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How to Help a Child with Summer Camp Anxiety

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By Dr. Erin Kardel

For many children, summer is the best time of year but for those with anxiety, this season can mean a lot of worry — worry about the lack of structure, social outings, and in particular, going to camp. Of course, all kids worry, and anxiety is a natural reaction to a new situation, but the difference between normal worry and excessive anxiety is the severity and negative impact it has on their lives.

When it comes to summer camp, those children who are anxious are more likely to focus on and question the potential for doing things that are scary (i.e., “What if I have to go swimming on my own?”) and the potential for things to turn out badly (i.e., “What if no one likes me? What if I can’t sleep at night?”). Kids without anxiety are typically able to process their worries, break them down, and work through them. Their excitement about going to camp trumps their nerves, and they can see that it can be a wonderful way to develop many skills and have a great time.

How to Encourage Your Child
In children and teenagers, anxiety can look very different and present in many ways. Some feel their worry physically (i.e., complain of an upset stomach or muscle aches), while others verbalize their fears. It is helpful to allow your child to see that how we think impacts how we feel and how we feel impacts what we do. If we are thinking that summer camp is going to be scary, we are going to feel anxious, and if we feel overly anxious, it will likely lead to either avoidance or going with a lot of hesitation.

As a parent, if you have recognized that your child’s worry has developed into intense fear or avoidance keeping them from being able to enjoy or go to summer camp, there are many ways that you can help and encourage them.

• You want to acknowledge and empathize with their feelings but focus on helping them come up with a plan on how to tackle their worries. Don’t minimize their concerns but don’t play into their fears.
• Help them to become problem solvers and focus on solutions as to how they would cope if their fears came true so they can work through the worry. When we are anxious, we usually underestimate our ability to cope with a situation, so this pulls them out of feeling helpless and relying on others.
• Help your children learn what anxious thinking looks like. We see situations differently depending on how we think about things. It is typically distorted, exaggerated, and unrealistic when we are feeling overly anxious. Your goal as a parent is to help them to see that their brain is playing tricks on them. You want your child to see the situation more realistically and not as something to fear. Teach them that just because they feel it does not mean it is true.
• Help them to question and challenge their fears (i.e., Just because something could happen, how likely is it that it will? What is more likely to happen?)
• Talk strategies such as doing a relaxation and/or breathing exercise to help calm their mind and body if they are feeling overwhelmed at camp.
• As much as you may want to provide reassurance by telling your child everything will be okay, it is not beneficial for them in the long-term. Instead, talk through the fears and focus on working through the worry.
• If your child does not want to go to camp due to their anxiety, let them know that although avoiding a situation that makes us nervous will give us some immediate relief (because we don’t have to deal with it), it will make things worse in the long run. We want our children to learn how to deal with their worry, and you want to encourage them to push outside of their comfort zones.
• Start small. If the idea of going to any summer camp is overwhelming, then start with a camp that is only a few hours a day then build tp to day-long, week-long, and ultimately sleep away camp (if that is the goal).
• Focus on the positives of going to camp. Talk to your kids about the great things they can learn such as building new relationships and learning new skills. If you have had your own positive experience, reflect on that with them to help your child relate to it.
• Reinforce your child’s efforts at fighting the anxiety. Praise them for trying to push through their fears and help them see what’s in it for them.

Although having anxiety is a normal part of life, if your child’s worry is preventing them from going camp or giving other activities a try, then it may be time to seek additional help. A professional could work with them to practice the things that make them nervous so that they can expand their ability to handle the worry when it is there.

Dr. Erin Kardel, a well-respected and highly credentialed clinician, earned her Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology from The George Washington University and her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from American University. Today, Dr. Kardel is a licensed Clinical Psychologist at NeuroScience, Inc. (NSI), a Herndon, VA-based practice where she specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and also serves as an investigator for NSI’s qualitative and medication research studies. Her CBT treatment emphasizes behavioral interventions, such as exposure and response prevention (ERP), and biofeedback, as well as collaboration with families, schools, and health providers to ensure patient-first success.

As an expert in CBT and mindfulness-based cognitive behavior therapy (MBCBT), Dr. Kardel’s work experience and specialized training make her an asset to the NeuroScience, Inc. team. Dr. Kardel is an expert in multiple areas, including OCD, phobias, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder, social anxiety disorder, depression, ADHD, trichotillomania, and insomnia.

Dr. Kardel has worked with children, adolescents, and adults in a variety of settings throughout her career and she is ready to help you or your loved ones meet their goals.

To schedule a consultation or appointment with Dr. Erin Kardel, please call (703) 787-9090. NeuroScience is located at 106 Elden St., Herndon, VA 20170. Learn more, including what insurances NeuroScience accepts, by connecting onlineFacebook, and Twitter.

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