How to pack for Camp: Mental Health Edition
I don’t know about you, but my experience of parenthood at the end of May is always somewhat of a whirlwind. The end of year events, graduations and celebrations are every which direction, and as soon as it begins to wind down, the beginning of summer-and preparation for camp-is right in front of us.
Now that summer 2021 is upon us, your Camp Care team wants to give you a few tips to help set your camper up for a successful camp experience. In addition to labeling the clothing and filling your trunk, here are some ideas to prepare emotionally for the summer ahead.
Talk about the feelings: Now is a great time to begin asking your child how they feel about camp this summer. It is very normal to feel excited and eager for camp, and it is also expected that kids will feel nervous and maybe even sad. If they are having concerns, talk about them together. Help to brainstorm possible ways to manage these feelings if they arise at camp: what coping strategies work at home that they can utilize at camp? What words of encouragement and understanding do you think would bring your child comfort? Do you have any advice or wisdom to bestow?
Normalize separation: Does your camper have worries about homesickness or being apart? We have all spent the last 15 months together with our families; it is understandable if there are feelings of anxiety around separating. Acknowledge those feelings together. Talk about how much you will miss one another as well as how excited you are to hear about the people and activities they will experience at camp. Discuss how to keep in touch and write a letter to one another. Teach your kids to address an envelope and use stamps. Remind them, and yourselves, that this camp period is finite, and you will look forward to reveling in the many details they will be able to share when they get back home.
Transitional objects: Remember when your child was a toddler and HAD to have that very specific lovey or blanket? Those comfort objects, also called transitional objects, provide psychological security. We all, in all stages of our lives, have special items that hold value and meaning for us. Seeing these things, and keeping them near us, help us feel secure. While it is certainly not recommended to send the most sentimental and/or irreplaceable item for your camper, is there something that you and your child can find that can go to camp and be a source of security? A stuffed animal? A photograph? Something as simple as a sticker or note? If you decide on an item, discuss with your camper where and how to keep it with their belongings.
Self care tools: How does your child self-regulate their emotions? What calms them when they are upset? Does your child have a fidget or toy they like? Discuss this with your camper. Examples of some quick and easy ideas: coloring books, journals, nail polish, thinking putty, origami, blowing bubbles.
Acknowledge the opportunities: Especially after the last 15 months, camp will be a time filled with incredible opportunities for your camper that have not been available because of the health crisis. Remind your child of the exciting things they are now going to get to do! Here are a few examples to get you started: playing outside, making new friends, being with old friends, swimming, learning new games, being in community, NOT being in zoom or on a screen, trying new things, exploring nature, getting a break from the stresses of school, learning life skills. Continue brainstorming more on your own.
We can’t wait to welcome your camper and experience what each unique person will bring to the GUCI community this summer. Get packing!
Shayna Warner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist in St. Louis, MO. A lifelong member of the GUCI family, she has been working on the Camp Care team at GUCI since the summer of 2014. She will work in coordination this summer with her partners in crime, Natalie Hart, LCSW, and Kareen Shapiro, LCSW.