Summer camp is many great things, depending on where you choose to send your kids over the next few months. Bunks, counselors, smiles, friends, competition, learning, and growing; sometimes even Minecraft, Roblox, and much, much more.
But sadly, summer camp is also a place for goodbyes....
Don’t shed a tear just yet, though—the foundation of the hardest goodbye is composed of laughter, memorable experiences, and rock-solid relationships. (Meaning, it’s a lot easier to say goodbye to anything less.)
At summer camp, these hard goodbyes pop-up on both ends of the experience—with parents and kids saying goodbye to each other upon camp drop-off, and then kids saying goodbye to other kids—and camp staff—when it’s time for everyone to return home.
No matter the situation, such emotions are tough to combat, but here are a few tips to hopefully make those goodbyes just a tad bit easier.
For parents and kids headed to camp
Have a conversation beforehand
One of the first hurdles encountered with the summer camp planning process is figuring out whether or not your child is even ready to attend.
Within that, possibly the single biggest determining factor is deciding if your child can in fact say goodbye. Not just saying the words, obviously, but more “letting go.” Can they say goodbye and then venture through camp independently?
If yes, then the next step is to have a conversation about what your child can expect at camp. Be honest with them, and let them know it’s completely normal to feel a bit nervous, and that anxiety pang is something they’ll typically encounter in any new situation.
Sure, there will always be unknowns, but if campers can start to mentally place themselves at camp without you, they can also start to visualize themselves in situations that might arise. And if the conversation takes place far enough in advance of camp, they can ask you questions about those things of which they might be unsure.
All of this culminates in an easier goodbye—nerves will be calmer and who knows, kids might actually be a little more confident and even excited for their week of camp (or for however long they’ll be away).
But don’t say too much…
I’m in no way saying to suppress your words or not be as upfront/transparent as possible, but do try and limit certain statements.
To explain, one of the coolest things about being a parent is seeing just how much our kids look up to us and mimic our behavior. But on the flipside, if they see tears and sobbing, they can’t help but get sad themselves, right?
Also, limit the promises if you can. “I promise you’ll have a great time.” “I promise you’ll make so many new friends.” It’s great to be optimistic, but promises begin the construction of preconceived notions and expectations. If kids get to camp and don’t immediately make a friend, panic sets in, and then the rest is history.
And don’t expect too much…
This one is specifically for you, adults! Goodbyes are just as hard on us as they are the kids, but for different reasons. So going back to the point above, have a conversation with yourself or significant other to help ease any apprehension you may be experiencing when it comes to sending your child off on their own.
But beyond that, when it comes time for goodbye, don’t expect too much—and don’t force it either. Meaning, you may have done such a great job preparing your little one for the experience that they end up just leaving you in a flourish... a quick hug and kiss goodbye, or maybe even nothing at all!
If that’s the case, let it roll. The last thing you want to do is start your child off on an embarrassed or flustered foot.
For kids, when leaving camp
Remind kids to focus on the positives
It’s common for kids to be over-the-top anxious about camp beforehand, and then reach a point where they never want to leave camp when all is said and done.
During the time in between, they probably forged new, potentially lifelong friendships with other campers, and have new mentors in the form of counselors with whom they connected.
Either way, it’s going to be a sad day when it comes to goodbyes, but think about how much easier it will be for campers to stay in touch these days compared to when you attended camp. Let your kids know that it's goodbye for now, but it doesn't have to be forever.
As long as all parties are on board with it, you can exchange information with parents of other campers.
Help kids stay in touch throughout the year
In a specialized program where students are collaborating on projects and working to build their skills in a certain area, keeping in touch with their at-camp network is one crucial way they can make the most out of their summer camp experience.
So, one way to ease the pain of any goodbye is to give campers something to look forward to, whether that’s regular in-person get-togethers, or even online meetups for them to chat, catch up, and continue their learning by helping friends with questions about their camp projects, or anything else that they might be working on at the moment.
Make it a point to return to the same camp next summer
For me, one of the most difficult things to grasp as a kid was the length of a year. In the moment, hearing “next summer” seems so. Far. Away. "Next summer" means that another whole school year—and more—must pass before we can get to that point again.
So, while it might not help to ease the summer camp goodbye “right now,” planning to have your child and their new camp friends return to the same program the following year should at some point pay dividends.
Usually, it takes a few months to pass before kids can really get back into the spirit of looking forward to camp again, but once they do, and if it’s a camp they truly love, I’m sure you won’t hear the end of it—until the day to “say goodbye” comes all the way back around.
Saying goodbye to difficult camp goodbyes
Again, goodbyes are never easy, and they’re a whole lot harder when it’s the first time you’re saying them.
Once camp time is upon you—and the flurry of activity that comes along with it—it’s easy to forget (or not even realize) that goodbyes are lurking.
Hopefully these tips get you thinking about how to combat this potentially tough experience!