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Summer Camp Safety: Keeping kids safe at camp

Whether your child is going away to camp for one day or two weeks, you’ll worry every moment you’re apart. It’s a normal part of parenthood! But with a little planning and preparation, you can ease the anxiety so you both can have a great time. These are my top 10 tips for a healthy and safe camp experience for kids:

1. Honestly and completely fill out health forms.

It’s understandable that some diagnoses, like autism or ADHD, are very sensitive or embarrassing, while others, like a gluten intolerance or minor peanut allergy, may seem like no big deal. The more camp counselors and medical personnel know about your child, the more they are able to respond appropriately to your child’s needs. Let them know what to look for, the best way they can help, and all medications your child takes and how to administer them, even over-the-counter ones.

2. Make a list of questions you want to ask.

It’s important for you, as a parent, to know how certain situations will be handled. Are staff members certified in first aid and CPR? Where is the infirmary? Where is the nearest hospital? How and when will you be notified of emergencies? What about non-emergencies? Can your child call you if he or she needs you, and how can you reach your child? What are the rules for safety and how are they enforced?

3. Know what safety gear is provided and what you are responsible for bringing.

This depends on the type of camp and what activities will be going on. Helmets and life vests are two biggies, but you may want to ask about specific activities offered at your camp.

4. Make sure immunizations are up to date.

These sometimes get forgotten over the summer months. But many camps require proof of vaccinations. Even if your camp doesn’t, a fast-spreading virus like the measles or chicken pox can put a quick stop to the summer fun for large groups of unvaccinated kids in close quarters. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children get fully vaccinated before going to camp.

5. Teach self-advocacy and care.

Since you won’t be there, it’s important for your child to able to advocate for his or her own health and well-being. Roleplaying is a great way to teach this skill. Make sure your child is able to tell someone if he or she has medications or food/environmental allergies. Have your child practice asking for help with a tummy ache, or a fear that gets in the way of hygiene or self-care (for example, a fear of the latrines or showers).

It is also wise to teach basic hygiene principles and make sure your child practices them. Habits like frequent hand-washing, not sharing drinks or utensils, and coughing into your elbows can all go a long way to keep everyone at camp healthy. Make sure your child knows how and when to apply sunscreen and bug spray. Teach them how to check themselves for ticks, and what to do if they find one. Make sure they know what poison ivy and poison oak look like.

6. Pack proper footwear.

Sprained or strained ankles are the most common preventable camp injury. Proper footwear is essential here. Flip flops or sandals are acceptable for pools and showers, but make sure to also pack sneakers and hiking boots.

7. Pack a water bottle.

Dehydration is a real concern on these hot summer days. Make sure your child knows how to stay hydrated and how to spot signs of dehydration, like excessive thirst, dizziness, and dark colored urine.

8. Send non-food care packages.

Kids love getting mail at camp! Try sending fun items like books, stickers, coloring books and crayons — things related to what your child likes to do during down-time.

9. Have a backup plan.

If you are going on a vacation while your child is at camp, make sure the staff knows that. Let them how they can get a hold of you if they need to. Make sure you communicate who to contact if they can’t reach you, or if they need someone local to come for your child. Confirm that the person you choose has the necessary permission to make medical decisions for your child. And make sure everyone has the name/number of your pediatrician. Alert the pediatrician about who can make decisions for your child.

10. Relax.

Now that you’ve tried to think of contingencies for every worst-case scenario, keep in mind that serious accidents are unlikely to happen — and even less likely if your child is prepared. Try to take time to enjoy some kid-free activities, and much-needed relaxation.

What do you do to prepare your child for camp?