Part 2 is on practicing the skills needed to camp, especially for those families who are pretty certain this will never happen. That may be true. But I urge you to read on if there is even a tiny thought that your child might enjoy camping if they could just handle some of the challenges they may face. Obviously I don’t want you to traumatize your child. Go at their pace and read their body language and listen to their words or gestures. Camping isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok. You just don’t want them to miss out on it if they too want to join the family but just don’t know how.
First off, you know your child best and if you are 100% sure that they will NOT handle the sensory experiences or sleeping in a tent or trailer (or anywhere else other than their own bed), don’t rush it. But why not give it a shot? It will just take some time and practice. Think about each activity you might do when camping and practice each one, little baby steps at a time if you must. You can start with having a campfire in the backyard roasting s’mores one night. Then on another day take a few minutes to go to the beach. Some of you might be thinking “Are you kidding me?! My kid won’t let any sand touch him!” or “My child hates the smell of a campfire!” There are many many things that deter some of our children from the joys of camping but it might not be impossible to get to the point where your child can join in on the fun.
I’ll jot down below some possible concerns with some strategies but if your child struggles with something I haven’t mentioned, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll see if we can help you out. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so just take a look at the bold sentences and choose to read what applies to you.
My child won’t sleep in a tent – if your child is too afraid to even go inside a tent, let alone sleep in one, put the tent up outside and leave it open with some pillows, sleeping bags and some of your child’s favourite stuffies, activities and food in it. I’m sure they will take a peek inside no matter how frightened they are and may develop the courage to go inside. If your child won’t go outside because the tent is there, try putting up a small tent inside your house. Or, build an indoor tent with sheets, play and sleep in it together. Keep the tent up as this may take several days/weeks until your child feels comfortable with it. If the child’s first step is playing inside the tent, when you feel your child is ready, try pretending to sleep in it during the day. Instead of playing house, play camping. Then extend that to sleeping in it at night. If your child doesn’t make it through the whole night, that’s ok. Keep trying and hopefully your child will stay longer and longer until they finally do it for an entire night – I would reward my child the next morning with going out for breakfast to their favourite restaurant, take-out or favourite dish made by mom or dad!
My child HATES the smell of campfire – I’m not a big fan of this either so I make sure I wear my least favourite clothes to a campfire. Clothes I won’t mind getting smelly or burnt by the small ashes that sometimes land on me. Help your child pick out some “campfire clothing”. Again, I would start small. Have a very small campfire outside. (If that’s still too much, I would make a “campfire” out of yellow and orange tissue paper on logs and pretend to roast marshmallows). You don’t need to sit around it just yet, but have it burning so your child can get used to the smell. If your child won’t even come outside because of the campfire, I would place a sweater near the campfire and bring it in the house and drape it over a chair in an area that your child is frequently in. It won’t be as strong as the campfire but it might be faint enough where he/she can handle it and slowly get used to it. If you need to hold the sweater over the campfire for 5 seconds the first round, then 30 seconds, then 1 minute etc. to make the scent slightly stronger each time to gradually increase their tolerance to it, then that is what we do. Eventually, the goal is to get your child outside around a campfire.
Would your child be willing to wear a mask to the campfire to block out some of the smell? With Covid, there are many places and people making masks. You can find one with their favourite character or even a pattern with campfires on it that is meant to wear only at the campfire. Add some essential oil under their nose to help drown out the campfire scent. Lastly, grab a plastic bag that is labelled (campfire only). Your child can then change out of their campfire clothes which will go directly into the campfire bag and sealed tight until it is washed. They can have a shower or bath if needed to get the smell out of their hair. There are many ways to gradually increase your child’s tolerance level to just about anything, we just need to be creative.
My child only eats certain foods – This is where you will have to do a lot of planning ahead. You may need to spend a weekend baking your child’s favourite breakfast muffins, waffles or pancakes that you can cook ahead and just drop in the toaster when camping. Cook up that favourite noodle dish or stockpile their favourite cereal. I highly recommend investing in a good plug-in cooler. The ones that can also be plugged into your car. This will allow you to bring milk, eggs and meat without worrying about keeping ice in it or the food getting soggy as the ice melts. That is a nightmare! Precook, pre bake, preplan! It can be done.
You can also make the campfire more exciting with s’mores and wieners and these fun and easy foil packet meals from Little Family Adventure Blog. There are tasty treats like eclairs, popcorn and cone s’more packets and meals for the child who prefers to eat like a king or queen. Something for the picky eater and something for your foodie!
My child can’t handle loud noises & fireworks – we never leave home without our noise reducing “protection” ear muffs. They are the ones people wear in construction or to concerts where the noise is so loud it can do damage to the ears. You never know when loud noises will appear! You can pretty much guarantee there will be fireworks on long holiday weekends, but honestly, I’ve been hearing fireworks almost nightly this summer and July has just begun! Bring the headphones with you everywhere so you will be quick to place them on their sensitive ears! If you’ve never tried them before, buy them ahead of time so your child can try them out at home and get used to wearing them. If they don’t like the feel of them, you can try different brands out, or desensitize your child to it by trying them on for 5 seconds, then 6 seconds, then 10 and so on. They were a lifesaver for us when we went to see the fireworks or concerts or amusement parks. You can also wear the small ear plugs that squish into your ears if that helps. Another option is to go to a campsite during the week when there are less crowds. Many provincial parks and private parks have certain areas of the park that have reduced hours where noise is permitted. Just do your research. Even calling ahead to the campground and explaining your story a bit so they can direct you to the most quiet and most secluded area for you and your family. Especially if you don’t want to be near the water as that might be too hard to keep your child away and too dangerous.
Not having a routine will be too hard for my child – No matter where we go, I would make a visual schedule for Gracie. Our weekend or weekly camping trips would be fully scheduled. We would keep her routine as much the same as possible, such as meal times and quiet time. But I would research the area we were going to and plan each day out accordingly. Keep in mind the weather when you are scheduling something. If the day needs to be sunny to experience an activity, you may have to include IF IT IS SUNNY on the schedule and what you will do instead IF IT RAINS. Always have a back up plan. Check out this link from The Inspired Treehouse on how to make a visual schedule.
My child wakes in the night. How do I keep her safe? – Tie some bells to the zipper of the tent so you know you will hear them if your child tries to leave. You can even get zip ties or twist ties and zip tie yourselves in there but have scissors easily accessible only to you (most tents have little hanging pockets) so you can quickly cut it off if you need to. ** This is not meant to “lock” your kids in a tent while you are sleeping in another one! I just mean that if you are so worried that you might not wake up if your child tries to leave, even if they have to climb over you to get there, that you could potentially use a zip tie or twist tie on the zipper and a tie back loop if needed to make it more difficult for your child to open it and leave. **
If you have more than one tent, make sure an adult is with the child who wakes in one tent and another adult (even a friend or family member if you are a single parent) sleeps in the other tent with the other children. If your child normally wakes in the night but you know he/she is safe at home and you are still able to sleep at home while they are awake, this obviously won’t be the case when camping. So keep your camping trip short. Even if the first time is just one night. Although two might be better because it might take your child a full day and night to understand what this camping thing is all about. Call the campground ahead to make sure you are not located near the water or pool. Better yet, borrow or rent a trailer so you can lock the door! You might want to test the waters before buying your own. **If you don’t think this will be safe, don’t go camping! Safety comes first!**
My child doesn’t like public washrooms – This is something that is pretty common. Think about all of the sensory experiences in a public washroom. Loud flushing. Large line ups and crowds. Extremely loud hand dryers. Crying babies. Awful smells. Using a public washroom will be a skill in itself that many of our kiddos will have to learn. Again, start with baby steps. Go to a public washroom where there is just a one room washroom to start. Most areas have a “handicap washroom” or family washroom where there is a one room option. Start there. Marinas have single washrooms with showers etc. in them. I’m sure if you asked to borrow one on a regular basis to teach your child the skill of using a public washroom, including the shower since that is what you will find at campgrounds, most would be open to the idea.
Here is an explanation about what I mean when I say break EACH activity down into small steps:
Take the washroom for example. There are several challenges just to using a public washroom. One out of many sensory experiences in the washroom is loud flushing noises. Start there. If your child won’t even flush the toilet at home because the noise is so loud, try using ear plugs or noise reduction earmuffs. If that still doesn’t work, have your child stand outside the door while you flush the toilet for them. Explain that you are going to be helping them get used to noise. They can cover their ears while standing outside the door or even down the hall. Then work your way closer to the washroom. And even closer until you are standing right in front of the toilet. A further step would be to record the toilet flushing so your child can listen to it at a quiet volume and you keep increasing the volume as they can handle it, until they can flush the toilet themselves. This is a great idea for the loud hand dryers as you have no control over who will start it and when. Using a recording at home in their safe space is a good place to start. Practice this daily. Some children are scared of the water twirling and going down the bowl. A simple fix for that is to close the lid before flushing.
Now look at each thing your child despises about the public washroom and break each one down like I did with the toilet flushing. This post is getting too long to do each one, but I think you get the idea. Work on each skill one at a time until they’ve mastered all of them. Then you can attempt a public washroom with many stalls once you think they are ready.
Obviously, there is a lot of prep work to be done. Lots of skills to teach. It might be a lot of work and this isn’t going to be a relaxing holiday for you as the parents/caregivers. It will be exhausting and you will probably need a mini vacay after this family vacation. But if you go into it with no expectations and just the hope that you will have even the smallest success, it will be priceless. Just remember that this camping trip is for your child/children to learn and grow and experience. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. Patience. Time. Baby steps. Practice. That’s all you need. And remember, all of the skills mentioned above won’t just be for camping. They can transfer these skills to other areas in their life. Yes, you might have to practice these skills in other areas as some of our kids have a hard time transferring a skill they’ve learned to somewhere else, but you’ve got the hardest part down!
Good luck! I wish you and your family a safe and memorable summer! xo