Get your favorite blanket and plush toy ready for the long night ahead—not for your little one, but for you! It may be more difficult for you than for your child on his or her first overnight camp experience. Still, because an elementary school child may not be prepared for an entire night away from home, it’s an excellent idea to prepare your child, too, as he or she takes this step toward independence.
Much like learning to read or to play an instrument, start slow and take it one step at a time.
Practice having “sleepovers” in other parts of the house. While at camp, your child will not be sleeping in his or her comfortable bed. Try these mini-sleepovers to get him or her used to sleeping somewhere else.
Sleep on the couch or in a sleeping bag on the living room floor. Camp in a tent outside. Of course, you should stay with your son or daughter to make sure he or she is safe.
Share your story. As you spend quality time together on these different adventures, open up about your first time at sleep-away camp or sleepover at a friend’s house.
Quell fears by talking out possible scenarios. Say things like, “What if someone tells a spooky story, and you want to feel afraid? What can you do?” Offer answers like, “I know it’s just a game, and part of the whole camp experience. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
Make a custom flashlight. Put your child’s name on the flashlight and ask him or her to add favorite stickers and characters. Remind your child that the special camping flashlight will keep him or her company and that light is only a click away.
Record the fun! Remind your son or daughter that overnight camp should be a fun and memorable experience. To record these moments, give your child a small notebook to write in each night, with half-written sentences such as “The best part of today was…” and “Today I learned how to…” This exercise will get his or her ideas flowing and make for some interesting journal entries that will evoke fond memories years later.
By slowly giving your child control and preparing him or her for the experiences at overnight camp, you can help your child feel more in charge and less afraid. Your child might surprise you and return home with stories about how he or she calmed friends’ fears by stepping up to the challenge as a leader.
Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.