Can you believe it? Summer is almost here, which means the nerves, excitement and preparation for sleepaway camp have begun. One of the scariest parts about camp for your kids (and let’s be honest, yourself) is the anticipation. The unknown is frightening, but it doesn’t have to be. If your child is a worrier, they may wonder, will the kids be nice, will they like me, what if everyone is mean, will I fit in, where will I sleep, how will I know how to make my bed, brush my hair, what to eat??
The best way to support your child is to help them build confidence for their camp adventure.
But how can you do this?
As the camper-care coordinator at a Jewish overnight camp and a child and youth care practitioner, I have some tips and tools to make this experience successful.
Take A Strength-Based Approach
Building confidence starts from within, and the home can play a huge role in building self-esteem. If your child sees your apprehension about them attending sleepaway camp, they will likely feel the same way. Ask them open-ended questions and see how they feel about this new experience. We shouldn’t simply brush off nerves or concerns with, “You’ll be fine! Everyone will like you,” but rather give kids tools, listen and focus on their strengths and the positives about sleepover camp.
Rather than preparing them for every negative situation, there should be a preparation-for success mindset!
If you went to camp, share your positive takeaways, like gaining skills and friends to last a lifetime. Seeing which supports are present at camp is a great place to start. Whether it’s having a meet and greet with the director, or playdates with cabin mates, making use of camp resources and connections can help your child feel more confident going in.
If they’re awesome at pottery, tell them that’s an activity they can do and will thrive at. Tell them that you know their cabin mates will appreciate their friendly, kind and silly attitude. Let them know how proud you are of them for taking on this new experience and putting themselves out there; it takes real courage to do that. Taking a strength-based approach is known for creating positive behaviors and building self-esteem.
Let Them Make Mistakes
Camp is all about trying new things, failing, succeeding, making mistakes and learning about your interests and hobbies. Having a growth mindset means if at first you don’t succeed, try again.
Take your child to the park and let them run around, play in the sand, explore nature and encourage them to do things that are difficult or new! Challenge them to attempt the monkey bars or climb the spider web to the very top. Even if they are afraid, set goals for one small step at a time. This will subconsciously prepare them for activities such as ropes, rock wall or diving into a cold lake, where they need perseverance. You want to teach them to feel comfortable taking small risks in a safe environment.
Think about doing new things before camp starts, like a trip to the local community center for a family swim. Do races or treading contests to help prepare and build confidence for the swim test.
Practice Jewish Traditions
At Jewish camps, there are often prayers, songs and cheers that might be new to your child. Practice these to build comfort if they are not songs you usually sing at home. There are typically prayers at every meal, Havdalah and Shabbat dinners where blue and white are often worn.
The camp may also integrate Hebrew in daily language. Teaching your children the translations if used regularly at the camp ahead of time could be helpful.
Let them say the Shabbat prayers, light the candles or sing the Birkat Hamazon (pre- and post-meal prayers). While your child can learn this on their own at camp, being familiar with the prayers and songs can create comfort, familiarity and a deeper sense of belonging once they get there.
Some common Hebrew words that might be used at camp include:
Chadar ochel = Dining Hall
Menucha = Rest Period
Chug/Chugim = Activity/Activities
Build Social Confidence
Sleepaway camp is one of the most social places. You are constantly surrounded by people, day and night. It’s a great idea to help your child build on their skills to become a confident socializer.
The first step to helping them get out of their comfort zone is to practice being in new or different social situations. This could be as simple as having them order at a restaurant. Have them pick up the phone and call their Bubbe, Zayde or a friend. Taking chances and encouraging them to step outside their comfort zone will prepare them for new social experiences. Have a sleepover with a friend or spend the night at a grandparent’s home. These scenarios can help your child practice being away from home, while also interacting in more unfamiliar social settings.
Some children get choked up when talking to others or feel that they don’t know what to say. It’s always smart to have a few fun or simple get-to-know-you questions. You can practice them together and build confidence in conversation making skills.
Increase Independence At Home
I’m a firm believer that in order to be confident you must feel comfortable. Many children told me they were too scared to ask for help when making their beds and slept with their duvet half on!
When you gain independence and self-sufficiency, you are equipped with an “I can do it!” attitude, which builds confidence. Children should come into camp knowing basic life skills but also feel empowered to ask for help. Learning to make a bed, brush your teeth and organize your room are great ways to practice these necessary skills.
When it comes time to pack, let them help! They can choose Shabbat outfits and other items such as cool stationary, which can help them take ownership of the camp experience.
The Final Takeaway
Camp is all about trying new things and getting out of your shell. Nerves are normal and feeling confident in a new space is never easy. Be patient and supportive while you build strengths within your child. Let them get outside, take risks, embrace Judaism and veer away from their comfort zone. This is an exciting time in their lives, and you, as their parents, can help them build confidence before the big goodbye.