I remember camp as a kid! How could I forget the night I kept my whole cabin up whispering joke after lame joke under not-so-muffled giggles despite my counsellors repeated warnings? Her punishment was another highlight, with having our entire cabin running around and around the building in our PJ’s! Adi Loewen & Diane Loewen were my counsellors a different year and they curled all our hair, which I had never had done before! Camp also reminds me of lonely moments and feeling my inadequacies. These were good growth points where I couldn’t escape to TV or other friends or to be alone – I had to face myself and I remember deep thoughts coming through those times. It helped to shape me. Those memories are so solid because they were outside of my normal everyday life with big emotions of both pain and delight.
I remember putting my kids on the bus for the first time as they headed off to camp; my Chantelle half-heartedly waving sadly through her window. I blew her some kisses and felt like a bad mother to send her away when she’s feeling sad – but I felt worse that I was also excited about my week of freedom (it feels bad to even write that)… Guilt can be a most faithful annoying friend to parents!
If we are to prepare our kids for camp we would do well to start by addressing our own attitudes or anxieties. If we feel anxious our kids most likely will too. “Mommy’s going to miss you so so soooo much!” Maybe you’re at the other extreme and can’t wait for the child-free week you’ll have and you feel annoyed if they aren’t as excited about camp. That can bring a different kind of anxiety for kids too. We need to be honest about how we feel and bring that to Jesus (although not to our kids!). Then we can face our kids without our own selfish motives to hinder.
If your child is excited about camp, rejoice with them – there is no need to drum up feelings that aren’t there by prodding question after question to make fully sure they aren’t hiding deep-seated fears. Then again, if they do have concerns, we don’t want to be frivolous heckling them with a slap on the shoulder: “Oh you’re going to have a great time! Don’t worry! Camp is fun! Now pass the potatoes because I’m hungry!”
If your child does have some hesitations about camp, it’s good to hear them out, to extend some understanding and then bring it to Jesus with them. Be sure to spend lots of focus on thanksgiving! Appreciating Jesus-moments that they’ve had in difficult times before can help build their faith. It is good to address these concerns well before camp, and not start a deep talk about it the night before at bedtime. In all of this, we don’t want to coddle or over indulge their fears as we would only be solidifying them. Because if mom & dad seem to be so concerned about my feelings, there must truly be a reason for my fears! “Are you going to be OK? Are you sure?” – ugh!
A few other helpful tips:
- Talk about the exciting stories they will share with you after camp!
- Talk to their counsellors before (if possible) – it will help you, and will help the counsellor as well as your child when they hear that mom & dad think their counsellor is GREAT!
- Several happy notes tucked in various spots and folded into their clothes in their suitcase – affirming notes of wondering what adventures they will have that day and about Jesus who is with them and their super counsellors.
- A happy family picture helps some kids.
- Their teddy bear…you can tell your child that you will give their bear three goodnight hugs (and an extra for good measure) that will be stored for them so they can get that hug from their bear when at camp.
- If you have your own great camp experiences, share a few of those! Kids want to be just like their mom and dad!
- Deal with your own feelings (whether anxiety or eager for a child-free week).
- Well-before the day of, address your child’s concerns with understanding, prayer and much thanksgiving to Jesus… No need to dig around for fears that aren’t there.