Parenting

Parenting: Visiting Day at away camp

Friday, August 03, 2012

Regular readers of my Parenting Perspectives know that I'm a big advocate of overnight camps. They are great places where children can learn all sorts of life skills, gain confidence and independence.

One of the big challenges of overnight camp can come right in the middle of your child's great summer: Visiting Day.

As a parent, I always look forward to it. I remember visiting our oldest son, Jason, midway through his first month-long session at overnight camp. I'd missed him so much and since he wasn't much of a letter-writer, I was so concerned about how he was doing.

We went to camp, laden down with lunch and snacks, looking forward to four hours of quality time with our then-nine-year-old son. As expected, we got big hugs and he was thrilled with the food we'd brought (camp food is ALWAYS a source of complaints). The conversations we had were constantly interrupted, as he ran off to share thoughts with his bunkmates. It was as if he was glad we were there, but didn't really want to spend that much time with us.

At first, I was a bit hurt, but as my husband and I discussed it, we realized that his lack of interest in us on Visiting Day was really a good thing. He'd bonded with his bunkmates and created a new "family" of sorts with them. He was handling the separation from us very well and seemed to have matured a great deal in just a few weeks.

We were very surprised when it came time to leave and Jason grabbed onto my husband's leg and began crying that he wanted to come home with us (instead of staying for the final week of the session). The last ten minutes of our visit - when he became clingy - were so different from the first three hours and 50 minutes. We tried to talk to him about what was wrong, but he became so upset we couldn't really have a conversation.

My husband will tell you the toughest thing he ever did was peel Jason off his leg and turn him over to his counselor, saying we'd be back the following week to pick him up. The counselor assured us he'd be fine, but we had our doubts all week long.

Fast-forward to the following Sunday: Pickup Day. Jason was upset again - but this time, because it was time to go home. He, his bunkmates and counselors hugged and cried as if they were being shipped off to war.

When we asked him how the final week was, he said it was fantastic, wonderful, great and he never wanted to leave camp. In fact, he said he didn't even remember being upset when we'd left the week before. Apparently, they'd had a big party in the bunk and gorged themselves on all the goodies the parents had left. Within hours (if not minutes), the parents' visits had become a distant memory and the camp "family" was back intact, having fun.

I've learned to handle Visiting Day with lowered expectations. For us, it's an opportunity to observe our kids with their camp family. In the end, we have to let that family run the day, as they have the previous weeks.

For kids, it's a bit weird, I think, suddenly having parents and siblings (their "home" world) enter the world they've created at camp. Each child will react differently. Check in with the counselors for a balanced perspective on your child's summer.

Unless your child is consistently upset and complaining, it's probably best to not pay too much attention if they get a bit stressed during your visit. They'll adjust to being back home when camp's over and chances are their new "camp family" is taking care of them just fine.

For other tips on a successful Visiting Day, check out these links:
-Dadomatic
-Bunk 1 blog
-NY Times

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