Tips for Parents Sending Kids to Summer Camps

If your child is going to overnight camp this summer, you may wonder how to handle certain situations that may arise. Barbara Davis of the American Camping Association offers the following guidelines for parents:

Should I call the camp to see how my child is?
You may want to call the director or your child's counselor if you have any real concerns or haven't heard from the child in a while. Camps usually have a "telephone policy" and only allow parents to call at certain times, such as on a child's birthday or in an emergency.

"Camps want to discourage a constant barrage of phone calls from parents," says Davis. "It can be very disruptive, for example, if a child gets a call when he or she is having a swim lesson. If a child is homesick, hearing from a parent can bring out those feelings. Parents should keep in mind that one of the reasons they're sending their child to camp is so the camper can gain a sense of independence."

Will my child write or call home?
Most camps require that children write home regularly. Camps vary on how many times a week children have to write. They also limit campers' phone calls home, unless it is an emergency. If your camp has state-of-the-art technology, you and your child may be able to keep in touch by email or by fax.

How often should I write to my child?
Write as often as possible. Send a letter a day or two before your child leaves for camp so that it will be there when he or she arrives. Pack a supply of stationery, stamps, pens and an address book; make communicating as easy as possible by including pre-addressed, stamped postcards. Send "care packages," if allowed, but check with the camp about whether you can include candy.

What should I do if my child is homesick and wants to come home?
Don't overreact to one negative letter. Usually, something has taken place to upset the child, and by the time you call the situation may be remedied. By calling a child, you may resurrect the problem. Instead, speak to a counselor or the director. Find out how serious the problem is and what steps the director has taken to rectify the situation.

"See whether there is a pattern or if it is a one-time occurrence," Davis advises. "If the same problem occurs repeatedly or if the child is insisting on coming home, you may want to talk to the child or even take a trip to the camp and sit down with the director and the child."

What can I do to prevent my child from getting homesick?
Packing a favorite item - a comforter, a stuffed animal or family pictures - may help ease your child's homesickness. Going away to camp with a friend may also be a comfort to a child. When writing to children, avoid dwelling on how much you miss them.

Should my ex-spouse and I attend visiting day together or separately?
"Parents who have divorced amicably may want to visit the camp together," Davis says. "If you feel the visit would upset your child or you don't want to be there when your ex is at the camp, you usually can call the director and arrange another visit. But it's important that at least one parent attends visiting day."

Should I tip or give a gift to counselors on visiting day or at the end of camp?
Ask the camp director for guidelines. Some camps don't allow tipping. If tips are permissible, the amount of the tip usually depends on how long the camper has attended and whether the staff member is a counselor-in-training or a junior or senior counselor.

How do I separate from my child without tears when visiting day ends?
Some camps have events planned right after visiting day so children are easily absorbed back into camp life. If not, prepare children by letting them know visiting day is about to end and by asking to play a game together before you leave. You may want to remind them that there is so much more to do at camp than at home and that many of their friends are away too.

Should I tell my child about what's going on at home - even if the news isn't good?
If there is a family problem or death in the family, call and inform the camp director. A parent may want to go to camp to talk to the child. Counselors and the director also can help your child deal with problems.

"A camp should be aware of any situation that adversely affects the child and has an impact on his or her behavior, even if it happened prior to camp, so that the staff can evaluate and handle the circumstance," says Davis.

©, used with permission.

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