This has not been an easy season. We hope these resources can help you navigate the difficult conversation of talking with your children about normal summer camp being cancelled this year.
Here is a special video we made just for campers letting them know how much we will miss them at camp this summer:
At any age, taking the opportunity to pray with and for your child can provide comfort and peace where none were present. A psalm we have been praying at camp is Psalm 46:
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
Remind them that God (and you!) are with them, even in the fear and disappointment.
For All Ages
- Listen to them and provide validation for how they are feeling.
- Resist the urge to “fix” the situation or problem-solve for them.
- Show empathy.
- Provide assurance you will help them through this.
Age Specific Guidance
- Elementary school: Be the DIRECTOR
Have a plan of what to say and how to say it. Anticipate what questions your children might have and what responses you might give.
- Middle school: Be the TOUR GUIDE
Lead the conversation but be willing to change course, depending on your child’s response and tolerance for the conversation.
- High school: Be the TORCH-PASSER
More is less with this age, so share the information and then pass the torch to your children to let them lead the conversation while you listen.
Elementary School Examples
Kids of this age need information shared with them with a few words that are direct and to the point. Parents should be in charge of the conversation.
Remember children of this age cannot always express how they are feeling. Behavior=communication. Often, you can determine how a child is tolerating the information you’ve shared by watching their behavior both during and afterward – and then asking them about it without judgment.
For example, you might say:
- “I notice you are stomping your feet a lot, and that isn’t like you.”
- “I see your eyes are tearing up, and I wonder if that means you are sad?”
The tone of your questions helps to assure your child that they are safe to share their feelings. It is fine to help your child label their feelings, if you feel confident that you are labeling those feelings correctly.
Be sure that once your child begins talking, you stop talking, giving them the opportunity to share what’s on their mind. Feel proud of yourself that you got your child to express their feelings!
Here are some things you might say to elementary school-age children who were planning to return to camp this summer:
- “It’s hard when you don’t get to do what you thought you’d be doing.”
- “I’m so sorry that you won’t get to experience _______ because I know you love it.”
- “I know you will miss _______ , and I am always here to talk with you about it.”
- “We’re going to work together to come up with fun things for you to do this summer.”
- “I know you’re sad, and I’ll do everything I can to help you to feel better.”
- “It’s normal to feel sad about this; I am sad for you, too.”
- “Everybody at camp cares so much about everyone being safe and healthy, and this summer it will be too difficult to keep everyone safe.”
- “We will keep talking about camp because it’s so important to us and so we don’t forget all the wonderful things about it.”
- “Camp is such a special place, and everyone is so disappointed because so many people love it and will miss it.”
- “I know it doesn’t feel good, but I also know that there will be a time when you feel better.”
- “It’s hard to imagine that this feeling will pass, and I hope you are OK.”
- “This is such a loss, and I’m so sorry.”
- “Sometimes when things are hard, it’s okay to give yourself permission not to think about it for a little bit. How about we don’t think about camp not happening again until after dinner?”
Middle School and High School Examples
You should convey information to your tweens or teens in an honest and authentic manner. The conversation should be collaborative, with you sharing the information and then following the lead of your teen. Teens may be interested in talking about the situation all at once or may need time to process and then revisit.
Teens often need time and space in order to fully engage in a conversation after receiving difficult information.
At this age, peer relationships are also very important, and your teen may want to talk with their friends before they talk with you. You can help support their camp friendships – in the time they need them most – by suggesting they connect with their friends to talk about the situation.
Some statements that might be helpful are:
- “Hey, I see that you’re really sad right now. I know you may not want to talk about it, but I’m here for you when and if you do want to talk.”
- “I know you may want to talk with your friends first, but let me know if you want to chat with me about it later.”
Acknowledge that this is a grieving process for your teen and validate the emotions they are experiencing. It may be helpful to avoid using words like “I understand” and instead use statements such as “I can imagine…” or “It sounds like…”.
Here are some things you might say to middle and high school-aged children:
- “I know how much you were looking forward to going to camp. Are there things we can do at home that will be helpful to you during this time?”
- “This really sucks. I’m sorry.”
- “It is so normal to be upset and experience a lot of emotions around this news. I’m here to talk about it anytime you need.”
- “Let’s go get ice cream and drown our sorrows.” 🙂
- “I’m really going to miss camp this summer. I think what I’m going to miss the most is _____. How about you?”
- “Can I pray for you?”
Self-Care Reminders for You
Jesus Is Always with Us: Even to the end of the age, Jesus is always with us. It’s a great comfort to know nothing can separate us from His love. Especially when events are beyond our control, it’s wonderful to have a mighty God as our refuge and trust. Spending time with Jesus in prayer and in the Word, especially as a family, demonstrates His presence in our lives.
Allow Yourself to Feel: You too may have many feelings about camp being canceled. Allow yourself to be angry, worried, sad, disappointed, or even relieved. Focus on giving yourself what you need to manage stress, rather than seeking to eliminate your feelings altogether.
Give Yourself Permission: Give yourself permission to unplug from the news, social media, and Zoom. You need time to refuel now more than ever. Also, give yourself permission to be imperfect. This is hard stuff and no one has a road map.
Stay in the Moment: Staying in the moment and resisting the temptation to solve all of the big picture problems will help you feel a sense of control. Remember, we are all in this together. You have others to turn to, to learn from, and whom you can also support.
Take Care of YOU: Take care of your needs so that you can take care of your child. Take deep breaths, take walks, and give yourself a break. Think about other coping skills you have used in the past and what has worked for you in challenging times.
Enjoy Creation: It’s refreshing to be in nature and appreciate the majesty of God’s creation. Take a moment to go for a nature walk or hike. Observe the magnificent design and beautiful color displayed for us to see in flowers, animals, and trees. Or, lay out under the stars at night and consider our place in the entire universe. The Creator who made all these things also made you. God provides and cares for the His creation—especially the people in it!
Give Yourself Grace: Be patient and compassionate with yourself. There is no way to be a perfect parent. Be kind to yourself, allowing your feelings, whatever they may be.
Be Mindful: Spiritual practices like praying and meditating on God’s Word can help you restore cognitive balance and help you focus on gratitude. Praying the Psalms is a great place to start.
Control What You Can: Stress can take a toll on your physical wellness. Help yourself manage this stressful situation by making sure you are eating well, sleeping enough, hydrating, and exercising. Taking good care of your body will help you adapt to stress and reduce the effect of emotions like anxiety or depression.
Ask for What You Need: Ask yourself: What do I need? Then ask others for what you need. Ask questions of the camp leadership team to help you understand the decision so you can better explain it to your child and cope with it yourself.
It Will Get Better—Way Better! Our world is not a perfect place because it’s fallen and sinful. Remind your child that through Christ, God has a plan to make everything new. The cross and empty tomb remind us that Christ is a victorious King. On the day of His return, we will finally experience a new heaven and a new earth! What will it be like? There will be no more sickness or death, only a perfect paradise for God and His people to be together forever.
Reach Out: Process your feelings with other adults. Use your support networks to help support you in ways that work for you. If you are concerned about the duration, intensity, or frequency of your feelings, please reach out to a mental health professional in your area.
Special Note: Be mindful of what your child is overhearing. Your feelings are valid, but your child might be confused or upset if they overhear you. Children also might stifle their own emotional responses if they think it will upset their parents: for example, not crying about camp in front of you, if they think it will upset you.
(Some of these tips were taken from the article “How to Talk To Your Kids About Cancelled Summer Plans” by the URJ Briut Team, published on April 30th, 2020. We are grateful for this resource.)