Today’s Buzz was written by Carolyn Meyer-Wartels, LCSW-R, a Psychotherapist and Parent Counselor. Find out more about Carolyn here: www.meyerwartels.com
7/12 Update – Please note: not all camps have a visiting day. For specific information about your camp’s visiting day policies, please contact the camp directly.
The other day I received a panicked call from a mom of a nine-year-old girl. “Help me,” she said. “I’m worried about going to Camp Visiting Day; what if my daughter wants me to take her home?”
Whether it feels like it’s been an eternity or just yesterday that you waved good-bye to your child, visiting day for most camps is right around the corner. While visiting day can be a golden opportunity to check out the camp staff, observe sleeping conditions, meet your child’s camp friends, and get a sense of the whole summer routine, it can also be a little anxiety producing for parents. Here are a few tips to help prepare you for the big day.
- Know what to bring: You want to make sure that whatever you bring to meet your kid’s needs are aligned with the camp’s policy. One parent mentioned to me that her child wanted her to bring candy, specifically some Snickers bars for the bunk. For starters, candy is often not allowed in the bunk. Possibly more importantly, peanuts are likely a big no-no because so many campers have nut allergies today. In the same vein, you don’t want to be the only parent that didn’t bring a little gift (i.e. cool pens) for the bunk if everyone else has a tradition of doing so.
- Don’t be surprised by your child’s ambivalence: Kids act in all different ways when they haven’t seen you for two weeks while on their own. Some kids may be thrilled to see you, some may get very emotional, and some might act cool and aloof showing more interest in their friends. It is confusing for kids to combine their two worlds: the autonomy of life at camp and their feelings of dependency when seeing their family. It is normal for them to communicate all of what they are feeling within the few brief hours of your visit. Try to not personalize it if they act rejecting, and try not to worry too much if you see them behave a little needy. Keep in mind that this behavior is normal and to be expected.
- Check your own feelings before going: Visiting day may also be very emotional for you. Since your child left, you may have felt sad, or worried, or even thrilled that your child hasn’t been home to make a mess of the living room. Whatever your experience has been, realize what your feelings are before you head through the camp gates so that you can control them. It is too confusing for your child to have to process your emotions when they have so many of their own. Process yours on your own so that you can be there to help your child process his or hers.
- It’s not about you: Use caution when revealing your life without your child back home, like the big party you had for Aunt Mary or the great new restaurant you have been going to. Try to stay focused on your child’s new world and what they are trying to show you. This day is for them to brag. Hearing about your full life at home without them could spark feelings of homesickness.
- Handling the good-bye: Saying good-bye at the end of the day is often a moment of angst for both kids and parents, particularly if it is a teary send-off. Try not to talk your child out of their feelings, i.e. “but you love camp and you will be bored at home”. Instead listen first, and reflectively: “So what you are saying is that you really want to come home with me rather than stay here at camp.” Remember, there are two sides to our brain. If a child is sad, you must hover with them in the emotional side of the brain first so that he or she can feel understood. Once your child feels heard, then you can enter into the rational part of their brain by saying things like, “I am not so sure you will feel happy at home with no one around.” If you skip hearing their feelings first, your child may escalate being upset which will make it much harder for you to leave.
Have a great time visiting with your children. Before you know it they will be home watching TV and overwhelmed with their homework. Try to enjoy the last few weeks of peace and quiet.
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