Even a child who has been going to daycare or school may find the idea of going to camp an intimidating experience. Routines and expectations will be different than those at home or school. Another thought that your child could find scary is that they may not know any of the other children attending the camp.
Each factor could result in clinginess or separation anxiety toward a parent or the child acting out with unacceptable behaviors toward an instructor or the other campers. Letting a child know what to expect can help ease tension that a young child will find difficult to verbalize.
Summer and School Vacation Camp Options for Kids
Although the location of a camp in relation to home or work may be the determining factor for selecting a program, make certain your child knows what type of experience he or she will be having. For the non-competitive child, attending a sports program may be stressful if your child feels his or her skills are being compared to other children. For a child scared of insects, a nature program that has children outside all the time will provoke anxiety.
Read the program brochure and call to speak to the camp director if the focus of the program is unclear. Will the child get opportunities to select what he gets to do at certain times or is the program highly structured and moves the child from one activity to the next? As the parent, you know your child’s temperament the best; will your child be asked to go far beyond his comfort level or interests?
Scheduling Young Children’s Time
Look at the program’s daily schedule. Will your child have time for free play? Are there opportunities to meet a variety of children or do the children remain in a particular group for all activities? Let your child know what to expect during the day. Don’t worry about giving a child a schedule of activities down to the minute; this age group can’t tell time and any changes to the plan could make a child uptight.
For example, let your child know that they will start the day playing while other children are dropped off, then they will sing songs and learn about what activities are planned for the day, followed by snack, story time, a craft, outdoor play, etc. Explain that sometimes the schedule may change a bit, and “that’s okay.” Reassure a child that each day will hold different experiences.
Get Kids Ready for a Day Camp
Go back to the information the camp program provides. Give the child the items he is told to bring – snacks, lunch, water bottle, raincoat, extra socks, etc. Children will feel more comfortable if they feel everything is prepared for them and they are ready in a way that is expected. Parents should learn if foods such as peanut butter are prohibited or whether or not food sharing is allowed.
If a child may feel more comfortable bringing along a favorite toy, learn if this is okay. What will happen if your child leaves the toy behind or another child unintentionally damages the toy? Talk to your child and see if a picture of the toy will reassure her or if keeping a favorite stuffed animal in her backpack is acceptable. Bringing toys that the child can play with other children may make your child feel threatened if the other children (particularly if the child doesn’t know them) won’t play by your child’s rules.
Allowing your child to feel prepared for a new experience is important to reduce his or her level of anxiety. Even the easygoing child who makes new friends without problem will appreciate knowing the rules and expectations of the camp instructors. Feeling prepared can help ease a young child into a new situation.