How I Cured My Anxiety About Sending My Child to Camp (from a real parent!)
I think there are 3 hurdles parents must overcome when contemplating a first-time camper experience:
- parents understanding how powerful the camp experience is and that it helps the child to grow, become independent, feel confident in their ability to handle things without parental intervention, etc.;
- parents feeling comfortable with their camp choice—will they care for my child and provide a safe environment? what happens if…..
- parents overcoming the void that is left when the child leaves (some parents might not want to send their child back to camp if it was too difficult for the parent). Seeing pics everyday of my child’s camp experience [via the camp’s password-protected third-party photo portal website helped tremendously.
I went to sleepaway camp as a child, and mostly had a great time (even given some not so great times). It was a gift to be able to spread my wings a bit outside of my parents’ guidance. It was my memory of camp that led me to want to send my daughter to camp. In theory, it was easy; in reality, it was a leap of faith.
When my daughter was 12, she was ready (a little on the fence, but that was good enough for me). I was nervous about what she would experience and if it was unpleasant, that I wouldn’t be there to support her, guide her and help her through that unpleasant experience. But I realized that giving her the opportunity to try something on her own is a gift; it’s something that she can be proud of. I tried not to show my fear and nervousness about sending her away and focused on the positives that she would gain as a young person stretching herself.
I’ve seen many children of helicopter parents who don’t know what it feels like when they accomplish something on their own. I didn’t want that for my daughter. I read a book by (psychologist and camp guru) Chris Thurber and chatted with him about the wonders of camp. One of the main take aways I got from that interaction was the importance of not bailing your kid out when things get tough; to let them know that you’re confident in their abilities to work through their situations. It is this mindset that lets the children know that you feel they are capable of growth and wonderful things outside of the umbrella of their parents. As difficult as it is for the children to have confidence to carve out their own path, it can be just as difficult for the parents to let them try.
I looked upon sending my daughter to camp as helping her grow up and allowing her to receive the tools necessary to be independent, self sufficient and happy. My pain is her gain.
Once I was over the hurdle of sending my daughter away, I needed to feel extremely comfortable with where I was sending her. We’re sending our children away to a place with people we don’t know, without cell phones or contact (other than letters). I wouldn’t ever let my child spend the night at a friend’s house if I didn’t know the parents well…what was I doing sending her away for 2 weeks with complete strangers? I think this is the biggest obstacle (at least for me it was). The only thing that got me over the hurdle was talking with the camp director, viewing all the wonderful parent comments and reviews (believe me, I Googled for anything negative). There was one parent who had something negative to say. I spoke with her live and chalked it up to one bad experience.
Overall, I feel thatparents who send their kids away for the first time need to feel that their kids will be cared for, supported, safe and happy. As a skeptic, I believe that no one will market their negatives…So, it’s nice to hear from a kid or parent who experienced home-sickness and how they worked through it. This way it feels real, as though the camp isn’t hiding anything.
What’s interesting is that this year, I’m 100% okay sending my daughter off to Kupugani again. No worries. All good. Obstacle overcome.