My first school camp was in grade 5 to Myuna Bay on Lake Macquarie, NSW. I remember looking forward to it but at the same time feeling nervous being so far away from family. I'm glad I went though because otherwise I would never have got to try 'grass skiing', archery or had an opportunity to beat a whole lot of boys at a BMX race!
It is normal to feel nervous and excited at the same time.
Possible things children might be nervous about
I have facilitated several workshops over the years to support primary school children feeling nervous about going on school camp and the following are the most common reasons they give:
Being away from family, especially at night and especially if it's more than one night and / or the location is a few hours away from home.
Not being in their own bed and bedroom.
Not liking the food.
Not being in the same cabin as their best friend.
Being in a cabin with someone they don't get on with (even if their best friend is with them).
People in the cabin starting not getting on or arguing.
Not being able to sleep.
Getting badly injured on activities that they perceive as being unsafe.
Getting bitten by insects, spiders or snakes.
Embarrassing themselves in front of others if they 'freak out' over one of the activities (quite often the high ropes or rope swing).
Wetting the bed.
Vomiting on the bus.
To go or not to go?
If you have a child who is really anxious about camp, you might be considering not sending them at all. Of course, this is your choice and you know your own child better than anyone. I invite you to consider a couple of things that might happen if your child doesn't go so you can plan ahead:
When all the children return from camp, they are going to be talking in class and in the playground about all their adventures. It might be difficult for your child to be part of these conversations and feel excluded. Let them know how they can be a good listener and ask questions so they are part of the conversation.
Sometimes new friendships are formed on camp that might change the friendship group your child was in.
By avoiding something that felt challenging, participating in tricky things in the future might continue to be challenging.
Before making this decision, organising an appointment with your child's teacher might be useful to brainstorm together some possible solutions for your child to attend.
Tips for easing the nerves
Below are some ideas I've provided to children over the years to help them feel brave enough to attend camp. Many of these ideas actually came from children themselves.
Let your child's teacher know how your child is feeling. If there is something you think your child needs, ask if this is possible and if it is not, work together to find an alternative solution.
Sometimes it is a parent who is feeling anxious about their child going on camp. There might be many very good reasons for this however it is important to not unintentionally share your anxieties with your child. If you require support with this, I am happy to work with you.
Ensure your child has had a few sleep-overs away from home. This might be with grandparents, cousins or friends.
Show your child the website for the camp as well as any available photos. If the school went to the same location previously, they might have some photos they can show the class.
Acknowledge all of your child's fears and emotions, even if you feel there is no reason for them. Let them know it is ok to feel nervous or miss you but it is possible to feel those things and still participate at the same time.
Brainstorm together some things your child has found tricky or uncomfortable but tried anyway. Use this as evidence they can tolerate uncomfortable situations and emotions.
Have conversations about the things they are looking forward to. This might be just one activity. Sometimes this might be 'not having to do chores at home' or 'no school work for a few days' or 'no annoying brothers and sisters' for a few days.
Talk about the activities on offer and explain factually why they are safe even if the activities seem dangerous and scary.
Some children relate well to hearing that it is not in the financial interest of the camp owners to have unsafe equipment because if people kept getting injured, no-one would come, the owners would get in trouble and they would lose their business.
Let your child know all the camp staff and school staff attending have first aid qualifications so if they do get injured or bitten by something, yes it might hurt for a little bit but there will be lots of people there to help them.
Help your child stay connected to home by - giving them one of your t-shirts to wear as their pyjamas; spraying a hankie they keep in their pocket with your perfume or aftershave; keeping a photo of you in their pocket or under their pillow; bringing a soft toy for bed time; giving them one of your hats to wear.
If your child is worried about not sleeping, they might be able to take a book to read, journal to write in or a small colouring book.
Help your child label their things and pack their own bag. This way they know what is in there and hopefully will bring it all back! Make sure they can carry their own bag and recognise it.
Ensure they know how to do relevant tasks independently. EG: tie up their own hair; put sunscreen on; put toothpaste on their toothbrush.
Teach your child some positive self-talk for those times their brain tries to convince them things are too difficult to even try. EG: "I can be brave." "I can give it a go." "I've done tricky things before." "I don't have to like it, but maybe I will."
Teach your child how to do some slow, calm breathing. The more they practice, the easier it will be to use when they need it.
Let your child know you believe in them and know they are ready for the challenge.
If you have a child or student nervous about camp and you would like to discuss this further, you are welcome to book in for a session, for yourself or your child.
Phone or text: 0468 853 749