Sleep Away Camp Readiness? (Pedcast)

Voice introduction

Welcome to Portable Practical Pediatrics. I’m your host, Dr. Paul Smolen, a board certified pediatrician and now an experienced blogger. Can you believe it; I started broadcasting in June of 2010. I’m rapidly approaching 7 years of weekly blogging, 84,000 downloads to date, and a million pages opened each year on my blog!  Thanks to you, we have created one of the most popular pediatric blogs in the country. What an honor. Thank you.

Recently, I was interviewed by a Charlotte parenting blog about sending children to sleep away camp. I answered a series of questions for their post and the thought crossed my mind, “Maybe my blog audience would be interested in this subject? I think so.”  So in today’s edition of Portable Practical Pediatrics, we are going to explore some aspects of sending your child to sleep away camp. Maybe some of my answers can help you and your child make the most of this important experience of childhood. If you are thinking about away camp for your little ones this summer, don’t miss this pedcast!

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Let’s run through the questions this magazine asked me and my answers. I hope my responses will help you decide if and when to send your little ones away to sleep away camp, and how to make the summer camp experience a great one for them.

#1. At what age should you consider sending your child to sleep away camp?

Doc Smo answer- “Like so many things in life, it depends. When your child confidently sleeps at other children’s homes, shows an interest in sleep away camp, successfully masters day camp, and is at an age where the benefits of a new camp experience outweigh some homesickness, it might be time to seriously consider sleep away camp.”

#2. What are the benefits to your child of attending summer sleep away camp?

Doc Smo answers- “I am a big advocate of camp, especially the sleep away variety. In my mind, the most important aspect of the experience is the water safety skills that most camps provide. In a camp setting, your child will have no choice but to improve their water safety skills. No rescuing by an anxious parent.  Additionally, a child has an opportunity to try crafting, archery, riflery, and many other camping activities. Learning to meet and live with new people who may come from different backgrounds is also a plus. Finally, learning to take care of oneself and become a little more self-sufficient in a new environment also provides great value. Sleep away camp can be an important tool to build a child’s confidence and encourage their independence.”

#3. What are some things to consider when choosing your child’s sleep away camp?

Doc Smo answers- “I go with the three Rs: reputation, reviews and recommendations. When deciding on the best camp for your child, I think parents should also keep in mind specialty activities that a particular camp may provide, such as horseback riding or nature programs.”

#4. Tell us some tips for sending your child away for the first time.

Doc Smo answers- “Have a buddy if possible, someone your child knows and gets along with. This can make the experience of leaving home much easier for them. And parents need to remember that an important aspect of going to sleep away camp is to have their child immersed in a new environment. Parents can enhance that experience by limiting communication with their child. To that end, I don’t think it is beneficial to send a child to sleep away camp with a cell phone or other instant-communication device. They are at camp to experience new things, not to constantly communicate with family. If there is a problem, the camp will let you know.
I also believe that first-time campers shouldn’t stay for more than a week or so. Future summers can be longer if they wish, but getting used to being away from home takes some getting used to.”

#5. What are some ways to get your child oriented to the idea of sleep away camp before actually going?

Doc Smo answers- “Three things come to mind:
1. Take them camping with your family and allow them to sleep away from home in this way.
2. Let them sleep at a friend’s home on a regular basis.
3. And finally, if the camp is close enough, go visit the facility before camp begins. Being familiar with the camp can be of great value for the child.”

#6. How can you calm an anxious child’s nerves before camp?

Doc Smo answers- “Being nervous is normal. I would be surprised if they weren’t nervous. Being away from family in an unfamiliar place can be frightening. The antidote for nervousness, however, is empathy and predictability. Show them empathy by sharing stories of when you (their parent) were very nervous about a new experience and how you handled that experience. As far as creating predictability, show your child pictures of camp and share what the daily activities might entail. By doing so your child will know what to expect once they arrive at camp.”

#7. What are some red flags to look for if your child might not be a good candidate for sleep away camp?

Doc Smo answers- “If your child still is showing a lot of separation anxiety when they leave home, they cry easily, are prone to tantrums, have trouble making social connections at school, are bedwetters, or don’t seem emotionally mature enough to handle the stress of leaving home, I think they are probably not ready for sleep away camp.”

#8. If a child has specific special needs, how should a parent address them?

Doc Smo- “Special health or dietary needs should be arranged with the camp staff prior to their arrival. Explicit instructions need to be made for children with special health problems. Detailed action plans need to be provided for children with food allergy, asthma, or diabetes, as well as providing the camp with necessary medical supplies. Remember, you are relying on the camp staff to take your place. They need to be ready. Fortunately, most camps are good at this.”


Well, I hope those answers help you think about some of the issues related to sending your kids to sleep away camp. I have to tell you, I loved the experience of camp and wish I could go back today. If you enjoy learning about pediatric health and wellness with Portable Practical Pedcasts, please take moment to write a quick review on iTunes and subscribe to my blog at You can also share any podcast you wish with anyone you wish. It is all free and done for you. This is Doc Smo, broadcasting from trusty old studio 1E, that’s the first child’s bedroom on the east side of my house, hoping your child will say hooray, about their first camping experience away. Until next time.