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GROWING CONCERNS: A childrearing question-and-answer column with Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota.

Question:

Our 10-year-old daughter has always been somewhat shy and uneasy about being away from home, but she has decided that later this summer she will attend a church camp some of her friends have attended the past two years. However, now that school is out and camp is only a few weeks away, she is starting to express a lot of uneasiness about going. We keep telling her everything will be fine, but we're not so sure. How can we support her in having a good first camping experience?

Answer:

That first major trip away from home is challenging for many children. But you and your daughter are fortunate that you know other kids who have attended this same camp. Often the biggest trigger of fear and anxiety is the unknown, and you have a great opportunity to help your daughter demystify the experience by gathering a lot of information beforehand. Since you have a few weeks before she goes to camp, how about hosting a gathering of other kids and parents who are familiar with the camp? (Perhaps there are other first-time campers you could, include as well, which would help your daughter know she's not the only one.) Encourage the old-timers to bring pictures, craft projects, or other mementos and to tell stories about what they liked about camp and why they've chosen to go back. With as much detail as possible, learn together about the daily schedule at camp--mealtime, activities, rules, and bedtime routines. You also could encourage the seasoned campers to talk honestly about what they did when they felt homesick, knowing that even the most outgoing children usually have some of those moments. Beyond that, here are a few other tips that may help you and your daughter feel ready for this new experience:

*In the next few weeks, give your daughter a chance to practice separations from home by arranging occasional overnights at the home of a friend or relative. Let her know you're proud of her willingness to venture out in new ways.

*Rather than sweeping her concerns under the rug (which is what many of us parents would like to do.), acknowledge that there probably will be times when she's homesick. Then join with her in making a homesickness plan, brainstorming together about the things she can do to ward off feelings of sadness and loneliness. For example, she could write you a postcard telling you about what she's done that day; or, if homesickness strikes at night, she could talk to the camper in the next bunk (who may be feeling the same thing) or snuggle up with a favorite stuffed animal from home. Also, be sure you and your daughter know camp policy about such things as phone contact with parents, then be clear with your daughter about whether a phone conversation with Mom or Dad will be an option if homesickness becomes a problem.

*Finally, help your child pack a little bit of home to take along to camp. A familiar pillow or blanket or a picture of the family can help a child feel closer to home. Slip into your daughter's duffel bag a few surprise notes from you and mail postcards in advance, reminding her how eager you'll be to hear about her great new adventure. And don't forget to tell her that next year she'll be the experienced camper encouraging an uneasy novice.

Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.

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