Help for Shy Campers

The first day of summer camp can be a scary experience. The combination of new faces, different scenery and unfamiliar food is intimidating, to almost all campers. But shy children worry excessively that the other kids won’t like them, that they’ll be lonely at camp, that they’ll be miserable.

The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to help boost your child’s confidence and friend-making powers before he packs for summer camp.

Prepare kids for camp

“Parents should encourage their children to sleep over at a relative’s or friend’s house for the weekend,” recommends Aimee Jones, assistant director at Camp Harrison in Boomer, N.C. “Campers who have experience being away from home tend to have an easier time adjusting to camp.”

Parents can also prepare nervous children by telling them what to expect.

“Campers tend to be less anxious if they are familiar with the situation,” says Jones.

“Set up expectations before arriving at camp by explaining what will happen when the camper is dropped off,” suggests Jo Anna Riggins, program director at Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center in Efland. “Introduce the camper to responsible staff and let the staff person take over. Tell the camper that you will write. And follow through with encouraging notes.”

Adam Boyd, director of camps Merri-Mac and Timberlake in Black Mountain, N.C., urges parents to “let their campers know that they will not be pressured to act like someone they are not. It is when campers feel safe that they are comfortable speaking up,” he says.

Missy Cook, marketing director of Broadreach and Academic Treks, an international program headquartered in Raleigh, suggests that parents use example from their child’s own experience to help him or her feel more comfortable.

“Parents can remind shy students that there was a time when the friends they have at home were once strangers and that the energy they student puts into cultivating those friendships might have been intimidating at first, but it was well worth it,” she says.

Staff will help

Even armed with this expert advice, some campers will still be timid. Luckily, they’ll have help.

Staff members are most camps are trained to spot shy campers and draw them out of their shells.

“Great camps have a place for all types of personalities,” says Boyd. “Very shy children, very outgoing children, very athletic, very loud — they’re all looking for where they fit in the group. A great counselor will help a camper find that place without trying to make them like every other camper.”

“Our counselors are trained to engage all campers in games and activities that will break the ice and involve all campers,” says Jones. “Especially shy campers who do not want to participate will spend some time talking with their counselor and figuring out games or situations that will help them become more comfortable.”

Often, says Riggins, camp staff members recruit help from experienced campers. The peer interaction helps the shy camper feel included and the returning camper feel helpful. It’s a win-win situation.

Build friend-making skills

Bunny Brown, director Emeritus of Skyland Camp for Girls in Clyde, N.C., encourages campers to offer friendship in order to receive friendship.

“To have a friend, you must first be a friend,” says Brown. She offers examples of friendly overtures: “You can ask a camper to join you in a social endeavor. Or complement them in something. Engage them in friendly conversation. Take their side in an argument. Make them smile or laugh. Share something you have and they don’t. Never make another feel inferior. Don’t laugh at or criticize them. Overlook the weaknesses you may see. Look for the good in each. Practicing these techniques at camp gives you habits for a good lifetime.”

Brown expects her staff to master these techniques, so they can attend to shy campers, to campers who aren’t getting along, and to those who aren’t fitting in well.

It’s not easy for children to leave the comfort and security of home, friends and family behind when they go to camp. Armed with a positive attitude, a smile and a good sense of humor, however, they’ll find friends in abundance.

Don’t Tell Them They Can Home Home — Even Though They Can

“It’s so important that parents avoid making promises to their children that include statements such as ‘just try it for a few days, and if you don’t like it, then you can come home.’ It’s tempting to say this to a nervous child, but saying this really removes their motivation to try to make friends and enjoy their summer experience.”

— Missy Cook, marketing director, Broadreach and Academic Treks “Parents should be supportive and reassuring of their campers, but avoid making promises that they will come and get the campers if they are feeling homesick. The campers need to be reassured that they are going into a safe, fun environment.” — Aimee Jones, assistant director, Camper Harrison

Categories: Camps, Day Camps, Early Education, Health and Development, Overnight Camps, SK Development, Track-out Camps