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Preparing kids (and moms) for sleep-away camp
That first foray to sleep-away camps can be a big growing-up moment for kids and their parents. - photo by Erin Stewart
My daughter is going to her first sleep-away camp next week, and to be honest, Im not handling it all that well.

Weve never done sleepovers at other peoples houses, and now shes heading off with a bunch of other kids and counselors I dont even know. It feels like all the talks about stranger danger, sticking up for yourself and speaking up when youre uncomfortable are all coming down to this. And the question I keep asking myself is, Have I done enough to prepare her?

She will be without me for several days and nights, making her own decisions, and I just hope Ive taught her well and given her the confidence to make good choices on her own.

Ive also been talking to other parents about how they best prepared their kids for their first overnight excursion, and implemented a few of the top tips, such as:

1. Do a trial run. A lot of kids grow up doing sleepovers at friends and cousins houses, so while camp may be a little farther away, the whole concept of waking up in the middle of the night without your parents is not a foreign concept. But for my daughter, it is. So we picked a good friend of ours with a daughter the same age and did a trial-run sleepover. She did great. I did as good as any obsessive mother, meaning I only woke up in sheer panic twice. Jury is still out on which one of us needed this trial run most.

2. Talk about the reality of dangers without freaking your child out. This is a tough one for me, mostly because I tend to go overboard and my children never want to leave my side by the time Im done telling them about what could happen in the big, bad world. But Ive learned to rein in my fears (slightly), and I reiterated to my daughter things like good touch vs. bad touch and how she should listen to her gut when something makes her feel uncomfortable. Most importantly, we talked about the buddy system and that no counselor should ever say no to her having a buddy at all times.

3. Dont give them an out. They will survive sleep-away camp as children have been doing for generations. Dont tell them youll come pick them up if they really dont like it after a few days. They will adjust, and so will Mom hopefully.

The truth is, Im mostly scared because this is a big milestone. Its the first time my daughter will be more or less on her own, stretching her wings a bit. And while I know shell come home at the end, I also know that shell be a little different. The first solo flight always changes kids, making them a little wiser and a little less the girl shes been before.

As a mom, thats what we want. The whole goal is to raise children who are independent and confident enough to head out even in these first small ways into the world without us. But man, its hard to watch them go.