The camp or no-camp decision is an extremely challenging and stress-inducing activity. Not all soon-to-be campers are excited about their summer schedules. Some children are unsure about spending so much time away from their homes and some parents are downright fearful by the prospect. Yes, most children experience some degree of separation anxiety, and many eventually learn to deal with the absence of their parents without experiencing undue stress. However, assuming that your homesick child will “get over it” might be a false—and even dangerous—assumption to make. As parents, we need to be careful that we aren’t unknowingly harming our children by trying to make them stronger, or by expecting them to do what we did. Talk it over with your child. Before signing up for any camp or an away-from-home activity, talk to your children about it. Ask them how they’re feeling and thinking about these plans. Above all, be sure to acknowledge your child’s feelings as legitimate. Realize that some amount of separation anxiety is normal. You should definitely listen to your children and give their wishes/concerns some weight. Four ideas to help with potential separation issues:
1. Practice shorter separations. If your child is apprehensive about being away from you and from home, it makes sense to work your way up to longer separations.
2. Stay calm and positive. You’ve probably noticed that negativity and worry tend to breed more of the same—and it should come as no surprise that this trend holds true when it comes to your children. If your prospective camper voices worry, acknowledge them, but don’t feed into them by adding your own reservations to the pile.
3. Let your child take “home” with him. Your child may be traveling miles away, but there’s no reason why he/she needs to leave home behind altogether. Send familiar objects with your camper, such as a favorite stuffed animal, a small picture of you, and phone numbers.
4. Don’t be too quick to provide an out. When dealing with separation anxiety, this is often the hardest line of all for parents to walk. If your child is upset and emotional and begs to be with you, you need to first acknowledge their feelings. Try to let them learn to deal with this new situation with the right tools. Stay positive with them and let them know you’re so proud of their “new” independence. Reward this independence with letting them choose what they want for dinner, which movie or game to watch, etc. Let them know there are so many benefits. Many parents give in too soon to their child’s pleading rather than allowing them to work through the feelings and gain more confidence and independence.
Here are 7 benefits (although there are many more) to sending your kid(s) to Summer camp:
1. Unplug. Since our kids are surrounded by technology, day in and day out, it’s so healthy to do other things. Camp is great because it encourages and sometimes requires unplugging from all of that technology.
2. Get moving. With all of that technology, kids tend to be pretty sedentary these days. Camp requires that they get up and get moving. Experiencing the fun activities of camp and getting all of the fresh air that comes with it, is a great experience for kids.
3. Become Better at Making and Keeping Friends. The bonding and friendships that happen at camp are different from those that occur at school and on sports teams. The intensity of living together and experiencing life together, without distractions, creates the ideal setting to form lifelong friendships.
4. Develop independence. You are giving your child the opportunity to live and thrive without being with you and under your constant scrutiny. The growth in confidence and independence happen at camp BECAUSE you are not there.
5. New skills. There are many skills built during camp. From survival skills to social skills to arts and crafts, kids learn a lot while at camp. All of these skills translate to useful skills they will use throughout life.
6. Explore in nature. Many kids, especially if they live in the city, do not really get to experience nature. Summer camp is a fantastic way to get out and explore and learn about nature and all that it has to offer.
7. Relax. You are giving your child a break from the pressures and stress of competitive sports, school, and you.
All in all, for most kids and parents, too, the positive outweighs the negative. Camp experiences can truly help your child grow and learn new things in a more relaxed way that they can’t do during the school year.