Camp Woodland Blog

Say This, Not That: Questions About Camp

Posted by on May 21, 2024

With the start of camp around the corner, we recognize that anxiety around the unknown might be on the rise among campers and YOU (their parents and caregivers). We’d like to share few effective communication strategies of what is good to say and what to steer clear of as your campers pack their bags (physical and emotional) to get ready for the camp experience!

Questions Galore!

It is natural for the amount of questions to ramp up in the weeks leading up to camp: What will the food be like? Who will be in my cabin? Will I like my counselor? How cold is the lake? What if I can’t fall asleep at night or I get homesick? It is also normal as parents to want to be able to answer to each and every question so that your camper/s have the information they are craving to know ahead of their arrival to camp.

First off (and hopefully a huge relief), it is impossible to answer every question accurately. Secondly, when we do this, we are sending the message that new experiences can’t be done without having ALL the information (and we take away the opportunity for discovery and exploration – two of the very reasons we send kids to camp in the first place!).

**Say This, Not That**

Thanks to Lynn Lyons, LICSW, author of “The Anxiety Audit” for giving suggestions of responses to say to your camper/s when you truly don’t know the answer to their questions:

  • I don’t know, and you’re going to be able to figure this out…
  • I don’t know, and I have confidence in your ability to manage things as they come up…
  • I don’t know, and I know this about you…

You can also refer back to other experiences when your young person was trying something new for the first time. Remember the time when you: tried out for the volleyball team, started playing the clarinet, spent the night at a friend’s house…you learned that: your coach would share information as you needed to know it, you could rely on the others in the band who joined last year, and that being away from home can be really fun!!!

Certainty vs Uncertainty

Anxiety likes certainty and comfort; however, those are promises we can’t make when it comes to camp. It can be helpful, though, to write down 2 lists with your camper – one being the things you know about camp (certainty) and the other with the things you won’t know until you get there or as the summer unfolds (uncertainty, but also exciting!).

  • Known: date camp starts, how long you will be there, each cabin has its own bathroom, there is a variety of food served at each meal, there are at least 2 counselors in every cabin, laundry goes out once a week, mail is delivered 6 days a week, etc.
  • Unknown: the names of the kids in your cabin, the color of shoes your counselor will be wearing on Opening Day, the exact meal served for dinner on July 14th, the winner of Gold Rush this year, the names of the Olympic teams, etc.

Camp is the perfect opportunity to practice figuring out how to do things independently, problem solve, and be resourceful. These are good things as they will give your child more opportunities to will grow and develop a sense of autonomy!

The Dreaded Letter from Camp

We advise you not to be surprised or alarmed if/when you get letter/s from home at the beginning that contain a message of “distress”. This could be any number of things, but here are some of the more common ones: “the food is terrible”, “no one likes me”, “I’m in the riding class for ‘babies'”, and of course, the “I want to go home” plea. 

Lynn Lyons reminds us that it is completely normal for your first instinct to be that this is serious and permanent. It may also propel you to jump in catastrophic problem solving mode (send food your child likes, request to change cabins/riding classes, or offer to come get your child from camp right away). 

Should you pick up the phone and call camp upon receiving this kind of letter, the person on the other end will kindly ask you what day the letter was written (good chance it was 3-5 days or more in the past) and will almost always report that the “uncomfortable thing” was resolved long before the letter reached your mailbox or inbox. It is also highly likely the letter was written when there was a period of down time, either right after lunch or right before bed when thoughts can quickly turn from positive to negative. 

**Say This, Not That**

Again, Lynn Lyons offers some great suggestions on what to say when you are stuck holding a letter that tears at your heartstrings when you pick up a pen and respond to the “cry for help”. You could say something along the lines of, “It sounds like your adjustment to camp has been a bit tricky, and I am confident that you can work through this…”

She also recommends that you ask questions or give prompts in your return correspondence:

  • I wonder what it was like to go water-skiing?
  • Tell me 3 new things you have done since you arrived at camp…
  • Tell me about your cabin counselors…

Camp Cheerleaders

We also recognize that some of you went to camp yourselves and LOVED it! It is natural to share excitement and nostalgia for your camp experience. You are going to “LOVE camp”, the food is fabulous, everyone is so nice, the activities are great, no one gets homesick, etc.” Lynn Lyons calls this “global reassurance.” Those kinds of “cheerleader comments” may actually not help your camper because they don’t want to disappoint you if they don’t have the same affinity for camp as you do. They could also feel “tricked” when they experience the very likely scenario of not enjoying every meal that is served, having someone in their cabin who is annoying, or not being a fan of archery.

**Say This, Not That**

Because it is unrealistic to think that everything will be perfect 100% of the time while at camp, it is best to set expectations so that your camper/s are prepared for things not always going as planned or to their liking. Lyons uses the “buffet” or “smorgasbord” metaphor to explain this idea to kids. When you go to fill your plate at a buffet/smorgasbord, there will be certain items that you like a lot and may even want to take a 2nd helping, other items that you take one bite first before eating an entire serving, while there will be some that you would rather avoid altogether (like vegetables but you eat them anyway because y0u know they are good for you).

Variety is the Spice of Life!

The problem with telling kids that everything is going to be fabulous sets them up for disappointment and possibly resentment. It is better to talk to them about how camp is a variety of experiences…some will be exciting, others will be so-so, or even boring. Being at camp is an opportunity to practice the skills of being flexible and adaptable vs being rigid or stuck in the idea that everything goes smoothly and the way you want it to be all of the time. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said over 2500 yrs ago, “the only constant in life is change.” This summer is a great time for your camper/s to develop the ability to manage uncertainty (and build resilience!). Something tells me that this won’t be the only opportunity they will have in life to put that skill to good use!


Now is a GREAT time to enroll your camper/s for 2024 (we have a few remaining spots left) so that your daughter/s have the opportunity to develop the skill of managing uncertainty and building resilience through the Camp Woodland experience! Sign up HERE: