February 4, 2016 1:20 pm
Updated: February 4, 2016 1:22 pm

How to manage summer camp stress and visiting day

Christine Pilkington with VancouverMom.ca gives summer camp tips.

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Sometime next summer, a few weeks after sleep-away camp starts and a few weeks before it ends, campers’ parents will come for a visit.

Will the day be:

  • a fun-filled family reunion where kids get to show why they love camp so much, or
  • a stressful few hours that leaves campers homesick and parents sad?

You hope for (a) but sometimes you get (b).

Here are some tips to make the day a good one.

The day camps love to hate

“No more visiting day? Sign me up!” joked Sandy Rubenstein, co-owner of Camp Wingate Kirkland on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

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“It’s hard for the camper and for the family, and sometimes it’s unpredictable who it affects more,” explained Sandy’s husband, Will. “There are veteran overnight campers who’ve been here two, three, four even five years. They can be sailing along just fine and then on visiting day, they hit the reset button emotionally.”

“Visiting day is beneficial to the parents, not necessarily the campers,” said Matt Stoltz, director of Island Lake Camp in Pleasantville, N.Y. “While they look forward to showing their parents all that they have learned, they are apprehensive about their parents leaving.”

Aside from the day’s emotions, logistics can be challenging too. A few years ago, Amy Selling posted photos and video clips on her blog, luluandlattes.com, showing crowds of parents on visiting day behind yellow “CAUTION” tape — the type used by police for crowd control — before racing in to find their kids.

“While I completely understand the feeling and the determination of wanting to see your kid,” Selling wrote, “this just goes beyond any level.”

READ MORE: Not your average summer camp: several niche options around the city

Put the focus on the child

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, before helicopter parenting, before online photos, there was no visiting day at the camp Melanie Kwestel attended. “We loved the break,” recalled Kwestel, of Fair Lawn, N.J. “We didn’t want to see our parents… I think my parents were happy not to come to camp as well.”

At the camp she sent her kids to, though, visiting day was part of every summer. Her advice? “While we really miss our kids, visiting day is about their needs and not ours.”

To start visiting day on the right foot, Jennifer Topiel of Chappaqua, N.Y., plans a meeting spot in advance with her daughter, Sydney, 10, who’s heading to her third camp summer. And she lets Sydney be the tour guide: “We trek around camp to see her in action at all of her favourite activities.”

That’s exactly what Island Lake Camp recommends. “Let your child do the talking and tell you all about their experience,” Stoltz said. “Let them introduce you to their counsellors and their activities.”

READ MORE: Summer camp helps kids battling cancer, just be kids

Avoid talking about home

If your camper asks how things are at home, “don’t bite” and don’t let visiting siblings “needle the camper about missing out. As soon as you can, turn the conversation back to your camper,” advised Matthew Smith, director at Longacre Camp, a leadership camp for teens in Newport, Pa.

Alternatively, don’t say “you are missing the child so much that you wish camp was already over and that he was home,” said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills, Calif., psychiatrist and former camp counsellor who also attended sleep-away camp and sent her daughter to one.

And don’t “push negatives,” Rubenstein added. “Some parents are like, ‘What’s wrong? What’s not going well?’ They push until the kid says something.”

WATCH: Parents react to comical camp letters from kids

Saying goodbye

Visiting day is a great way for parents to “experience a piece of the magic that camp offers,” said Elijah Geller, associate director of Camp Manitou in Ontario. But it’s also stressful, reigniting for some kids “the anxiety of separating from home.”

To help your child transition back to the camp community when the day is over, “say goodbye quickly, make sure your child’s counsellor is there and ready to restart the fun of camp, and tell your child you know they will have a great end to camp,” said Adam Weinstein, executive director of Berkshire Hills Eisenberg Camp in New York.

Camps will turn any lingering sadness around by having counsellors “swoop in” as soon as parents leave to immerse campers back into upbeat, engaging activities.

One thing you won’t find at campfires on visiting weekends: “No strumming the guitar with ‘I miss my mama and my dog just died’ songs,” said Dottie Reed, who works for Camp Pemigewassett in Wentworth, N.H.

WATCH: Summer camp tips

 

© 2016 The Associated Press

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