My oldest daughter is spending her first summer away at Sleepaway Camp this summer. When I tell friends that my 7 year old is away for 7 weeks, I often get confused and surprised looks. Although I grew up at camp, worked at camp, and grew up with the business is in my blood, being a parent of a first time camper has now provided me with a different lens into the experience. I am so fortunate that my daughter is experiencing this incredible gift. She is thriving, growing, making friends, and learning independence. For parents considering Sleepaway Camp, or for fellow first-time parents, here are a few lessons that I learned:
- Do not underestimate your child. Try not to let your child decide when they’re ready to go to Sleepaway. It was very important for me to manage my child’s anxiety and know her well enough to understand that I had to prepare with her. It was important for both of us to know what her day would be like, who to go to for certain things and make sure she felt empowered with all the knowledge she wanted and needed. My daughter always knew that she would be going to Sleepaway Camp. She was still nervous and perhaps if I gave her the option, she would have voiced a desire to stay home. But that would have been based on fear of the unknown. Once she got to camp, she was a different kid.
- Manage your own anxieties. One of the most emotional experiences of parenting has been to set aside my own need to have control and be able to trust others for my daughter’s health and safety this summer. That is not an easy thing – especially post COVID and in the midst of very challenging times in our world. It was important for me that I not project that on my daughter and that I find ways to cope and manage separately. It is in part because of these challenges in recent years that made it all the more special and important for my daughter to find her own independence and voice away from home.
- Once they’re there, let them be! Don’t overwhelm them with calls, questions, etc. One aspect I didn’t prepare myself enough for was the lack of communication I felt from my daughter during the summer. She is only 7- so she is not really writing informative letters and so I haven’t been able to gather how her days are going, what she needs, help her navigate through challenges, etc. It’s important that we let the camp professionals do their jobs. Establish a relationship with a Camp Mom or Camp Director, who can provide you with updates or flag things that you need to know. But, part of the beauty of Sleepaway Camp is to let your child learn how to handle challenges away from you. Know that staff at camp know what they’re doing.
- Have the confidence to send them for the full summer! Every child and every family is different. But I know it’s tempting, especially for camps that do part sessions- to let your child “try out” a Sleepaway Camp when they’re young for a few weeks. It’s a very different experience than a full summer away. It is truly an amazing for a camper to experience a real home away from home experience, and bonds that they’re able to build, and skills that they’re able to develop over the course of a summer in a way that is just not possible in 2 weeks. I know it works for some – this is just based on my own experience!
- Summer Camp is the absolute best!!! Check out Camps Che-na-wah and Baco and learn about what Sleepaway Camp has to offer for your family. Or, make sure to check out Sleepaway Camps while in session this summer!