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Alfy04

Extreme Anxiety at Summer Camp

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Advice needed…

My son is 12 and this is his second year of summer camp (this week). He was not In cub scouts prior to this.  He has always been very social and enjoys being around other kids and doing activities. He is also active in theater and prefers being with people often. When he joined this troop (about a year and a half ago) three of his best buddies ended up following him so they could all be together. He Attended summer camp last year by himself before his buddies joined  this troop and before he knew anyone. He got through the week but said that he had such bad anxiety that he woke up crying every night. When he got home he said it was miserable and he never adjusted. To be honest I never saw this coming and he said he didn’t realize it either. Over the past year he  has gone on several camping trips with his troop and has always had extreme anxiety. Apart from camping ,however, he enjoys hanging out with his patrol and they are a large close knit group of boys. This week he is at camp again and his camp related anxiety has gotten worse.  He had a full-blown panic attack and was crying for several hours yesterday.  He got himself so worked up that he threw up and continued to throw up today. .  Have any of you experienced anxiety attacks with kids this severe? He feels overwhelmed by all the people, the pressure, the requirements, the classes and sleeping outside causes extreme anxiety.  Prior to him joining scouts I never realized he had this type of anxiety. He’s always been able to go on sleepovers and be away from home without issue. This is his fifth or sixth camping trip with his current troop. The anxiety issue has not gotten better with exposure but seems to be getting worse. He wants to go home and is miserable (on day 2).  My husband (his dad) Is concerned that if he doesn’t push through this he will never be willing to try again. I am concerned that if it’s this bad maybe Scouts is just not for him and we need to get him some treatment for his anxiety And find an activity other than Scouts. It seems to be more than just normal homesickness that goes away after a day or two.  Right now he has hardly eating and barely functioning and crying constantly. If things don’t improve by tomorrow I feel like he needs to come home. His dad feels like he needs to stick it out. Does anyone have experience in dealing with this type of thing? 

 

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@Alfy04, welcome to the forums. 

Leave him at camp. 

Heres my question for you?  Why isn’t his troop camping every month, and why isn’t he going camping?

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10 minutes ago, John-in-KC said:

@Alfy04, welcome to the forums. 

Leave him at camp. 

Heres my question for you?  Why isn’t his troop camping every month, and why isn’t he going camping?  

His troop has gone camping almost every month or every couple months.  He was in a very small troop for the first few months that never once went camping. When he transferred to this current troop his first and only experience camping was summer camp. After that he went on an additional 4 or 5 camping trips over the past year. The anxiety has not gotten better with exposure.  I would like to hear from people who have actually dealt with scouts that have had extreme anxiety that has not improved with exposure.  If I was convinced that this would get better with making him go every single month then I’d be the first one to support that, But I question at this point whether forcing him over and over again to do something that triggers extreme anxiety is helping.  

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I've never had a Scout who got to the point of crying for hours, but it could easily have been my oldest son.  He is 18 now and earned his Eagle rank last fall.  He has dealt with severe social anxiety for many years.  He started Scouts as a Tiger Cub in 1st grade, so he has grown up in Scouts and camping.  However, his anxiety is one of the reasons that I got started as a leader 12 years ago, actually being the Committee Chair for 10 years and now 2 years as Scoutmaster.  My being there eased his anxiety to where he can function.  He learned a long time ago that I'm not there as dad, I'm there as Scout leader.  I didn't want to bring any dad/ son issues from home to Scouts, so I stayed out of their way to let the Scouts lead & function as a Patrol.  But by me being there, he was able to function and be a part of the Troop without having his anxiety/ breakdowns.  Is there any chance that you or his dad could be active, at least as another adult on the outings or to spend some time at camp?  I know there are several who will say to leave him and let him get past the anxiety on his own.  But having a son who can be paralyzed by his anxiety, I have become much more sympathetic to the youth who have very real issues. Many of these issues will not be overcome by just "sucking it up and dealing with it". However, there is certainly a time for some Scouts to just suck it up and get over it.  As the Scout leader, it isn't always easy to discern which Scouts need which level of response. 

As far as making him do things that trigger his anxiety, I will add that from the time he was young, we have been easing him into uncomfortable situations.  Things like making him start to order his own food at a restaurant.  This forced him to look at a menu and find what he wanted.  It forced him to speak clearly and loud enough for the cashier/ server to hear his order.  I would also let him answer questions about his order (i.e. do you need any sauces?).  There have been many things like this that I have pushed him into, some of which have been very hard for him.  But over the years, we look back and see that each step has moved him towards dealing with his anxieties. It's much easier to deal with that level of anxiety knowing someone who knows you is nearby. 

I say all of that to say that you know your Scout the best.  I hate for his anxiety to keep him from all that Scouting has to offer.  Scouting can offer him ways to face and deal with his anxiety.  Look for ways that you can help him to deal with it & support him, while maintaining some distance and give him room to excel and thrive, knowing that he isn't having to do it alone. It may mean that you or dad end up on Troop campouts.  There are certainly worse things than that. 

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1 minute ago, awanatech said:

I've never had a Scout who got to the point of crying for hours, but it could easily have been my oldest son.  He is 18 now and earned his Eagle rank last fall.  He has dealt with severe social anxiety for many years.  He started Scouts as a Tiger Cub in 1st grade, so he has grown up in Scouts and camping.  However, his anxiety is one of the reasons that I got started as a leader 12 years ago, actually being the Committee Chair for 10 years and now 2 years as Scoutmaster.  My being there eased his anxiety to where he can function.  He learned a long time ago that I'm not there as dad, I'm there as Scout leader.  I didn't want to bring any dad/ son issues from home to Scouts, so I stayed out of their way to let the Scouts lead & function as a Patrol.  But by me being there, he was able to function and be a part of the Troop without having his anxiety/ breakdowns.  Is there any chance that you or his dad could be active, at least as another adult on the outings or to spend some time at camp?  I know there are several who will say to leave him and let him get past the anxiety on his own.  But having a son who can be paralyzed by his anxiety, I have become much more sympathetic to the youth who have very real issues. Many of these issues will not be overcome by just "sucking it up and dealing with it". However, there is certainly a time for some Scouts to just suck it up and get over it.  As the Scout leader, it isn't always easy to discern which Scouts need which level of response. 

As far as making him do things that trigger his anxiety, I will add that from the time he was young, we have been easing him into uncomfortable situations.  Things like making him start to order his own food at a restaurant.  This forced him to look at a menu and find what he wanted.  It forced him to speak clearly and loud enough for the cashier/ server to hear his order.  I would also let him answer questions about his order (i.e. do you need any sauces?).  There have been many things like this that I have pushed him into, some of which have been very hard for him.  But over the years, we look back and see that each step has moved him towards dealing with his anxieties. It's much easier to deal with that level of anxiety knowing someone who knows you is nearby. 

I say all of that to say that you know your Scout the best.  I hate for his anxiety to keep him from all that Scouting has to offer.  Scouting can offer him ways to face and deal with his anxiety.  Look for ways that you can help him to deal with it & support him, while maintaining some distance and give him room to excel and thrive, knowing that he isn't having to do it alone. It may mean that you or dad end up on Troop campouts.  There are certainly worse things than that. 

In rereading your post, has he given any reasons for his camp anxiety?  The woods do get very dark and, surprisingly noisy, at night.  Can he point to anything in particular that bothers him?  Is it primarily during the day? Or night?  

 

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I would say this kid needs some counselling to get to the bottom of it, and finding ways to cope with it. I've had kids on the autistic spectrum not be able to cope with certain aspects of certain camps, one had to go home in the middle of the night. Not great. 

My uninformed and unprofessional guess is maybe he's catastrophising, and that's working him up, and him getting worked up is slipping into a vicious cycle where he's worrying about getting so anxious, which is making everything worse, making him more anxious, which is worrying, and all rationality goes out the window. He's probably getting anxious at the knowledge that he'll be crying and having an anxiety attack when he goes to bed on camp, what will his friends think, and he feels powerless to stop it.

My guess is the best thing would be someone calm and rational to talk to, even in the middle of the night, plus some counselling to give him some tools and coping strategies.

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Posted (edited)

I see this all summer long! I work at a Boy Scout camp in the first year scout program so I’m working with be youngest in camp. I don’t want you to think that this isn’t atypical. 

I’m not entirely sure how a Cub Scout summer camp works, but I’m assuming it’s somewhat structured like a Boy Scout one. Have your leaders tell the staff that he interacts with throughout the day. They can help keep him engaged and keep his mind off home. This usually works for scouts I work with. Small tasks such as getting something for me, holding something, has a huge impact on them since it makes them feel more needed and that they belong there.

Staff at camps are usually pretty good about dealing with homesickness.

Edited by ItsBrian
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Did he go home  early or were you with him last year? I ask because only twice have I seen anxiety like what you are describing with a 2nd year, or later, camper. First time was a camper who left early his first summer. Long story short camp was literally down the road from mom, mail made him homesick, and she picked him up Wednesday, we had a chat with mom about the letters and about not picking him up the 2nd year. Yes, he was severely homesick, but he made it through.

The second instance was more complicated. This was an 18 year old camp staffer working staff for the first time. Dad was his SM and they did everything together: camp outs, summer camp as a camper, even a HA trip. Outside of Scouting, whenever he did out of town sports trips, dad went with him, although dad was doing his own thing. Long story short, Staffing camp was the first time he was away from dad ever. He did OK the first year, and is working camp again.

 

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I don't think anxiety is the same as home sickness. I tend to agree with Ian, this is beyond our abilities. As they tell us in first aid training, don't try and solve problems above one's training.

That doesn't mean just bring him home and give up. The goal is still to get him comfortable camping. You just have to find plan B.

 

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I have found that Wednesday is the hump day.  Tuesday is the worst for them.  Once they realize they get to go home soon their anxiety clears.

Having an older scout or even a scout leader regularly talk with him will help.   They look up to the older scouts and having them talk with them and tell them it will be ok helps a lot.  Adults carry much less influence.

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15 hours ago, Alfy04 said:

Have any of you experienced anxiety attacks with kids this severe? 

Yes, I have. I sent him home. Why keep him at camp if he is not enjoying it?

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16 hours ago, Alfy04 said:

This is his fifth or sixth camping trip with his current troop. The anxiety issue has not gotten better with exposure but seems to be getting worse. He wants to go home and is miserable (on day 2).  My husband (his dad) Is concerned that if he doesn’t push through this he will never be willing to try again. 

This is probably true. If he has tried it 5 or 6 times, and still doesn't like it, then he has given it a fair shot and should find some other activity. How about baseball? 

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Thank you all so much for your input. I am happy to report that he is doing much better today and even signed up for another merit badge class.  My hope is (however) is that he would be able to do more than just “survive” the week- that he would actually make some great connections, deepen his friendships and have fun along the way. I think that scounting has so many great benefits for kids and I am hoping And praying he can actually see the value of it himself.  

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2 hours ago, MattR said:

I don't think anxiety is the same as home sickness. I tend to agree with Ian, this is beyond our abilities. As they tell us in first aid training, don't try and solve problems above one's training.

That doesn't mean just bring him home and give up. The goal is still to get him comfortable camping. You just have to find plan B.

 

Thank you. I completely agree with this. If things did not improve by today we were going to take him home. Thankfully he’s doing better. 

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1 hour ago, David CO said:

This is probably true. If he has tried it 5 or 6 times, and still doesn't like it, then he has given it a fair shot and should find some other activity. How about baseball? 

I agree with you. We are going to have to really evaluate scouting in general when he gets home. Even though scouting can be a great thing it may not be a good fit for everyone under every circumstance - And there are other valuable activities he can focus on.

1 hour ago, David CO said:

This is probably true. If he has tried it 5 or 6 times, and still doesn't like it, then he has given it a fair shot and should find some other activity. How about baseball? 

 

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