Q. I would really like to send my son Nathan, age 10, to summer camp this year. I had a great experience attending YMCA camp when I was a child, where I was able to connect with some of the nicest, most popular girls in school. My shy, timid demeanor disappeared and a more outgoing, confident child emerged. Nathan is a lot like I was, and I feel that a positive camp experience could help him gain confidence and self-esteem. Unfortunately, my husband never experienced the benefits of camp and doesn’t feel it’s necessary, and Nathan says he doesn’t even want to go to camp. How can I resolve these issues so Nathan can attend camp this summer?
A. First, you need to convince your husband that camp is a valuable experience. Check out “Camps Help Make Children Resilient” by Michael Ungar, Ph.D, found in the March 1, 2013 issue of USA Today. Key points Ungar makes in citing the value of camp include:
• Children benefit from building new relationships with peers.
• Camp provides an opportunity to interact with adults who are “different than their parents” and to handle camp staff they don’t like as well as those they do like.
• At camp, children learn to lead as well as follow.
• Camp helps children develop a “powerful identity.” Unger advises that “camps help children feel in control of their lives.”
• Children learn to problem-solve and take this skill home with them.
• Camps treat all children fairly and “instill a spirit of equality” and of being valued.
• The camping experience provides children a chance to feel like they belong.
Additional arguments I can add:
• Camp provides a chance to learn teamwork as well as how to win and lose gracefully.
• Children have an opportunity to develop new interests and/or embrace old ones.
When your husband approves of the idea, it may be easier to convince Nathan that camp is a good thing for him. You might ask a child who has been to camp and loved it to talk with your son about his experience. Another approach is to talk with the mothers of your child’s friends about a few of them attending the same camp to give your son a bit of comfort about the new situation, but be sure to encourage the children to make new friends, too.
Some kids are able to handle overnight camp at eight, nine or 10 (and some even younger), however, there are kids who take longer to get comfortable with the idea. Be sure your child has overnight experience with extended family or friends before tackling overnight camp. Attending day camps is also good preparation for longer periods at overnight camps. Keep in mind that if you don’t convince your husband and son that camp is a good idea, there will be another opportunity next year. Good luck and happy camping!
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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