How to Encourage Your Child to Make Friends at Summer Camp
Summer camp is an excellent opportunity to put down the screens, have some fun and make some new friends. YMCA summer camps enroll campers from a great cross-section of area schools, giving your kids the chance to expand their social circle beyond the faces they see around the neighborhood and during the school year. Even if your child already knows some people at summer camp, it is still an excellent opportunity to practice the life skill of making new friends.
YMCA camp counselors are all well equipped with activities and tools to help break the ice. “There will be games done in small groups to help children learn each other’s names, learn about a shared interest, and get to know each other,” said Mark Hoy, Camp Director at the West Chester Area YMCA.
But before camp even starts, parents can begin preparing their kids. Here are a few suggestions that can help your kids get ready to meet new people and make new friends.
Keep it Positive
Everyone starting summer camp will be experiencing something new. Whether it’s a new activity or just new faces, kids may have some “jitters” about getting started. Parents can help their children relax by letting them know how excited they are for their child to attend camp. Amy White, Senior Director of Youth Development at the West Chester Area YMCA, said it this way, “When a child knows that their parents believe in all the benefits of summer camp, and put trust in the counselors, it helps them to relax and get excited about the possibilities.”
Get the Lay of the Land
Emily Armington, Associate Executive Director at the Kennett Area Branch of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine, said that many camps will host open houses that allow parents and children to meet counselors and see the camp facilities before the first day. “Participating in these events is a great way to take some of the mystery out of the first day of camp, as well as meet some new people even before camp begins.” If your camp does not host an open house, you can still connect with camp staff via a phone call or email before camp starts.
Encourage Kids to Say “Hello” to Someone New
A simple gesture can lead to lasting friendship. A warm “hello” and name exchange can be enough to get the ball rolling. Encourage your kids to make eye contact and smile when greeting someone new. If your child is good at remembering names, encourage them to call their new acquaintance by their name.
Role playing is a great way to give your kids confidence when approaching someone new. In addition to greeting someone, asking some friendly open-ended questions may quickly reveal shared interests. By practicing some conversation starters, your camper will be ready to strike up a conversation when the moment hits. Here are a few examples of questions your child might ask someone they are meeting for the first time:
What’s your favorite thing about summer?
What are you most looking forward to in this camp?
What other things do you like to do?
At the end of each camp day, ask your kids about the experience. Armington talked about the importance of parents asking their kids about their camp experience each day. “Did they meet anyone new? What is their name? Do they enjoy some of the same things?” Keep follow-up conversations light and upbeat. Even if your child doesn’t remember names, or didn’t meet someone new on any given day, that’s ok. They will have many chances to make new friends over the duration of camp.
Parenting is tough work, especially in today’s technology-centric environment. White offered this encouragement to parents, “Enrolling your kids in camp is an excellent investment in their confidence and builds skills that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
Hoy reiterated the importance being positive, “Encourage your kids to approach camp with an open mind. There is no better place for your kids to try new things, to be who they want to be and to make new friends. The best advice you can give them as they set out on their adventure is to go have fun.”