Should I Make my Kid go to Camp?

I get asked this question frequently, so I’ve created a grid to help you make the decision. Just see what box you and your child fall in, the grid will tell you “yes,” or “no,” and your camp decision is made. Simple as that!

ShouldIMakemyKidgotoCampChart1

Okay, it’s really not that simple. For some families, the camp or no-camp decision is an extremely challenging and stress-inducing activity that often lasts for several years. I understand the stress the decision can cause, because I’ve talked with many parents about it and have experienced an anxious-to-do-anything-new child in my own family. I have some insights as to when to force the camp issue and when to either delay or forgo the experience.

Anxious Kid & Anxious Parent

When you are a fearful, anxious parent and your child is reluctant about going to camp, don’t sign your child up for camp. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of camp (you have a lot of fears about it, can’t stand the idea of your child being homesick, and don’t feel comfortable having your child away from you), and you are not able to express confidence in your child’s ability to succeed at camp, there is a high probability that his camp experience will not be successful. You may not be able to allow your child to go through the difficulty that is often part of the camp experience for an anxious child. Your anxiety and fears about camp may spill over to your already-anxious child, and make it even harder for him to adjust to camp. You will not be able to send your child off to camp with the correct messages, and when your child experiences some normal (or extreme) emotional discomfort, including homesickness, separation, and adjustment issues, he most likely will reach out to you and ask to be rescued. if you’re not braced and ready to experience some parental discomfort, then you won’t be strong enough to provide the encouragement your child needs. If you pick your child up from camp early, his incomplete camp experience may be a negative memory of failure that he thinks of often, even into adulthood. Don’t make your child go to camp if you’re both anxious about it. Wait until one or the other of you overcomes the anxiety. I know from experience that if you as the parent are not “all in,” confident, and ready for your child’s camp experience, then he might not be able to work through the adjustment of camp. Read Homesick and Happy and see if you can gain confidence in the camp experience. Only then will it be a good idea to make your child go to camp.

Should I Make my Kid go to Camp?Anxious Parent & Confident Kid

This isn’t a case of making your kid go to camp. This is the situation where you as the parent are saying, “She’s been wanting to go to camp the past two summers, and I’m finally giving in.” If you have put your child in the position of needing to convince you to let her go to camp, please just let her go. Don’t make this something your adult child will complain to you that she missed out on because of your fears. Read up on how to overcome your own problem – kidsickness – and don’t let your anxiety hold your child back from one of life’s great adventures. Sign her up for camp. Let her go!

Confident Parent & Anxious Kid

If you have an anxious child who really doesn’t like any new experience, camp or otherwise, and you believe camp will be a great growth opportunity for your child, I recommend several key messages to relay to your child about why you’ve made the decision to send her to camp despite her protests. Talk with your child using these messages for anxious camper.Su-C1-0757

Anxious children with parents who are confident about the power of a good camp experience have been the most rewarding campers to work with of my camp career. If you know that camp will be a stretch for your anxious or shy or sensitive or _____________( fill-in-the blank) child, then it may be a good idea to make her go. If you are able to be confident as you search for a camp that’s a good fit, and you can confidently present your child with the reasons why you know camp will be good for her, then camp is probably a good decision. One caution I have is not to send an anxious child to camp when she is too young. Wait until she is at least 9 or 10 years old. If you are prepared to confidently articulate to your child why you are sending her to camp, even when she pulls out all the stops to convince you that it’s a terrible idea, then camp is a good idea.

B-C13-2050Make her go to camp even with her feet dragging, but please talk to the camp director ahead of time so that the staff are prepared for a challenging camper. All of us at camp enjoy the opportunity to work with kids like yours and parents like you, because although challenging campers require a lot of work on our part (especially at the beginning of the session), the growth we see in them is the most rewarding part of our job. These are the campers who have the potential to benefit the most from camp. Overcoming their fears and succeeding at camp can be life changing. Prepare yourself, your camper, and the camp, but, yes, make her go to camp.

Confident Parent & Confident Kid

You don’t need a paragraph. Lucky you. Be thankful. You’ve got an easier parenting job than most of us. And, of course, your kid will love camp and have a great experience.

 

Read more:

Homesick and Happy, a book by Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

Messages for an Anxious Camper

Five Reasons Great Parents Send Their Kids to Camp

“Kidsickness”: Help for First-Time Camp Parents

Homesickness Help

Should I Make my Kid go to Camp? Decision Chart

 

 

 

Sunshine

I'm blessed to have five great kids (ages 12-22) call me “Mom.” As a summer camp director for the past 30 years, I've also had the privilege of working with thousands of kids, college-age counselors, and parents. I follow the latest research and trends on parenting, education, and children’s development and love to share what I learn!

7 Comments
  1. Wow! I think you just taught us a lesson that applies to camp, to auditioning for a play or sports team. If a parent realizes the long-term influence their short-term worries they might make other parenting choices!

  2. Great advice. In promoting my book about sleep-over summer camp, I have heard many stories from adults who were simply sent too early and then never went back. What a shame! Timing is everything and every child is different. You perfectly address this. (btw, ‘Memory Lake; The Forever Friendships of Summer’ is helpful for moms who never went to camp to understand how great it can be.)

  3. My son was a reluctant camper his first time and I was definitely an anxious Mom!! When he returned a week later, he was lit up with joy and now, four years later, two of his closest friends are those that he made on that camping trip. Great post!

  4. Absolutely horrible. ‘Making’ a child participate in an optional extracurricular activity is simply unnecessary. ‘Making’ a child participate in something they don’t feel comfortable participating in is just cruel. You mention waiting until the child is 9 or 10 to force them to attend. Well, a 9 or 10 year old is perfectly capable of deciding on their own whether or not to go on a camp. And if they regret their decision (maybe after hearing that their friends had fun), then maybe it will encourage them to attend the next camp. It’s that simple. No need for this throwing them in the deep end when they say they’re not ready to swim, supposedly for their benefit.

    1. Hi Jean, Thanks for letting me know your thoughts. I understand it doesn’t sound good to “make” our kids do anything they don’t want to do. At camp, our counselors don’t make kids do any specific activity, but they do encourage them to get out of their comfort zone and try new things. Parents know their kids best and need to use their own intuition to know when to push/encourage and when to step back. I’ve written more on this topic of being uncomfortable here: http://sunshine-parenting.com/2016/07/09/why-kids-need-to-get-uncomfortable/ I do know, from many years of camp, that some kids who are not enthusiastic about going but whose parents still feel confident that camp will be good for them and send them do end up benefiting from the experience. But it’s definitely not for every kid. I tried to emphasize in this post that there is a category of kids and parents for whom camp isn’t a good match. Also, there are some kids for whom camp is just way too far outside their comfort zone and they need other experiences. Thank you for taking the time to read and for your comment.

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