Dr. Tracy Brenner, “The Camp Counselor” and Maine Camp alumna, shares departure day advice in this week’s Maine Camp Experience guest blog post …
The start of camp is right around the corner! Tummies are aflutter with nerves and excitement as we all anticipate opening day. In my last blog I talked about how to emotionally vaccinate your children to prepare them to handle any and all feelings that arise over the summer. In today’s blog post, we apply that to one trigger of big feelings for parents and campers alike: departure day.
Children feel better, safer and more in control when they are prepared. Make a plan with your child for the night before departure. Ask how he or she would like to spend that day and night. With friends? With extended family? With just immediate family? Food requests? Special restaurant? A trip for ice cream? Follow their lead and honor their wishes when you can. This may mean having to set boundaries with grandparents who want to visit the night before if that’s not part of your child’s plan. Although others may be disappointed, prioritize the needs of your child. Letting your child participate in this planning process will reduce anxiety: That lets them know what to expect and gives them some control in the decision making.
As you plan for departure day, eliminate surprises and help campers have a clear picture of the day. Start by painting a picture of the scene highlighting what it may look, feel and sound like. For example, if traveling by bus, explain:
“We are going to get to the shopping center parking lot early in the morning. There will be three buses there waiting to pick up campers. Some campers might be clinging tightly to their parents, older campers and excited returnees might be running and jumping on each other and screaming with excitement. Others will be somewhere in the middle.”
“What might this feel like for you?”
Then pause. If your child responds by exploring feelings, simply follow their lead and continue to ask open-ended questions. Sometimes you won’t know the answer and that’s okay. Validate your child’s curiosity and allow for that uncertainty.
Once you’ve painted a picture of the physical landscape, describe the emotional scene.
“Some kids feel incredibly excited and happy on the inside. Others feel really nervous or sad. I’m guessing most feel a mixture. Some might show their excitement through hugs, running to friends and shouting. Others might show worry by holding on to a parent or sadness by crying. Whatever you feel or however you express it is perfectly normal.”
Next, explain that you will have feelings too!
Sometimes parents are told to remain stoic and hold back their emotions. To me, that removes the authenticity of your experience. I want you to be you! Work on regulating your emotions (see blog 3 for tips) to avoid sobbing uncontrollably, but you don’t need to bury your feelings completely. If you are one who is prone to tears, before departure day say this to your child:
“I will have lots of feelings too on the day you leave for camp. I’m incredibly excited for you and proud of you. It’s brave to leave home. I also am sad to say goodbye. Goodbyes are hard! With these mixed feelings, I may get emotional, I may shed a tear or two – both the happy and the sad kind. There’s nothing wrong with me, and I’m not worried about you. I know you’ve got this. Just like you, sometimes when I have big feelings they come out in tears.”
The moment of separation:
Make a clear plan with your child about that actual goodbye moment, whether it’s the goodbye in the airport, boarding the bus or crossing through the camp gates.
- Make it quick! Plan for the quick hug, kiss, maybe a special handshake if you have one.
- Tell your child they’ve got this! Once campers are called, they will just put one foot in front of the other and board the bus.
Make the moment of goodbye short and sweet. You can even practice this routine the week before. If you know your child will have a hard time separating, perhaps eyeball a counselor or reach out to the director in advance to let them know you might need a little help releasing that hug. Otherwise, remind your child they’ve got this (and parents, you’ve got this too).
So remember: emotionally vaccinate your child for departure day:
- Make a plan for the day before
- Describe the physical scene
- Describe the emotional scene
- Validate any and all feelings they have
- Have a quick goodbye routine (and have them put one foot in front of the other)
For questions, comments or consultation, Dr. Tracy is available at email@example.com and www.drtracybrenner.com and @drtracybrenner on instagram.
Maine Camp Experience Resources & Tools
Looking for the perfect Maine camp for your child? Try out our helpful tool where you can select a camp by choosing: type of camp (girls, boys or coed) and session length (1-8 weeks). It helps to narrow down a few camps to a manageable list that includes rates. Then you can research these camps in more depth.
Next, be sure to contact our Maine Camp Guide, Laurie to discuss these camps as well as for free, year-round advice and assistance on choosing a great Maine summer camp for your child.
Talk to Laurie, our Maine Campcierge®, about choosing the right camp for your child and what to do in Maine.