Cincinnati Family Magazine

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December 6, 2021

Away Camps: Letting Go Helps Kids Grow

Learning to be away from home is a critical step toward independence. Many of childhood’s sweetest memories — and enduring lessons — happen when parents aren’t there.

During this era where many of today’s parents manage their kids’ lives to the extent they’re accused of “overparenting” and raising overly dependent children, experts say sleep away camp may be just what’s needed for your child to gain independence and confidence. Time away from parents helps kids learn how to make their own decisions without checking with Mom or Dad first and residential camp provides the perfect training ground, says Michael Thompson in his book, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow.

If you’d like your kids to develop maturity and to gain independence (and if you’d like to begin learning to let go yourself!) it’s time to start researching sleep away camps. Week- or month-long adventures away from home give kids opportunities to experience unique adventures they’d never find at home. Looking into camps now leaves you plenty of time to talk with friends and find out where your child’s friends might be heading: sometimes having a friend at camp is a beautiful thing for parents leery of separation.

To find a camp that fits your child’s needs, seek out opinions from friends and neighbors, ask teachers and church counselors, attend camp fairs and explore options on your own. Residential camps of all kinds and sizes are located all over the country, so there’s sure to be one your child can love and gain valuable skills from.

Elizabeth Cochran, Director at YMCA Camp Ernst, says, “Regardless of background, children at summer camp learn both independence and dependence on each other, through building friendships with cabin mates, from diverse experiences, and trying new things in the controlled camp environment monitored by cool camp counselors. Developmentally, children grow because of their points of influence. When they are younger, they look to their parents but naturally change to look up to their peers.”

Need more convincing? Here are a few thoughts to consider:

1) Camps build maturity and allow children to make their own decisions in a safe, caring environment, according to Matt Steinberg, Camp Director at Mayerson JCC’s Camp at the J, a popular local day camp that introduces kids to traditional camp activities like swimming or archery, but also arts and crafts, science programs and social action projects.  He explains that camp gives kids a breadth of activities to try with their friends as a group, but also allows kids to make choices about the activities they enjoy the most. This lets them have some control over their schedule and a say in what they do each day.

2) Camp forces kids to unplug from technology and enjoy the beauty and benefits of nature. Through outside activities, kids find new hobbies without academic pressure or expectations. Kids gain self-confidence through trying new things and discovering talents they didn’t know they had.

3) Camp teaches good sportsmanship by encouraging each child to be fair and kind. Team activities teach kids how to cooperate with each other and the value of getting along with others through working together and supporting one another.

4) Camp fosters new friendships with kids who come from varying backgrounds. Abby Solomon, program director at Camp at the J, says, “What’s cool about camp is the community — younger campers get to be with their peers, but they also get to interact across age groups.” She adds that this gives kids a chance to develop social relationships in a different environment than something as structured as a classroom, and provides kids with leadership opportunities, and chances to grow and mature. In a relaxed atmosphere, kids easily make friends while they play, sing, work, eat and bunk together.

5) Camp creates life-long memories of new adventures in places they’ve never experienced before. Camp offers carefree days where kids can learn how to thrive outside the structure of over-scheduled days.

Parents & “Childsickness”

When it comes to sending a child to sleep away camp, plenty of parents feel that while the child might be ready, they are not. That’s what “childsickness” is all about, and it strikes well-meaning, devoted parents who don’t like being away from their kids.  “Parents today are more anxious than their peers were 20 and 30 years ago,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association. “That said, the partnerships between parents and camp directors have increased.  Parents should share their concerns with camp directors who are prepared to respond with responsible, informed answers.”

Cochran recommends campparents.org for more on how kids benefit from a week or month away from home.

Tips for Letting Go

• The greatest gifts you can give your child are confidence and independence.
• Let your child have trial runs being away from you by permitting sleep overs.
* Don’t show anxiety to your child — it will make it hard on him.
• Have a plan for yourself: Get a project done that you’ve never had time for, go on a trip with your spouse.

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