Summer camp is one of my favorite things ever. There’s a fabulous mix of independence, fun adventures and new experiences. Coupled with God’s amazing creation it’s an escapade every child should have. But when you have a child that is fearful, shy, worried, anxious or sensitive, sending them off to camp might as well be the moon.
This is another of those posts where I don’t want to share too much of my daughter, Lydia’s story but more my story. I’m writing this with the experience of a former Children’s Pastor who has sent kids to camp numerous times, a former kids’ camp speaker who has interacted with camp leaders, a former counselor who has lived with little girls for a week at a time and as a mama sending her tends-to-by-shy, often-fearful and sometimes-scared daughter to camp for the first time.
Lydia has never been the kid that jumps into the middle of a crowd with nary a look behind her. She’s the kid that wants you to walk her through the experience first and then she’ll warm up and maybe try it once or twice. I knew going to camp would be a big test of her self-control, bravery and maturity. I knew I’d have to take extra steps to make sure she succeeded at camp.
These are the steps we took and I think they’ll help you and your sensitive kids, too:
1. Fill Up With Scripture
Over Lydia’s entire life, we’ve memorized Scripture about self-control and bravery. So, those are in her pocket. However, these past few weeks, we’ve really been working on a theme for her camp experience. We’ve memorized, journaled, sang songs and read books about Psalm 23 and Jesus the shepherd who never leaves his sheep. It’s been the perfect visual for her needs and God has been faithful to show it to us everywhere–at church, in random books we find, in conversation, etc.
Psalm 23 may not be the Scripture your child needs. Ask God to give you a theme verse that will help your child remember the truth of God’s care and attention or their ability to lean on Him. Then spend dedicated time exploring those Scriptures–make posters, memorize it, find books or songs (maybe Seeds? Rizers? Yancy?) that use the Scripture or whatever else you can to help your child meditate on that portion of God’s Word.
2. Jump the Worry Track
Whenever someone starts talking about lice my head gets itchy. If someone mentions a hot brownie with ice cream and hot fudge on top, I’m suddenly hungry. It’s just my mind picking up on those words and translating into literal feelings in my body.
Children (and grownups!) who tend to worry do this same thing about seemingly small topics, “What if I can’t find my way at camp? I might get lost and miss my class. Then what will happen?” Their emotions get involved with ideas that simply aren’t true.
If your child is prone to worst case scenario or glass half-empty, coach them to leave that long train track of negative thoughts and “jump the track” to good thoughts, “My counselor will help me find my class. I’ll follow my friends there. The campground isn’t that big!”
3. Give Concrete Reminders
A few weeks before camp, I bought Lydia some essential oils in a roller bottle. Every night, we roll those oils on her wrists and the bottom of her feet. We smell them, talk about Jesus, our Good Shepherd anointing us with oil (Psalm 23: 5) and breathe deep the relaxing smells.
I wanted her body, her mind and her little heart to get used to those smells and those thoughts before bed because she brought that essential oil roller to camp and will be putting them on before bed each night. I believe it will be an empowering, sensitive-rich reminder of comfort and strength!
I also gave her a little lamb stuffed animal to remind her of her Shepherd and she brought her journal with all her doodled Scriptures inside.
You might need to include your child’s blanket, a favorite toy, a picture from home, a piece of jewelry, a note from you or just a silly item that they can hide in their suitcase or slip in their pocket. Whatever it is, make sure it empowers them and has concrete reminders of what they need to remember to thrive on their own.
4. Set Her Up for Success
I love this article from Cheri Evans and Christian Camping International called, Preparing Your Child For Camp. In it, Evans tells parents to not even mention the word homesickness because essentially, you are giving your child permission to be homesick. Talking about “when you get homesick” tells your child they will in fact get homesick. Sidestep that conversation and only let your child know you trust the camp and know they will succeed!
I’m not suggesting you don’t talk to your child about homesickness if they are worried about it, I’m simply saying don’t place thoughts into their head that weren’t there before. In fact, my mom told Lydia, “Sometimes the very first night kids get homesick because it’s slower night, everything is still new and you haven’t slept in your bunk yet. But after that, hardly anyone gets homesick because we are having so much fun!” She let Lydia know homesickness was a thing but not something that would plague or control her.
5. Tell Other People
Our camp situation is a little different because my mom is the camp director and my dad is boys’ counselor, my brother, sister-in-law, cousin and one of my sisterchicks is at the camp. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t send Lydia to a camp at 8 years old where I didn’t know anyone.
Of course my family is on the look-outs for Lydia (and would do so without me asking!). I also emailed her counselor and told her a few details of Lydia’s struggles for bravery. Not so the counselor would fix things or worry more about my daughter but so she would know how we’ve already prepared Lydia to succeed and where to point her if things get hard.
Oh, and one final tip?
Pray for your child. Not just that they’ll be brave or not worried. Pray they will learn to deal with their fear. Pray they will rely on the Holy Spirit when they are unsure of where to go and what to do. Pray they will feel Jesus’ strength inside when their fear seems large. Pray they will grow in their relationship in the Lord and in His mighty power.
I can’t wait to tell you how much Lydia loved camp when she gets back. I’m expecting good news. I’m expecting God to keep His promise and be my daughter’s Good Shepherd. And I’m expecting my daughter to follow Him closely.
How do you prepare your sometimes-fearful child for big adventures?
My friend Erin from Home With The Boys has a special guest-post about saying “Yes” to Summer Camp that will also encourage you as you pack up your kids to camp!