Well, the summer has arrived. Your sweet baby, your little one (now maybe nine, ten, or eleven years old) is heading off to his first sleep-away camp, and while you know he or she is ready, you are feeling nervous. Maybe even downright worried. The questions swirl: Will she stay safe? Will he reapply his sunblock? Will she make friends? Will he ask for help if he needs it? Will he or she miss me? And even worse, what if they don’t?
To help your child get off to camp on a positive note, I have a compiled a quick Do’s and Don’ts list!
- Tell your child you will come get him from camp if he is sad and misses home. Dr. Michael Thompson, author of Raising Cain, and his newest book, Homesick and Happy, maintains that when we say that to our children, we are eroding their belief that they can cope. We are also sending a message that the camp cannot handle it. We are hurting their efforts before they even try, not what we want to do.
- Tell your child that you believe in them. Make a list of the different things that your child can do if he or she is feeling lonely and homesick. For instance, write a letter home, keep a journal, make a piece of art, talk to a counselor, find a friend, etc. Let them know that it is normal and okay to feel homesick, and lots of other campers feel the same way. The whole camp is ready to help you.
- Try to over-monitor your children. Don’t ask them to jump into photos for the camp’s website, sneak them a cell phone, ask to write you everyday, etc.
- Expect to hear very little from your children. A happy camper is a child who becomes immersed in the camping community and therefore, has amazing and new experiences. You child is too busy and happy to be thinking about you, and this is a good thing. Know you have done your job, as a parent, when your child can fully enjoy something like sleep-away camp!
- Think they are going away for too long of a time. The experts recommend at least two weeks for sleep away camp, four weeks is even better!
- Acknowledge that, yes, it feels long to you and it is okay for you to miss your children! BUT, most children over nine years of age need to be at a camp for at least two weeks to receive the full benefit of the community spirit. Four weeks is really not too long!
- Think that the sports/ballet/math camp is going to yield any great results unless your child is really excited to go. If your child begged to go to cheerleading camp, then great, but if this was your idea…don’t expect much return, in terms of skill-building.
- Simply ask if they had a great time, made friends, etc. Don’t check their skills; just let the experience be their own. And make note for next summer: if your child did not appear to be enthusiastic about her skills camp, you may want to rethink your choices for camp next summer!