Giving Summer Camp a Second Chance

How to help kids after a tough first summer away


Published:

COURTESY

My daughter’s first summer at sleepaway camp wasn’t easy. She felt homesick most of the time, especially when she woke up in the morning and at night after lights out. 

During our one allotted phone call, my daughter cried the entire 10 minutes. After we hung up, I had to fight the urge to get in my car and drive to camp to retrieve her. But somehow we both made it through the four-week session.

When my daughter returned home from camp, she shared stories about her bunk-mates and all the fun activities she did. But when the camp director asked for a deposit for the following summer, she was reluctant to commit. Although she had fond memories of camp, she also remembered the stress she felt about being away. She wasn’t sure she wanted to put herself through those feelings again.

 

Why Kids May Have A Tough Time At Summer Camp 

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, psychologist, speaker, and author of several books including Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friend says, “There are many reasons children may have a difficult time at camp including homesickness, illness (or) injury, and difficulties getting along with peers.” 

Sometimes the reasons a child has trouble at camp have little to do with the camp at all. Missy Ruddick, director of Camp Timber Tops, explains, “Things that impact children at home can impact them at camp too, from difficulties happening at home, to not making connections in the bunk right away, to anxiety or emotional issues that follow a child wherever she goes.” 

Adds Kennedy-Moore, “Parents cannot expect their child to magically turn into a different, easier kid at camp.”

Adding to these issues is the fact that many parents are reluctant to discuss their child’s at-home struggles with camp directors in advance for fear they will pre-judge their child. “By not being transparent with camp directors, parents do their children a disservice,” says Patti “The Camp Lady” Roberts, owner of Student Summers, a camp consultancy organization. “The only way camp directors can help a child deal with issues from bedwetting to a parent’s recent divorce is if they are informed.”

 

Figure Out What Went Wrong 

After a challenging camp experience, parents may think the easiest thing to do is to switch camps, or not send the child back to camp at all. But as Kennedy-Moore explains, “If your child doesn’t go back to a camp, that’s the end of the story, and your child will conclude, ‘Camp is bad’ or ‘I can’t do camp.’”

A better approach is to look at it as a learning experience. First, find some positives. Ask your child, “What parts of camp did you like?” For example, my daughter loved most of the activities and her bunk-mates. She also felt proud because even though she was homesick, she did manage to stay for the full session.

Next, discuss the parts of camp your child found difficult. Maybe the camp was overly sporty, or they were too worried about a grandparent’s illness to have a good time. Kennedy-Moore suggests asking the child “what and how” questions to help pinpoint the problems. How was camp similar or different to what you expected? What kind of camp do you think might be a better fit for you? What might have helped things go better for you?

 

Come Up with A Plan 

Even if parents believe the camp was not a good fit or that the staff didn’t handle something appropriately, a discussion with the camp directors can still be helpful. “Parents need to work with the camp directors to determine why the child had a difficult summer and see if the exact problems can be addressed head-on,” Ruddick says.

Be prepared to have a give and take with the camp directors. Talk about your issues, but also be prepared to listen to what the camp directors have to say. Camp directors have a lot of experience and can provide vital insight. 

In many cases, the camp can make changes so the child has a better experience the following summer. Other times, it’s best to change camps or choose a different type of summer experience entirely. “Camp directors will be honest if they feel they can’t make the accommodations your child needs, or they think the child would be better off at a different camp,” Roberts says.

If parents do choose to send their child to a different camp, be forthcoming about the issues that happened the previous summer. “It’s important to inform camp staff about any difficulties your child is likely to encounter,” Kennedy-Moore says. “If they’re forewarned, camp staff can be better prepared to deal with these issues.”

 

Be Positive 

Whether your child returns to the same camp or decides to try a new one, go in with a positive attitude. “Explain to your child that it’s very normal and completely understandable to be nervous after having had a bad experience,” Kennedy-Moore says. “Tell your child you are so proud of her for being willing to try again.”

Explain to your child why this summer will be better. Kennedy-Moore suggests helping your child redefine the narrative by saying something like, “I wasn’t ready for camp last year, but now I know what to expect, so I’m better prepared,” or “I prefer this type of camp to that type,” or even “I’m the kind of person who won’t let one bad experience stop me.”

Resist the urge to give your child an “out” before they get to camp; it sets them up for failure. “A parent should never say, ‘Just try it out and you can come home if you are not happy!’” Ruddick says. “Instead, tell children, ‘We know this is a great place for you. If you love it, you’ll go back for many years to come! If you don’t, you’ll be home in no time.’” 

Finally, remember that no one is happy all of the time. Don’t overreact if you receive a lousy letter or you don’t see a smiling photo every day. Some kids avoid the photographer but are having a great time. And “snail mail” means that by the time the letter arrives, it’s already old news. The child could have been upset about their soccer game when he wrote the letter, and having a blast at the pool 20 minutes after they sealed the envelope.

For my daughter, it was a discussion with her camp directors that made her decide to give camp a second chance. To help her combat her homesickness, the directors suggested she have four phone calls instead of one. Just knowing that she could call home more often put my daughter at ease. While she still had some tough moments, she was much happier her second summer. So much so that she returned for many more years, eventually becoming a camp counselor herself. 

Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, teen issues, mental health, and wellness. She is a wife and mother of three children. To read more of her work visit www.randimazella.com. 

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August 2020

The restaurant will open early to cater to families of children with special needs. Families can expect smaller crowds, reduced lighting and noise, food and games, and specially-trained staff....

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Chuck E. Cheese
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Sun Valley High School
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Matthews United Methodist Church
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Abari Game Bar
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Davidson Village Green
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Mint Museum Randolph
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1500 E. Garrison Blvd.
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712 Circle Trace Road
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New Hope Baptist Church
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DefyGravity Trampoline Park
8116 University City Blvd.
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Chestnut Square Park
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Cost: $11 for one hour

Where:
DefyGravity Trampoline Park
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Mint Museum Randolph, 2730 Randolph Road
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This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

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This exhibit explores the various aspects of walls, which includes the artistic, social, political and historical aspects, as well as the physical barriers like fences or sand berms. The space is...

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Cost: $6 for parking

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USNWC
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Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $21-$31

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Tiny Blooms Yoga
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2101 Central Ave.
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Cost: $6 for parking

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USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.
, NC
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Website »

More information

This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $10-$40

Where:
NarroWay Theatre
3327 Hwy 51
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Sponsor: NarroWay Productions
Telephone: 803-802-2300
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This exhibit explores the various aspects of walls, which includes the artistic, social, political and historical aspects, as well as the physical barriers like fences or sand berms. The space is...

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Mint Museum Uptown
500 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


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More information

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Cost: $4-$12

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1 Samuel Spencer Drive
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Marion Diehl Rec Center
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Cost: $4-$12

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1 Samuel Spencer Drive
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Knight Theater
430 S. Tryon St.
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Cost: Cost for games

Where:
Abari Game Bar
1721 N. Davidson St.
, NC
View map »


Telephone: 980-430-4587
Website »

More information

Live the story of Stephen and the Apostles. Experience the rousing power of ANNO DOMINI: the year of our Lord while enjoying a Greek dinner.

Cost: $10-$40

Where:
NarroWay Theater
3327 Highway 51
Fort Mill, SC  29715
View map »


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Northlake Mall Live 360° Games Court
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Cost: $6 for parking

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.
, NC
View map »


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Website »

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Cost: Free

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Stowe Park
24 S. Main St.
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Website »

More information

This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

See the original, Broadway-style dinner show, and experience the story of Stephen and the Apostles. See website for showtimes.

Cost: $10-$40

Where:
NarroWay Theatre
3327 Hwy 51
Fort Mill, SC
View map »


Sponsor: NarroWay Productions
Telephone: 803-802-2300
Website »

More information

This exhibit explores the various aspects of walls, which includes the artistic, social, political and historical aspects, as well as the physical barriers like fences or sand berms. The space is...

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Mint Museum Uptown
500 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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