How to Figure Out When You Child is Ready for Sleep Away Camp

"Summer Camp"

Kids mature, develop and change at different times. No two kids are the same. Trust me; I’d love for my 4-year-old to be a bit more like her older sister in the potty training department. When one child is ready to do something, another her own age might not. That’s what makes the topic of sleep away camp a touchy one. Not all kids are ready at the same time. We have a 7-year-old who is shy and much less outgoing than her cousin of the same age, and we’d always assumed her cousin would be the one that has an easy time with sleepovers. She doesn’t; she is a little fearful and nervous whereas our daughter shocked us by being the kid that loves to spend the night with her friends and family and does not want anything to do with us. You just never know.

If you are considering sleep away camp for your kids this summer, you’re going to need to do some serious soul-searching and make some serious considerations. Are you ready for this? Do you have enough wine and enough on your summer reading list and are you prepared to sleep in, stay up late, go to the store by yourself and live in a clean house for as long as camp shall live? Oh, wait. Yes, you’re fine. You just need to know if your kid is ready for sleep away camp. Or maybe you don’t care because everything else I mentioned sounds so good, and so close to being in your precious grasp. On second thought, perhaps now is a good time for your kid to learn to man up and spend some time away from mommy. Mostly kidding. You do have to make sure your kid can handle this kind of separation, and what works for one parent might not work for another.

Is your child self-sufficient?

Believe it or not, many parents forget about this one. Your child needs to be able to care for him or herself when away from you, or camp is not going to work out. If your kid doesn’t know how to shower on his own, tuck himself into bed or function without you, camp that requires this kind of behavior is going to prove a stretch. Of course, there is always time to practice, provided camp doesn’t start tomorrow. The simple rule of thumb is that a self-sufficient child is far easier to send to camp for an extended amount of time than a child that cannot.

Can your child handle it?

Here’s the other big question; can your child handle this kind of separation from you? Perhaps you think that this seems so simple, but it might be anything but. If your child does well on one-night sleepovers, he may have a better handle on the situation. If he doesn’t, it might be more difficult. It’s up to you to determine this and whether or not your kid might be able to handle this. On that note, you might also want to consider the benefit of sending a slightly skittish child to sleep away camp as far as grooming him or her to spend more time away from you and learn to be more independent. It’s a call only you can make. I cannot tell you what to do.

Is your child adventurous?

We often forget to consider this; sleep away camp is not like a slumber party in which kids get to run the show and do whatever they want for an evening. It’s highly structured and very adventurous. Not all camps are created equal, of course, but your child might be attending a sleep away camp that offers adventurous activities. If you have a perpetual ‘fraidy-cat at home, this might not be a good idea in terms of introduction to adventure. Horse-back riding, kayaking, canoeing, campfires, and other activities such as these might prove to be a bit too intimidating and scary for your kids. It’s not something that you want to force a child to do if he or she is not ready.

Are you ready?

Here we go; the crux of the situation. It matters whether or not you are able to send a self-sufficient child who is ready for camp away for a few weeks this summer, but can you handle it? Sure, the idea of having a few weeks of no children to catch up on work and whatever else you need to catch up on sounds quite nice, but can you really handle it? I, for one, lose it and cry for a while every time we leave our kids for more than a night. I can’t help it; I look so forward to leaving and having some mommy/daddy time away from them, and then I lose it and want nothing more than to turn the plane around, go home and be with my kids. But that’s not how it works. If you’re not ready for your children to be away for an extended period of time, it could cause more damage than benefit if you’re not careful.

Is the camp a good one?

I really should not have to ask this, but I do have to ask this. Have you done your research? Have you checked to ensure that this camp is really, really safe? I mean, it’s not just some camp you picked up a flyer for off the gas station counter, right? I don’t doubt your parenting abilities in the least, but I just want to double check for all the first-time sleep away camp parents that this is a well-known camp and establishment that does secure, adequate and very thorough background checks on all employees, that has an amazing safety rating and that comes highly recommended by other campers and their parents.

After all, we’re fans of the ‘better safe than sorry,’ theory around here, and we don’t feel that you can ever be too safe. But we do feel that you can be too sorry.

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images


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