Overnight Camp: When to Push Your Reluctant Child

Is it right to send a child to sleepaway camp if he or she is strongly opposed to it?

“Absolutely not,” says Gordie Kaplan, executive director of the American Camp Association in Chicago. “The camper is going to fight the experience, and maybe have homesickness, and not make it through the session.” Even worse, the child’s quest to prove mom and dad wrong will make everyone around them unhappy, too.

However, not every expert feels that way. Don’t give up, says Beth Levine, a social worker at The Family Service Center of Wilmette. “Your reasons for sending your child to overnight camp should coincide with what they want.” Help them find the positive in the experience.

Why rally for camp?  

Studies show overnight camp is great preparation for college, Levine says. Campers experience much less homesickness and greater independence. Why?

“They learn to negotiate the world around them,” says Enid Grabiner of Camp & Teen Travel Consultants in Northbrook. They make their beds, wash their clothes, navigate friendships and manage conflict.

It also presents them with opportunities to speak up for themselves. For example, if they don’t like the food, they learn how to say, “I don’t like this,” and ask for something else to eat.

Make the decision about sleepaway camp with your child, not for them

First, find out why they are reluctant to go, Levine says. It could be:

  • Paralyzing anxiety that can be overcome with therapy
  • Leaving behind friends and family
  • Missing out on a summer sport

Take baby steps

  • Reduce their anxiety by visiting the camp first
  • Enroll in a “mini-camp,” a three- to four-day version of a full session.
  • Register for one to two weeks maximum
  • Suggest a friend join them

If they remain unconvinced, research alternatives to overnight camp

Kaplan admits overnight camp is not for everyone. It depends on the child and whether they are emotionally ready and feel secure. Also, some kids are opposed to camp because they embrace the lazy days of summer and keep themselves busy, Grabiner says.

As long as your kids have something to do, our experts agree that it’s okay to pass on overnight camp.

On Sunday, Feb. 10, Lincolnshire School District 103 is sponsoring a free camp fair where you can find useful information and interesting programs.

Photo credit: Child in Canoe by Bigstock