The Triumphs of Camp – By Cara Potapshyn Meyers
My son (orange shorts) with his bunk mates and counselors
The timing couldn’t have been better. As I was perusing the enormous pile of magazines I have for parents, I came across one that announced on the cover, “Learn to let go so your child can grow.” I tossed it onto my pile of reading for when we took the three hour trip to and from dropping my son off at sleep away camp. The caption stuck in my head, though. I had to read that article before we left the next day. I’m very glad I did.
The next morning, my son was showing tremendous anxiety about going away. He bargained to only go for a week. He tried to convince us that he would be missing out on one of his favorite Day Camp excursions if he stayed the second week. We assured him we would get a group of friends of his together and go to the excursion venue on a weekend once he returned home. He wanted to bring his favorite stuffed animals, one of which he has had since birth and is highly coveted. We agreed to bringing the non-coveted ones, but not “Krusty,” his “security blanket.” “Krusty” was allowed to come for the ride though.
“Krusty” (far right) and friends
My son rarely goes through such extreme anxiety. I was glad I read the article in order to help my child through his fears. The article was from May, 2012 Parents magazine, and was called, “Flying Solo.” It was written by Michael Thompson, PH.D., and discussed why children should be allowed to do things, such as going to sleep away camp, because it helps both children and their parents develop in ways they otherwise would not be able to. In fact, during parent orientation, one of the Administrative Staff members said practically the same thing. He said that children at sleep away camp experience triumphs they might never achieve had their parents been with them. Children use their parent’s emotions as their “Geiger counter” in trying out new things. If their parents are nervous, their children will pick up on it and back out of trying something challenging. As Thompson stated in his article, “Wonderful things can happen for children when they are away from their parents.” It may be hard to accept, but there are times when your child is better off without you.
When we arrived at the camp site, my son tried to smuggle “Krusty” into his bunk. The other two stuffed animals were still in the car. My son also brought “Liony,” his “big boy” security blanket. But I saw that “Krusty” was missing from the car while “Liony” was propped up on my son’s bed. I never asked my son where “Krusty” was. I felt that if he needed “Krusty” to be with him that badly, then “Krusty” would stay. If my son lost “Krusty,” it would be a tremendous learning experience and a consequence he would have to face. Ultimately, one of the other two stuffed animals he left in the car would become “Krusty’s” replacement, as they were both newer versions of “Krusty.”
Getting back to the article, Thompson had more to say about children being away from their parents. “Parents ask me questions about how they can help their child get over fears, learn to take risks, or become more responsible. No matter how loving the parents, it often seems to me that they are not going to be able to help their child through this challenge. A 19-year-old camp counselor – a stranger – is often better at getting a kid to pick up his clothes than the child’s 39-year-old parent is.” The Staff Administrator concurs: He said that one summer in camp is equivalent to one school year, in terms of growth and maturation of a child. He promised us “new and improved children” once our kids returned home. I kiddingly said that I would like to wager a bet. He laughed and replied that if my child’s discipline or responsibility hadn’t improved in at least one area, he said to give him a call. I am going to be scrutinizing my son’s behavior when he gets home to see if I win that wager!
Thompson then outlined several key areas where children thrive when away from their parents:
- We, alone, cannot make our children happy. We want to protect our kids from all bad feelings, but struggle and suffering are part of life. Children need to manage their own emotions. Away from home, it’s easier for children to learn what they hate and what they love, what makes them miserable and what makes them happy, because they are having these experiences on their own.
- We cannot give our children high self-esteem. Your child’s greatest sense of achievement may come from succeeding in a situation where he had tasted defeat, had been really upset, and then came back to triumph!
- We can’t make friends for our children. Kids teach each other how to be friends. The best friendships are the ones a child makes on her own.
- We can’t compete with our child’s electronic world. “Parents ask me all the time about how they can limit their child’s use of electronic devices. Look at yourselves. All of us are spending large amounts of time in front of screens. Children do what we do, not what we say. The only place I haven’t seen children using cell phones, iPods and Nintendos is sleep away camp. Guess what? They thrive.” The lesson is one that children need to learn, and one that parents with a whole lot of gadgets of their own are having trouble teaching. (Hmmm….maybe the TV will magically “blow up” while my son is away…).
- We can’t make our children independent. Every child needs to practice being independent, and every parent needs to practice letting her child be independent. If you believe that your job is to raise your children so they will be ready to leave you, you need to be able to let them go and watch from a distance.
Once my son was settled and getting ready to immerse himself in some fun with a bunk mate, my son quietly came up to me with something bulging under his shirt. Out came “Krusty.” “Mommy? Can you take “Krusty” home and take care of him?” I smiled at him and said, “I will do an excellent job.” He quickly put “Krusty” in my hands. As he ran off, he cried out, “Oh! And Mommy? Can you put him in your pocketbook?”
My little boy is growing up.
My thanks to Parents magazine for using excerpts of their article in this blog.