Sending your child away to camp can be a stressful and overwhelming experience at first — for both parents and campers. In the long run though, sleep-away camp is a great way for children to develop independence and social skills in a safe environment.
Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D., a Weston resident and psychologist who knows the ins and outs of child and adolescent psychology, offers advice concerning how to tackle the issues that come up while children are spending the summer away from home.
Dr. Greenberg has a private practice in Weston, serves as the adolescent consultant at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, and is co-author of the hit book Teenage As a Second Language — A Parent’s Guide to Becoming Bilingual.
She delivered much of her advice to parents at the Weston Public Library on Tuesday, June 19, as part of a parenting series sponsored by Weston Youth Services.
Dr. Greenberg believes children are ready for camp when they exhibit initial signs of independence of the household. There is no particular age at which children are ready for the social and emotional demands of sleep-away camp, but there are certain ways in which parents can tell if their child is prepared.
“A child is probably ready if they can do well away from home at sleepovers or other events. Flexibility and adaptability are also skills that they need to have,” Dr. Greenberg said.
If a child expresses interest in going to sleep-away camp, it is important to find a place that is a good match. Dr. Greenberg recommends parents visit camps with their child and talk to the campers that currently attend; this way it’s easier to gauge whether or not the child will be comfortable in a particular camp’s environment and to see if he or she will enjoy the programming, activities, and living spaces available there.
Children are not the only ones who need to be ready before they go to camp, and Dr. Greenberg advises parents to become comfortable with and accept the idea of being away from their children before they drop them off.
“Parents’ anxiety over sending their child off to camp transfers very easily onto the camper,” she said. “It’s important that parents do not become overly emotional.”
Once at camp, Dr. Greenberg said it is common for children to experience some degree of homesickness. She also believes that homesickness is contagious and that it spreads quickly throughout a bunk of campers.
Instead of reacting impulsively to their child’s homesickness, Dr. Greenberg recommends parents encourage their child to try and work out their issues while at camp, opposed to whisking them home right away. Although, if a parent is especially concerned about how their child is doing at camp, asking for feedback from camp staff is advisable.
After children get past an initial bout of homesickness, most are able to enjoy the sleep-away experience.
“Camp is a place to reinvent yourself,” Dr. Greenberg said. “You develop a new set of friends, you live with them, and for the first time you have true independence.”