Those first few times away from home at an overnight or sleepaway camp can be some of the most fun times of a child’s life. The s’mores, new friends, camp songs, arts and crafts, and sports activities are just some of the many things that make camp such a memorable experience. Unfortunately, one thing that can sour the experience is when a kid has trouble going and staying asleep, and those problems can be exacerbated when the child is away from home. So how do you help your child have a successful time playing (and sleeping) at camp? Here are our five tips for a fantastic overnight trip:
1. Visit the Camp (and Counselors) Ahead of Time
It’s worth the trip if you can stop by the camp ahead of time. Not only will your child get an “insider” look before camp starts, but it will give you a chance to talk things over with the camp director and counselors. Getting a pre-camp feel of the land can help boost your child’s confidence that camp will be a great experience, which can help alleviate the anxiety that seems to crop up around bedtime. It also gives your child a chance to navigate a path to the bathroom and assess the comfort level of the beds.
Visiting ahead of time also gives you a chance to talk to the counselors about any sleep concerns you have for your child. Whether it is sleep apnea, bedwetting, frequent nightmares, or difficulty falling asleep, the camp counselors should be able to explain ways that they help campers get to sleep. They might even have some tips for your child as he prepares for camp.
2. Have a Plan in Case of Bedwetting
Bedwetting is a major cause for concern and anxiety for most children going to sleepaway camps. Even kids who have been potty-trained for years can have regressions before or during camp that could make camp an unpleasant experience. In any event, be prepared for bedwetting episodes and have a plan for keeping embarrassment to a minimum.
Some things you could do include:
- Packing extra PJs, underwear, and wipes in individual gallon Ziplock baggies
- Getting to camp early and practicing making the trip from bunkbed to bathroom in the daylight
- Pack bedwetting underwear just in case
- Practice changing discretely in the dark in the bathroom or a sleeping bag
- Include a waterproof sleep liner, extra sheet/duvet, absorbent sleeping pads
- Talk to the counselors ahead of time to arrange a bunk close to the bathroom or a midnight bathroom wake-up
They say that practice makes perfect, and even though you won’t be able to replicate the authentic camp experience from your home, there are still some ways to practice sleeping before camp. If you have can get out as a family and pitch a tent in the wilderness, that’s always a great option. Having a sleepover at a relative or friend’s house can also make a decent substitute for the Great Outdoors. Heck, even just unrolling the sleeping back in your living room or the backyard can help calm some of the pre-camp bedtime jitters. The trick will be to keep as many camp-sleep things as consistent as possible, so use flashlights, sleeping bags, and practice the bedtime routine several times.
4. Shop for Gear Together
A little pre-camping shopping trip can work miracles in helping your child feel prepared for sleeping away from home. Be sure to consult the packing list for what your child can and can’t bring, and plan your shopping accordingly. One of the biggest complaints about sleepaway camps is how uncomfortable the beds are, so if you can visit the camp beforehand and find that is the case, make sure to pack a mattress topper. Even if you can’t visit the camp ahead of time, you should probably throw in an egg carton mattress pad or inflatable mattress topper just in case.
You should also send either a new, camp-special stuffed animal or pack old reliable (but make sure to label him really well). Sending a special journal for your child to write down his feelings can also help calm down nerves or feelings of homesickness that surface before bed. As extra practice in making the most of every situation, you could teach your child to jot down three things they loved about the day and three things they’re excited for tomorrow. Start doing that exercise a few weeks in advance, so your child can look back over favorite memories from home if they start to feel homesick. You could even include a family photo and a note from you encouraging your child to be brave and reminding them to have so much fun.
Of course, some environmental factors might keep your child from sleeping that could require some gear. After all, when was the last time you sleep well in a new bed, surrounded by new people? If your child needs minimal noise or light, be sure to pack earplugs or a sleep mask. If those things aren’t allowed, set up a noise machine with nature sounds a few weeks ahead of time so your kid can practice sleeping through different sounds.
5. Work on Independence BEFOREHAND
Probably the best way to set up your child for success at sleepaway camp is to train your child to sleep on their own before they go to camp. That means that you need to set up a successful bedtime routine and teach your child self-soothing techniques so that they can calm down if they feel anxious at night. If your child won’t sleep through the night successfully most nights, it’s probably not a good idea to send them to camp just yet. Instead, work on solidifying the bedtime routine at home, and when your kid is consistently sleeping through the night, try signing up for camp again.
If you are struggling to get your kid to sleep on their own, don’t hesitate to contact one of our pediatric sleep consultants to get advice on tried-and-true techniques to get your child to sleep.