Going to summer camp is popular with parents and kids. According to the American Camp Association (ACA), about 10 million children go to camp each year, including day camps and away camps, which are more like the traditional summer camp that many of us think of when we hear the word "camp."
Why do so many parents send their kids off to summer camp?
The most common reasons parents like camp, according to the ACA, are because:
- Camp helps build self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Camp provides a safe environment for their kids.
- Camp is a good place to build social skills and make new friends.
Summer Camp Health Problems
Unfortunately, kids sometimes get sick when they are at camp, especially if they are away for a few weeks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that camp health providers have protocols to treat:
- conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- upper respiratory tract infections (colds and coughs)
- otitis externa (swimmer's ear) and otitis media (ear infections)
- streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat) and sore throat
- vomiting and diarrhea (including large outbreaks)
- asthma, anaphylaxis, and allergy management, including food allergies
- skin infections: impetigo, fungal (ringworm), abscess
- lice and scabies
- dermatitis (skin rashes), including poison ivy and poison oak
- insect bites, stings, and tick exposure
- common injuries, head injury and concussion
- heat- or cold-related illness
- behavioral or psychiatric episodes
While some of these conditions are going to mean a trip home or even to the emergency room, a camp with proper protocols hopefully won't try to send your child home for every rash or cough he gets.
Preparing for Summer Camp
Although you can't prevent every illness at camp, it might help to have an annual health review, such as the annual well-child checkup most kids get anyway.
Kids who have a chronic illness, like allergies, ADHD, or diabetes, should likely have an additional visit to their pediatrician before they go to camp to make sure that their illness is being well-controlled. For example, if your child is having asthma symptoms twice a week before he even goes to camp, it is more likely that he will have an asthma attack while at camp. In this situation, your pediatrician can likely change your child's daily asthma controller medications to make it less likely that he will have regular asthma symptoms or an asthma attack at camp.
Before going to camp, parents should also make sure that their kids are up-to-date on all vaccines, and also have:
- a management plan to help camp health providers take care of a child's medical or psychological problems that come up
- all of their regular prescription medications and over-the-counter medications they take, including detailed instructions on their use
- a list of dietary restrictions
- instructions on how to use any special medical devices they need to bring to camp
- a list of physical activity restrictions they may have
Also be sure to send plenty of sunscreen and insect repellent.
If this is your child's first time at summer camp, especially if it is his first time away from home, it might be a good idea to make sure the camp has a good plan to deal with homesickness.
To help prevent homesickness, the AAP recommends that when preparing for summer camp, parents should:
- get your kids involved in choosing the summer camp and in the whole idea of going away to camp
- talk about homesickness, including that it is normal for kids to feel a little homesick when they go to camp
- let your kids have some practice time away from home before going to camp for the first time, such as a weekend away at a friend or relative's house
- avoid making a back-up plan with your kids to pick them up if they get homesick
- be openly confident that your kids will do well at camp
- teach your kids some coping strategies for homesickness, such as doing something fun to get their minds off being homesick, writing a letter to feel some contact with home, thinking about fun things they are doing at camp, or talking to a camp counselor
Keep in mind that many experts think that phone calls, especially during short stays at summer camp, actually can make feelings of homesickness worse.
American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Preventing and Treating Homesickness. Pediatrics, Jan 2007; 119: 192 - 201.
American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Creating Healthy Camp Experiences. Pediatrics
American Camp Association. Camp Trends Fact Sheet. Accessed March 2011.
Yard EE. Illness and Injury Among Children Attending Summer Camp in the United States, 2005. Pediatrics, Nov 2006; 118: e1342 - e1349.