The natural place for your child to find support is at a diabetes camp. Once limited in numbers, camps seem to be everywhere now. While some older kids may be resistant to a diabetes camp experience, it's in their best interest that you push them to give it a try. A week, or more, spent in a place where everyone understands, everyone is on board, and everyone has to do the same things can be more than therapeutic to a child; it can be life-changing.
How Long and at What Age
For the most part, children need to be eight or older to attend the overnight programs, but there are exceptions. Some “mini camps” last just a few nights and take younger children. Others will consider taking younger children after meeting them and seeing they are capable of the experience. How do you know if your child is ready? A simple first step is to talk to him and then talk to the camp about him.
A great resource for finding a diabetes camp in your area is the Diabetes Education and Camping Association's Web site,
For children who have a diabetes buddy, camp may be an easier sell. Even if your child doesn't have a friend to go with, show him the camp's Web site and he'll see that all the children have fun there. Point out that the camp isn't a week-long lesson on diabetes; rather, it is a classic camp that intertwines life with diabetes with life as a regular camping kid.
While younger children (say, nine and under) may want to opt for a shorter camp time, most kids want at least two full weeks. Camp programs tend to run through a session-long agenda, and children who leave early will feel as if they are missing something. If you do decide to send your child, try at least a full two-week session. They'll thank you for it. For younger children who are not ready, consider day camp. It's just as good but without the sleepovers.
What Makes a Good Camp?
A good camp has a background of helping kids with diabetes. A good camp has medical staff on-site, including nurses in almost every cabin and an endocrinologist on-site at all times. Alumni participation is a definite sign of a good camp; warm feelings that last a lifetime usually mean something special is going on.
Will my child outgrow camp?
Not if you encourage her to work as a counselor. Diabetes camp counseling is a win-win-win situation. Your child is in a safe environment, has a steady summer job, and is being a role model for younger kids with diabetes.
Good camps have lots of regular camp activities and are not right out front with diabetes education. Put aside your visualization of your child sitting in a classroom with a lecturer pointing at a diagram of a pancreas. Good camps blend it all: like the camp play that spoofs
Ask any camp you are considering for a sample weekly activity schedule. It will give you a glimpse into how they do things, what types of activities they stress, and the importance they placed on certain diabetic concerns.
Without a doubt, the best thing that good camps do is gather kids so they have time just to talk. Campers repeatedly tell their parents that while they love their family and home, their camp friends are the only people who truly understand. That's because they're tucked away in a cabin with their true and complete peers: a group of same-age kids who are battling the same disease. It's a powerful experience.
Parental Involvement During Camp
Most good camps will ask parents from the start if they want to be called every time a dose change is considered, or if they want to leave it up to the camp's medical staff. Here's a suggestion (and this is a personal decision): Leave it up to the camp staff. One of the beautiful things about camp is that it gives parents and caregivers, who are now 24/7 medical caretakers, time off. Caring for a child with diabetes can be all-consuming and exhausting, and it comes with burnout. Letting the camp take control for a couple of weeks can be just the boost you need to face the next year of care.
In addition, there are so many changes at camp. Kids go nonstop. They are often hot. Most kids need way less insulin at camp than at home, so being called constantly about these kinds of questions without being able to be there might provide even more stress. If your camp is staffed with medical professionals and most of the counselors have diabetes themselves, consider taking a break. You'll find you look forward to it each year.