Here are some tips to help prepare a timid child for summer camp.
Remember Positive Social Experiences1 of 6
Children, especially young children, pick up on your tone and words as hints for whether a situation will be OK or not. Acknowledge their fear about camp, but frame the experience as something to look forward to.
Above all, focus on the positives.
A great way to do this is to remind them of a social setting where they have succeeded in the past.
For example: "I know you're nervous, but you'll have so much fun. You're going to do so many arts and crafts. Remember all the friends you made in art class?"
Send a Care Package2 of 6
As a friend and camp counselor once told me, "Sending a care package can honestly change a kid's life."
In the first few days especially, a shy child will still be warming up to the big change of camp life and will likely be feeling sad about how quickly the outgoing children have adapted.
A care package will brighten their mood and keep them on track. Include some of their favorite treats, perhaps with a note to share them with their bunkmates.
A "See you in just four days!" note does the trick, too. It's a simple reminder that camp isn't that long, and soon they'll be home enjoying their favorite snacks with you.
Buddy Up3 of 6
Sending your child to camp with a friend can help immensely, especially if your child's friend is more likely to break the ice. Talk with the companion's parents and remind the children that they should stick together and check in on each other, but also make new friends.
If your child is going to camp alone, encourage them to pack a stuffed friend—perhaps the teddy bear they sleep with at night. If your child is too uncomfortable to bring a stuffed animal, they could instead pack their favorite pajamas or T-shirt.
A comfortable face (or outfit) in an overwhelming place may be just what they need to feel safe.
Pack Letter-Writing Supplies4 of 6
Writing letters serves two purposes for your shy child. First, they have a connection to home and can pour out their experiences on paper to send to you. Second, they have a calm, alone-time activity to do during free hours.
If your child needs a short break from camp life, they can choose to spend free hours writing and regrouping before the next activity. This keeps them from sitting alone and feeling purposeless during free time, as well as gives them that time to decompress.
Don't Push It5 of 6
If your child is truly not feeling ready for camp, don't force it. This certainly isn't the only summer they can go, and forcing them to go anyway can do more harm than good.
Wait until they are older and work on preparation strategies throughout the rest of the year. Enroll your child in a new activity in the fall to show them that they can make new friends in a tamer setting than a whole week away.
Try a sleepover at a friend's house in the spring. Continue to remind them of positive social experiences, and suggest a week away at summer camp the following year.