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How Do I Get My Anxious Child Prepared for Overnight Summer Camp?

We’re not promising that an overnight summer camp will immediately provide your child with an abundance of confidence for the rest of his or her life. However, we are confident that, in age-appropriate doses, experiences like camp will present your child with opportunities for healthy development. 

There’s a way I usually describe my time serving as an overnight summer camp counselor. I don’t start with the meals or the activities. I don’t begin with stories of how a particular camper hit me in the face with pie for the fifth time in one week. Nor do I describe the heat (I had the honor and privilege of braving the summer heat at a camp in Texas).

Instead, I begin with a verse from the end of the book of John. The apostle writes, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose the world itself could not contain the amount of books that would be written” (John 21:25).  

Overnight summer camp is one of those experiences that if every moment were written, there wouldn’t be enough books to contain the stories, emotions, and memories. This is true for campers as much as it is for counselors. Yet, not every emotion or memory is positive. One of the strongest and most common emotions that affects counselors and campers alike is the anxiety of overnight summer camp.

Helping your child learn how to conquer and overcome his or her anxiety about camp will depend on your preparation for the experience. It starts with identifying some common fears your child might experience. Then, figure out how to best strengthen his or her confidence to enjoy summer camp so that they return overflowing with their own stories, memories, and experiences.

– Jackson Greer

Common Fears of Overnight Summer Camp

Intentionally preparing your child for this experience will strengthen their confidence to attend camp. Your relationship and eventual re-connection after camp will be that much more rewarding as well.

For campers, the anxiety of overnight summer camp comes in many forms. In some cases, your child might express anxiety about summer camp before you begin packing. For other kids, the anxiety creeps up the moment that you pull into camp to drop them off.

The tricky parts of navigating overnight summer camp begin with the question: should my child even go at all? Although camp can seem fun through promotional videos and pictures, a week away from home can be terrifying for a child of any age.

Beyond that, here are some common fears you or your child might be feeling.

overnight summer camp

If you or your child express these fears or others, know that you are not alone. Having fears about attending overnight summer camp is completely normal. However, your preparation for camp can create a path for your child to enjoy the experience and overcome their fears.

overnight summer camp

– Jackson Greer

Benefits of Overnight Summer Camp

Discovering the benefits of summer camp likely depends on your child’s personality and interests. There’s good news. You’re not the only one who’s concerned about how your child might fit in at summer camp.

Most summer camps emphasize a wide range of activities that appeal to a variety of children’s unique personalities and interests. There’s also a good chance your child will experience a healthy blend of comfortable activities and more adventurous ones as well.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, your child builds his or her dependency on you the more often you take over and do things for them. Opportunities like overnight summer camp present situations for your kids to discover their own capabilities.

Being away from home for an extended amount of time can help your child also explore other interests and skills. Depending on the type of camp your child will attend, there could be countless opportunities for them to learn a new skill or try something new.

– Jackson Greer

Preparing Your Child

When sending your child to an overnight summer camp for the first time, it is important to consider their personality. If your child is naturally fearful and worried, you may have to prepare them differently than a child that is confident and adventurous. No matter their personality, you will want to give some form of preparation, so they know what to expect. However, your worried child may need some extra help.

overnight summer camp

Make a “Home” Bag

If you are sending your child to an overnight camp, making a bag filled with reminders from home can help give them a sense of calm when they are in a new environment. Fill the bag with things like their favorite stuffed animal, a book you read with them, and their favorite snack. Put a picture of your family in there as well so they can see you when they feel scared.

Leave Notes

Don’t underestimate the power of words. Leave your child notes in their overnight bag to remind them how much you love them. Write notes for them to open when they are scared or fearful. Your words, even if they are just written on a page, can make all the difference if they are feeling upset or worried while at camp.

Pray Before Camp

In the weeks leading up to camp, pray with them daily. Pray with them during everyday tasks and before they go to bed. Ask your child what their worries are and pray over those directly. Give your child the opportunity to pray as well. Remind them that you love them, but the Father loves them more and He hears the cries of their heart. 

Let the Camp Know

If your child is naturally anxious, prepare the camp beforehand. Call the camp ahead of time to see who your child’s camp counselor will be. Give your camp counselor a rundown of your child’s personality. If the camp allows you to give a written bio of your child when signing up, be detailed! Camp counselors don’t know your child like you do. If you give them details on your child’s worries, the counselor can prepare and pray before your child arrives.

Give Them an Out

Ultimately, if your child is not enjoying camp, remind them you are able and willing to pick them up early. The best thing you can do for your child is not shame them into staying at camp if they don’t want to be there. Let your child know beforehand you are here for them. If they need anything, you are just a call away. This will not only show your child you care, but it will remind them they are safe, and you are willing to get them should they want to leave.

– Georgia Dunham

Christian Summer Camp

Like any summer camp, Christian camps can have their faults. Still, there are many great things a Christian overnight summer camp can offer your child. Whether you send them to overnight camp with your home church or an independent Christian camp, your child will have the opportunity to hear the gospel from counselors and program staff.

In the three summers I served at a summer camp, I saw the Lord move and work in mighty ways. My first summer I worked on the media team. As I walked throughout camp, I witnessed campers having fun and hearing the word of God. I captured the sweet moments of campers accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior with their counselors. 

As a counselor, I shared the good news and saw the Lord work in the hearts of campers. Some even came to know the Lord and I got to rejoice with them! 

My second summer, I met campers with difficult backgrounds. During camp, I watched them have the opportunity to be kids for the first time and truly enjoy life. The Lord used this Christian camp as a refuge for campers with difficult situations. My third summer, I spoke in front of all of the campers, and by the Holy Spirit, campers decided to surrender their lives to the Lord. 

Though your anxious child may have reservations about going to an overnight camp, sending him or her to a Christian camp has the benefit of well-trained counselors who want to share the Gospel with your child. There are fun activities, silly chants, and great snacks, but above that the Lord uses the staff to draw your children to Himself.

– Georgia Dunham

Parenting Beyond Summer Camp

At its core, parenting is a journey of leading your kids from dependence to independence. We’re not promising that an overnight summer camp will immediately provide your child with an abundance of confidence for the rest of his or her life. However, we are confident that, in age-appropriate doses, experiences like camp will present your child with opportunities for healthy development. 

When your child returns from camp, we’re not sure exactly what sorts of stories they’ll bring back. But we do know they’ll have stories—more than a single book can contain. That’s the unique beauty of overnight summer camp. Your job? Be the best listener and encourager your child will ever have. 

– Jackson Greer

One Final Thought

It’s a heartbreaking reality that summer camp isn’t always the safest place for kids. Unfortunately, summer camp often creates an environment for sexual abuse of kids to occur. By no means do we want to scare you or your family in saying this. If you or your child is a victim of sexual abuse, know that we support you and our heart breaks for your experience.

We hope that you continue to be aware of some dangers that exist in an overnight summer camp environment. More importantly, we want to empower you to proactively educate your kids about appropriate and inappropriate behaviors before they attend a summer camp.

While some summer camps excel in sexual abuse prevention training, other camps do not. It’s worth knowing that some camps take a proactive approach by coaching their counselors on how to report suspected sexual abuse during camp. More specifically, some camps discuss inappropriate touch with campers upon their arrival so that they know how to report incidents while they are at camp.

Because of this, it might be necessary for you to have a conversation with your child about appropriate and inappropriate touch before they leave for overnight summer camp. Also, this can be a great conversation for you to remind your child that you are there for them and you always believe them. Know that you can always screen the camp staff before you drop your child off to learn about their protocol for sexual abuse prevention. Finally, if you have any other questions or need more resources about sexual abuse you can click on our Focus on the Family content here.

– Georgia Dunham & Jackson Greer

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