How To Tell If Your Child Is Ready For Sleep-Away Camp
So you're considering sending your child to a sleep-away camp! Summer camp not only holds the promise of doing fun things and making new friends, but it also provides a unique and powerful opportunity for children to grow. Living, eating, sleeping, and playing away from home, under the supervision of mature, caring adults, can have a profound and positive impact on a child's development - he or she can gain independence, increase social skills, and learn new things about others and him or herself. But you probably know that because you're already considering sending your child to camp. You just want to make sure your child is ready. So, how do you know?
There's no 100% guaranteed way to know if your child is ready for sleepaway camp, but here are some questions that will help guide you:
Is your child 8 or older?
Though children mature at different times, those who are at least 8 years old at the time they go to a sleep-away camp seem to do better than their younger peers. They have more strength, endurance, and coordination to successfully participate in activities. They also have a greater ability to appreciate social conventions, regulate their emotions, and exhibit appropriate behavior, all of which helps when living in a communal environment. If your child is under 8, consider starting with day camp instead.
Has your child had successful sleep-overs away from home?
If your child has spent the night at a friend's or relative's house 3 or 4 times without getting too homesick, that's a very good sign. By saying not "too homesick," we want to recognize that it's quite common for children to feel some homesickness. The important thing to note is whether the symptoms were mild and temporary. If your child complained of missing home the entire time she or he was gone, you should consider waiting another year before sending your child to camp. On the other hand, if your child complained of missing home only temporarily, appeared to re-engage with his or her hosts, and had fun overall, then she or he may very well be ready.
How interested in camp is your child?
Whose idea was it to go to camp? Does your child continue to talk positively about going to camp or doing camp activities? Did you have to talk your child into going to camp? Do you have to keep talking up camp to maintain your child's interest? Looking at the camp's website or DVD may help your child get excited about camp. But, if the idea is really yours, and your child is very reluctant to participate, you may want to wait.
What does your child expect to do at camp?
Have you asked your child what he or she thinks life will be like at camp and what she or he will do at camp? Perhaps your child has already talked to others and gotten a good idea of what camp will be like, but it's a good idea for you to learn about the daily routine, along with the sleeping and eating arrangements. This way you can talk about what a day at camp will be like in a positive manner. Knowing what to expect can help to reduce anxiety and to create excitement about going to camp.
Does your child have a friend or sibling who will also be attending camp?
We don't mean to suggest that children who go to sleep-away camp without a friend or sibling don't do well, or are even in the minority. A substantial percentage of children come to camp without a friend or sibling, and they have a very positive and successful experience. However, some children might increase their comfort level by having a friend or sibling accompany them to camp.
Using these questions will help you gauge your child's readiness for sleep-away camp. After you make the decision, relax. Going away to camp is an exciting time, and the separation is likely to be much tougher on you than on your child!