How to Ensure Success by Taking Care of Your Own Stress
It’s normal to be anxious about how your son or daughter will do at camp. Yes. That’s right. So relax. It’s normal. And if you’ve read my blogs on homesickness prevention and followed my advice, then chances are your child will thrive at camp. (Behind on your prep? No time to read more? Check out this anti-homesickness DVD: EverythingSummerCamp.com.)
I know you. You’re still worried. Will Sam make friends? Will Pat pass his swim check? Will Robin change his underwear? Will Francis take his medication? I’m a parent, too. I know what it’s like to fret about your kiddo’s future. I also know that fretting openly generally ramps up my kids’ angst.
If you’d perused clinical psychology journals in the late 1990’s, you’d have read Lisa Capps’s research on anxiety transmission from parent to child. Her studies showed that when parents spoke nervously to their elementary school children about things that could go wrong on the walk to and from school, the kids developed school phobias of varying intensity. Worry, as it turns out, can be contagious.
The key for parents who may be worrying about what might go wrong at camp (and that’s all of you reading this) is to share those concerns with another adult. Your son or daughter needs to hear a consistently positive message of confidence and optimism, such as: “You’ll love camp” and “I know you’ll do great” and “It’s gonna be a terrific experience” and “I can’t wait to hear about your new friends and the new things you try.”
With your spouse, partner, colleague or best friend, you can say, “I won’t sleep soundly until I get his first letter” or “I’ll be checking the camp’s website every hour” or “I don’t know what I’ll do without him” or “I’m not ready for her to go away this year…I should have waited until next summer.” But beware of sharing those thoughts—and other nervous notions—with your child. You’ll create worry where there wasn’t any.
If I’ve convinced you to keep your public pronouncements positive, I’m pleased. But now you’re wondering, “What if—after all I’ve done to keep my concerns among trusted peers—it’s actually my child who rings the alarm bells?” I’ve already told you the answer: Express confidence, optimism and positivity. The trick is being ready to respond.
Almost every child headed to summer camp for the first time will ask, “What if I feel homesick?” Well-intentioned parents will sometimes make the monumental mistake of saying, “If you feel homesick, I’ll come and get you.” But think about the subtext of that remark. What you’re really saying is, “I have so little confidence in your ability to cope with this normal feeling, that I think the only solution is for me to come and rescue you.”
That shaky message is not what any youngster needs to hear, directly or indirectly. So be ready with: “There are many things you love about home, and I’m sure you’ll miss some of them. You’ll probably be having so much fun, that you’ll barely notice any homesick feelings. But if anything starts to bother you, I’m sure you’ll know what to do. And remember, your counselor or cabin leader is also there to help.”
Still have a few unanswered questions? You’ll feel better if you had the answers. So now is the time to read everything the camp has sent you. And check out the website one more times. Then call the camp director if there are still lingering pre-season queries. Remember, information is the best antidote to your own anxiety. And when that’s under control, your child will sense your calm. That, too, is contagious.
Enjoy the summer!
Dr. Christopher Thurber