Summer camp is in full swing for many children of all ages across the country. For kids, it is the absolute best time of the year. For parents, it can be stressful, emotional, and absolutely overwhelming. It’s a new routine.
If it’s a sleepaway (or overnight) camp, your children will be away from home for days or weeks. It’s a foreign environment and a totally different set of rules and relationships; for parents, it can be a lot to process. So, here’s what you need to remember above all: Camp. Is. The. BEST.
Psychologists, parenting experts, and early childhood development professionals agree that summer camps and sleepaway camps offer some of the most valuable developmental experiences that kids can access in their formative years.
According to Michael Ungar, Ph.D., “summer camps are places where children get the experiences they need to bolster their range of coping strategies.” That can include everything from conquering the ropes course to learning how to get along with peers. All these experiences make kids more resilient and allow them to feel like they are a part of something as they develop emotionally.
Elizabeth Reichert, Ph.D., child and adolescent psychologist at Stanford Children’s Health, agrees that camp is full of “opportunities to connect with peers in a non-academic setting, and those opportunities are rich for social skill development, like practicing how to get along with a new peer group, learning how to ask for help, etc.”
If you are preparing for your children to go to summer camp, or if they’re already there and you’re dealing with your own emotional rollercoaster as you think about their return, here are some camp insights to consider for parents.
You Will Miss Them
They might miss you too, and they might not. It’s all ok. Don’t be alarmed if they write you a letter that they are homesick or feeling sad. And don’t feel bad if they don’t miss you at all. All of the emotions experienced at camp are normal, and it’s actually healthy for children to demonstrate a mixture of feelings each day. Learning how to cope with those feelings without you is a part of the process.
They Will Encounter Obstacles and Learn to Deal with Them on Their Own
Remember that this is a really good thing. In fact, it’s a huge part of why you send your kids to camp. Facing adversity and learning to find solutions on their own is a life lesson they will rely on in virtually every phase of life. Camp is not supposed to be easy all the time. Safe risks and challenges are essential.
They Will Have the Time of Their Lives
They will try new things, try new foods, make new friends, and learn valuable lessons that will last a lifetime. And if they don’t want to come home, who can blame them? It’s not you; it’s just that camp is that special. Celebrate the fact that you are able to provide them with the ultimate gift of summer camp.
And When They Do Come Home, They Might Act Differently
Remember that they spent their summer testing out new behaviors, being extremely independent, working with a unique set of camp rules, and largely making their own decisions. That leads to new habits and a different way of behaving, which may or may not be appropriate when they come home and return to school and real life. Prepare for those new habits and for the adjustment period that will take place as they recalibrate to home life.