Whether you’re about to send your girl off to an overnight summer camp, visitor day is fast approaching, or she’s just about to come home, you should know there are a few things you can do as a parent to decrease the drama and up the fun factor for everyone. Here’s the scoop from Girl Scouts Developmental Psychologist Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D. on how to make it work for you.
Get Her Ready
Help her pack, but don’t do it all for her. Make sure she’s involved and picks out some of her favorite clothes to bring along, and that she knows where everything goes in her overnight bag or suitcase. This will help her feel both a sense of ownership over the process and have a sense of security in knowing what she’s got and where it all is.
Also when it comes to packing, make sure you know the rules about what she can and cannot have at camp—and follow them! Many camps, including Girl Scout summer camps, don’t allow girls to bring technology (including cell phones and tablets), and that’s a good thing! Trust us, it’s a lot easier for your girl to grow in confidence, strength, and independence when she’s not calling home every day. And in the case of a real serious need? The staff at her camp will of course help to connect the two of you via phone or in some other way.
Send Her Off With a Smile
Let’s get one thing straight: Anxious parents = anxious campers. While it’s true that some children are nervous to go to summer camp, many of them aren’t—at least, not until parents put it in their mind that they should be! The thing is that your attitude about summer camp has a huge influence over how she’ll view the whole endeavor. Saying things like, “Don’t be nervous/worried/scared about going to camp, it’s going to be fun!” might seem like a good idea on the surface, but unless your daughter has expressed having those feelings on her own, you’re basically suggesting that she should have those uncomfortable feelings about going away just by mentioning them. Not exactly the best way to set her up for success! Similarly, if you’re excited and play up all the great experiences she’ll have at camp without even mentioning the bad and sad stuff, she’s a lot more likely to feel happy and confident at camp from day one.
Essentially, let her lead the conversation about camp. If she’s not worried that she’ll have nightmares, why bring them up as a possibility? If she doesn’t already think she’ll feel homesick, again, no need to even utter the word!
Visit Like a Pro
So, remember how when you’re packing her for camp, you should keep in mind what she’s allowed to have and what she isn’t? The same goes for what you bring to her on summer camp visitor’s day! “Sneaking” a couple things into camp for your girl might be well-intentioned, but the truth is, it could put your girl in a super awkward position (what if she’s caught with it?) and could even lead to jealousy and in-fighting among the girls she’s just begun to bond with.
When you get there (be on time so she’s not waiting around while all the other happy families reunite!), really let her lead the way. You’re on her turf for once, and you should give her the chance to feel pride in her ability to introduce you to all the things about camp that she loves the most.
One thing to avoid? Talking about home too much. Regaling her with stories about the adorable things her puppy did last week, or filling her in on the neighborhood barbeque could make her feel homesick, even if she wasn’t feeling that way to begin with. As much as you can, keep the focus on camp and all the incredible things she’s accomplishing there.
This should go without saying, but don’t ask counselors to give your girl special treatment or to create different rules just for her—and no trying to slip a staffer a few bucks to do something “on the sly!” That just creates an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved (and will probably embarrass your girl to no end).
Make Homecoming Sweet
Think back to when you’d visit home after your first semester at college—or how it felt to stay overnight at your parents’ house after living outside the home for a while. Sure, you loved using the washing machine and eating Dad’s awesome cooking, but didn’t you miss some of your freedom? That’s exactly what your girl might be feeling, especially if she had an awesome time at camp. Your girl might be homesick for camp and all the friends she met there. She also might be frustrated to have to start doing her chores again and have a little trouble getting back in the swing of things in general. So be patient and give her a little bit of space as she transitions back to her normal life. On the flipside, there is a chance she’ll be so eager to put camp behind her and get back to her everyday activities and all of her neighborhood friends. However she’s feeling, just remember that this is a time of adjustment for her and that she might need a day or two to rest after coming home (there’s a good chance she didn’t sleep as much as she should have!).
And finally, respect—and even celebrate—the fact that your girl has had tons of new experiences and that she’s probably grown and changed a bit as a person since she left for camp. Your girl couldn’t stand pickles before, but as soon as she’s back from camp, she can’t get enough of them? Just go with it. Maybe she made a good friend who turned her onto their crunchy, salty goodness. No need to make a big deal about the fact that she never liked them before! Encourage her to tell stories about the happy times at camp and to even teach you about some of the things she learned. Half the fun of going away and having new adventures is coming back home and sharing them with the ones we love.