Every summer, 12-year-old Sarah eagerly awaited her month at sleepaway camp. She loved the freedom of being away from home, making new friends, and trying new activities. But last summer, things were different. On the second night of camp, Sarah found herself feeling homesick and anxious. She missed her family and was worried about how she would cope without them for a whole month. She barely slept that night and felt teary the next day. This was Sarah’s first time experiencing these feelings, but not her first in sleepaway camp.
For many children, attending a sleepaway camp can be a wonderful experience filled with new adventures, friendships, and memories that last a lifetime. However, being away from home for an extended period can also pose a variety of challenges for children, even if they are not attending camp for the first time. Below, I explore some of the common issues that children may face at sleepaway camp and offer practical tips on how parents can help children navigate these challenges.
Anxiety. One of the most common issues that children may face at sleepaway camp is anxiety related to being away from home. Parents can help alleviate this anxiety by preparing their children for camp ahead of time, discussing what to expect and reassuring them that they will be safe and well-cared for while at camp. Encouraging children to pack comfort items from home such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket can also help ease homesickness.
Peer pressure. Children may encounter peer pressure at sleepaway camp. To help children navigate this, parents can encourage them to develop their social skills by practicing initiating conversations, participating in group activities, and modeling positive social behaviors at home. It may also be helpful to discuss with children their values and expectations in social situations and encourage them to make choices that align with those values.
Communication skills. Knowing how to effectively communicate is hugely important when in an environment away from home. Parents can help their children build communication skills by practicing active listening, modeling effective communication techniques, and encouraging their children to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and supportive environment. It may also be helpful to role-play different scenarios and practice assertive communication techniques.
Building relationships. Friendships are an essential part of the sleepaway camp experience for many children. To help children make friends in a new environment, parents can encourage them to practice social skills such as introducing themselves to new people, initiating conversations, and being inclusive of others. It may also be helpful to discuss with children the importance of empathy and kindness in building and maintaining friendships.
Emotional regulation. Highs and lows are built into the camp experience, and therefore emotional regulation, or managing big feelings, is another important skill that children may need to develop before attending sleepaway camp. Parents can help their children develop emotional regulation skills by teaching coping strategies, practicing mindfulness techniques, and encouraging their children to express their feelings in a healthy and constructive way. It may also be helpful to discuss with children the importance of self-care and taking breaks when feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
Setting boundaries. Communicating what you are comfortable with and what you are not comfortable with is big part of living with other people for the first time. Parents can help their children set and maintain boundaries by discussing their values and expectations, modeling healthy boundaries, and helping their children outline the things are definitely deal breakers for them. It may also be helpful to discuss with children the importance of respecting others’ boundaries and encourage them to speak up when they feel their own boundaries are being violated.
Many of the challenges and subsequent skills necessary for sleepaway camp are relevant for young men and women who go to yeshivos and seminaries in Israel after high school. Those young adults need to cultivate social skills, respond appropriately to peer pressure, build friendship, regulate emotions, and set boundaries. They may also have anxiety being away from home for an extended period of time.
Whether it’s attending sleepaway camp or going to Israel for the year, our children will face challenges. But with preparation and practice, children and young adults can learn valuable skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. By helping children navigate anxiety, peer pressure, communication, relationships, emotional regulation, and boundary setting, parents can empower their children to thrive in new and unfamiliar environments. And while there may be bumps along the way, the rewards of the experience can be immeasurable. Let us help our children go forth with confidence, knowing that they have the tools to succeed, and make the most of the next exciting adventure!