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Preparing Your Child for Camp

A parent's primer to handling the must-do list, from choosing a camp and scheduling physical exams to managing allergies and homesick kids

For most kids, swimming and s'mores are all they need to have fun at summer camp. Traveling away from home, however, takes much more planning and preparation on a parent's part to ensure a safe and fun experience for the child.

Preparing a fuss-free summer camp experience is a little easier with these steps from Dr. JJ Levenstein, a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and co-founder of MD Moms.

Choose the best camp for your child

When choosing a camp, consider your child's whole experience. Choose camps according to your child's interests and activities offered by the camp.

Separately, if your child has a health condition such as diabetes or asthma, you may consider a camp that frequently hosts children with these conditions. You'll have extra peace of mind with experienced staff and knowledgeable health personnel onsite.

Schedule appointments in advance

Many camps require a physical exam before enrollment. This doctor's visit is a great time to ensure your child is up-to-date with vaccines, prescriptions, dietary restrictions and allergies. Remember, schools often require physicals too, and most insurance policies only cover one annual exam per child. Think strategically about check-ups to avoid multiple visits.

Lather up!

Most outdoor activities are between peak sun hours (10 a.m.-4 p.m.). Be sure to check your camp's sun safety protocol, and ask if children need a doctor's note to apply sunscreen.

You can also protect your child by packing smart. Grab an easy-to-apply sunscreen your child is willing to wear on her own. SPF 30 works for the majority of kids if they reapply throughout the day. As a general rule, use one ounce of sunscreen (about a palm full) per application. Pre-portioned sunscreen towelettes are easy to apply and ensure kids are covered.

Also, pack sunglasses that filter out UVA/UVB rays, a wide-brimmed hat and SPF-rated swimwear for days by the water.

Prepare for summer separation

In addition to filling out forms and packing duffel bags, put emotional health preparation on your to-do list. Start discussing your future camper's upcoming activities and new friendships. These conversations will help your child mentally prepare for camp and feel more confident.

Manage homesickness

No matter how ready children are for camp, most will miss home at some point. First-time campers psychologically benefit from short-term sessions close to home. Once your camper stays longer, consider packing pre-addressed and stamped postcards to encourage writing home.

Throughout your child's experience, remember some level of homesickness is natural and healthy. Becoming independent and managing emotions are core benefits of camp.

Food allergies? No problem

Before camp begins, and ask how the camp accommodates special diets. Determine how the kitchen avoids cross-contamination of allergy-provoking foods and inquire about action plans if a camper has an allergic reaction.

As you prepare your child to stay safe and healthy throughout the summer, remember – camp is a chance for you both to grow! Camp allows you, as parents, to let go of your child and encourage her to make independent decisions.

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