But, the loss of funds wasn’t really what upset me. What really bothered me was the fact that I felt like the experience was a total #momfail. I didn’t see his inability to stay there as his downfall, I saw it as mine. After all, I obviously hadn’t prepared him enough… or at all.

This time, I assured myself, it was going to be different. I was going to enroll my son in this milestone experience, he was going to love it and I was going to score some serious cool cred for knowing it all.

The first thing I did was make my son part of the process. We researched the camp online together, familiarizing ourselves with the photos and the information about what the camp looked like, what he would be doing and where he would be staying. 

“This looks like fun!” he said enthusiastically as my mom hopes hit a new high. Soon after, I told him to grab my credit card and we enrolled him for his first sleepaway experience ever — together.

Because camps can fill up fast, we did this in early Fall. However, once the registration process was finished and set, I made sure neither one of us would forget about what was coming up. This meant talking about and building up all the experiences he was about to have at camp, even if those experiences were months away. 

Over dinners we would talk about the details of the cabin he would be sleeping in, what the meals were going to be like and how he was going to love nights around the campfire. I found that focusing on details, rather than the fact that he was going to be away from home, helped build his excitement.  

We also talked about the activities that were planned, even though he was less-than-pleased to try some of them like zip-lining. I tried to assure him, he would love it, even showing videos of myself zip-lining above the tropical forests of Mexico. After all, if mom could do it…

According to the Child Mind Institute, if your child is nervous about a certain activity at camp, it’s best to ask open-ended questions and not focus on what is making the child anxious. So, instead of asking leading questions like, “Are you nervous about horseback riding?” Ask open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling about the horses?”

Experts say it’s also helpful to share your own experiences at camp, making sure to focus on the positive aspects. It’s also beneficial to have trial nights away, such as sleepovers at a grandparent’s or friend’s house.

Lastly, it may be helpful for them to know that parents can stay connected with their children at Muskoka Woods by sending them emails through the camp’s system. These emails are printed and delivered to guests daily. 

When the day came to pick up my son from a week away at camp, he greeted me with nothing but smiles, hugs, laughter and a simple request: to enroll him in the very same camp next year.


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