Are you curious about how to LOVE your daughter enough to let her go confidently to sleepaway summer camp?
A letter we received recently (see photo) prompted me to think again about the anxieties parents and campers sometimes feel in going to camp for the first time. I was so impressed that this first-time camper knew herself so well that she expressed both anticipation and a fear in her letter and that in writing it out, she likely processed some of that mild anxiety and prepared herself even more.
I thought, “Wow, I wish all kids did that.”
But I also know that not everyone thinks of expressing themselves openly and maybe a little encouragement is needed. It made me want to help ease any concerns and supply first-time camp families with a strategy to face the unknown with confidence.
Luckily, LOVE came to the rescue.
From Trepidation to Triumph
I’ve been at this summer camp thing for 50 years. My own parents first sent me to Camp Alleghany for Girls for three weeks back in the 60s. Since then I’ve been a camper, a counselor, a leader, and now the Mini Camp Director (who is excitedly awaiting the launch of our 15th Mini Camp season!)
One thing I can say across all of my years working at camp is that there’s no single prescription for a girl’s success at camp. However, there’s a clear pattern of ways in which families can best prepare their daughters for a successful sleepaway camp experience.
Especially among first time campers, I candidly acknowledge that there’s more nervousness. And that’s amplified if the parents themselves never went to camp. These families share some of the same questions and concerns. It’s most often a short list including:
- I’m going to miss my parents (my daughter).
- Will I (she) make friends?
- It’s a long time for my first time away from home (to have her away from home).
These questions and concerns are normal; it’s in how we respond to them that we can build a positive foundation for each girl’s summer camp experience.
Trying Her Wings
Even the youngest of girls become strong, empowered women through their experiences wrestling with unknowns. This strength of character, known as “grit,” comes from the development of courage and resolve.
As you can see from the letter to the right, even the littlest campers can reflect on camp, express some uncertainty, but also embrace the opportunity. When I got this letter I was so touched by the combination of courage and vulnerability she expressed. All kids feel that. Heck, adults do, too!
We can LOVE our daughters enough to let them go confidently into their camp experience through four simple strategies that enable them best to demonstrate that courage and resolve.
Give Her The Wings
1. Listen to what she expresses as questions and concerns, and speak only to those. But don’t give in to the temptation to raise new concerns she’s yet to speak of. Also, avoid over explaining.
I’m laughing in recollection of a time I nervously attempted to explain to my daughter where babies came from when her question was simply, “How do you make babies?” I tripped over myself a bit before realizing she was doing phonics homework and was struggling with making the word “baby” into “babies.” Listen closely to what she is asking and speak to that.
2. Observe how she processes information and experiences, especially as camp approaches. Take cues from her behavior and stay steady — avoid overreacting.
It’s normal, for example, for an enthusiastic girl to grow a bit more sullen as camp approaches. She may need a simple hug and the words, “I am so jealous of what you’re going to get to do at camp!”
As a parent I admit I tended to want to react quickly to make sure my children were okay. However, constant checking in with, “Are you okay? Is something bothering you? Are you getting nervous about camp?,” tends to heighten anxiety, and sometimes to create it where it didn’t exist.
3. Validate her concerns, without feeding them.
An honest expression of, “I’m afraid I’m going to miss you too much, mom and dad,” can be affirmed with a simple, “I hope you’ll miss us; we’ll miss you too, and we’ll be so thrilled to know what fun you are having! We can’t wait to hear all about it!”
You may or may not get a letter from her during camp. And your letters to her must be focused on the positives of her trying those wings of hers.
I’d be rich if I had a nickel for every time a happy, thriving young camper burst inexplicably into tears because a parent’s letter had just arrived listing every dog, cat, neighbor, and treasured stuffed animal who was missing her so dreadfully! It’s a natural instinct to think she needs to hear this while she’s away. But it’s actually not in her best interest during her first time away in a new place. “Looking forward to seeing you after your camp adventure — tell me lots of stories about it!” is a much better approach.
Each young girl needs to know that she is loved so much as to be given this opportunity to do something that lets her be a “little bit on her own” in a place just for girls. This opportunity to play, to have fun, to make new friends, and to try things she’s never done before…and to reach goals she’d never imagined!
Validation of her concerns and questions is helpful for her to understand that her feelings are normal, but it is oh-so important to intentionally focus on what she will accomplish from the experience.
4. Equip her with tools and strategies for success.
I suggest simple things like having her pick out a family photo for inside her trunk, a treasured stuffed animal for her bunk, or having her write a goal for each day that you place in daily envelopes tucked into her trunk so that she can see how much she is accomplishing. These help her to take things of comfort and familiarity into a new experience, while focusing on the positive outcomes.
Help her to see that as an adult you’ve done the same. I’ve shared parallel experiences with my daughter such as how anxious I was starting a new job, or stepping out in a new role and how much I grew from — and loved — the experience that I would have missed had I not tried something new.
Whether for one week, three weeks, or six…each girl is different and her questions and concerns may be equally unique.
As parents, these four simple suggestions — Listen, Observe, Validate, Equip — will lay a foundation that will set her up for success. She’ll develop courage, confidence, and resolve that will build her strength of character — true grit!
LOVE your daughter enough to let her go confidently to camp!
— Beth Anne (BA) Clark-Thomas, Mini Camp Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls
To learn more about the benefits of Mini Camp, please, download our FREE e-book, 3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Journey Early.