(Image: © Paige Roberts – Fotolia.com)
You did a thorough camp search prior to sending your child to sleepaway camp last summer. You considered coed camps, single sex camps and brother-sister camps. You thought about full-season camps and camps that offered shorter sessions. You narrowed your choices down and toured some camps in session the summer before. Or you had some home visits and/or conversations with camp directors over the winter. You spoke to references and thought that you chose the best sleepaway camp for your child.
Sure there was an adjustment and maybe even a little homesickness when your child was at overnight camp. However, you also got letters from your camper that said “camp is great!” When he got home, your camper said “camp was awesome!”
It is now Fall and your child has told you that he isn’t sure that he wants to go back to sleepaway camp next summer. What should you do? First, stop and take a deep breath. Understand that your child’s feelings are normal. Your child is away from camp. He can recall some feelings of homesickness. He remembers missing you and feeling sad after a few rainy days. Being away from it, maybe your child now thinks that those 4 or 7 weeks of camp seemed long. Believe it or not, for some children returning for the second year is sometimes even harder than going for the first year.
Don’t panic and bail out. When your child is in the mood, try to talk to him so that you can figure out why he is feeling this way. Was it because of a little homesickness? Or was there someone in the bunk that he didn’t get along with? Listen to what your child has to say and do not minimize his feelings. Remind him of some of the positive and fun things about camp and how successful he was. Make some camp playdates or sleepovers. Get your child together with a camp friend or friends who he really liked or connected with. If feasible and if it feels right, have your child attend the camp reunion. Consider a sleepover with a camp friend or a bunk sleepover after the reunion.
Enlist the director to help you. Camp directors deal with this issue more than you think. Talk to your director and get their suggestions on how to get your child back on board. Confirm with the director that the child was in a good bunk for him and, if not, explore changing his bunk. Have the director come for a home visit or skype with your child. Let the director talk to the child about any concerns your child has and let your child feel like there is an adult at camp to help him if he needs it.
Talk to your child about returning to camp when your child raises the subject or when you really must make a decision. But do not talk about it constantly. Follow your child’s lead. When your child is up for it, get him to tell you about some fun things that he did at camp. Have him teach you or his younger siblings some camp songs, cheers or special games. Look at camp photos and watch the camp video yearbook. Show your child the camp newsletter. Talk to him about what he is looking forward to next summer as a returning camper. Ask your child if there is some fun stuff that he wants to bring for Olympics, Color War or July 4th or just to decorate his bunk with.
Be positive whenever you talk about camp and let your child know that you are confident that he can be successful again. Never show him that you have any doubt and certainly never make a deal that he can come home if he isn’t happy. Work through it with your child and enlist the camp to the extent necessary. Let your child return to camp next summer, come to love it and realize what a special place sleepaway camp is.