We recently chatted with Carolina HealthCare System’s Levine Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Porter Peterson, General Pediatrician at Cabarrus Pediatrics. She gives us some great advice on making summer sleep away camp a great experience for you and your child.
How does attending summer sleep away camp affect your child’s development?
Summer camp offers a wonderful environment for children to grow in many ways. With parents not in the picture, it is a time for your child to gain independence as he/she makes decisions and choices on their own. Furthermore, it can be a valuable place where your child learns through fun, daily activities to work with others as part of a team as well as create new friendships! With the many activities and challenges that camp offers, there will be plenty of opportunity for success and yes, mistakes may be made too. However, this is okay because your child is still gaining the confidence that he/she can do things independently.
What are tips when sending your child to sleep away camp for the first time?
It is important to know when your child may be ready for camp and this ultimately depends on the individual child. If your child looks at you in panic at the mention of going away to camp (as my 8 year old currently does), then it may not be time to consider camp. However, if your child appears interested, asking questions about camp or talking to a friend about it, then it might be a good idea to look into camps.
When you do decide that it is the right time for your child to go to camp, be sure to talk to friends and other parents to see which camps they recommend. Most camps have a wide assortment of activities; however, if your child has a particular interest, then look into camps that cater to specific sports/activities. I also recommend researching the camps – what are the daily activities, how do they put campers together in cabins (grade versus age), are boys and girls both at camp, ratio of counselors to children and options for length of stay. Furthermore, camp might be more appealing if your child has a friend along with him/her.
What are tips for easing anxiety in parents and children?
The first thing is reassurance to both the parent and child. It is healthy for both of you to have some time of separation as it promotes independence in your young one and gives you some freedom to do something for yourself! While it will be natural for you to miss your camper and for your camper to have fears/sadness as he/she acclimates to a new camp schedule, this will resolve itself as they adjust to camp. It is okay to talk about any fear or anxiety beforehand, but also remember to be positive because your camper is going to have a great time!
It is good for the parent to help their child identify goals to accomplish at camp. Is there an activity they really want to do or a skill they want to master? Another preparation tip is for you and your camper to pack together. Your camper will be adjusting to a lot of new things at camp, so it is important for them to know where things are packed to mitigate any unnecessary stress for them. You can even pack each outfit in a Ziploc bag so it is easy for them to pull out each day, and maybe even include a sweet, short note!
If my child has special circumstances, how should I work with the camp staff?
The most important thing is to be honest with the camp about any sort of medical/behavioral condition that affects your child. Being honest does not set your child up for embarrassment, but rather is an opportunity to have a good plan in place so embarrassment does not occur. The counselors and staff understand that certain conditions should remain confidential and they should be cognizant of this with every camper. Most camps require full physicals to be done by a medical provider before a camper attends camp. Often, the camp medical forms have areas to discuss medical issues, but this form may only go to the camp nurse; so, remember to discuss these issues with the counselor/staff as well when you drop off your camper. Even if it is a behavioral issue such as anxiety that your child struggles with, it is good to let the counselor know so they can best be prepared. Furthermore, if there are any emergency medicines that need to be kept close by, then this needs to be discussed with both the camp and your child.
Bedwetting is one of the most common parental concerns that I hear about when a child is staying overnight at camp. This can be difficult for both the child and the parents. If something is needed for overnight protection, then this can be discreetly packed for easy access by your child without letting the other campers know. Furthermore, there is medicine that usually can be tried for temporary stays away from home and may be an option for your child so talk to your doctor.
If my child has special needs, are there any camp options for him/her? Is camp a good thing for us to consider if we have special needs?
YES!!! ABSOLUTELY!!! There are definitely camps set up just for children with special needs and this could be one of the best things your child can experience! Like any other child, this can be an incredible experience for them where they gain independence and confidence and create lifelong friendships. Furthermore, it puts them in a situation amongst others who may deal with the same struggles and understand what they are going through, which can be so comforting and reassuring to them. And finally, they can experience things they never thought they could ever do which is priceless!
About Dr. Peterson
Dr. Peterson has been happily married to her husband, Ben Peterson, for 11 years. They have 2 boys, ages 8 and 5, who keep things fully energized in their home! They also have 2 furry children – Riley (the eleven-year-old yellow lab) and Delilah (the one-year-old Olde English Bulldogge). They were fortunate enough to return to her hometown, Concord, NC, 7 years ago and to still be living there now. She practices General Pediatrics at Cabarrus Pediatrics, which is the group she went to as a child! Besides balancing work and the demands of motherhood, she is passionate about running and enjoy being active in the community and their church. Furthermore, she loves traveling and creating many wonderful memories with her family!