It’s summer time again and one thing that goes with summer is summer camp!
Whether you’re deciding between day or overnight camps, Dr. Pete Stavinoha, child psychiatrist from Children’s Medical Center, Dallas helps answer the most common questions about kids camps, how you can get your money’s worth, and what you can do to prepare your children for a fun experience.
(1) How do I pick a camp? First thing you want to think about is selecting camp needs to be based on the child’s interested and parent’s agenda. Dr. Pete encourages parents to think about “can they find a camp that has activities that interest the child. Make sure the child actually likes what the camp has to offer,” and what the parents need in and from the camp.
(2) What if I want them to go to a certain camp and they don’t like it? Don’t send kids to camp in order to make the child like a particular subject or activity. Don’t send them to soccer camp if you have great hopes of your child becoming a soccer star. “If you child has never showed interest in chess or athletics, overnight camps are not the best places to start,” Dr. Pete explains. “Begin with something local and shorter term.” This is an investment and it makes no sense to send a child to camp for two weeks when they are going to get only misery and frustration out of it.
(3) Is he/she old enough? When deciding if a child is old enough for certain camps, the general rule of thumb is day camps are great for younger kids or kids who have not been away from home much. Overnight camps, depending on the child, can be considered around 7-8 years of age. Again, this depends on the child, their maturity level, and what the camp has to offer.
(4) Sending the child away from the bad stuff a good idea? If there is a major change in the family (death, move, divorce/separation, marriage) you might want to consider holding off from sending the child away from the stressor, especially a traumatic one such as death or divorce. “A child would go away from home and stew and thing about what is going on,” explains Dr. Pete. “They will assume what’s happening is catastrophic. Although, it may feel easier for the parent, it may not be the best move.” He adds, “staying together as a family may help each of you better than sending the child away from the ‘bad stuff.’”
(5) Is your child ready for camp? Dr. Pete encourages a trial run. “Do trial runs and overnights at family/friends’ houses. This gives a clue to the temperament of the child and what he/she can handle.” If there has been no experience with being away from home, Dr. Pete suggests day camps. “These are a good place to start.”
(6) What if they want to come home? Dr. Pete says to “always have an escape plan.” If a child calls from camp and wants to come home, Dr. Pete explains for parents to take a moment before jumping in the car. “Take clues from your child’s temperament. What is normal for the child?” He adds, “ask yourself is this child normally independent and is asking to come home or just experiencing homesickness?”
First, get your child to calm down and find out if they really want to leave. You can use stall tactics by listening to concerns and their worries. “Give them an out that buys some time and let’s them settle down a little bit. Saying things like ‘Let’s talk again tomorrow or in a day or so and we can talk about other things you can do (at camp).’
Word of warning Dr. Pete emphasizes is “don’t talk about coming home because the child will focus on that.”
He also adds “if the parent has the sense the child is miserable, that would be a good time to think of an escape, an out,” but he suggests you praise their accomplishments. “When a child handles it and they come home with happiness, play up their independence by saying something like ‘you’re really impressive and you did all these things on your own. Tell me what you learned.
(7) How do you calm my own nerves when sending my children to camp?
“It’s all about the homework. Parents need to anticipate conditions and situations that will come up, but also do your homework about the camp and find one you are comfortable with,” encourages Dr. Pete. “Don’t send your kids away when you are going to be anxious to an extreme.” He also suggests choosing a camp were the child can go with an older sibling, a family member or friend. Does it help when they go with friend, can calm the nerves especially if the child has gone to camp or similar experience.
(8) How do I know a camp is safe? Again, do your homework. Find out how they conduct background checks on staff, the proximity of major medical facilities and medical availability on site, and the education and training of staff. Additionally, Dr. Pete suggests, “you can talk to former campers and their families.” You can also conduct web searches of the camp and see if any reviews are posted.
(9) What are some great ways to make the process of getting ready for camp fun? This can be a fun process for you and your child. “As parents, we almost feel we are doing our kids a favor by doing everything for them, but let the child participate in this preparation,” encourages Dr. Pete. “Creating and atmosphere that is going to be fun for you and the child is a good investment.” Make sure the child knows their medical information and how to take their medications if necessary.
(10) What is a good amount of time for my child to be gone to camp? “It depends on the individual child,” explains Dr. Pete. “In regard to age, my general suggestion is not more than a week for children between 7-8 years old and a couple of weeks for children 9-12 years old.” But Dr. Pete emphasizes again that you have to judge this by your own child.