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Summer Camp After COVID: The Benefits of Camp on Kids' and Parents' Mental Health

Mother waving goodbye while sending child off to summer camp

Verywell / Adriana Sanchez

Key Takeaways

  • After two years of crickets during the pandemic, summer camp is once again an option for the mental benefit of both children and parents.
  • Summer camp provides opportunities for kids to develop social skills and coping mechanisms, as well as boosts to confidence and mood.

'Tis the season for summer camp. Each year, more than six million children flock to camps around the US to spend time outdoors, make new friends, learn new skills, and get away from their parents. But as with so many other things, this American pastime was brought to a halt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, as we enter a summer that has the potential for more normalcy, parents are preparing to send their kids off to camp once again. Yes, for many, summer camp is back on the menu—and the benefits that come with it could be more important than ever.

The Many Benefits of Summer Camp

Summer camp was first introduced in the late 1800s as a boys' getaway from a world that was becoming increasingly urbanized.

In the early 1900s, psychologist G. Stanley Hall argued that it was crucial for children to spend time in nature, “in this wild undomesticated stage from which modern conditions have kidnapped him.” By 1918, more than 1,000 camps had opened.

Jessica Harrison, LPC

At camp, children are placed into situations where they must learn to use their voices and advocate for themselves.

— Jessica Harrison, LPC

Countless psychologists since have touted the benefits of the camp experience for children. Camp activities and new friendships provide novelty and fun, as well as great potential for mental and social development.

Child and adolescent psychologist at Stanford Children’s Health Elizabeth Reichert, PhD points out that engaging with the wilderness and participating in sports or ropes courses not only gets children away from screens, but can boost mood and help bolster coping strategies.

"There are opportunities to connect with peers in a non-academic setting, and those opportunities are rich for social skill development, like practicing how to get along with a new peer group, learning how to ask for help, etc.," Reichert says.

Building relationships with trusted adults outside of parents is also a positive.

Jessica Harrison, LPC, who works with both children/adolescents and their parents, considers this an especially important year for children to reap the social benefits of camp, as the opportunity for socialization has been so stunted throughout the pandemic.

"At camp, children are placed into situations where they must learn to use their voices and advocate for themselves," Harrison says.

"They are required to resolve issues without their parents supplying the solution. This sharpening of problem-solving skills leads to an increase in self-confidence that will continue long after camp ends."

Summer Camp and Anxiety

It's important to keep in mind that children who experience anxiety may have a more difficult time getting back into the swing of summer camp. They've gotten used to being around their family and inhabiting a safe space, Reichert notes.

But if camp is in the cards, it's important to talk about it. Avoiding the subject can lead to even more worry and anxiety.

"For these children, trying to understand what aspects of camp are making them feel nervous, validating their feelings, and working together to determine a step-by-step plan to prepare to go to camp can be very helpful," Reichert says.

"Take a positive stance and one that sets an expectation for attending camp."

Elizabeth Reichert, PhD

Avoid jumping into trying to sell them on the idea of going to camp or problem-solving their fears about going to camp. Come from a place of curiosity.

— Elizabeth Reichert, PhD

She recommends starting with short periods of separation from the parents, then moving to longer periods of separation. This could look like playdates, sports practice, or art classes and will help with the transition.

"Avoid jumping into trying to sell them on the idea of going to camp or problem-solving their fears about going to camp," Reichert says. "Come from a place of curiosity to better understand how your child is feeling about their summer plans and going to camp."

Benefits for Parents

It's also normal for a parent to feel hesitant about sending their child off to camp, especially after the two years we've had.

But Kimberly King, an author and sexual abuse prevention educator who works with families to prepare for a safe summer camp experience points out that, after increased dependence on parents during lockdowns and quarantines, the opportunity for space is healthy for a child.

"After being stuck in quarantine and on top of your kids 24/7, camp is freedom for everyone," King says.

By preparing your child with body safety skills and a method to contact you in an emergency, you'll be able to rest easier and experience some benefits yourself, King says.

Taking away the stress of planning kids' activities and getting some peace and quiet can help you reset and focus on projects or hobbies that may not get the attention they deserve when other priorities are present. Take this time to prioritize yourself and other relationships that matter.

"It gives you some much-needed time to be alone with your partner," she says. "And if you are a single parent, camp will give you a much-needed break to relax, and have a little fun. You might even have a chance to take a trip or go on a date."

And if you're missing your child while they're away, dust off the stationery or send a care package, and keep in mind that the separation is only temporary.

"Absence can make the heart grow fonder," King says. "Kids come home with a newfound appreciation of the comforts and care of home, and their parents."

What This Means For You

Allowing your child to learn and grow in a safe space without your direct supervision is especially important after two years of pandemic-living. Summer camp gives kids an opportunity to flex their social muscles and develop new skills.

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  1. American Camp Association. Campcounts 2021. Published 2021.