Perhaps the question should be, “When is mom or dad ready to send their child to overnight camp?” I often find that it’s the parent who is more anxious than the child.
I’m not saying that we’re all helicopter parents, but I am reminded of the comment a trustee of a Christian college once shared. He was amazed by the number of parents who tried to obtain on-campus housing for THEMSELVES so that they could be close to their student.
Presumably, they felt they needed to be there to help the young adult whenever necessary.
Many parents DO find it hard to imagine their child at overnight camp for a week or longer. Add the fact that many, if not most, camps ask campers to leave their cell phones at home and the anxiety level can skyrocket.
That means you can’t check to see if your child is doing OK. And you’re not available if they need help.
But…if you can get over your own anxiety, then every indication is that your child will gain confidence and independence.
So, if you’ve never sent your child to overnight camp, but you’re willing to admit that it could be a very good thing, then the question becomes how to tell if she or he is ready.
For me, the biggest question is, “Whose idea is it?” That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to mention or discuss camp in any way until your child brings it up.
It just means that after she has had a chance to learn about camp through a brochure, website, video, camp tour, etc., you can ask, “Would you like to go to camp?” If she says, “Yes,” then give it a go. If she says, “No,” then wait until next year. If the answer is “Maybe,” then here are some other things to consider:
Has he had an overnight outing before at a friend or relative’s house? While it may be possible for a child to attend overnight camp without ever having stayed overnight anywhere, it’s probably not a good idea if his answer to whether or not he wants to go is “Maybe.”
Does she handle basic tasks of living such as washing up, brushing teeth, and getting dressed on her own? This doesn’t mean she does it without being reminded (even nagged), but once she decides to do it, can she do it without help?
Is he able to express his needs appropriately? Being able to say he needs to go to the bathroom, doesn’t understand an instruction or that he would like seconds are examples of basic expressions that are helpful in navigating camp life. If he can say it to you or a teacher, you can feel comfortable that he’ll tell his counselor.
If your answers to these questions are mostly yes, then her “Maybe” can become a “Yes,” especially if you decide to find a friend to go with her.
We think the best way for a first-time camper to attend overnight camp is to go with a friend. This can reduce their (and your) anxiety as they encounter new experiences, learn new skills together AND make new friends; together.
Finally, just because a child is shy or introverted doesn’t mean she or he can’t have a great time at overnight camp. (You may have noticed that I didn’t raise any questions about whether your child makes friends easily or gets along well with others.)
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is on a mission to help our society realize how we undervalue introverts. We do the Myers-Briggs personality inventory with our summer camp leadership team every year and it’s amazing how many of our “lifers” are introverts.
“Lifers” are campers who become summer staffers, many of whom end up on our leadership team. While this is anecdotal, I’d be willing to suggest that introverts actually get more out of summer camp because of the emotional safety that is developed in their cabin community.
It’s not that extroverts don’t enjoy it, as well. It’s just that overnight camp provides a sense of connection that is not available many places outside the home.
So, like life, there is no easy answer to the question, “When is your child ready for overnight camp?” YMMV (your mileage may vary).
Finding the right time is a judgment call that depends on you, and your child. The good news is, you can’t go wrong. If, at some point, you’re both willing to try, then it’s worth a try.
I did a church visit this weekend and a mom came up to me after the first service. She shared that her son had come to camp few years ago and didn’t have a good experience, so he hadn’t been back.
At the end of church, he said to her, “I can’t wait to go to camp!” which really surprised her. Just goes to show, there’s a right time for most children to go to overnight camp, even if we’re not sure quite when.
If you have wisdom to share, please comment. Thanks!
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