Kouri Simon, M.A. CCC-SLP
Turn Your Child’s Counselor into a Super Hero
For some parents, sending children off to summer camp is a joyous and much anticipated experience. We are so thrilled for them to make memories and new friends. We can’t wait for them learn about the Faith, with other Orthodox Christians in a deep way. Plus, for a few days anyway, the daily grind of being a parent gets a bit lighter. There’s no homework to deal with. Date nights are easier to arrange with spouses. Younger children get even more focused attention. And there’s such a wonderful opportunity to miss our kids enormously as the house gets a little too quiet without them.
For other parents, the same experience of sending kids off to camp isn’t quite as magical. For those parents, the stress of wondering how our kids will manage becomes the source of much angst and concern.
Here are 3 proactive steps parents can take to set their child and their child’s counselor up for optimal success at camp.
Provide your camp staff with a detailed medical background of your child.
Our camping programs do not provide medical forms as an attempt to pry into private or personal information. The forms are not confession, or an invitation for gossip or shame to enter the life of the family. Rather, camp medical forms serve as a way to give information that will better equip the persons taking care of your child (for days or even weeks), so that they might more fully understand your child and provide for his/her safety in the most comprehensive way possible.
When information that is critical to the care and understanding of children is not provided in its fullness, our staff members are put in a deficit position from giving their best care to our kids.
Many parents strive to be protective of their child’s medical realities. It’s understandable that parents would want to provide for their child’s privacy. We all want our children to be able to play and interact like everyone around them.
Cultural norms, fear of possible shaming, the possibility of pity for their child- all of these are absolute realities. Also, some parents are simply unaware of just how important good information is for the camping staff. For these reasons, some parents opt out of painting the full picture of how their child thrives most fully. It takes a measure of trust and bravery to disclose private information about our children.
However! Just as we wouldn’t send our peanut-allergic child to camp without telling the staff about the allergy, we should feel equally compelled to tell our camp staff about other needs our children may have.
Here are some examples of information that would greatly serve the camp staff as they strive to serve our children:
- Allergy Information (i.e. food, dust, pollen, medications)
- Medical Considerations (i.e. asthma, heart murmurs, migraines, frequent stomachaches, frequent urination, seizures or diabetes)
- Significant fears (anxiety, a fear of heights, fear of pool/water)
- Activity restrictions
- Special diets
- Sensory sensitivities (i.e. is your child defensive toward touch? Overwhelmed by large crowds or noisy places?)
- Does your child appreciate quiet time/breaks during their day?
- Does your child thrive with structure?
It is also of the greatest importance that we put our children’s needs in writing. A brief letter or note highlighting your child’s needs is far more effective than mentioning something to your child’s counselor in passing during the middle of drop-off day chaos.
Detail any environmental modifications that might assist your child at camp
With the excitement and fun of church camp comes so many new activities, faces, transitions, smells, sounds and environmental factors. Taking it all in can be overwhelming for anyone. Sometimes, simple modifications can make a huge difference for children in this novel environment.
You know your child best. Chances are, in your home, you have made adaptations for all of your children in some form or another. And while it is most likely that the camp staff may not be able to replicate or offer every single adaptation for every single camper, sharing such information will allow them to more optimally support and respond to your child’s needs and do what they can.
- Would it benefit your child to have a pre-established seat to eliminate worry about where to sit each meal?
- Do you use a visual schedule at home to support various transitions?
- Does your child get anxious or overwhelmed sitting with a lot of people?
- Would your camper benefit from a social story?
- What can you tell your camp staff about your child’s learning style so that Christian Education materials might be presented in a beneficial way?
- Would your child benefit from sitting towards the back of the Church during services to accommodate the strong smell of incense?
Any piece of information sets your child’s counselor up for greater success in providing for their safety and comfort. It allows them to make small adjustments that might make a big difference.
Prepare your child by setting expectations
Repeatedly during my years of work in both outpatient pediatric clinics and children’s hospitals, I saw children who had been repeatedly prepared for what they will experience at the hospital or clinic were invariably less stressed or afraid. Conversely, the children who would walk into the clinic knowing nothing of what to expect invariably struggled. The same has occurred during my time as a counselor of staff member at church camp. Why?
Because knowledge is power!
As adults, we demand preparation for our days, don’t we? We use calendars on our phone to organize our days. We do research before choosing a new restaurant or going to a new event venue. We consult with friends or colleagues, or search the Internet before deciding where to vacation. Being prepared for what to expect lessens anxiety regarding the unknown. Our children are no different.
Here are some practical things you can do to offer your children a deeper understanding of what will happen during their week at camp:
- Show your child the camp video from the previous year at camp. Most of our camps have a video online.
- Download the daily schedule from the camp website and read through it multiple times with your child.
- Have your child be part of the packing experience so he/she knows what they have with them, and when they might use/wear each item.
- Have your child talk with veteran campers who have already been to camp.
- Prepare your child for what to expect by talking through the week. Talking through any process- getting on the bus, who they will see, what drop off looks like, how long they will in each activity, what the food is like, who to go to for help- all this information if helpful. The more information, the better!
- Our Orthodox Christian camping staffs consider it a privilege to serve our families. They love, protect, and freely give a priceless experience to our children. They are the warriors who create a ‘little piece of heaven on earth’, as they nurture our children and teach them about the faith.
Indeed, knowledge is power. And in the camp environment, knowledge is care. It allows our staffs to do their jobs. In order for them to make the camping experience as successful and embracing as it possibly can be, parents must partner with them in any way possible.
This starts with giving them specific information and trust that they will use it to the benefit of our children and the glory of God.