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Do Not Have This Conversation the Night Before You Send your Kid to Camp

This is a guest post by my colleagues at The Center for Child Counseling in Florida, and continues the conversation from June 9, 2022. If you need any help or guidance having these conversations, reach out!  I’m here to help. 

Hurray! You have made the decision to send your child to overnight camp.

First year or even a veteran camp parent, you are crossing your fingers that they have the most amazing, fun and safe summer. Camp is the optimal place to learn about life, make new friends, experience new things in a nurturing, safe environment.  

There are a ton of great lists online about how to prepare your child for camp – recommending teaching your child to make a bed, have your child help pack and label, encourage trying new things, etc. One item is consistently missing: talking to your child about healthy body boundaries. We recommend having ongoing conversations with children about their personal safety, so they know they have the right to keep their bodies’ safe, that they understand what are the healthy boundaries and what is not okay and what to do if they feel confused, uncomfortable with a situation or feel threatened. 

As a parent, go into the experience with your eyes wide open. Understand that the statistics speak for themselves: 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Boys and girls. 90% of the time by a trusted adult. That means most children are harmed by parents, stepparents, parents’ boyfriends and girlfriends, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, coaches, clergy (any religion), babysitters, neighbors, teenagers, other children and perhaps, camp counselors, anyone. 

Teaching your children about their personal safety is a year-round, on-going conversation. Here are some tips: 

  • Start this conversation a few months before camp begins. Teaching our children about their personal safety is a natural part of parenting. Remember to keep conversations positive and not scary.
  • Teach your children that they have a Circle of Safe Adults. These are at least 3 adults your child could talk to about anything, happy or sad, exciting or scary. Start by having them pick who their three people are. Once this is established, ask who your three people might be when you are at camp. 
  • Establish what healthy body boundaries means. Explain that just like we have rules and boundaries at home, there are rules and boundaries at camp. For one, everyone should respect each other’s personal space and bodies. If you are comfortable changing your clothes with your bunk mates that is fine, but if for any reason you are not, you can change in the bathroom. Explain in a straight forward way that their body is special and no one should be touching their private parts, asking you to touch their private parts, sharing a bed with you, or showing you anything on line that is not meant for kids (like pictures or videos of naked people).  
  • Practice with your child how to use their Safety Voice. Let your child know that they have the right to say No to another camper or even a counselor if they are breaking a boundary rule or you feel it is crossing your personal safety line. They can say No, I don’t want to play that game. No, I don’t feel like having your arm around me. No, I won’t do that. 
  • Teach your child when to access help. If something is making your child unhappy at camp (bullying issue, homesickness, or feeling uncomfortable regarding body boundary safety) they need to access help from a trusted adult. Let them know this is not tattling, this is doing what is right to take care of themselves. Practice with them approaching their camp counselor if they are having an issue with another camper or approaching a camp supervisor. Help them practice using their words. Ex. Jalil, can I talk to you? I don’t like the way Mateo snaps his towel at me when I get out of the shower. Can you help?    Also say to your child, that they need to keep reaching out for help until someone listens. That is why they chose at least three trusted adults at home and at camp for their Circle of Safe Adults. 

Making personal safety a part of pre-camp preparation empowers your child with skills and makes them a harder target for a potential offender.  

For more information about talking with your children about their personal safety visit our parents page on the KidSafe website.  

Fantastic resources for parents and kids to help you have these important conversations:

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Christy Keating is a certified parent coach,  positive discipline educator, and motivational speaker. She is the founder and CEO of The Heartful Parent Collective, which includes Heartful Parent Coaching, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, and Heartful Parent Academy.

The mother of two amazing daughters, Christy strives to build a happier, healthier world - one child, one parent, and one family at a time.