By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke
I’ve been married for 23 years to my best friend and am blessed to have five great kids (ages 13-22) call me “Mom.” I’m also a summer camp director, where I have had the privilege of working with thousands of kids, college-age counselors, and parents for over 30 years.
I get asked this question frequently, so I’ve created a grid to help parents make the decision. Just see what box you and your child fall in. The grid will tell you “yes” or “no,” and your camp decision is made. Simple as that!
Okay, it’s really not that simple. For some families, the camp or no-camp decision is an extremely challenging and stress-inducing activity that often lasts for several years. I understand the stress the decision can cause, because I’ve talked with many parents about it and have experienced an anxious-to-do-anything-new child in my own family. I have some insights as to when to force the camp issue and when to either delay or forgo the experience.
Anxious Kid & Anxious Parent
When you are a fearful, anxious parent and your child is reluctant about going to camp, don’t sign your child up for camp. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of camp (you have a lot of fears about it, can’t stand the idea of your child being homesick, and don’t feel comfortable having your child away from you), and you are not able to express confidence in your child’s ability to succeed at camp, there is a high probability that his camp experience will not be successful. You may not be able to allow your child to go through the difficulty that is often part of the camp experience for an anxious child. Your anxiety and fears about camp may spill over to your already-anxious child, and make it even harder for him to adjust to camp. You will not be able to send your child off to camp with the correct messages, and when your child experiences some normal (or extreme) emotional discomfort, including homesickness, separation, and adjustment issues, he most likely will reach out to you and ask to be rescued. if you’re not braced and ready to experience some parental discomfort, then you won’t be strong enough to provide the encouragement your child needs. If you pick your child up from camp early, his incomplete camp experience may be a negative memory of failure that he thinks of often, even into adulthood. Don’t make your child go to camp if you’re both anxious about it. Wait until one or the other of you overcomes the anxiety. I know from experience that if you as the parent are not “all in,” confident, and ready for your child’s camp experience, then he might not be able to work through the adjustment of camp. Read Homesick and Happy and see if you can gain confidence in the camp experience. Only then will it be a good idea to make your child go to camp.
Anxious Parent & Confident Kid
This isn’t a case of making your kid go to camp. This is the situation where you as the parent are saying, “She’s been wanting to go to camp the past two summers, and I’m finally giving in.” If you have put your child in the position of needing to convince you to let her go to camp, please just let her go. Don’t make this something your adult child will complain to you that she missed out on because of your fears. Read up on how to overcome your own problem – kidsickness – and don’t let your anxiety hold your child back from one of life’s great adventures. Sign her up for camp. Let her go!
Confident Parent & Anxious Kid
If you have an anxious child who really doesn’t like any new experience, camp or otherwise, and you believe camp will be a great growth opportunity for your child, I recommend several key messages to relay to your child about why you’ve made the decision to send her to camp despite her protests. Talk with your child using these messages for anxious camper.
Anxious children with parents who are confident about the power of a good camp experience have been the most rewarding campers to work with of my camp career. If you know that camp will be a stretch for your anxious or shy or sensitive or _____________( fill-in-the blank) child, then it may be a good idea to make her go. If you are able to be confident as you search for a camp that’s a good fit, and you can confidently present your child with the reasons why you know camp will be good for her, then camp is probably a good decision. One caution I have is not to send an anxious child to camp when she is too young. Wait until she is at least 9 or 10 years old. If you are prepared to confidently articulate to your child why you are sending her to camp, even when she pulls out all the stops to convince you that it’s a terrible idea, then camp is a good idea.
Make her go to camp even with her feet dragging, but please talk to the camp director ahead of time so that the staff are prepared for a challenging camper. All of us at camp enjoy the opportunity to work with kids like yours and parents like you, because although challenging campers require a lot of work on our part (especially at the beginning of the session), the growth we see in them is the most rewarding part of our job. These are the campers who have the potential to benefit the most from camp. Overcoming their fears and succeeding at camp can be life changing. Prepare yourself, your camper, and the camp, but, yes, make her go to camp.
Confident Parent & Confident Kid
You don’t need a paragraph. Lucky you. Be thankful. You’ve got an easier parenting job than most of us. And, of course, your kid will love camp and have a great experience.
Audrey is a wife and a mother of five, and she has been a summer camp director for over 30 years. This article is from her blog, Sunshine Parenting, sunshine-parenting.com.