Sunday Snippet: Separation Anxiety at Camp
Summer is here and sleep away camp is just around the corner for many children. Some kids look forward to seeing friends from last year and are eager to take a break from their parents and siblings. Others dream about the adventures to come. Still more think about the new friends they’ll make and the independence they’ll get to experience. But the idea of being away from home can also bring up anxiety in children, as well as homesickness and depression. With that in mind, our child psychologist has some tips to help hold off or reduce your child’s summer camp separation anxiety.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Children
It’s a good idea to listen to your child’s concerns before they ever leave home – whether they are heading off for sleep away camp or not. It’s not unusual for a child to go through day camp separation anxiety when they attend a local summer program, even if they will be home every night.
Children with separation anxiety might have physical symptoms, such as:
- Stomach aches, upset stomach, vomiting, or nausea
- Feeling faint or lightheaded and dizzy
- Having headaches
- Difficulty sleeping, having nightmares, or being afraid of the dark
Additionally, your child’s summer program separation anxiety might show up in the form of:
- Being very reluctant to go to the camp
- Crying or being overly clingy or whiny
- Worrying excessively about possible harm coming to them or to you (or to another family member) while they are away at their summer program
- Needing to keep a parent or caregiver in their sight at all times
- Acting distressed when they can’t be with their caregiver or parent
- Becoming physically ill if they are separated from their loved ones
- Avoiding activities or refusing to participate in events that will take them away from their parents or caregivers even briefly
- Being afraid to be in a room by themselves
How to Help with Summer Camp Homesickness
Our child psychologist recommends the following steps to help reduce or eliminate depression and homesickness in kids who are attending day camps or leaving home for a sleep away camp:
- Let your child know that it’s okay to be worried, particularly if this is the first time they will be going to an overnight camp. Also let them know that about 90 percent of summer camp children feel anxiety and homesickness on at least one day of camp.
- Help your child practice being away from home by letting them spend a night or two with a friend or a relative before they leave for their summer program.
- Talk positively about the new friends they will make and the fun adventures they’ll have. Also – and this should go without saying – do not tell your child about any negative summer camp experiences you might have had! There’s no need to add to their anxiety.
- Help your child choose something comforting to take with them to camp. For example, they can pack a family picture or a favorite book or toy to give them a familiar “anchor” to home.
- Remind them of the successful outcomes they’ve had and the fun things they’ve enjoyed when they’ve been fearful of new experiences in the past.
- Give your child lots of extra attention in the days before they leave for their summer program or day camp.
- Send your child to camp with stamped and pre-addressed envelopes and paper so they can write to you. You might even go as far as printing out a calendar for your child so they can mark off days and see how fast the time is going.
- Discuss your child’s fears with the camp administrators so they are aware of your child’s concerns and so you know what their plan is for dealing with homesick children.
- It’s best NOT to reassure your child that you’ll come get them if they are too upset. Most kids get over their anxiety after a day or two once they get into the routine of the summer camp.
- When you drop them off for camp, don’t drag out your good-byes. Make it brief and leave before your child gets too worked up about your departure.
Keep in mind, your child’s separation anxiety may still continue no matter what you do. In these cases, it is best to seek the help of a child psychologist. These professionals can help your child identify and change their anxious thoughts. Through role-playing and modeling of positive behaviors, your child will learn coping strategies to lessen their fearful response to their approaching sleep away camp experience.