The summer camp season is on the horizon. One of the joys of my job is partnering with parents to better ensure that their children have a successful summer. It is, no doubt, a partnership and there are some meaningful conversations that should happen before sending your child to camp. The decision to choose a sleepaway camp is one of the best decisions you can make for your child. You are not only giving them the gift of independence, but you are conveying to them that you believe in them, that they can confidently go out into the world and thrive on their own two feet. Your camper will be more successful if you do a bit of pre-camp coaching.
With compassion and empathy, I state, that parenting is not easy and can sometimes be a wild ride. Part of that ride is letting go and recognizing that our children deserve the freedom to choose their own paths. Camp is often the first time many campers get to experience life without the daily guidance from parents. There is always a chance that your camper will hear another point of view that they have not heard at home. And at a time when polarizing perspectives seem to be increasing, and the ability to bridge the gap seems to be decreasing, camp can be an opportunity to gain perspective on another’s viewpoint in an accepting environment. We encourage campers to be able to talk openly about themselves and their family and we celebrate every camper’s uniqueness.
Regarding taking care of themselves physically, you may want to include a little checklist tucked in their luggage. Some reminders might consist of drinking plenty of water, washing your hands, getting enough sleep, wearing your sunscreen, remembering to use your Chapstick, using your soap while showering, taking care of your teeth, and not forgetting your vegetables. An experienced Cheley parent once shared that she has her boys practice quick showers. If you are a parent that likes to closely manage the basic physical needs of your children (I am one of those) just know that when this falls to them and their counselors, it will not look the same. This is part of the learning process.
Encourage them to advocate for themselves and their emotional needs. While at Cheley, I love it when children gain the confidence to speak up for what they need. Take some time to review some healthy ways to deal with conflicts. Draw on some successful past experiences when they feel a mistake or conflict was handled well and reflect on others that could have been handled differently and what they learned. Community is such a big part of the camp experience, reminding them of their own personal strengths and how they can positively live within the community will pay dividends in this regard.
If you are concerned about them missing home, this is my cliff notes of advice. Prepare them for these feelings, these are normal and it’s awesome that they have a home they miss. Plan for what helps them when they are feeling sad. Again, share your confidence in them, not your apprehension. And whatever you do, please do not say, “give it a couple of days and if you don’t like it, we will come to get you.”
The Birds and the Bees and Things in Between
More than ever, one of the greatest aspects of camp is providing close, meaningful, unplugged friendships with young adults and peers. It is imperative, for camp and our families, that these are healthy and safe. There are important conversations, such as consent and sexual relationships, that can happen at home to help prepare your child for camp and the world.
It is also appropriate for you to equip your children with age-appropriate conversations regarding body safety rules. Parenting Safe Children provides excellent advice on this topic: “Applying this rule, a parent might say to a young child, ‘no one is allowed to touch your body parts. You should not touch someone else’s body parts. If someone tries to touch your body parts, say no and find a trusted adult immediately. When playing with your friends, play with your clothes on. You are allowed to have privacy when bathing, dressing, and using the toilet.” We diligently vet and train our staff, have high staff-to-camper ratios, and have policies in place to protect children. However, it is always a good idea to start these conversations at home as it provides another layer of safeguarding.
Sensitive topics or topics with differing opinions will sometimes arise at camp, especially with our older campers. At camp, they are not distracted by devices and are living together for a straight twenty-seven days! They talk, get to know each other, and dive deeper than discussing the weather, which is a beautiful thing. Living in a tight-knit community, such as camp, can present wonderful growth opportunities.
There is childhood joy at camp: Joy that I don’t think can be replicated anywhere else. Remind your camper that part of this gift is to let go of school pressures, to be free from the constant plug of their devices, to engage in social pleasures that have been stripped from them these last two years, to laugh, and to be a kid. While there are many moments where camp is a place of growth and challenges, it is also a place of lightness and enjoyment. At Cheley, we call it FUN PLUS.
Kudos to you if you have a child going away to camp this summer. Remember, you are giving them an incredible gift that will keep on giving. At Cheley, we do not take parents’ trust lightly and are thrilled to be such an integral part of children’s lives. Summer of 2022, here we come!