Sending your kids to sleep-away camp helps counteract the effects of overscheduled lives and too much social media.
Are you worried about sending your kids to sleep-away camp for the first time? I hear it all the time from the parents of my young patients. Rest assured, it’s completely normal to be anxious. However, try to couple it with excitement and enthusiasm, because giving your kids this experience is one of the most beneficial things you can do for their development.
Going to summer camp is probably more important today than it’s been for previous generations. Today’s kids are often disconnected from their natural environment. We have accounted for all hours of their day with school, sports and other activities — which on the positive side means less opportunity to get into trouble. But it also means less time playing outside, removing organic development of necessary life skills such as resilience, confidence, trying new things and exploring their creativity.
As kids get older, we need to release the reins slowly, and camp is one way. Think of it like a mini-audition for adult life. We want them to practice all the behaviors we’ve tried to instill, like brushing their teeth twice a day and eating a nutritious diet, in a real-life scenario – without us hovering over them. We want our kids to fail and overcome failure and know that they can do it, to build self-confidence. By talking with and getting updates from counselors, parents can learn what their kids are doing so that once home, they know what behaviors to reinforce and which ones to lighten up on.
One reason parents might be hesitant about camp is they are worried their child will be homesick – a very natural, normal and common reaction. But there are ways to mitigate that. First, make sure you involve your child in the process of selecting the camp, and that it’s something that suits their own interests. Also, “normalize” the feeling of homesickness, perhaps framing it like a recent family vacation where you were away from home for a few weeks, ate some new things, saw some new people, and eventually came back home in one piece.
Another common parental fear is safety. What if they get hurt doing an activity or sport they’ve never done before? What if they take unnecessary risks? Worry will always be in our DNA, but it’s good to keep it in perspective. Studies on camp safety have shown only two reported major illnesses or injuries for every 1,000 kids. The most common mishap? A stomach ache or bug. They could easily get that at home!
One of my most important pieces of advice is to get your child a check-up within six months of leaving for camp (two months if your child has special needs or a chronic condition). Not only because most camps require clearance forms, but so that you can work with your pediatrician on making sure to send your child off with the proper prescriptions and plans in place for dealing with certain issues like asthma or ADHD, for instance. The last thing you want is an unplanned several hour drive to drop of medications or pick up a sick child, especially when they are having the time of their lives.
So enjoy this time to yourself, and know that your child is going to grow in positive ways you’ve never imagined. You can look forward to them coming back a little more independent, self-confident, and you might discover a few things about them that you didn’t know.
To make an appointment with Dr. Odubogun in the Harrison office, call (914) 723-8100.