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Preparing Your Child for New Experiences
As any grown-up can attest,
life has its fair share of unexpected and unknown turns. Having anxiety about
the future is a painful experience that many face, particularly children who
embark on a new adventure like summer camp. As a parent, how can you prepare
your child for the unknown?
One way to ease the experience is to choose the camp with your child to ensure that it meets their interests. Having a conversation with your child about what kind of activities they like and securing a spot at a camp that excites them will make them look forward to it.
Once the camp is chosen, Dr. Nina Howe, Ph.D., Professor in Early Childhood and Elementary Education at Concordia University, suggests going on the website and looking at the pictures to prepare them. It is also worthwhile to go to an orientation, especially if the camp is coming to your city because it is an opportunity to meet the people who will work there. Even better, Dr. Howe suggests driving up and seeing the camp to help children visualize where they are going to go. If the child is engaged before going to the camp, it is more likely that they will be excited about going.
Leaving home can come with conflicting feelings of nervousness and excitement. Listening to your children and letting them articulate how they are feeling is important because it is a new experience for them, says Dr. Howe. ''It's okay to be excited, it's okay to be nervous,'' she says.
Dr. Howe recommends reassuring your children that the camp counselor's job is to make them feel good. She also recommends that your children go with friends if possible. She recalls one time where her son ended up in the same room as three other friends, which made all the difference. In instances where your child is alone, you can suggest that they try to make friends, ''because somebody in there is going to be your friend,'' says Dr. Howe.
Preparing your children's bag with them is another way to reassure that they know what they are bringing with him. You can also let them be part of the process: picking out a favorite t-shirt or stuffed animal can make your child feel at home while they are away. You can also label their items or write a note that you leave in their bag. “I remember my mother used to write my name on all of the items that I would bring at camp or on school trips just looking at her handwriting reassured me,” says Dr. Howe.
Camp is one of the first instances where the children learn how to be independent, and in most instances there is no communication with the family for the camp's duration. ''Don't overdo it about missing you,'' Dr. Howe states. ''You want the child to be able to step up as much as they can in going away.''
Because camp is a way to become independent, communicating with the family while at camp can be a double-edged sword. While sometimes calling home can be a good idea, sometimes it can aggravate the situation, says Dr. Howe. She suggests telling your children that if they feel down, they can always talk to a counselor. She says that it is also important to reassure your child that every other kid who is going to camp for the first time will feel the same way.
A first experience at camp is a way for your children to grow up and to become more independent. It will allow your child to be proud of what they can accomplish and gives you an opportunity to take a much-deserved breather.
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