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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Mar 04, 2021

Experts Give Tips to Prepare Children Emotionally for Attending Camp

By: Lori Draz

Attending camp has so many positive psychological and emotional benefits, yet this summer, for some campers, there may also be some anxiety. This summer’s campers will be back in (socially distanced and CDC-compliant) groups again after spending a long time away from interactive play and learning. With so much to gain, it’s good to spend a little time with cautious campers to let them know all the great things that lie ahead.

In an article in “Psychology Today,” Michael Ungar Ph.D. wrote, “Camps make kids, especially teens, put away the makeup, stash the iPods, get a little dirty and even a little frustrated while having fun and making new friends. Camps help our children develop great coping strategies when the facility provides seven things all children need:

1) New relationships are formed, not just with peers, but with trusted adults other than their parent.

2) Campers may form a powerful identity that makes them feel confident in front of others. A good camp counselor is going to help your child find something they can do well and be proud to share.

3) Camps help children feel in control of their lives. Children who feel competent will be better problem-solvers in new situations.

4) Camps make sure all children are treated fairly. Campers arrive with no baggage carried from school. At camp, they can just be kids who are valued for who they are. No camps tolerate bullying (and if they do, you should withdraw your child immediately).

5)  Camp is good for young bodies. Fresh air, exercise, a balance between routine and unstructured time, and all the good food their bodies need can help children build healthy lifestyles.

6) Camp develops camaraderie and a sense of being part of a group. Those goofy chants and team songs promote a sense of common purpose and offer children a sense of being rooted.

7) Camps give kids cultural roots and the chance to understand others who have different cultures.

Those are great reasons, but this year, experiencing camp may be more important than ever.

Jeffrey Kluger wrote in “Time” magazine, “Kids bodies may be spared of most COVID-19 impacts, but it’s not being so kind to their minds. Children are at risk with the stress of a pandemic and related quarantining. This new universe is out of their control, which is hard because children can become especially shaken when their rituals and the very day-to-dayness of living are out of order. Earlier research had presented troubling evidence. One study showed that of kids locked down for a single month, 22.6 percent of them reported depressive symptoms and 18.9 percent were experiencing anxiety.”

It is, however, understandable that some children may be anxious at the thought of coming back out into the world again. Gretchen Morgan, LCSW of Lighthouse Counseling & Sand Play Training Center, shares that the numbers of young children dealing with anxiety has grown at an alarming rate. Kids  have been told so much about the dangers in the world, and they have been away from regular connections in the classroom and extracurricular activities for a long time. Morgan offers three recommendations to parents who wish to best prepare their children for a positive mindset as they return to camp.

“It is important to have a realistic assessment of your child’s state of mental health,” she said. “Children experiencing real depression are better served in counseling, but for most children about to head off to camp, there may be some nervousness, amplified by the long months of limited interaction with other children.”

For those kids, Morgan suggests parents:

1) Begin the process of adjusting expectations for returning campers. Make sure they understand that the environment and structure will be different. If the child believes that “everything will be back to normal,” there is a risk they will experience high levels of frustration instead of the potential for joy at re-engaging in the new format with their peers.

2) If the child has had limited opportunities for peer interaction this past year, it would be wise to introduce small play group opportunities so that they can be with friends in a controlled setting before facing a large camp group dynamic which could be overwhelming.

3) Discuss an exit strategy should their anxiety or level of stimulation become paralyzing during the day at camp. Depending on the level of distress, the exit strategy can be a simple as having as designated safe space to go to on campgrounds with a trusted counselor or nurse, or, if severe, that a relative can come pick the child up from camp and bring them home.

When kids begin to feel comfortable, they can better enjoy and be enriched by all the numerous benefits of fresh air, laughter, accomplishment, friendship and fun that camps have to offer.