A mistake parents can make when choosing a camp is confusing their needs with their child’s. If you want your child to be happy at camp, focus on who he or she is, rather than on who you were as a camper. Your goal is to create a harmonious relationship between each of your children and the camp experience, not for your child to follow in your well-worn hiking boots.
If going to camp is an option for your child, that’s wonderful. But don’t force camp on a child who is terrified of the idea. At the same time, feel free to plant the seed in your children’s minds from an early age that when she is ready for camp, it will be a fun, life-enhancing adventure. If older siblings or friends of the family have gone to camp and enjoyed the experience, younger siblings may be eager to go. But if your child is not enthusiastic, feel free to wait until your child feels brave enough to make the leap.
Feel free to share your camp experiences and what you got out of them with your kids, and invite others in the family to do the same. At the same time, communicate clearly your understanding that your child is not you, and that you like and respect the person your child is. Sending a child to camp to correct things about her is backwards. The person who needs to change his attitude in this scenario is the parent, not the child.
If you have worries or concerns about your child, don’t send your child to camp to address those feelings. Find someone you can talk to, so you can learn to accept your child for who she is and meet her range of needs. Kids who are secure in their own skin thrive at camp, whereas those who are insecure and anxious may flounder.
Sending kids to camp may have been your idea, but in order for kids to feel good about the adventure, they need to buy in, as well. The first question to ask yourself is, which types of camp are best suited to your child’s physical, emotional, and mental needs? Would day camp or overnight camp be the better choice at this developmental stage? If choosing overnight camp, would your child prefer to be close or far from home? Also, consider the mission and style of the camp. Would your child prefer to rough it for a week in the White Mountains or stay in a cozy, family-style camp with modern amenities closer to home?
Parents may need to let go of the idea that what was good for them as children is good for their kids. What was good for you as a child may traumatize a sensitive child or a child with special needs. Strive to meet your kids where they are. Parents may experience some grieving in letting go of preconceived notions of sharing similar experiences with their children. But try to leave the past in the past, so you can make the healthiest choices for your family in the present.
For example, if you were a rugged and athletic child, these traits may have been widely admired, as they usually are. If your family of origin had a bias against sensitive or artsy kids, you will want to be aware of a possible unconscious tendency in yourself. You may also need to steel your mind against what others think about who your child is. You are not taking a poll. This is not the 1950s or even the 1980s. Try to view the camp landscape through the eyes of each child instead of through the eyes of others from an outdated point of view.
What if you are different from your child in even more profound ways than personality? What if the two of you have very little in common? Would you both crave the same types of camp experiences? Would you even be likely to choose the same camps? Probably not, and this is perfectly okay.
Children know intuitively when they are liked and accepted. They also know when parts of them are disliked or rejected. To look at a child and compare him or her to your childhood self or to siblings or peers is disrespectful and hurtful. To really see your child and accept him or her means loving and respecting your child as is. Each child is an individual with so much to offer the world. If you choose the best camp for your child, you can relax, knowing the folks in charge will see the value in your child. When you recognize the value in your child, others see it, too.
Trying to force a child to be more like you, when the child is not you, may seem harmless and common in our society, but there is a cost. A child can feel when she is being criticized, so even if you are trying to bring the two of you closer together by putting your child through paces you were put through as a kid, your child may feel used and unacknowledged.
You cannot send a child who is not like you to camp and get a version of yourself back. Not only does camp not work this way, life doesn’t work this way. Take a good, long look at each of your children. Resist the urge to see them as a version of yourself. None of them are you. There will never be another you in the whole wide world. Once you see, understand, and accept each of your children, then you can work together to choose the perfect camp for each of them.
Christina Katz is an author, journalist, and writing coach who has learned that seeing kids as the individuals they truly are always pays off in the long run. She also knows it can be a mistake to do what everyone else is doing, even if that’s what the child wants in the short run.
This list breaks types of camps down into the most basic types. Camps can become much more specialized as you explore within categories, so this list is just to help you get started considering your options:
• School vacation
Do your kids a favor and see them for who they truly are. Love each of them to the best of your ability. If you struggle with any of this, admit it, and get some help. Often, parents are so busy taking care of everyone else they sometimes neglect themselves. Individuation is an ongoing process that begins in childhood and continues for a lifetime.
Parents can benefit by finding self-expression practices that help them keep up with their needs. When parents take care of their own emotions, the need to project onto children diminishes and healthy boundaries can be restored. These workbooks are a good place to start for any parent who is over-identifying with a son’s or daughter’s choices:
• “The Artist’s Way Workbook” by Julia Cameron
• “The Creative Journal” by Lucia Capacchione
• “Journal To The Self” by Kathleen Adams
• “Start Where You Are” by Meera Lee Patel
• “The Secret Me” by Shane Windham
• “The Inner Child Workbook” by Cathryn L. Taylor
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