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Eight Ways to Help Your Son Get Ready for Overnight Summer Camp

by Bill McMahon, Director

Congratulations on being an astute and loving parent: according to the clinical psychologist and boy expert Michael Thompson, providing an overnight camp experience for your son is one of the most powerful avenues for helping him develop essential character traits like autonomy and a growth mindset.

Getting ready for camp is an exciting time, but it can also create anxiety for a parent and a child.  To ensure that your family’s camp experience is as positive as it can be here are a few “golden rules:”

Get him involved and excited.  Carve out time to look at the camp’s print materials, website, and videos together.  Research shows that kids who have knowledge about a new experience ahead of time do better and are happier.  Ask your child what he is most excited about. You should also ask what he is most nervous about but be sure you . . .

Don’t pass on your anxiety to your child.  Parents, especially moms, can become very anxious when thinking about their child leaving for camp.  It is critical that you model the mindset and behaviors that you want to see in your child. Your kids can read you like a book so show them you have confidence that they can successfully navigate the camp experience.

Do talk about homesickness, but don’t dwell on it.  First off, make it seem normal and routine: tell them that everyone gets it.  Then talk about when they might get it: night is the most common time.  Kids are not homesick when they are water-skiing or hitting a baseball!  Also, talk to them about strategies for when they do get homesick.  Making new friends and staying active are the best cures.  Reading, listening to music, and talking with counselors and the directors are also tried and true remedies. Finally, tell them that they are at camp for the duration and that there will be no helicopter rescues. (Click here for a blog about homesickness.)

Let him bring something special.  If you go into a cabin at Moosilauke you will invariably see stuffed animals and pictures from home around a camper’s bed.  Tell your son it is totally OK to bring things that will make him comfortable, especially at night.

Follow the packing list.  Camps know what your son needs to have a successful overnight experience so pay close attention the packing list.  Also, don’t bring anything—especially technology related—that is not allowed. As Moosilauke, campers are not allowed to have phones, computers or iPads, Gameboys, or any device that has a screen and plays videos.  (Click here for our packing list.)

Communicate about communication.  Explain how communication with home during the summer works.  At Moose, campers write home twice a week.  Explain that there is a delay with letters, so they should not be surprised when they do not get an immediate response from a letter.  Explain that new campers call home once during the 4.5-week session.  If they are 2.5-week campers explain that they will not call home.  Expert tip: send a letter or card before opening day so your son has mail the day he arrives. Also, include questions in your letters so your son has something to respond to. (Click here to learn about what you can and can’t send to Moose campers.)

Communicate honestly with the camp.  Both before and on drop-off day make sure you have honestly passed on important information about your child.  If he wets his bed or sleep walks or has an allergy, make sure the right people know this information. If in doubt, tell the camp directors.  At Moosilauke on opening day Bill and Sabina have meetings with all new parents who have driven to camp. Afterwards is a great time to pass on key information.  Parents dropping off their sons will also have a private meeting with a camp nurse.

Tell him to talk with the counselors and directors.  Self-advocacy is central to creating happiness and positive outcomes but not all boys are good at it.  Tell your son that the best way to ensure a great time at camp is to talk to the people running it. Emphasize that he should tell Bill and Sabina and the staff if he is not getting the activities he wants, or if someone has not been nice, or if he has a touch of homesickness.  Tell him that our number one job is to help him have a great summer.

A final note for parents: it is essential to remember that we can’t make our kids happy.  They have to earn a positive sense of self on their own.  And the process for doing so usually involves at least a little struggle and hardship.  With this in mind, help your child lean in to the adventure that is summer camp!

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