“Who Will Do This For You At Camp?”

With spring in full bloom (okay, at least there is no snow), parents are busy preparing, planning, shopping and labeling in anticipation of sending their kids off to camp! While the process can be fun for kids, it can be overwhelming for parents who are experiencing this for the first time. It also is a constant reminder that the day is getting closer to put them on a bus or plane and let them experience life without you.

Most of the time kids are busy being kids and don’t give a lot of thought to their excitement, fears and worries leading up to this experience away from home, unless their parents give them something to worry about.

Did you know that a parent’s anxiety levels about sending their child to camp are associated with higher levels of homesickness in the child? For example, have you found yourself saying any of the following (even if it is with a wink and a smile)?

  • Child has messy hair. Parent says: “Who’s going to brush it for you at camp?”
  • Child is a picky eater. Parent says: “What are you going to find to eat at camp?”
  • Child is slow to tie his shoes. Parent says: “How are you going to get out of the bunk on time at camp?”
  • Child is a focused athlete at home. Parent says: “Are you are going to ask the director to get you more play time this summer?”
  • Child has trouble picking out clothes. Parent says: “What are you going to look like every day at camp?”
  • Child struggles falling to sleep at night. Parent says: “Who is going to tickle your back and tell you stories at night?”

You get the idea…we can all probably insert a million more of these parentisms that of course come from a good place, but those concerns are the reason you are sending your child to camp! Camp is the cure! For 7, 8, 9, 10 years, your children have relied on you to be their advocate, their housekeeper, their chef, their stylist and their cuddle pillow, their everything. Sending them to camp says, “I’m so proud of how grown up you are. You are ready to do some of these things for yourself, to feel great in your own hands and solid on your own feet. You are ready for this experience and we picked the perfect camp to help you develop into a healthy and independent person.”

Maybe their hair will be a little messy in the photos you see online, but what you didn’t see is how fast they tied their shoes and were the first down to lineup. Maybe they write a letter home saying they didn’t like the chicken at camp, but what you didn’t see is how they have a newfound love for the salad bar and spaghetti and meatballs! Maybe they didn’t play extra baseball 3x a week, but what you didn’t see is that they are too busy mastering waterskiing on the lake.

And it’s okay you are missing these milestones and growing moments, because they wouldn’t happen if you were there!

So as you approach the next several weeks leading up to camp, focus on the positive. Get your camper involved in the camp shopping and labeling, empower them with fun stationery for communication, talk honestly about the possibility of homesickness, make sure they have a successful sleepover or two, practice saying good bye, and keep a smile on your face (don’t let them see you cry!).

When parents put aside their own anxieties, they give children the confidence that camp is going to be an incredible learning experience for everyone!

To learn more about the expressed parental anxiety and camp click here and here.

Worried about the possibility of homesickness? If you haven’t read “Homesick and Happy” by Michael Thompson, PHD, we strongly recommend it to all our camp families. We also have some more great ways to prepare your child for homesickness (and parents for childsickness). Click here to read about them on the Camp Towanda parenting blog.

About Camp Towanda:

Camp Towanda is an independent, traditional, co-ed sleep-away camp in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. It is privately owned, operated and directed by Mitch and Stephanie Reiter.  For over 90 years, Camp Towanda has continued to define what camp should really be. Our program offers state-of-the-art facilities, an excellent and professional athletic department, waterfront, extensive arts, drama and adventure programs, culinary cooking classes, and special events.  We are highly regarded and respected as an industry leader and are involved in giving back to various organizations throughout the year.  Camp Towanda is accredited by the American Camp Association and a member of the Camp-Alert-Network, Wayne County Camp Association, Camp Owners and Directors Association and the Pennsylvania Camp Association.

Camp Philosophy Isn’t Just for the Summer!

Our Social Media Director, Lauren Eckstein Forman shares her recent experiences at the CT Book Club and how the lessons learned in “Homesick & Happy” came in very handy on a recent family vacation! 

I recently attended my second annual Camp Towanda Book Club, where new and seasoned parents discussed the book “Homesick & Happy” by Michael Thompson.  When I first sent my 8 year old son to camp, I used the wisdom in this book and the guidance from our very experienced Camp Directors Mitch and Stephanie Reiter to help me navigate sending my child off to camp! I learned what I should say, what I shouldn’t say, how to handle my child’s questions and how to manage homesickness -the anticipation of homesickness and receiving word of homesickness from afar.

IMG_2875Being a first time parent, I had a ton of nervous and excited energy about getting my child on the bus and sending him off to camp.  I loved camp so much and wanted him to love it too.  Which would lead me to want to talk about going to camp.  The more I talked, the more anxious my child became.  Mitch and Stephanie Reiter advised me to stop talking.  From February to June was a long time and they promised me he would be ready!!! Boy were they right.  Between this time last year and June, there were plenty of things that got my child ready for camp.  The camp shopping (the cool uniforms, the spray water bottles, the college team bedding, the stationery, the gimmicks, the STUFF!), talking with and meeting his new camp big brother, pretending to say goodbye to him every morning when I dropped him at school, watching videos of camp, and ultimately talking about the possibility of homesickness when camp got much closer- all helped get him ready!  But I needed to be ready as a parent too!

There were a few of pieces of advice that resonated with me regarding homesickness that helped prepare me for camp.  They would eventually serve me well in other areas of parenting.

1. Let children know homesickness is totally normal. It means they have a home worth missing. Give them examples of times when you experienced and overcame homesickness.

2. Don’t make a deal. At our book club, Mitch and Stephanie shared a story that in their 26 years of being Camp Directors, they have of course experienced extreme cases of homesickness.  In these more severe circumstances, the child was able to speak with their parent. Once their parent said, “we’re not coming to get you”, it was like a light switch. The child immediately stopped thinking about the possibility of going home, and just had fun! If you make a deal that you will take your child home if they are unhappy, you are dramatically decreasing your chances of both of you having a successful summer.

3. Take a vacation from parenting and don’t feel guilty.  Let’s face it, parenting is tough stuff. It is challenging, rewarding and exhausting. Letting go and enjoying the idea that your child can thrive and stumble and thrive under the nurturing care of someone else can be liberating. You need to recharge your battery too, get perspective and have grown-up time.  As a result, you can be a better parent when they return.

c65e200e-8a92-4e36-b07b-925356e804bcMy son had an incredible summer! We both grew in ways I could never have imagined. He became more confident, independent, resilient and flexible.  I became more confident, patient, respectful and proud. The whole experience brought us closer. When I asked him if he was going to be homesick this summer, he said “not at all. It’s only 7 weeks. I’ll be fine.”

Fast forward to our recent February ski vacation.  Both of my children, my 8 year old son and 5 year old daughter, were headed to ski school! This was their fourth winter vacation in ski school.  No issues ever.  A little complaining, but nothing like I was about to experience.  My son was placed in a different group from his best friend. In years prior, they were ALWAYS together and the expectation was that they would be together again. However, this year was different.  When we picked up our son from ski school, we were surprised he was not with his friend.  He was TOTALLY fine with it.  In fact he made 3 new friends, wanted to have a playdate with one and really got to know these kids (one went to sleepaway camp in Maine, they all loved video games and they looked forward to being in ski school together the next day). I said to myself “Thank you Camp Towanda.”

My 5 year old daughter on the other hand gave me a run for my money.  I was at the top of the mountain on our third run of the day.  My husband and I were with two other couples, enjoying grown-up time and the freedom of skiing, when I got the call from an UNKNOWN number. My heart sank.  It was ski school. My daughter was only there for 90 minutes when she came inside crying, refusing to go back out.  The ski school said “are you coming?” I took a deep breath and thought…what would Mitch and Stephanie tell me to do.  And then my camp parent skills kicked in.  I said “I am at the top of the mountain. I am not coming to get her.  She only thinks she is stopping because she thinks I am getting her. Please put her on the phone and don’t tell her I am coming.” I calmly told my daughter that I missed her too and cannot wait to hear about her day when we get home.  I reminded her of all the fun times she had in ski school before.  But most importantly I said, “I am at the top of the mountain. I cannot get you. Please try and have fun and I will see you later.”

For the next 4 hours, I checked my phone, but no calls. I figured she had to have gotten back on the mountain, right? Sure enough at 3:15pm she greeted me with the BIGGEST smile.  She gave “two thumbs up to the skiing” and “two thumbs down to the crying”.  Because I stayed strong and because she didn’t think I was getting her, the light switch turned and she focused on having a good time.  Every day from there got a little bit easier.  I got zero calls and my daughter and I picked a new song that we would both sing on the mountain if we missed each other.  It was our way of sending a camp letter and it worked. I said to myself “Thank you Camp Towanda.”

Because for 7 weeks or for just a few hours, every parent needs a guilt-free vacation. And every kid deserves to feel independent, proud and a sense of accomplishment.  Homesickness can be rough. But getting over homesickness will last a lifetime!

Now the real question is…when am I sending my daughter off to camp?

Do you have any examples when you used your super camp-parent skills to deal with situations at home? Please share with us!