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Summer camp can be a thrill: long, wild days full of bonding, hijinks, sticky fingers and no parents. But as many kids’ first solo trip away from home, it can be nerve-wracking, too. In an unfamiliar place with people they’ve never met, what kid wouldn’t be a little nervous?
When kids are nervous, “It’s tempting for parents to try to reassure them by saying not to feel bad or be worried,” says our pediatric psychologist Eileen Twohy, PhD. “Really, it’s okay to feel bad or worried.”
The key is to go through with the worrisome situation anyway. “The thing that most maintains anxiety,” says Dr. Twohy, “is avoiding the thing you’re anxious about.”
More effective, says Emily Laux, PsyD, our child psychologist, is to remind them of other times they’ve been nervous about a situation, then overcame it and had a good time. “That reminds them that things will be better when they get there.”
In the meantime, Dr. Laux says, “Give them as much info as you can about what to expect. If the camp offers an open house or a tour, or if there are pictures you can show them online, that helps them envision it. And movies. Fun kids’ movies like The Parent Trap can create positive expectations by making camp look really fun.”
Parents can also ease fears about being away by sending a piece of home with them. “A transitional object helps kids move between settings,” says Dr. Laux. “It could be a favorite blanket or a stuffed animal for younger kids, but it works for older kids, too. The objects are just different: maybe a piece of jewelry, or a sweatshirt of mom’s.”
It’s also important to remember, both doctors say, that many times, camp is also the parents’ first experience being away from kids — and that can be just as nerve-wracking.
“Parents’ anxieties can definitely impact how kids feel,” says Dr. Twohy. “Who’s more anxious, them or you?”
A class-conscious Demi Lovato pines for talented but arrogant Joe Jonas at an upscale band camp in this Disney Channel staple.
A group of genius kids, including a young Joaquin Phoenix, learn about space shuttles and then accidentally launch one — and themselves. Hijinks ensue.
The Parent Trap
Identical twins separated at birth meet at camp and plot to get their parents back together. The original and the remake (with a young Lindsay Lohan) are both classics.
Race for your Life, Charlie Brown
The Peanuts gang goes to camp and tries to win a sailing race under the wishy-washy leadership of Charlie Brown, who repeatedly misses the camp bus.
Bill Murray plays a camp counselor. Need we say more?