Baylor College of Medicine

Photo taken at night of a group of people sitting around a camp fire in front of a cabin.

Is your child ready for sleepaway camp?

Homa Warren


Houston, TX -

Sleepaway camp can be an exciting – and scary – time for children. Whether children are ready to leave home or not, it’s important for parents to understand their kid’s needs before making the decision to send them to camp. A Baylor College of Medicine child and adolescent psychiatrist sheds light on the right time to let your child go to sleepaway camp.

If a child can stay away from the family for at least one night, they might be ready for camp. Dr. Laurel Williams, professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Baylor, suggests having a trial run with other trusted people to watch your child to practice being away from home and the family.

“If it’s the first foray into going away for a while, you may want to do some dry runs where you have your child stay away for a couple of nights with people you trust and extend it longer,” she said. 

Williams urges parents to ask themselves if their kids enjoy meeting new people. Children who might not feel comfortable around new people should start with a shorter camp or day camp where parents can gauge how they interact with new people before an extended sleepaway program. Research the camp to make sure they provide activities your child will enjoy. 

If your child is neurodiverse, routines and regimented schedules are important. If you are planning to send your neurodiverse child to a camp that does not solely focus on neurodiversity, check if the camp can make appropriate accommodations. 

Parents sending their children to a sleepaway camp for the first time should ask their kid what excites them most about camp and help them think of all the fun activities. Ask them what questions they have about camp in case they are anxious and normalize those feelings by reassuring them that feeling nervous is normal before trying something new. Parents cannot predict what might make their child anxious, so let them share if they have preconceived notions about camp so you can help them work through it. 

“You never want to pretend something doesn’t exist as an issue, but you want to find out what they’re concerned about, then walk them through solving that problem,” Williams said. “If you have a kid who is quieter and you want to get them to do more, that’s great, but be careful to not put them so out of their comfort zone that they end up having a miserable time.” 

Camp counselors should look for signs such as a child not coming out of their room, not eating, crying or frequent visits to the infirmary due to stomach aches. If you talk to your child while at camp and they express these issues, verify with the camp that the child seems unhappy before jumping to conclusions to pull them out. A child might call their parents upset, but after they calm down, they might find that the rest of their day went well.

“It’s a balance of trusting that the camp directors and counselors are not going to lead parents astray if their child is having a bad time,” she said. “Before you make the decision to pull your kid out early, you want to work it out with the counselors and ask about strategies.” 

Camp can be beneficial for children who don’t have opportunities to solve problems without their parents. Being with a new group of people can help kids navigate the process of being out in the world where parents are not instantly available and builds character. Camp might also give kids the opportunity to try new routines and become more flexible. 

“If the camp is actually teaching things that children otherwise wouldn’t learn if they had stayed home, it could open up avenues for kids to be excited about things that they previously never knew they liked,” Williams said. “But it is not attainable for everyone, and people grow up very successfully without going to summer camp.” 

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