Should Children With Anxiety go to Camp?

I’ve read several different opinions today from different doctors and then tried to apply them to my situation with my son.  The doctors agreed that overall sending your anxious child to camp was a good idea, but they had different approaches to this situation. First it was recommended that you check your own anxiety level about your child going to camp.  If you notice that you seem to be anxious and worried about it the doctor recommends that you hide this emotion or try to talk yourself out of it.  The reason for this is that our children pick up on our emotions.  If they can tell that we are anxious they will feel like they should be anxious. So try to relax and convince yourself first that your child might be uncomfortable at camp but that he is probably not going to be hurt at camp.  Second, it was recommended that you cut your goodbyes short.  It was implied that if you stay around for a while when your child is leaving it can send mixed messages to your child that you are worried about them.  If your child calls you from camp and is expressing anxiety, find out if there is anything besides usual childhood fears that are upsetting him. For example is there another child that is picking on him? Does your child like their camp counselor?  Apparently the consensus from the doctors is that it is healthy to send your child to camp because the separation helps them to become more independent and to trust themselves.  They learn that they can work out differences on their own and that they can trust others to help them when they need help.  Going to camp can help your child’s self-confidence and can prove to them that they can be away from home and nothing bad happens.

Ofcourse there are always exceptions to the rule.  Even though the general consensus is that sending your child to camp is a good thing to do, if your child has phobias or has been sexually abused it changes the rules a little bit.  Pay attention to your child.  If your child can not sleep in his own bed and he has panic attacks when he has to sleep with the lights out then camp might only make his anxiety worse.  He could be a target of bullying if other kids find him to be different and scared.  If your child has real phobias and believes that bad things will happen in the dark even after you have tried all of your blue ribbon comfort talks, then he might not be the camping type. Children can learn to grow from other experiences in their lives besides camp so don’t beat yourself up about it if all of your friends are sending their kids to camp and you are not.  You are building trust and security in your child by listening to them and trying to do what is best for them.

Today I sent my son to camp with his class.  I was so worried about it that I could not sleep last night. He really wanted to go and told me that he was so excited. He told me that he was worried that he would not be able to sleep but he was anticipating having a great time. We went to Barnes and Nobles to pick out a book for him to read under the covers if he couldn’t sleep. He was confident that he was going to be able to read and keep himself from getting scared.

We had a lot of reasons to keep him home.  After all the child that had sexually offended him was going on the same trip.  We talked to the advisor of the trip, the coordinator of the trip, the head of the middle school and the school counselor to let them know that these two children had to be separated at all times. The school officials seemed to be very reassuring and accommodating. We explained to them that our son had been sexually abused by another child in the class and that he didn’t want to share the same bathroom or the same bedroom with the other child.  I made a special notebook for him to read at night.  In it was affirmations, breathing exercises, meditation suggestions and other words of encouragement.  I told him that he could pull it out and read it as a last resort and if he had tried everything else to help him sleep.  I put it in his bag along with a flashlight and I sit here at 9:36 waiting for the phone to ring any minute.

When we arrived at school it was a hot morning already.  Most of the kids seemed apprehensive about going on the trip, but excited.  I saw my child’s offender and my stomach started to churn. I didn’t follow the doctors suggestion above and I waited around to watch the bus leave.  I immediately regreted it when my son requested one last hug before the bus left. I was afraid the other kids would call him a baby but he insisted and I did it anyway. I was worried but kept smiling and giving him the thumbs up. As the bus was pulling away he said,  “Mom, did you pack my book?”  I couldn’t believe it.  I had asked him to pack three things, one of them his book, and he forgot.  I shrugged and said, “That was your responsibility, but you’ll be alright.”  I pitied the teacher that was going to be in his cabin that night. When the bus pulled away to leave the parking lot, I saw my sons medium sized hand waving out of the window I felt my heart become heavy and I reminded myself that there is so little in life that we really have control over.  I had to just wait until I saw him again to know that he was o.k. and if he is able to stay at camp for two nights and three days I will celebrate!

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