By Jordanna Flores, Director of URJ 6 Points Sci Tech Academy West
“My child is nervous about going to camp, so I don’t think we’ll do it this year”
As the director of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy West, an overnight science and technology camp in Los Angeles, I hear this often when I talk to parents about sending their kids to camp for the first time. They assume that if their child is very nervous, they must not be ready, but this is actually a false equivalent. There is nothing wrong with feeling nervous; it’s our body’s way of telling us we are about to do something that pushes us out of our comfort zone. Our job as parents is not to PROTECT our kids from that feeling, it’s to PREPARE them to face that feeling. Of course, there are kids who may never be interested in overnight camping. However, here are eight ways to test the hypothesis of whether your child is ready for camp.
Remember: This is not an instruction manual for showing your child how to avoid fear, rather these are ways to prepare your child to face their fears – and to pave their way to having an awesome summer camp experience!
- Enroll with a friend. Enrolling with a friend makes the run-up to camp more comfortable and will eliminate some of their fears. The reality is that every camp is focused on facilitating friendships right away. For instance, at 6 Points Sci-Tech, we take a lot of care with roommate matches and play lots of get-to-know-you games within the first 24 hours. But knowing they’ll have at least one friend awaiting them at camp will be reassuring to your child.1) Enroll with a friend. Enrolling with a friend makes the run-up to camp more comfortable and will eliminate some of their fears. The reality is that every camp is focused on facilitating friendships right away. For instance, at 6 Points Sci-Tech, we take a lot of care with roommate matches and play lots of get-to-know-you games within the first 24 hours. But knowing they’ll have at least one friend awaiting them at camp will be reassuring to your child.
- Sleep over at a friend’s house. Sleeping in a different place, seeing that they can feel comfortable, get ready for bed on their own and actually sleep, will ease their nerves about doing this at camp. At Sci Tech West, we start slowing down in our activities after dinner which mimics home. We also encourage campers to bring that special blanket or “lovey” that reminds us of home. Since everyone has one, no one feels embarrassed!
- Shower independently. This means you say, “go take a shower,” and they can return with clean hair and body, hair combed and body dressed. They need to be able to turn on the water, adjust the temperature, use shampoo and fully rinse it out by themselves.
- Eat at a buffet. If you are still making your child a plate, let her do it on her own. When you aren’t around, you’d be surprised at the choices they make. Knowing that they can find something they like, make it to the table without dropping the plate, and feel satiated will ease their (and your) anxiety around eating at camp.
- Talk to your teacher. The next time your child has an issue at school, help her talk to her teacher on her own. Brainstorm with your child what they might say and then have him approach the teacher without your intervention. This shows your camper that they can advocate for themselves if an issue arises at camp.
- Help select the camp. Getting your future camper involved in looking at websites, seeing pictures and watching the promotional videos will help your child picture herself at camp and feel that she has agency in this decision.
- Visit! Find out if your camp has tours or hold open house events. These are incredibly helpful when it comes to easing fears because, even though camp is not in session, your child will still be able to picture where they’ll be and get a good dose of the camp’s vibe.
- Shop and pack together. Picking your own water bottle, packing your own bag, knowing where everything is in the bag, checking items off the packing list—all of these steps will reduce your child’s anxiety. While packing, you can talk about the difference between a pool towel and a shower towel, about saving that white shirt for Shabbat, about what to do if he doesn’t have a red shirt, and he ends up on the red Maccabiah team (don’t worry, camps like ours always have extra accessories and face paint handy), or who to go to if he loses his toothbrush.
You can pick and choose any of the items on this list as long as you remember this: We as parents can play a pivotal in helping our children overcome their fears by talking about camp all year long. When they shower independently, have a successful sleepover or navigate the buffet, connect that accomplishment to the success you know they’ll have at camp. This way, when they arrive on the first day, not only will you know they can do it – they will too!
Jordanna Flores is the director of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy West, a Reform Jewish specialty camp in Los Angeles, California. Prior to this role, Flores helped to run the School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Los Angeles campus and directed the Los Angeles Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning. Jordanna was the Director of Camp Alonim and holds Masters Degrees in Jewish Education and in Jewish Nonprofit Management from HUC-JIR. Jordanna is married to Aaron and they have twins, Reuben and Shira. She loves reality TV, sewing, Harry Potter trivia, Chewbacca, and she is an expert at identifying Jelly Belly flavors.