The kids are off to overnight camp! Which parent of summer campers are you? Are you one of the “I can’t wait till they’re off” folks, or the “I can’t wait till they come home” types? The former are often parents of veteran campers, or moms/dads who had great overnight camp experiences themselves, and eagerly envision their children experiencing the same. The latter is admittedly more challenging. It’s an uncomfortable feeling…the sense that something is a little “off,” a perpetual worry that plays in your gut, a pensive anticipation at random moments…this is the stuff that extended separations from our children produce in parents of fledgling overnight campers. But fear not, because the experience is not only temporary, but growth-promoting, for parents and kids alike.
What Your Kids Need
They need to know that you’re ok…so that they can be ok! If you focus too much on telling your child how much you will miss them, or anticipate every possible issue or concern that might potentially arise, they may begin to question your belief that they can handle the experience. It is best to envision the best possible outcomes your child may have, and keep that in mind when interacting during the weeks and days leading up to their departure.
They need to know that you believe they are capable. Most overnight camps don’t allow parents to call or text their child while at camp for this very reason: to allow kids to adjust and be successful away from their parents. When your child starts to think of all the “what ifs” that can happen at camp, reassure your camper that she can think through options and problem-solving, as well as taking appropriate risks in reaching out to new friends and camp counselors. The potential for developing self-confidence starts with sons and daughters meeting new challenges with an open mind, and a silenced cell phone.
What You Need
As important as enabling your child to feel competent, is to recognize that you as the parent are capable of enjoying a summer camp break as well! It’s great to spend some time focusing on yourself, or engaging in a little extra couples-time, or perhaps spending some special one-on-one time with other kids or family members while your camper is away. Replenishing your own energy and resources is a great gift to yourself, and provides an important example to your kids about good self-care, as well.
So…what happens if your kid struggles during camp, or wants to come home? Rather than over-react, consider the possibility that a teaching moment has arrived. Would you hop in the car and bring Junior home, acknowledging that it’s too difficult to tolerate loneliness or upset or anxiety (and yes, that includes YOU tolerating those feelings in yourself)? Or, would your child benefit from encouragement that there is something she/he can do to feel better, that the difficult feelings won’t last forever and that they can make choices, both attitude and action-based, that will help them tolerate the experience with an open mind and heart. When a kid learns how to make themself feel better, even just a little bit, it