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Second Try at Sleep-away Camp?

Parenting Pro Has Thoughtful Advice

Last year, we signed up our oldest child for a week of sleep-away camp and lost money when he insisted on coming home after just a day-and-a-half. He says he’s ready and he wants to give it another shot. What should we do?


It’s commendable that you are giving your son’s request to return to camp some extra thought and concern so that you can make the best decision for him and your family. You are off to a good start in deciding what to do. Without knowing the age of your son and the specifics about his early return home from camp, I will share a few thoughts for you to consider.

Help identify his feelings. Explore with your child his reasons for wanting to return to sleep-away camp. What are his hopes, expectations, and worries? He may have fears about a repeat of last year or disappointing you and himself. Rather than simply looking forward to camp and being excited about the prospect, he may have some lingering concerns. You can help him feel less anxious by assuring him of your love and support, no matter what the final decision is about camp. Difficult as it might be, try to avoid dwelling on the money that was lost last summer, as this may add undue pressure.

Start small and practice. Find ways for your child to spend time away from home throughout the year, well before trying summer sleep-away camp again. These might include sleepovers at a relative’s or close friend’s home, day camps, weekend camps, and other programs he attends away from you, and perhaps without the connection of technology (for example, not contacting you throughout the day by cell phone).

Reduce pressure. Is there a way to remove some of the pressure your child might feel about going to sleep-away camp in the first place? Just because school friends or older family members have accomplished this developmental step doesn’t mean your child has to do the same. Support him and help him realize this is something fun he can do, but he doesn’t have to go to a sleep-away camp.

Explore your own motivation. What are your memories of sleep-away camp? Was camp an opportunity you had and enjoyed, so you want this for your child? Was camp something you always wished you could have done, so you want this for your child? Explore your feelings about sleep-away camp to make sure you aren’t unwittingly pressuring him in any way to make this happen sooner rather than later.

Brainstorm with your child about camp alternatives. Sleep-away camp can be helpful developmentally and also very enjoyable for many children. But sleep-away camp is not for every child, and that’s okay, too. There are many fun ways to help your child increase his independence, explore his interests, and develop close, lasting friendships – right here in Richmond.

Approach camp with calm. If you do decide to send your son to camp again, approach this with calm, routine preparations rather than too much excitement and emotion. For example, buy a few new things for him to take, but not a trunk full of camp necessities. Talk some about the camp, but also about all of the other activities he is involved with and the other things your family will be doing this summer.

Remember how important you are in your child’s development. The most important thing is that your child feels your love and support no matter what the decision about camp is, that he has opportunities for summer fun with his friends and family, and that he feels good about himself and his abilities. You are your child’s biggest support as he navigates the challenges of growing up – some of them normative and some of them unexpected. The open conversations you have with your child around these difficult experiences can bring you closer, help your child feel even more supported by you, and prepare you and him for the next turn in the road.

Jennine Moritz is a mother of three and a licensed clinical psychologist with more than twenty-five years of experience working with children and families in the Richmond area. She is co-founder of Partners in Parenting, a unique model combining a specialized child and family mental health practice and a non-profit, Advocates in Parenting, that focuses on parent support, research, training, and advocacy.
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