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First Time at Camp, Jake Has The Jitters

My 12-year-olds have been anticipating camp for months now. Pretty much every day we have had some discussion about an aspect of their upcoming one-month stay. This is their first time and they picked the place on their own. We checked it out, talked to the camp owners and all looks fine.

When a friend who advises parents on camps told me there was no air-conditioning in the bunks, I said, “Great.”

But now, as Sunday’s drop off looms, Jake is getting cold feet.

He is worried about being home sick, terrified that something terrible – like us dying – is going to happen to my husband and me. He has slept with us all week.

He asked me to take him out to dinner – alone – for the past two nights. Just to talk. Over Thai noodles, he fumed that camp was Emma’s idea and maybe she could just go alone.

This has taken both me and Peter by surprise, since if we had any concern about how either of my kids would fare being away from home, Emma would be the one.

She has always been more emotionally fragile and sensitive than Jake, who always seem to let troubles roll of his back.

Plus, Jake is bunking with a best friend, Jonah, who is now in his third year at the camp.
Jonah helpfully pointed out to Jake earlier this week that he “only” cried five times his first night at camp. He predicted Jake would only cry three or so times that first night because he, Jonah, will be there to keep him company. Appreciate that, Jonah.

Tonight, Jake and Emma are dining with my brother and sister-in-law. Jake’s idea. It’s like his Long Goodbye.

I want next week to be here now. I want that three sentence letter from Jake that says having a great time, send a care package, that’s all for now.


  1. Pack a treat in his bag, put a letter in one too. let him know how much you know he has grown to be on is own for a month(big boy) but let him know you are just a call away. Love for now with that last kiss goodbye. I wish my daughter could have gone away but she was afraid of everything that moved. No overnight camps for her (now 18yr off to college in two months)I think I’ll miss her more than she will miss me. No one can understand how a child will feel but let him go and if you need to (go get him)

  2. vacationsue

    Try this, about 3 days(so now) I wrote each of my kids a letter to them at Camp and mailed them before they actually went, so they had mail their first day…I don’t know if it helped them but it helped me…

  3. Arleen

    You will do fine and they will too. We all fear the unknown. Once they get there and see all the other campers and what the camp has to offer they will be in their glory. Pack some treats well into the backs, put little notes in as well. Make the notes positive in tone about how much fun they are having, how big they have become, etc.
    Let them know that you are only a phone call away. For the first few days let no one or anything prevent you from taking a call from them. It is very important at the beginning to know that you ARE just a phone call away. Anticipation will build while they wait for your call back. See if they will be able to take calls. If so, make arrangements to call at certain time and day and do it. Don’t be a nano second late. They will be gaining confidence. When you are on the phone with them be upbeat, happy for them ask them what they are doing. Don’t reinforce the missing you part. Draw out of them the positive experiences. A care package every once in a while wouldn’t hurt any either.
    This is a new and exciting growth experience for you and them. Soon they will be back at home with you. You raised good, responsible kids, let them show you.
    Good luck. One month will go very quickly.

  4. Have you seen the tv commercial where the little girl puts her stuffed toy in her dad’s briefcase as he goes off on a global business trip and at every place he makes time to take a mobile shot of he and the symbolic her? A creative anachronism like that might help your younguns hang on to that *connected to home and people who care about me* feeling while developing their confidence and comfort with being far from home.

  5. Tory, after almost 15 years of advising parents and families on the right summer camps and programs, and having lived through the separation several times with my own kids, you and Jake have to know his feelings are very normal. It is the unknown that is likely bothering him.
    Reassure Jake (and Emma too) that every child feels what he is feeling, but some are more verbal about it ahead of time. I would recommend you forewarn the camp owners now about his feelings so his counselors can be proactive with him upon arrival (before more uneasiness sets in). Walk through at home ‘what if’ scenarios with Jake before camps starts so he can anticipate how to handle things (real or not) when they might occur, including who he should turn to during times of need when at camp; rehearsal lessens anxiety. Also, I would not recommend you tell him you will talk to him soon without reinforcing with him what the camp’s calling policy is. Yes, you can always call the camp, and they will call you about anything related to Jake and Emma you should know. But most camps have strict policies about direct parent/child calls to help with transitioning to camp, especially the first week or 10 days.
    A soothing relief during times of homesickness (and keep in mind this typically occurs when families usually spend time together, eg. meals, bedtime, early morning) can be a special box of ‘feel good’ items a child can turn to. Prepare this box with Jake; involvement helps with the transition. Read my last newsletter I sent last week for more details, or check out my book,, for more tips.
    Tell them to try new things and meet new people. They will both have a wonderful time. But if you sense continued uneasiness, call the camp. They want each child to succeed and be happy.

  6. Catherine

    Oh my goodness… they are going to have the best time, despite their preemptive fears, and as soon as Jake meets some guys to play sports with and show off his new found basketball and soccer skills, he’ll be more than fine. And Emma will most likely run the camp by the end of 6wks.

  7. Catherine Clark

    A couple weeks ago Shiloh, my 10 year old newly diagnosed diabetic grandson, went to diabetic Camp. He was excited; feeling he’d meet kids “like” him.A storm came through the camp site tearing roofs off the girls’ dorm. Many parents were called, we weren’t . Some kids left early. His new friend left too. Unknowing, we ran a little late that Saturday to pick Shiloh up. The counselor had to call for him. He was angry and afraid we weren’t coming for him. He hasn’t been feeling very healthy since then. Now he’s going to a theme park with his Dad and I want to do all I can to keep him positive and healthy.They gave him an Insulin pen at camp. I’m trying to find where to get needles for the pen and new Pens, if needed before he leaves this weekend.

  8. Ariel Englander

    Another beautiful mountain and sea areas is Sai Kung, there’s a Seafood Street where you can handpick life seafood, have the restaurant cook them any way you like and enjoy in front of the sea. If you’re into the nature, there’s a beautiful Maclehose Trail that stretches from Sai Kung, in the eastern side of the New Territories all the way to the west. The entire trail takes more than 10 days to walk, you’ve to know where the exits are if you dont plan to finish the whole trail, it’s free to enter and exit, just bring enough water and a mobile, and do not go there at night time, just in case, there may be some illegal immigrants hiding in the bushes. There’re some small but beautiful beaches in Sai Kung, many big and mini buses go there.

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