Children often beg to go to summer camps that parents think are a bad match to the child’s interests or ability. What should you do when your child wants to go to a summer camp that you believe will be a total failure? Here are some insights from The Entitlement-Free Child that will help you to honor the child’s decision-making ability without being a pushover parent. In this particular case, the child wants to attend surf camp but is afraid of sea creatures. The parent is concerned that her son will want to come home as soon as he gets there. She doesn’t want to throw the money away when she knows it isn’t going to work out.
Parents help entitlement-free children understand the expectations of a new venture. They help children fill in the gaps between what they know and what they don’t know—surfer kids are cool, but they also get salt water in their faces and minnows nibbling on their toes.
Give your child the responsibility of choice. If he wants to sign up for camp, he can’t change his mind mid-summer and start something else. The entitlement-free child makes the choice, but it is the guiding parent who helps him understand the decision he’s making. The parent also carries the ultimate veto power.
1. First, find out why your child wants to attend this program, keeping in mind that children are very bad at answering “why” questions. Is he curious about ocean life in books and videos, or is he identifying with a fictitous Nemo? Genuine curiosity is relevant, but fantasy-only suggests that your child may need more maturity before tackling the real situation.
2. Take your child to the ocean while you explain the conditions of the actual class. Children who really want to learn something new may feel ready to conquer mild fears for short periods of time. Watch your child’s reactions in class-like situations. Is your child’s motivation stronger in comparable situations or is it questionable? There’s no shame in not being ready this year if your child is hesitant.
3. Explain the commitment of camp to your child. Registering for camp is more than a day at the beach. It’s a decision about where you want to spend lots of time. Choosing surf camp means not choosing theater camp. Show your child how to make decisions by looking at the pros and cons together.
4. Only make the decision if you confidently believe it’s the right decision and if you are prepared to stand by the decision. For example, if your child has an intense fear of the water after the first week, consider that you will likely regret the decision and have to live with a cranky child for the rest of the summer. You always have the parental prerogative to postpone surf camp until next year, when your child has more skills and adaptability.
The National Camp Association also offers these suggestions on How to Choose A Summer Camp.