Every year 10 million children attend summer camps, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website StoptheBullyingNow. It’s likely that a significant number of those children are asking to come home before the last day of camp, maybe even your own child. A wise and experienced camper, Cathy Berkowitz, educator director at Camp Ramah Darom, told me that all parents should expect some homesickness. Many parents should expect that heart-wrenching “I hate camp” letter. It’s all part of the camp coming-of-age journey.
Here are a few helpful tips to respond with love and support when your child asks to quit summer camp:
- Accept your child’s temperament. Children’s temperament is the strongest influence on how quickly they adapt to a new camp experience, even a once-a-year camp experience. A child with an easy going temperament is the one who doesn’t look back to wave good bye. Children who need time to adapt to change don’t need to miss out on camp. They do need time for emotional skill-building to adjust to new situations.
- Parental attitude is the second major influence. If you want your child to be confident and resourceful, you’ll want to be a great role-model. When in doubt, act “as if” – “as if” you know you’re child is always safe, “as if” someone will be there to love and support your child like you do, “as if” he is ready for new experiences.
- Expect homesickness the first 2 weeks of sleep away camp. For that reason, one week mini-camp sessions are not recommended for children with slow-to-warm up temperaments. Some children need more time to work through feelings of homesickness. Parents also need a plan and a support network to deal with their own feelings of helplessness being so far away: talk to friends with older children, give yourself permission to let go, plan constructive distractions for yourself while your child is away. PBSKids It’s My Life has these helpful suggestions written for kids in Summer Camp: Homesickness. Review this with your child before camp and send along a copy with her.
- Trust the ability of camp staff to handle the situation. Youth counselors are trained to distract and engage children in FUN. Parent liaisons are there for one-on-one hand holding. Medical staff knows all about “stomach aches” and other assorted trips to the clinic. Social/emotional skill-building is part of every camp experience. The staff has the experience and the desire to make this a positive experience for your child.
- Follow camp rules and recommendations. Some 4-week camps do not have “Parent Days” because it’s harder for the kids to connect and say good-bye again. Cell phones may not be the ideal form of communication for children who struggle with splitting their attention between home and camp. Letters are better. Check out photos your child’s day on the camp’s website. You don’t really need daily updates. Camp days force parents to wait to hear about the successes and the day-to-day dramas.
Anticipate success, not failure. The benefits of camp are enormous: independence, social skills, conflict management, emotional development. Your child learns things you can’t teach by bunking with other kids in a wonderful, new place. Give your child time to learn and grow. Children have to go through a few bumpy emotions in order to become successful in new things. Summer camp is a time of independence and growth for children and for parents.
Watch Karen discuss Kids & Summer Camp on South Florida’s The Morning Show.