You’ve already filled out the forms, paid the bill, and labeled their clothes. Now it’s time to get your children to their summer camps! Whether you’re racing to catch the camp bus, nurturing an anxious child through the transition to a new place, or helping your ADHD kiddo find that elusive other shoe, there’s added stress for parents this time of year. Try not to take sole responsibility for it all. Letting your child help will teach her the skills she needs to one day do it on her own. Here’s how:
- Have your child read the packing list/gear list and tell you what he will need for camp. If your child isn’t reading at that level yet, read the items out loud and have him draw the items to create a picture list.
- Have your child find the needed items in the house and bring them all to one spot. A child with ADHD or Executive Function difficulties may need to combine this with the first step, collecting one or two items at a time while reading the list.
- Is there anything missing?
- How can we get the things we don’t have?
- Have your child look at the family calendar or discuss with you, and decide when to go get the needed items.
- If camp requires a packed lunch, bring your child to the grocery store to select lunch items.
- Have your child pack her lunch. Designate a place in the fridge and pantry for lunch items. Be sure your child can reach them!
- For younger children, you may need to pre-make a sandwich or slice fruits and veggies. As they get older, don’t forget to hand this part over to them!
- Young children may also need a chart or a basket system to learn what makes a good lunch. For example, use one basket or bin to hold proteins, another for fruits and veggies, and another for snack or dessert items. Your child then chooses a set number of items from each.
- For children who have difficulty varying their food choices or don’t notice new items in the fridge, try setting everything out on the table at lunch packing time.
- To boost Executive Function or Organizational Skills, have your child decide how far in advance to pack lunch (In the morning? The night before? On Sunday for the whole week?). Gather feedback about how it went, and have him create a new plan if it didn’t go well.
- Have your child choose a bag/backpack/suitcase that will fit her camp gear.
- Let your child do the packing on his own. This not only lets him learn to arrange items in a bag, but helps him independently find his things in his bag while at camp.
- Resist the temptation to re-fold clothing or tidy up the bag.
- Feel free to set a ground rule such as “shampoo and anything else liquid goes in the waterproof pouch” or “snack money goes in a wallet.” Just be sure to do it before you start rather than as a correction. If you do find yourself needing to fix something (who knew he’d want to pack the toothbrush in his shoe?!), use “I” statements to engage him in problem solving with you. For example “I’m a little worried about what that toothbrush will taste like after traveling in your shoe. Can you think of a way we could protect it?”
- For day camps, do a daily gear check together repeating steps 1-3. This should go quickly, as you are simply replacing anything that can’t be reused (lunches, wet swimsuits, empty sunscreen or water bottles).
You can have your child do one of these steps or all of them, depending on her current level of skill. Start out going item by item, and when she’s ready combine some steps to create more complex tasks. For example, a child who can do steps 1 and 2 with very little support can be asked to do them together as “find everything you’ll need for camp.” Steps 3-5 (or 3-4) can be “let’s plan our camp shopping trip,” and 7-8 are “please pack your camp bag.” If you notice that one child has more trouble with these tasks than another, adjust your expectations and give a little more support until he gets it. If your child doesn’t seem able to increase his independence around these tasks or the process is creating family conflict, consult a Family Therapist for help finding strategies that work.
Finally, if you have a hired helper this summer, be sure to let him or her know your values around independence. Support your nanny or au pair in working with your children to accomplish tasks by leaving instructions in a format your child can understand.