How We Survived Parent & Child Summer Camp Anxiety

 

The thoughts of summer camp brings to mind images of children laughing, playing, and learning all while enjoying the unique experiences that only summer camp can offer. But, what if you have an asynchronous kid that struggles with anxiety? What about your own parental summer camp apprehension? 

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Well first, what does asynchronous mean? It is when your child is many different ages at once. For example: your child may be chronologically 8 years old, emotionally 5 years old, and intellectually 18 years old. Asynchronisity can make things challenging both academically, socially and emotionally and it is something we have been finding our way through since our son was 3 years old. It is one of the reasons we chose to homeschool him.

This year our son requested to go to Paleo Summer Camp. This is a wonderful camp in East Tennessee that offers hands on science in the field and lab of a 5 acre fossil site which dates back 7 million years. For a budding Paleontologist, this is heaven! In the days and weeks leading up to camp we tried to help our son with any pre-camp nerves and let him know what he could expect from it.

  • summer camp was his choice so we helped him feel a sense of ownership over the experience
  • we all showed our excitement about camp and what it had to offer
  • we talked through each aspect of what he could expect (meal prep, drop off time, field work, pick up time)
  • we talked about kindness, the filling of figurative buckets, and friendship
  • we shared our confidences in him and his abilities

The first morning of camp seemed fine until drop off. As I said goodbye to our son I suddenly realized how small he looked compared to the other 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. He looked nervous as he found a seat next to another camper. My own personal anxiety for him suddenly hit me! What were we in for this week? Granted this kid can take an online college Paleobiology course with no problems, but he is also the kid that, during a previous summer camp, peed in the bathroom floor when another camper took the bathroom stall he wanted!

The entire drive home I was envisioning the worst and my concern continued to grow.  Our son can give a speech on the size and stamina of the Entelodont but he still can't tie his shoes! What if he hits someone for making fun of him like he did a few years back? What if he has a meltdown? What if he gets super excited about a subject and can't stop talking? He so loves to talk and has been known to get out of hand with his loquaciousness. Would I get a call today about his behavior? I really thought he was ready for this experience until I left him there and then all of these fears started trickling into my mind.

Did we do everything we could to help prepare him for this year's summer camp?

The 8 hours between drop off and pick up ticked by as slowly as molasses on a cold winter day. The staff hadn't called me yet. Was that a good sign? 

When I went to pick up our son I timidly asked the teacher how he did. I braced myself for her reply, but she just gave me a questioning look. "He was wonderful!" she replied, "He is super polite with an awesome vocabulary! He was dropping some Paleontology knowledge that even some of us teachers didn't know!" REALLY? I mean, I know all of these things about him, but to hear someone else say them..... "Really?" My parental jitters melted away.

Our son shined brightly for the rest of this years summer camp. My fears were for naught as he continued dropping "Knowledge Bombs", as he called them, everyday in class. Yes, he was verbose, but no one seemed to mind and he made friends readily. His own anxiety seemed like a distant memory. He took some of his own beloved specimens each day to show the class including: snakes skins, a tarantula exoskeleton, a Crecopia moth and several unidentified jaw bones. On the last day of camp I watched as the teacher shook our son's hand and said, "It was such a pleasure having you in camp this year. You are the coolest kid professor I've ever met."

So, while some kids (and parents) will inevitably struggle with anxiety and asynchronicity, it appears, at least in the case of our son, that they will eventually learn how to adjust and play to their strengths. Sometimes the worries and fears we have for our children are for nothing. Sometimes, it will be OK Mama!

 

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