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Append Your Camper’s Health Form

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Append Your Camper’s Health Form...

Dr. Chris ThurberIt’s not as bad as your income tax form, but most summer camp health forms are pretty detailed. Beyond the basic demographics, there’s immunization and illness history, allergies, medications, permission to treat, and data from your son or daughter’s most recent physical. And now I’m suggestion you add a sheet of information? That’s right. You know your child better than anyone. Indeed, there are things about him or her that have taken you (and maybe a pediatrician, nurse, or psychiatrist) years to figure out. Without your help, your child’s surrogate caregivers—his counselors or cabin leaders—don’t stand a chance at figuring all that out in just a few weeks.

“But wait,” you protest, “I don’t want my child to be labeled. I don’t want him known throughout camp as The ADD Kid or The IEP Kid or The Prozac Kid.” These are valid concerns. If the camp’s staff isn’t properly trained on parameters of confidentiality and child development, there’s a chance the information you provide on the health form will be disrespected, over-shared, or communicated out of context. Thankfully, more and more staff receive proper training on handling children’s private health information. If the camp doesn’t tell you how they’ll treat confidential information, be sure to ask.

Once assured the camp will respect your son or daughter’s privacy, your next objection might be, “Isn’t camp a purely recreational experience? Why would my child need to continue taking medication at a place that’s just about fun?” The simplest answer to that question is: If the medication is helpful in one setting, it’s likely to be helpful in another. Yes, camp is fun, but it’s also socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and cognitively demanding. In good ways. Camp is a powerful accelerator of positive youth development. And that development is a byproduct of all kinds of healthy risks and challenges, each of which depend on young people’s social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive functioning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not take medication holidays while at camp. However, if you’re considering that option, be sure to discuss it with your child’s prescribing physician and your camp. Keeping camp in the dark about recent medication changes is both unethical and unfair—to your child, her new caregivers, and the camp’s health care team.

So you see, it’s important to complete the camp’s health form honestly and thoroughly. Simply put, your candor and completeness put the camp staff in the best possible position to care for your child. But the health form is generic; your child is a custom entity. For that reason, I urge you to type a paragraph or two describing your son or daughter. Share details about his or her temperament, routines, personal strengths and weaknesses, and social, learning, and coping styles.

The more camp staff understand about what makes your child tick, the better they can meet your child’s needs…and the better experience your child is likely to have. Camp health care professionals and front-line staff are tremendously grateful to read parents’ insightful reflections on the nature of their child. It’s the perfect prerequisite to putting your child in nature.

Enjoy the summer!

Dr. Christopher Thurber

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