Staying the night at an aunt’s house or an overnight sleepaway camp is often the first chance a child experiences a go of independence. It’s exciting to stay somewhere new or stay up late talking with cousins and friends. Even the most confident of kids may experience homesickness and there are ways parents can help.
Kids might feel uncomfortable with new surroundings. The food will be different, or the room is too quiet to sleep and knowing they are so far away from their everyday caregivers can feel scary. Here are some things to help prepare your child, and yourself, for a separation.
When is the right age?
There may not be a “right” age to sign your child up for a sleepaway camp or extended stay at a family member’s house. An older child may feel anxious, while a younger child may be more comfortable being away from home. So, really, it’s best to go at the pace right for your family and the child.
You can try day camps, short sleep away camps for a single night, or a short weekend away to help your child gain confidence. Another option is to volunteer as a parent counselor at the camp so you can still be near.
How to prepare?
Just like adults, kids may also like to know what to expect. You can talk about what will happen at the camp or other house. Try explaining what the activities will be like, what the cabins or showers will be like and how they might be different than at home.
You can encourage your child to bring comforting items, like a special blanket or pictures. When packing, make sure you are helping them, rather than doing it all for them. This will help develop that sense of ownership, independence and confidence.
Discuss camp communication rules with your child ahead of time so they understand that phone calls come on Tuesday nights, for example. It may be Tuesday night calls or letters sent weekly. This will help them keep a connection and set some predictability during the separation. It is really important to try to abide by camp rules about communication or no communication devices.
What to model?
Modeling, or demonstrating what you want your child to do, is key. Remember, your kids will mirror your reactions, your anxiety and your excitement. As parents, we can try to stay positive and calm, especially at drop-off. A warm and short goodbye signals to your child that you have confidence in their ability to do well at camp or a family member’s house. Extended goodbyes, with multiple returns, can actually increase anxiety about separation from parents. When things are hard and you miss them, remember you are teaching them independence and autonomy, important life skills!
When kids feel safe and find an additional place where they feel comfortable and can have fun, it’s great for them, and it can also be great for parents, too. These periods away from the home allow kids to grow into who they will become, and it can give parents a chance to feel refreshed with a little break.
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