Prepare Your Child
| Choose a Camp That Is…
Summer camp is a great place for your child to create memories that will last a lifetime—making friends, learning new skills, and connecting with the outdoors! Here are some steps you can take to make sure your child has a safe and healthy camp experience.
Prepare Your Child
You may be concerned that your child is not ready for camp, especially if they have an illness (eg, diabetes), food allergies, or are very young. Before choosing a camp, make sure your child is ready. Talk to your child and evaluate their interests, abilities, and their overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Consider these factors when choosing a camp.
Before sending your camper off, you will want to take your child to the doctor for a thorough exam. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you provide the camp with a complete review of your child’s health. The review should include information about recent or ongoing illnesses, surgeries or injuries, and allergies. Make sure your child is current with all recommended immunizations. If your child will be traveling internationally as part of the camp, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for information about particular immunizations or health concerns for their destination.
If your child has a special circumstance, such as an ongoing illness, work with your child’s doctor and the camp to create a plan. Your child’s doctor can help you determine if your child is able to attend camp safely. If your child takes any medicines or needs treatments, work with the camp and your child’s doctor to make a plan for how medicines and treatments will be handled.
If your child has a food allergy, you may worry that they will have a hard time choosing safe foods while at camp. Ask the camp about food storage, preparation, and cleaning policies. You may be able to send food with your child. If your child uses an epinephrine autoinjector (such as an EpiPen) to deal with allergic reactions, make sure they know how to use it. Talk to the camp staff and be sure they know how to administer it to your child if needed.
Homesickness can be a concern for campers and parents alike. Take these steps to avoid homesickness:
- Involve your child—A child who is involved in choosing and preparing for camp may be more excited and face less homesickness.
- Be open—Discussing homesickness openly can help you and your child to be realistic about what it will be like to be away from home.
- Be positive—Encourage your child. Share your happy memories of camp when you were a child.
- Practice—If your child is especially worried about homesickness, arrange for them to stay away from home with relatives or friends to practice.
Avoid making “pick-up” arrangements with your child. These can undermine their confidence and ability to have a good time at camp. If you are truly worried that your child will become homesick, ask the camp how they deal with homesickness.
Choose a Camp That Is…
Consider choosing a camp with American Camp Association (ACA) accreditation. This means your child’s camp has been reviewed by the ACA and meets up to 300 standards covering everything from staff training to emergency preparedness.
Be sure that the camp you choose for your child is ready to handle any medical emergencies. The AAP recommends that all camps have policies and procedures to deal with medical emergencies. Your child’s camp should meet these requirements:
- Written health policies that have been approved by a pediatrician or family doctor
- Policies to deal with infectious outbreaks, like the flu
- Knowledge about local health hazards, such as Lyme disease
- Staff that has been properly trained to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if there is one on campus
- Staff that is certified in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Camp records have emergency contact information for every camper
Any camp you consider should be knowledgeable in treating the illnesses that most commonly plague campers, including:
The Better Business Bureau gives these tips for finding a camp that is right for you and your child:
- Visit the camp before submitting a deposit. Check out sleeping and bathing areas. Try to get a feel for the commitment of the staff.
- Ask about fees. Is your deposit refundable? Are there extra fees for special activities?
- Does the camp conduct background checks on all employees?
- Ask about the medical facilities, especially if your child has special medical needs.
- Ask about safety procedures. How does the camp enforce safety rules?
- Ask for references from parents who have sent their children to the camp.
If the answers to these questions do not satisfy you, considering choosing another camp for your child.
The AAP recommends that all camps provide a healthy diet for campers. Camps should follow the federal guidelines for school nutrition. Water for drinking should be available for campers throughout the day. Sugary drinks, including sports drinks, should be limited. Also, campers should get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day—though most will get much more!
Camp can be a great experience for you and your child. Be sure to do your homework to make sure you are choosing a camp that is a good fit for you and your child. When you are confident that you have chosen the right camp and that your child is ready, you can send them off with peace of mind!
AAP helps young campers stay safe and healthy. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/AAP-Helps-Young-Campers-Stay-Safe-and-Healthy.aspx. Published March 28, 2011. Accessed August 5, 2011.
BBB advises parents to check facilities, qualifications to ensure safe, rewarding camp experience for child. Better Business Bureau website. Available at: http://lima.bbb.org/article/bbb-advises-parents-to-check-facilities-qualifications-to-ensure-safe-rewarding-camp-experience-for-child-25541. Published March 10, 2011. Accessed August 5, 2011.
Creating healthy camp experiences. Pediatrics. 2011;127:794-799.
Fun and safety—ACA camps set the standard. American Camp Association website. Available at: http://www.campparents.org/funsafety. Accessed August 5, 2011.
Gluten free camp a hit for kids with celiac disease. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Gluten-Free-Camp-A-Hit-For-Kids-With-Celiac-Disease.aspx. Published February 15, 2010. Accessed August 5, 2011.
Make summer camp safe for your food-allergic child. Kids With Food Allergies Foundation website. Available at: http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/resourcespre.php?id=146&. Published January 2010. Accessed August 5, 2011.
A partnership of caring—parents and camps join together. American Camp Association website. Available at: http://www.campparents.org/childprotection. Accessed August 5, 2011.
Sending your child with special needs to camp. Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/ill/sending_child_camp.html. Updated November 2010. Accessed August 5, 2011.
When can I go to sleepaway camp? Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/kid/talk/when/when_camp.html. Updated May 2010. Accessed August 5, 2011.
Last reviewed August 2011 by Lawrence Frisch, MD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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