Overcoming Summer Camp Anxiety

Summer is quickly approaching! If you’re a parent, you’re probably trying to find the perfect summer camp for your children. You dream of being able to drop your children off and enjoy your alone time, knowing that they are having a safe, fun and adventurous time making new friends, and — fingers crossed — trying new things they would never have done before. But there’s a problem. Your child lives with anxiety. You need a summer camp that not only offers the traditional arts and crafts, swimming and playing sports, but that can also be a supportive environment for your child’s anxiety (and yours too!).

Choosing the Right Camp

When picking a summer camp, it is important to make your child a part of the process. Include your son or daughter in brainstorming summer camps they are interested in. Do not be afraid to consult with your care providers, from your child’s therapist to teachers or babysitters. Think about whether or not you will enroll your child in a day camp or a sleep-away camp. Pick a program that highlights your child’s needs. Does your child need to work on social skills development or can they focus on a special interest, like sports, music or dance? Know your child. Know what areas your child is capable in and what their areas for growth are. Find a summer camp that matches their strengths and can also support them in their areas for growth!

Tools to Help Your Child Enjoy Camp

Preparing for summer camp involves more than just packing. Here’s a checklist of helpful tips of help ease the stress and worry of pre-camp nerves.

Involve your child in picking out summer camps they’re interested in. Show them pictures of the camp and the activities they’ll do. Take your child shopping for new gear and help them feel excited and in control of the decisions leading up to camp!

Validate your child’s feelings.  It is completely understandable for every child to have jitters about making new friends, trying new things and (if applicable) sleeping away from home.

Demonstrate that you empathize what they are worried about and allow them to feel acknowledged and normal about these worries.

Talk about the anxiety in a curious way with open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling about going swimming?” Allow for space that is supportive and understanding of your child’s doubts and worries.

Start sharing your own memorable experiences from summer camp with your child. Tell the tales of when you slept in your first bunk bed, went on buried treasure expeditions and roasted marshmallows with new friends around a campfire. Share your photos of when you went to summer camp.

Have practice sleepovers at a relative’s house or at friend’s houses.

Practice your goodbyes now when dropping them off at school or another activity. Practice saying goodbye in a short yet fulfilling and connected way.  Lingering for too long, giving several hugs or verbalizing about how much you’ll miss your child can cause mixed feelings and anxiety.

Build an alliance between your child and the camp staff.  Let your child know that the camp counselors are there for all problems, big or small.

If your child has medical or mental health diagnosis, let the camp counselors and staff know. Help them to better understand your child’s special needs so they can help support your child before any problems arise.

With your child, create a special plan that they can look at when they are feeling worried or nervous while at camp.  Here’s a sample plan:

Johnny’s Plan

  1. Grab stuffed animal
  2. Take three deep breaths
  3. Read special note you written by Mom and Dad

A plan with several ideas of what they can do to help themselves feel less worried.  They may have rituals in place already at school or therapy, so make a special list of coping rituals just for camp. Work together to write this special plan.  It will give your child a sense of control and help alleviate anxiety upfront.

Tools for Helping You Enjoy Your Child’s Summer Camp Experience

As a parent, you might also be struggling with worry or anxiety about your child’s summer camp experience. Your child is about to embark on an unforgettable week, you want to wish them off with the utmost confidence and praise as they forge new territory.  Try not to let your worry or anxiety flood onto them, since children can pick up on it very easily. You want your child to feel confident in themselves and their camp adventure. Encourage them that they have what it takes to have fun, make new friends and try new things!  Allowing them to feel the rise in self esteem is the most empowering gift you can give your child.



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