Knowing that spending time in nature has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, it’s ironic that getting into those great outdoors can provoke a lot of fearful, anxious responses—especially in small kids.
If you’ve got an anxious little one who could use a dose of wilderness, here are a few pre-trip tips to get everybody in the best frame of mind.
Get Them Involved
Having your kid help plan some aspects of the trip gives them a sense of control, which can help ease anxiety they may have about such a new experience. Let them assist with meal planning, to ensure that they’ll still have things they enjoy eating on the campout, or let them choose some comfort items to pack. If they don’t have basic necessities, like a sleeping bag, take them with you to choose their own. Consider giving them a choice of campgrounds: would they feel more comfortable near water or in a forest?
Keep it Simple
An easy trip may be dull for you, but for anxious kids, it means less pressure and fewer unknowns. Camp close to home to avoid long travel times and plan to camp near your vehicle if possible—backpacking adds a layer of complexity that may be too intense for little ones. The further kids can wander without leaving sight of the tent, the more boldly they can explore and the more confidence they gain in a new environment, so try to choose sites that have interesting features—downed logs, water, and small boulders are all popular choices.
Do Your Homework
Anxiety thrives on the unknown, so hit the books to help your kids get familiar. If you’re going somewhere iconic, chances are good there are picture books and documentaries about it. Loads of popular kids’ characters have gone camping, from Little Critter to Amelia Bedelia and Fancy Nancy, so try to tailor your picks to their interests. Maps won’t go amiss either—if you’ve booked your site in advance, you’ll be able to show your kiddos exactly where you’ll park n’ pitch, and you can use it to tempt them with nearby trails and points of interest.
Do a Test Run
It’s a good idea anyway, especially if you’ve got new gear that wants testing, but pitch your tent in the yard or the living room first. Lay out your bags, stow your gear, and spend the night in there with them. Having a chance to practice sleeping in the tent in a safe environment will build positive associations, and it’ll give them a better idea of what to expect at the campsite.
Plan an escape route
This is worst-case scenario, but it never hurts to be prepared. Figure out in advance what kinds of conditions call for an immediate change of plans—a serious injury necessitating medical care isn’t out of the realm of possibility, even in well-traveled, furnished campgrounds, and unanticipated weather can rain on anyone’s parade—and then figure out how you’ll evacuate your crew. You don’t need to discuss this with your anxious kids, but being able to communicate that you’ve got a plan in the event of an emergency can help ease their fears.