The thought of ‘summer camp’ can evoke strong emotions on the part of parents and children alike. These emotions run the spectrum from excitement and fun to fear and anxiety. Camp isn’t for everyone—child or parent. In many social circles it is a status symbol or a family tradition. Neither of these reasons are the appropriate reason for sending your child to camp. The correct reason for providing the ‘camp experience’ is if it is ‘in the best interest of the child. ’
Deciding to camp or not to camp—In the best interest of the child is all well and good, but how does a parent determine what is ‘in the best interest of the child?’ Some questions parents can ask are:
1. Is the camp being used to solve a child care problem?
2. Is this an opportunity for my child to learn, grow and experience life in a unique way?
3. Is my child adventuresome—a risk taker?
4. Does my child enjoy new experiences; is s/he ready to do new things when, or even before I am ready to provide them?
5. Has my child enjoyed overnight experiences with family or friends?
6. Does my child have friends and/or cousins who attend camp?
7. Will camp provide opportunities for my child to enjoy favorite activities?
If you answered ‘yes’ to questions two through seven you have it made. If you answered ‘yes’ to question one only, the odds of success are slim. If you answered ‘yes’ to at least four of questions two through seven, the odds are optimal for a successful camp experience.
Selecting the right camp—the ‘right’ camp is the one that supports the interests of your child. Select three or four camps that have activities that interest your child. Visit these camps without your child to determine if they meet your specifications. Some important issues are: the ratio of camper to counselors, the training and experience of the counselors, medical facilities (especially if your child has on-going medical needs). Check food, diet and menus. Are there choices of activities? Ask for references.
After you have narrowed it down to two or three camps, take your child to visit and allow him/her to choose which camp s/he likes best. Allowing your child to choose is crucial for success. You do not have to decide quickly. Indeed, beware of the camp management which wants a decision quickly.
If your child is reluctant to commit to a camp, gentle encouragement is usually the key in dealing with a reluctant camper. This is probably not the first time your child was reluctant to do something new. What is s/he concerned about? Listen, but do not tell your child that it will be okay or that you can protect him/her—because you won’t be there and that may be the core of the concern. Acknowledge the concern or fear as valid. Children usually have a solution to their own problems. Through careful questioning, allow your child to find the answers. Talk about a similar experience and how it was solved, and the possibility that the new situation could be solved in the same manner.
Your child wants to camp, but you may have concerns. Be careful not to convey your concerns. Avoid phrases like: “Don’t worry about…" Call the camp and state your concerns and rely on your reaction to their response. However, having done your investigation earlier, you really would have only minor doubts.
There remains the possibility that your child did not have a good experience last year and therefore does not want to attend this year; or, positive experience notwithstanding, your child is reluctant. Start at the beginning as if it were the first time. Ask yourself the seven questions, research camps, visit, select and gently encourage. Sometimes parents need to make an executive decision. In the vest interest of the child you may need to make an empathetic, supportive, but not popular decision. After a second negative experience in a different camp, consider, however your child just may not be a camp enthusiast.
One last consideration—your child may voice reluctance to go, or complain about the food, activities, etc. , because s/he is afraid that showing eagerness to go and/or ‘having a ball’ will make the parents feel rejected. Reassure your child that you will miss him/her, but remind your child, “I am glad you have a good time at camp. ’ More often than not you will have a happy camper.
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD is a Life Coach, Single Mother of two adult children and grandparent to four Grandchildren and author, If I’d Only Known…Sexual Abuse in or out of the Family: A Guide to Prevention. http://www.gen-assist.com/book.asp