By Gayla Grace
Sleep-away camp was just what Ally needed in order to gain independence and confidence, marveled her mom, Sharon. “She found a whole new group of girls and had a ball; she’s had a hard time with girls beginning in grade 4,” Sharon says, “so it was great for her to bond with girls in a different setting.” Starting at age 9, Ally went away to camp for a week. The following summer she begged for it to be four. Her parents were delighted.
Time away from parents helps kids learn how to make their own decisions without checking with Mom or Dad first, and residential camp provides the perfect training ground, says Michael Thompson in his book, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow (Random House; 2012).
If you’d like your kids to develop maturity and gain independence (and if you’d like to begin learning to let go yourself!) it’s time to start researching sleep-away camps. Week- or month-long adventures away from home give kids opportunities to experience unique adventures they’d never find at home. Asking other parents what camps their kids attend can be helpful also; having a friend go with your child is a beautiful thing for parents leery of separation.
To find a camp that fits your child’s needs, seek out opinions from friends and neighbors, ask teachers and church counselors, attend camp fairs and explore options on your own. Residential camps of all kinds and sizes are located all across the country, so there’s sure to be one your child can love and from which he can gain valuable skills.
Camp counselor Jamie Newman expresses enthusiasm for sending kids to camp. “Camp encourages kids to try new things and teaches them confidence through new experiences. They learn valuable life lessons when encouraged to work through their fears to try something even if it doesn’t feel comfortable to them. Also, when kids are thrown together in a cabin for a week, they’re forced to learn how to get along with others and often build lasting relationships that can continue when they return home.”
Need more convincing? Here are a few thoughts to consider:
1) Camp builds maturity and allows children the chance to make their own decisions in a safe, caring environment. Kids benefit from new relationships with camp counselors who care about them and want to help them with everyday struggles.
2) Camp forces kids to unplug from technology and enjoy the beauty and benefits of nature. Through outside activities, kids find new hobbies without academic pressure or expectations. Kids gain self-confidence through trying new things and discovering talents they didn’t know they had.
3) Camp teaches good sportsmanship by encouraging each child to be fair and kind. Team activities teach kids how to cooperate with each other and the value of getting along with others though working together and supporting one another.
4) Camp fosters new friendships with kids who come from varying backgrounds – helping kids gain an understanding of how others live outside their community. In a relaxed atmosphere, kids easily make friends while they play, sing, work, eat and bunk together.
5) Camps creates life-long memories of new adventures in places they’ve never experienced before. Camp offers carefree days where kids can learn how to thrive outside the structure of over-scheduled days.
Parents and “Child sickness”
When it comes to sending a child to sleep-away camp, plenty of parents say, “Well, she’s ready for camp, but I’m not ready for her to leave!” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, homesickness is defined as “distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and attachment objects such as parents.” For child sickness, the same can be true except it pertains to what parents experience when their child is away. Those who suffer from the condition feel some form of anxiety, sadness and nervousness, and most distinctly, obsessive preoccupation with thoughts of their child.
“Parents today are more anxious than their peers were 20 and 30 years ago,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association. “That said, the partnerships between parents and camp directors have increased. Parents should share their concerns with camp directors who are prepared to respond with responsible, informed answers.”
Tips for Letting Go
• Let your child have trial runs being away from you by permitting sleepovers.
• Don’t show anxiety to your child – it will make it hard on him.
• Have a plan for yourself: Get a project done that you’ve never had time for, go on a trip with your spouse, etc.
• Remember: two of the greatest gifts you can give your child are confidence and independence.
Bio: Gayla Grace is a writer and mom to five who sends her kids to away camp every summer.