Helping Kids Cope with Summer Camp Anxiety

June 3, 2022

children outside playing with MP logo

With summer camp season fast approaching, you may be fondly picturing Marco Polo games, rock painting, and breezy picnics. But your child might have a different vision — of missing home, dreading the ropes course, or not finding a buddy to sit with at lunch.

Day sessions or sleep away, new or returning camper, it’s perfectly normal for children to feel excited and nervous about camp. The trouble comes when those feelings heighten into anxiety and take over. But there’s a lot you can do to help your child make the most of this opportunity for personal growth and friendship.

children in a kayak on the water

Q. Can focusing on positives about camp help ease my child’s anxiety?
A. Yes. Help your child replace worries by zeroing in on do-able goals, like hitting the archery target, making a new friend, or learning to make rope bracelets.

You can also help by steering your child toward tangible details as you talk about camp. Instead of focusing on being away from home, talk about what the cabins are like or traditions the camp might have, like special songs, kids versus campers capture-the-flag day, or campfire circles.

In your efforts to be positive, be careful not to minimize or downplay your child’s worries. (When you’re anxious, it’s not helpful to hear “everyone” loves camp.) Acknowledge how your child is feeling and show you’re confident he or she can overcome it. “It sounds like you’re worried about making friends but I know you can do it — just like you did last year when you were anxious about joining the new soccer team and you ended making two new friends.”

child studying the outdoors with microscope

Q. Isn’t it important to meet my child’s anxiety head on?
A. Yes — and no. Kids should understand that missing home is normal and that other campers and even adults experience homesickness. Assure them that even if they have these feelings, homesickness doesn’t have to take over and blot out the fun and experiences that are part of camp.

But while you acknowledge the worry and stress, it’s better not ask pointed questions, like “Are you anxious about swimming lessons?” Instead, frame questions to let kids talk freely and openly, like “How do you feel about swimming lessons?”

Q. Should I tell camp staff that my child has a learning disorder, trouble with bedwetting, or another issues?
A. Yes. Camp staff generally welcome information that can help them keep experiences positive for every camper. You’ll probably pick up a helpful tip or strategy — which brings up another point: Make sure your child knows counselors and staff there for support and to answer their questions.

Q. What about sending something from home for comfort?
A. A photo of your family or pet, a note from you, or special memento can provide a comforting connection to home. For overnight camps, set up expectations for communication. If phone calls or emails are allowed, tell your child the schedule in advance. Send pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes to encourage corresponding by mail.

butterfly sitting on paintbrush child is holding

Q. What’s the best way to approach goodbye?
A. Plan ahead to make separation quick. Dragging it out could churn up more feelings and prolong the discomfort. The sooner you go, the more quickly your child can start mixing with other campers or get involved with an engaging activity.

Finally, take steps to rein in any anxiety you’re feeling about your child going to camp by journaling, exercising or doing yoga, practicing breathing exercises, or reframing your thoughts. Just as kids have sharp radar that can pick up on your anxious feelings, they can also benefit from your positivity and confidence.