How to Keep Kids Safe at Summer Camp
By Tanni Haas
Summer camp is without a doubt something kids look forward to all year. Nevertheless, there are important issues you should address to ensure that your kids have a really great time at camp. Based on my experience as a parent of seasoned summer campers, as well as conversations I’ve had with other parents, I’ve pulled together a list of some of the most common issues.
Allergies If your kids suffer from seasonal allergies, such as grass or tree pollen, tell the camp physician or nurse and pack all the medication they need. It can be a real drag for them to walk around the whole time with a runny nose or watery eyes. If they suffer from more serious allergies, such as animal or food allergies, inform the camp that your kids shouldn’t come into contact with those allergens. Our son is very allergic to horses. We didn’t think anything of it before we realized that his camp has alpacas, which can induce the same allergic reaction as horses.
Email, Phone, and Care Packages Every camp has a policy about how to communicate with your kids (email or phone), and about how many care packages you may send and what you can put in them. Know those policies and follow them. Kids don’t want to be called out for not following the rules. It’s embarrassing, and it can socially hurt them.
Making Friends Some kids find it easy to make friends, and others have a harder time. If your kids have a difficult time, ask if they can bunk with one or more of their regular friends from home. Most camps permit this. Explain to your kids that no matter how confident the other kids may appear, chances are that they are nervous, too. Use yourself as an example and tell them what you did when you were a kid—it makes the situation much more relatable and manageable.
Homesickness Your kids can still get homesick even if they’re rooming with close friends. It can happen to any camper, no matter how well-prepared and seasoned they are. Find out how the camp handles homesickness. Can you call your kids, even if there’s a no-phone policy? Is it possible to visit them outside camp visiting days? Pack some family photographs or a favorite stuffed animal with their belongings; it can help put them at ease.
Safety You want your kids to have fun at camp, but you also want them to be safe. One of the best things you can do to prepare them is to teach them how to swim. Most camps include a swimming program with access to a pool. Another popular activity is hiking. Be sure that your kids have footwear with good traction. More generally, teach your kids how to have fun without putting themselves in any danger.
Emergencies Despite your best efforts, emergencies can happen. Hopefully, it won’t be anything serious, and the camp doctor or nurse can take care of it. To be on the safe side, pack hard copies (front and back) of your hospital, medical, and dental insurance cards with your kids’ belongings. A hospital stay can be very costly without insurance.
Extra Trips Many summer camps offer day or overnight trips to nearby ball games, amusement parks, or other special places for an extra fee. These trips can be expensive, so before you sign up your kids for them, ask the camp how many kids usually go on these trips, and take a good hard look at what you can afford. If only a few kids are going and the trips are expensive, don’t feel pressured to sign your kids up. There are plenty of exciting activities for all the kids who remain at the camp site.
Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor.