16 Feb The 9 Important Questions Parents Ask Before Sending Their Child to Camp

The 9 Important Questions Parents Ask Before Sending Their Child to Camp

We receive many phone calls every spring from apprehensive parents who have registered their children for Susquehannock. The following resource is based on the most frequently asked questions asked by parents. We hope this information helps – and remember – please give us a call if you have any further questions or about our program.

1. “My child is really worried about getting homesick.
What can I do to help?”

You can start by assuring him/her that most people feel anxious when they are in a strange, new environment. This is totally normal! Help him/her to focus on all the reasons he/she decided to go to camp in the first place: new friends, exciting activities, a chance to try new things. Here are some other ideas (please keep in mind that these techniques will work differently from child to child):

+ Share any positive experiences you may have had as a camper. Your excitement will be contagious!

+ Find out how he/she defines “homesick.” Lots of campers use that phrase as a catch-all, and with further exploration you may find that they are concerned about more specific issues – not making friends, being picked on, not being able to do the activities. The more you know about what really scares him/her, the better you will be able to respond to his/her fears.

+ If it seems to be a more general concern about being away from his/her family, talk about ways to feel connected. Have him/her pack a few familiar objects – a favorite stuffed animal and a family photo or two. Writing letters can be helpful, so include plenty of stationery, envelopes and stamps. For children who may have a hard time knowing what to write home about, provide daily topics for each letter (things like names and hometowns of new friends, descriptions of counselors, what was served for lunch, new activities tried, etc.).

+ Give him/her ideas of ways to distract himself/herself if he/she does start to feel sad; suggest writing a letter, talking to a friend, getting involved in a game, etc.

+ Send him/her mail! Campers love to get letters and funny cards, packages (with no food, of course!) and regular reminders that their parents are thinking about them. Handwritten notes are generally best, but, Bunk Notes is a very convenient option to message your camper. A few words of caution: if your family has done something that your camper would perceive as incredibly fun (like a trip to Disneyland) it’s probably not a good idea to mention that in your correspondence. Also, avoid sharing any bad news. Believe it or not, we have had campers find out about illnesses, divorces and family deaths in letters from home!

+ Encourage him/her to ask counselors for help. Our staff is trained to work with children who are feeling homesick, but some children will hide their feelings so well that it is not apparent that they are struggling. If he/she does not feel comfortable confiding in his/her counselor (this occasionally happens; campers see their counselors as “cool” and do not want them to think they are not having a good time) remind him/her that he/she can talk to any of the Directors. We also have medical professionals on campus who are skilled counselors as well as additional parental figures who are always available. Remember that the camp phones are not available for children to call home, so please do not offer this as an option. In our experience, it is not successful in helping the child overcome homesickness.

+ Avoid giving your camper an “out” by telling him/her that he/she can come home if he/she is not happy. All children are at least a little anxious their first day of summer camp; for some, the adjustment takes a few days longer. It may seem that providing this kind of safety net would be a good thing, but what happens instead is those children give into their feelings immediately and do not give their coping mechanisms a chance to work. If you make this promise to your child, it will be next to impossible for you to convince your child to remain at camp if he/she wants to return home.

2. “What do you do at camp for homesick kids?”

+ Many of the same things we encourage you as parents to do! The first rule of thumb is that busy campers do not have time to be sad, so we work really hard to keep everyone engaged at all times. During down time (i.e. meals, first thing in the morning, rest hour, bedtime) counselors keep an extra eye out for signs that a camper may be having a difficult time. They then work to engage the camper in something to keep them focused on having fun. The second rule of thumb is that campers who feel connected to their counselor and their cabin group are less likely to feel homesick, so counselors spend a lot of time – especially in the beginning of the session – developing cabin spirit and unity. If a camper is having a hard time, the counselor will talk with him/her and work with him/her to come up with ways to deal with the feelings he/she may be having. Using these tools, we are able to provide a positive experience for almost all of our campers. However, on the rare occasion that difficulties continue later into the session, the counselor will get additional help from their director. After the director has spoken with the counselor and the camper, a decision will be made about involving the camper’s parents. We believe very strongly that we are partners with you in providing this experience for your children, so it would not be unusual for us to call and ask for your help or advice. Please know that it is very rare to have a child be so homesick that we can not work through it together. Most children adjust and wind up having a fabulous time and then are upset on the last day because they will be “campsick” once they get home. We have known parents who feel badly when they realize that they have not set their child up to succeed at camp.

3. “Okay, I admit, I don’t think my child will be homesick – I think I’ll be the one who is ‘childsick!’ What do I do?”

Again, this is totally normal and more common than you may think. Veteran camp parents can teach us something about the first day of camp. We have noticed is that the veteran camp parents do not linger on campus during Opening Day – they help move their child into the cabin, meet their child’s counselor, say hello to the Senior Staff, hug their child and then leave feeling confident that their camper is about to have another wonderful camp experience. Focus on the wonderful experience you are providing for your child – the opportunity to live and play in a new environment, gain independence and self-reliance, improve their ability to make new friends, and to develop the social skills required to live with a group of people they are not related to – the list goes on and on. Try not to project your concerns onto your child, instead, call the Office and talk with us about your concerns. We are more than happy to chat and can hopefully alleviate your apprehension.

4. “My child is worried about not knowing anyone at camp.
What can I tell them?”

Begin by reassuring him/her that many children arrive at camp not knowing anyone. Remind him/her of the the process of it took to make the friends they are already have at home. Discuss simple things like how to introduce yourself, and some basic questions that can be used to get to know new people. And since making new friends is one of the goals of our camp program, our staff focuses on that from the beginning. The counselors help “break the ice,” and begin playing simple get-to-know you games right away. If your child still seems tentative, pull his/her counselor aside and let him/her know. If you have additional concerns, the Directors are available to speak with you.

5. “What if my child is picked on by other campers?”

It is our goal at Susquehannock for every child to have a safe and positive experience. We define safe in physical, emotional and social terms. Behavior that affects another camper’s experience in a negative way is unacceptable. Counselors are trained to help campers work together as a group, and will intervene if another camper or group of campers is picking on a camper or group of campers. If the behavior continues, a Director will get involved. We will call the parents of the campers misbehaving if the Director’s intervention does not result in changed behavior. In severe cases, we will send a child home if they cannot act in a way that is appropriate for camp. Because counselors cannot possibly see or hear everything, encourage your child to talk to his/her counselor if another camper is picking on him/her when the counselor is not in the immediate area. Assure him/her that counselors are trained to handle these situations in a confidential manner. And if he’s/she’s not comfortable talking with his/her counselor about it, remind him/her that the Directors are always available to him/her.

6. “What if my child gets hurt or becomes ill while at camp?”

We are fortunate to have a dedicated and skilled group of medical professionals providing medical care for our campers each summer. Medications are dispensed four times each day (after meals and at bedtime) and we are able to accommodate campers who require a dose at other times of the day. The health staff also provides primary first aid care for the campers, taking care of things like bug bites, scrapes, bumps and bruises as well as sore throats, headaches and coughs and colds. The staff is available for consultation, can diagnose, and can prescribe medication when necessary. If your child gets hurt at camp (beyond scrapes or bumps and bruises), a Director and a member of the health staff will call to let you know what happened and what actions are being taken. If your child becomes ill at camp and needs more than Ibuprofen or a cough drop, you will receive a call as well. In the rare case of a severe emergency, we have access to local hospitals and excellent medical service.

7. “It worries my child that there are camp activities that he/she has never tried. Can I assure him/her that he/she won’t be laughed at or forced to do something that scares him/her?”

Our camp program is based on a challenge by choice philosophy. While we want each camper to try new activities, we would never force a child to do something they did not want to; we allow them to choose which challenges they want to meet. Each activity has a minimum level of participation for camper involvement. For example: a child who did not want to climb the Tower would be expected to put on the safety equipment (harness and helmet) and cheer on the rest of their cabin group, but they do not have to make an actual attempt themselves. We have found that lots of children say they do not like an activity or do not want to participate because they have never done it before and are afraid of looking silly. Once they see their counselor and/or the other campers in their group trying the activity, they almost always want try it themselves. In addition, we recognize that the majority of our campers do not have extensive (or any) experience with some of the activities that we offer. We provide expert instruction in every one of our activities to help campers develop these new skills.

8. “Will my child have the opportunity to choose some of his/her own activities?”

The magic and the success of the Susquehannock experience is that all campers are divided into groups, according to their cabins/ages/skills and they participate in all of the activities in the Program. Every camper is offered the opportunity to choose specially offered activities or to specialize and do more of something they have enjoyed. Our mission statement reads: Camp Susquehannock encourages the moral, social, and physical development of campers. Through a combination of fun activities, athletic competition, sharing meals in the dining room, and in cabin life; campers create life-long friendships and discover their own potential. Campers are taught to embrace tolerance, show respect for others, handle conflict gracefully and develop a sense of fair play. Through individual guidance, we provide opportunities for self-reliance, self-confidence, sportsmanship and leadership. Our camp community revolves around the cabin group, consisting of 6-12 campers of similar age and 2-3 staff members, and activity groups that are slightly larger. These cabin groups live together and participate in some activities together, while the activity groups practice skills together each day. The relationships that develop as a result of this consistent group living environment are the most memorable and rewarding aspects of the summer camp experience. Campers learn to work as a team, solving problems, supporting and encouraging each other; they learn to respect each other’s strengths and appreciate each other’s differences. And since our counselors live and work with the campers every day, the campers benefit from the close bond they form with their counselors. Our counselors take their jobs as role models very seriously and are aware of the impact they can have on the lives of their campers. There are many camps where campers design their own schedules, whether by choosing activities when they enroll or on a regular basis once the session begins. These programs also provide wonderful opportunities for young people to learn; we feel strongly that the group-centered approach provides greater opportunity for the development of valuable life skills …and besides, it’s a lot of fun!

9. “My child is well-behaved and is not usually a discipline problem. What is the camp policy if he/she does get into trouble?”

Our first goal is to prevent behavior problems. Counselors spend a significant amount time at the beginning of the session helping campers get to know each other. Together they discuss expectations and appropriate behavior while developing cabin rules and consequences. These rules are clearly stated, and counselors ensure each camper in their cabin understands what is expected of them as well as what is not acceptable. It is not uncommon for campers to cross the line into unacceptable behavior. Counselors combine skills brought to camp as well as those taught during staff training to help campers make any necessary adjustments. Depending on the specific situation, counselors will talk with the camper(s) involved and work with them to develop an acceptable solution. If the problem continues, we utilize a system of progressive discipline that is well-defined for our counselors. Staff members are taught to ask for assistance from our experienced Senior Staff. Initially, the Directors provide guidance and additional suggestions. If the counselor feels that more involvement is needed (or if the problem continues) a Director meets with the camper(s) to work on acceptable solutions to the problem. At this stage, our Directors may call a camper’s parents. Since you know your child much better than we do, any insight that you can provide is appreciated. In an extreme case, if we found that s child’s behavior was not permitting that child to participate fully in the camp community, or that the child was being disruptive or harmful to other campers, we reserve the right to have a family come to pick up their child.

I hope these questions and answers were helpful! As always, please call or email you have any questions or need more information!

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