Talking to your kids about camp being canceled

We reached out to our friend and colleague, Dr. Amanda Case (Assistant Professor in Counseling Psychology at Purdue University) who has offered these thoughts:

For campers and their families:

Q: This is going to be really difficult for my child, do you have any advice on how to talk to them about summer camp being canceled?

A:  We absolutely understand this is just one more loss on top of what has been a season of losses.

  1. Be honest about why camp has been canceled while also being developmentally appropriate. Depending on your child’s age and developmental level, they will likely have a range of questions about why camp has been cancelled. I would recommend being honest with them but also keeping in mind what they can actually understand and process. For elementary school children, try tying your explanation back to how you’ve explained school closures. For middle and high school students, it may be more appropriate to talk with them about why a camp environment, in particular, would need to close given how the virus is transmitted.
  2. Create space and opportunities for your child to express and experience their emotions. It’s hard to know how your child will feel about camp being cancelled, so make sure you’re asking them directly (and asking them more than once). They may not talk to you about their feelings the first time you ask, but they might be ready the second, or fifth, or tenth. Also, when you ask them how they’re feeling, make sure you’re able to truly listen. Asking kids about their feelings while you’re also trying to work, or fold laundry, or take care of other children, doesn’t set you up to be able to really hear them. Finally, when they do tell you how they’re feeling, just listen and validate. You can’t “fix” their feelings or make those feelings stop, and your kids know that. Sticking with responses like “that sounds really hard” or “I can tell you’re feeling sad” lets your children know that you hear them, that you’re there for them, and that their feelings are okay.
  3. Encourage your child to talk about what they’ll miss about camp. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” is NOT going to apply to this experience; expect that your child will be thinking about camp even though they won’t be attending. With that in mind, encourage them to talk about what they’ll miss about camp. Creating time and space for those conversations will not only further validate your child’s feelings but will also allow them to reflect on what they really enjoyed about camp.
  4. Brainstorm creative ways that your child can still stay connected to their camp experience and family. Having the above-mentioned conversations will help you and your child brainstorm how they might be able to re-create some of their favorite aspects of camp. Obviously a sleep out in the backyard or on the balcony is very different from an overnight in the woods, but there might be other ways for them to experience the exploration, independence, creativity, friendships, and faith that camp usually provides.

For parents

Q: This is also going to be really difficult for me both because my child was looking forward to camp and also because I was counting on camp as a planned summer activity. Do you have any advice for how I can cope with my feelings?
A: Probably the most important thing is to be kind and patient with yourself so you can also be kind and patient with your child. Without a doubt the ongoing tangible (e.g., lives, jobs, childcare, resources, etc.) and intangible (i.e., freedom, time, social connection) losses associated with the pandemic are going to bring up a whole range of feelings for you (many of which you’ve likely already been feeling). It’s important that you let yourself recognize those feelings and also validate them—this is an incredibly stressful time for everyone and the feelings that you are having, however confused, variable, or seemingly irrational, are nonetheless appropriate. Recognizing and validating those feelings can help you cope with them so you can be even more emotionally available and supportive to your child.

Additional resources and activities for families and communities that have been curated by Purdue faculty and researchers can be found through Purdue’s Families Tackling Tough Times Together Facebook Group: