Let’s talk about the Summer Scaries.
Taking a kids-eye-view the last two weeks of school are filled with fun times and parties, the teacher and kids you’ve been with for the past 9 months bid you farewell and now it’s time for the big unknown. SUMMER CAMP. It’s got lots of kids you don’t know, grown-ups you aren’t familiar with, new schedules, and everything is all out of whack! That can leave a kid feeling really anxious and worried.
It’s psychologically healthy to worry about things that are unfamiliar, it’s protective! But worry is seldom “right” and if it’s listened to and fed with avoiding or quitting it can turn into a pesky little monster. Worry monsters love quitting more than kids love candy.
It seems like we should just tell kids there’s nothing to worry about, “It’s no big deal this camp will be a blast.” Maybe that’s true but decades of emotional regulation research tells us that suppressing or denying emotions actually amplifies them. While your day job stayed the same over the summer your kid just got a new boss, new coworkers, a new break schedule, and new demands! A tornado of big emotions, exhaustion, and tantrums are likely forecasted.
Here’s how a play therapist might respond to Summer Camp Scaries. 1: Empathize with your child. Notice that the space is different, the kids are different, and they’ve never done this before. “Wow there are some big kids here, and this building has a lot of rooms. This is different for you.”2: Offer encouragement, “I’m betting you’re a little worried about getting dropped off here. I understand new things can be hard. But you can do hard things and I’m here to help. Let’s look around for a kid you know or a grown-up who’s a helper.”3: Offer congratulations and patience, “I’m so proud of you for going to that camp today, you are so brave!” and expect some dysregulation, as with any new experience adjusting to it might come with some big feelings.