Many children experience separation anxiety or shyness when starting a new school, camp, or activity. Typically, this occurs the first few days and then subsides. However, for some children it takes a bit longer for them to become comfortable. Here are a few helpful tips you can use to help your child overcome shyness and separation anxiety.
First, establish a positive mindset! In the days leading up to camp, talk to your child about how much fun they will have. Your goal should be to make camp sound like as much fun as a play date or going to an amusement park.
On the first day, arrive early, so you can take your time signing them in, introduce them to the counselors and help show your child the layout of the camp. By taking the time to help your child familiarize themselves with the camp environs, you help put them at ease. Show your child where to put their personal belongings. Stay with your child until he or she finds another child to play with. You can also be proactive and introduce your child to another camper and help initiate a game they might play together. Most camps have games and toys just for this purpose during supervised drop off and play times. By taking the extra time with your child on the first day, your child will sense you are not in a rush to leave and therefore will be less likely to feel anxious. Also, discuss with your child who will be picking them up and when, but do so before arriving at camp as you don’t want your departure becoming an event. It will make your “goodbyes” simpler and less stressful.
For parents who have children that are prone to crying when you leave, before departing the camp site, ask a staff member to have an aide or a junior counselor sit and play a game with your child. By having your child engaged in an activity, you take their mind off the stress of being separated from you. Oftentimes, this diversionary tactic is a great way to make the beginning of your child’s day a pleasant one (and make your exit a quiet and smooth one!) Another great trick is to have your child go to camp with a friend or two from school. Sometimes their fears are eased because they know they will have someone to play with.
Of course, dropping a child off at camp can cause anxious moments for parents, too. So trust your judgment and know when it is time to leave. Some children don’t stop crying until a parent has gone. Over the years at my summer camp, we have encouraged parents of these children to leave the room, but stay out by their car until we give the signal that all is well. In most cases this takes less than five minutes. While it is true no one knows a child better than their parent, a child will often behave differently with a teacher than with their mom or dad. For many children, their sense of identity and independence kicks in only once their parent leaves.
Finally, each day you drop off your child, tell them you love them and wish them a wonderful day at camp!
President, Performing Arts Workshops