Summer is just around the corner. Martha’s Vineyard’s many summer camps and programs offer parents and children a rich menu of activities and experiences to choose from. There are town sponsored programs, youth groups, short-term programs and conventional summer camps.
A quick glance shows something for just about every interest. What to learn to ride a horse? Grow vegetables? Swim? Perform on stage? Sail? Sing? Play tennis, basketball, frisbee …. and have fun? No problem.
For many youngsters the prospect of summer camp can be exciting, particularly if he or she is returning to a familiar program. But it can also be a bit daunting for first time campers.
The Child Mind Institute, a non profit dedicated to chidren’s mental well being, says anxiety is often a natural reaction to a new adventure. “All children experience a mixture of excitement and nervousness when summer camp approaches,” writer Maria Xia said. “For most, excitement trumps nerves, but some children develop anxiety serious enough to get in the way of what should be a fun, formative experience.”
Ms. Xia said summer camps hone many skills useful for future success: resilience, self-reliance, and social adaptability. The camp experience, interacting with peers as much as crafts, sports, and theater, can aid a child in crucial socialization and in completing necessary developmental tasks, which include separating from parents, cultivating independence, and demonstrating mastery.
Ms. Xia provides some tips to prepare a child for summer camp and get over anxiety. She recommends the following:
Let your child feel a sense of ownership over the experience. Involve him in picking the summer camp; familiarize him with the camp environment and teach him about camp activities so he can formulate expectations.
Help your child get excited about camp: Take her shopping for new gear and focus her on fun things about camp that she can anticipate.
Avoid focusing on what makes children anxious. Instead of asking leading questions like, “Are you nervous about horseback riding?” ask open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling about the horses?”
Don’t trivialize her concerns or offer glib reassurances. Constantly insisting, “There’s nothing to worry about!” or “Everyone loves camp!” may discourage your child; show that you have empathy and acknowledge her concerns.
Help your child formulate realistic, goal-oriented plans for making friends or toasting the perfect marshmallow or passing a swimming test. The thrill of completing these plans can give your child a feeling of success and take his mind off his anxiety.
For parents who are anxious about sending kids to summer camp, Ms. Xia said, “Remember that the cost of a good camp covers more than the arts and crafts; it includes a team of professionals and counselors committed to fostering social learning in your child.”