When is your child ready for sleep-away camp?
By Danilae Smith
In Orange County, there’s an overwhelming array of choices for children when it comes to camps. From dance to science, and from sports to educational, if there’s a thought about what you want your child to participate in this summer, chances are there’s a camp for that. However, when it comes to sleep-away camps, it’s hard to determine exactly when your child is ready.
“I’ve been sending my 8-year-old to basketball day camps for the past two years, and the issue of sleep-away camps has never come up,” said Florlynn Verano, Irvine. “But, just recently he’s been asking about doing a one-week, sleep-away camp, and I’m not sure that he’s ready.”
For most parents, the issue of whether or not it’s time to allow their little one to spend a week away from home can be daunting for everyone. When is the child ready? When is the parent ready? The answer is that there’s really no straight answer, and differs from child to child. According to Michelle Borba, MFT, some questions to ask yourself are below:
1. Is he or she sleeping on her own throughout the night?
This may seems like common sense, but a lot of the time children want to do what they’re friends are doing, even before they’re ready. If your child is hopping into bed with you or an older sibling, it may be worth working with he or she to try to sleep through a few nights at a time consistently until they’re doing it normally. It could be a goal that you work through together, and when they get to an agreed upon amount of time of sleeping through the night on their own, they can try a sleep-away camp.
2. Is the camp something he or she really wants to do? Or is this something you would like to see your child participate in?
Sometimes, parents want to see their children run before they’re ready to walk, but it’s important to make sure that they’re the ones who want to take on these new adventures. Often times is can do more harm than good when a child is pushed into doing something they don’t want to do, or are not ready to do.
3. Is your child enthusiastic about it? Are they asking follow-up questions about going, or shying away from conversations? Who initiated the conversation about sleep-away camps?
Does he or she have separation anxiety when you are not together?
If a child is not yet ready to spend time away from you without throwing a fit of some kind, he or she will probably not be ready to spend consecutive nights away. Sleep-away camps can be stressful on children, so ensuring that they’re ready is important.
4. Does your child participate in sleepovers with friends successfully?
Sleepovers are a great way to judge whether or not your child is ready for sleep-away camp. If they’re able to comfortably stay the night at a friend’s home without being scared, it’s an indication that they’re ready for stay-away camp.
Does your child follow directions from leaders?
Feeling confident that your child is able to take direction plays an important role in a child being ready to go to sleep away camp. Not only does it show that your child is responsible, a good listener and able to follow instructions, but it shows that they are able to accept and listen to authority figures.
If you answered yes to most of these questions, then the odds are that if your child is asking for sleep-away camp, then you’re child is ready. However, it may not be in the child’s best interest to start them off on a week-long camp. “Start by sending them to a half-day camp, then to a full-day damp, then overnight, then to a weekend camp, until they’re finally ready packed off for a week or more,” explained Borba.
It’s important to note how each child acts each step of the way, as well as to expect setbacks. Eighty percent of children who go to sleep-away camps will get homesick, so don’t be alarmed when your child gives you a call to pick them up. Borba said it’s important to call and check in with your child to gauge their emotional well-being. Simply asking the question, “How homesick have you been feeling?” can put you in a better ability to hear if your child needs to come home, or if they’re able to stay and enjoy their camp.