Know thy child: to camp or not to camp

How to avoid the anx­i­ety of sep­a­ra­tion

Richmond Hill Post - - Kids - JOANNE KATES

Par­ents are al­ways ask­ing me: “How will I know?” The easy an­swer has to do solely with sep­a­ra­tion. If your child does sleep­overs (and doesn’t have to come home in the middle of the night!) that’s a pos­i­tive sign of their abil­ity to sep­a­rate from par­ents at camp. Sleep­overs at friends’ houses! Grand­par­ents and cousins don’t count be­cause the sep­a­ra­tion chal­lenge is in­signif­i­cant when kids sleep at a fam­ily mem­ber’s home. Same deal with par­ents go­ing away and leav­ing their child with a beloved nanny or grandma. In their own house! This is not a use­ful mea­sure of a child’s readi­ness to sep­a­rate.

All chil­dren will sep­a­rate. They’ll go off to univer­sity (with or with­out their stuffies) and it will be fine (mostly). But some are ready sooner than oth­ers, and it’s our job as par­ents to gauge that so they’ll be suc­cess­ful when they go off to camp.

It seems para­dox­i­cal, but sum­mer camp, out there in the wide open spa­ces of the forests and the lakes, is in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing for lots of kids be­cause of how crowded it is. Camp din­ing halls, how­ever large they are, tend to be cramped and noisy. Lots of kids at a ta­ble, starv­ing, el­bow­ing each other, rac­ing to get at the food. Sound a lit­tle like Lord of the Flies? We hope not, but it is hec­tic and chaotic and loud. There’s rough­hous­ing, es­pe­cially among boys.

Same deal in the cabin. Your child has their own room at home, or shares with per­haps one sib­ling. Imag­ine 12 sib­lings in a not-so-huge cabin. With am­ple op­por­tu­nity to get on each other’s nerves and in­vade other peo­ple’s space. Es­pe­cially if you’re a young child who’s not a to­tal champ at keep­ing all your stuff un­der con­trol.

Say a kid comes in from swim­ming and is in a hurry to get to archery. Will a wet bathing suit and stinky towel end up on some­body else’s pil­low? Easy for that to hap­pen. Will the child with the wet pil­low have the so­cial skills, the pa­tience and the per­spec­tive to let their frus­tra­tion go? This abil­ity to man­age frus­tra­tion is the kind of so­cial skill that kids learn at camp; but they need to have some of it al­ready in place for camp to work for them.

The other hard thing about camp is the plethora of quick tran­si­tions that pep­per the day. De­spite giv­ing ev­ery child oo­dles of in­di­vid­ual at­ten­tion, the camp day and its ac­tiv­i­ties hap­pen in groups; and the groups switch ac­tiv­i­ties ev­ery hour. They bus­tle to and from meals, they have to get ready for the next ac­tiv­ity. Deeply em­bed­ded in the camp day are dozens of tran­si­tions, which cam­pers need to be able to man­age fairly promptly, lest the group has to get mov­ing with­out them.

Kids who strug­gle or be­come anx­ious with tran­si­tions at home or school are likely to find the tran­si­tions at camp too fast and too fre­quent. If your child needs lots of help tran­si­tion­ing, they’ll need help de­vel­op­ing that skill.

Then there’s the over­stim­u­la­tion. Camp is like Canada’s Won­der­land or Dis­ney World. Any par­ent who has ever wit­nessed the end-of-day melt­down at an amuse­ment park knows what I mean. Camp is gogo-go and with lit­er­ally hun­dreds of peo­ple around. A world of hy­per-stim­u­la­tion with very lit­tle down­time. It’s su­per fun — and hard for some kids.

For a child who re­ally needs their de­com­pres­sion time, camp can be a chal­lenge. That child will need to learn some in­de­pen­dent self-sooth­ing tools be­fore com­ing to camp, in or­der to find calm mo­ments in the ex­cite­ment of the camp day.

It’s ironic that when we take kids away from their screens, many won­der­ful things hap­pen … and one not-so-won­der­ful thing: Kids who re­ally need their down­time, their de­com­pres­sion away from other kids, are get­ting it ev­ery day when they plop down in front of their com­puter at home and play … alone! When we de­prive those kids of their on­screen de­com­pres­sion, the pres­sure can build up in­side them and make camp life hard for them. Some kids find that lack of peace tough. Know thy child!

And fig­ure out if they’re ready for that chal­lenge.

Pre­pare your kids for camp by en­cour­ag­ing sleep­overs

Par­ent­ing colum­nist Joanne Kates is an ex­pert ed­u­ca­tor in the ar­eas of con­flict me­di­a­tion, self-es­teem and anti-bul­ly­ing, and she is the di­rec­tor of Camp Arowhon in Al­go­nquin Park.

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