Parent’s Guide to Sleepaway Camp

Two Boys Paddling in a Kayak on a Lake

After months of preparation, weeks of packing, and multiple conversations with the camp director, doctor and nurse, you’ve finally reached your child’s first day of sleepaway camp. Maybe you’ve dropped him off there, or maybe you’re one of a throng of parents waving to their children through the window as the camp bus rolls away.

In either scenario, you’re bound to be experiencing a mix of emotions — excitement about the prospect of much-needed time to yourself; guilt about the sense of relief you may feel; and significant anxiety about how your child will fare at camp.

If your child has disabilities, these emotions may be heightened. Here are some steps you can take to make the most of this brief time away from your child.

Remind yourself of the benefits of camp for your child
Most likely you spent hours researching the camp you selected for your child. You probably got references, interviewed the staff and maybe even visited the camp grounds. You made sure to choose a camp that seemed prepared to deal with whatever challenges — medical or behavioral — that your child presents. With these pieces in place, your child is set up to reap the many benefits that summer camp provides: the opportunity to make new friends, gain independence and self-confidence, and develop new skills.

 Give yourself a break
You deserve to have some time to focus on yourself, your significant other and even your other children. There is no cause to feel guilty about sending your child to camp or for feeling happy while he is there. Remember, this break will provide you with a chance to re-energize, so you’ll be able to be a better parent to him when he returns.

Spend time doing things you enjoy
Take advantage of the extra time that having a child at sleepaway camp offers. Plan a weekend away with your significant other, have lunch or drinks with friends; sign up for a class; begin an exercise regimen; read a book; or simply catch up on your sleep.

No news is good news
In an era of 24/7 access, it’s hard to adjust to camp communication guidelines. Most camps don’t allow campers to bring cell phones, and discourage phone calls between campers and parents in general. Camps have their reasons for rules such as these. Phone contact often worsens or even creates feelings of homesickness in campers. It may also cause unnecessary concerns for parents who may not realize their child’s homesickness is likely to dissipate soon after it arises.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t receive frequent reports from your child’s counselors and camp administrators. They should communicate regularly and should always be available for phone inquiries and emails.

 Rediscover the lost art of letter-writing
Though phone calls, text messages and emailing are out of the question, you can write plenty of letters. The more the better! When determining what to write to your camper, focus on positive news from home. But not too positive! You don’t want your child feeling like he’s missing all the fun. Ask questions about camp, and let your child know you are proud of her for trying so many new activities and experiences.

Enjoy seeing your child’s photos online    
Nowadays many camps take hundreds of photos every day. The photos are posted on the camp website (mostly)for the benefit of worried parents. There’s nothing like seeing your child in a photo surrounded by new friends, and grinning from ear-to-ear!