written by Tanni Haas, Ph.D.
photo by Holly Young Photography
Kids love to go camping, but camping trips can be stressful if you’re not properly prepared for them. Based on my own experiences as well as conversations with other parents, I’ve pulled together a list of some favorite stress-management tips.
Practice At Home
If your kids have never been camping, practice at home before you go. Pitching a tent and getting used to sleeping in it can feel strange if you’re not used to it. If you have a backyard, pitch the tent there. If you don’t, lay out sleeping bags in the living room or spend an entire day at a nearby park: that’ll give the kids a good idea of what it’s like to go camping and be in the outdoors.
Let Each Family Member Pack Their Own Stuff
Packing for everyone can be a challenge. If your kids are old enough, have them pack their things in their own bags. Help them make a list of what to bring, and then let them pack themselves. Also make sure the bags are easy to carry or pull in case you decide to leave the car behind to go hiking.
Include The Kids In Planning The Trip
When kids are bored, they often act up, and you get stressed. To avoid that from happening, involve them in all aspects of the trip, from choosing the best camp site, to deciding what to do, to buying the equipment that you need. In fact, don’t just have the kids help you buy equipment like tents and fishing rods: have them shop with you for cooking supplies and food.
Choosing The Campsite
When you review the campsite options with the kids, talk to them about what they’d like to do there. Choosing a campsite with activities that no one is interested in can backfire. Would your kids like to rough it, or do they prefer a site with lots of amenities? What activities would they prefer – berry picking, hiking, boating, fishing, or swimming?
Wherever you choose to go camping, you’ll need some specialized gear – a tent, sleeping bags, a cooking device, and kitchen supplies. Buy quality stuff, make sure you know how to operate the equipment, and store everything neatly in boxes and containers.
Time For Unstructured Play
One key to a stress-free camping trip is to leave plenty of time for unstructured play. You never know what will end up being exciting to the kids. They may make a new friend as soon as you arrive and can think of nothing better than to spend the whole time with them. Remember: you’re not there to accomplish anything other than to have a good time.
The kids may want to explore the camp site and surrounding areas with their new friend, but safety should always come first. Set ground rules for how far they can venture off and have agreed-upon emergency procedures for what to do if they get lost. If there’s no mobile phone service, give the kids a whistle and tell them to only blow it if they’re lost.
Bring Lots of Clothes
While everyone hopes for great weather, there’s no guarantee what Mother Nature will bring. So, bring raincoats, warm sweaters and socks, and waterproof hiking boots. Even if the weather holds during the day, the temperature at night can drop dramatically.
If you find yourself stuck in the tent all day due to rain or the kids are bored with what the camp site has to offer, have alternative entertainment options. Bring electronic games, including some that don’t require internet access, board games, and playing cards for everyone to enjoy.
Have The Kids Help You
You’re going to be stressed out if you try to do everything on your own. Have the kids help you. Get them to pitch he tent and roll out the sleeping bags. Have them gather firewood, build a fire, help cook the meal, and clean up afterwards. The more you share experiences with each other, the more memorable the trip will be.
For a great Family Camping Checklist visit REI’s website at www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/family-camping-checklist.html
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences, and Disorders at The City University of New York – Brooklyn College.