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Empower Your Child for Sleepaway Camp Growth

Empower Your Child for Sleepaway Camp Growth

Tuesday, June 13, 2023
Category: Camp Families

Summer camp is an excellent opportunity for children to develop practical new skills, make friends, and gain independence outside of a school setting. As a parent, it’s natural to want to ensure your child’s well-being and success during this exciting experience.

Fostering Independence in Your Child

While the idea of empowering your child is all well and good, it’s helpful to consider some practical strategies to implement before they leave and during their camp session. You can foster independence in them using these tips:

  • Prepare for camp together:  Involve your child in the pre-camp preparations, such as packing their belongings, discussing camp guidelines, and setting realistic expectations about challenges they might face.
  • Invite your child to share their feelings:  Encourage your child to openly express their thoughts, concerns, and experiences. Actively listen to their stories and provide empathetic support without immediately jumping in to solve problems.
  • Work on problem-solving skills:  Help your child develop problem-solving skills by asking open-ended questions, brainstorming solutions together, and discussing potential consequences of different actions.
  • Try role-playing:  Practice potential scenarios they might encounter at camp, such as conflicts with peers or requesting assistance from camp staff. This will equip them with the confidence and skills to advocate for themselves effectively.
  • Make a plan:  Talk to your child about what kinds of problems they should try to solve on their own and when they should ask for help. Be sure they know who (other than you) they can ask for help and why camp staff members are great resources.

However, it’s important to strike a balance between offering support and allowing them to grow independently. Here’s how to empower your child to advocate for themselves at summer camp without becoming the dreaded “helicopter parent.”

What Is Helicopter Parenting?

A “helicopter parent” is a colloquial term used to describe a parent who closely hovers over their child, excessively monitoring and controlling their activities, often out of fear or a desire to protect. In the context of an overnight camp, helicopter parents might engage in constant, excessive communication with camp staff in an effort to arrange every aspect of their child’s experience. They may try to intervene in mildly problematic situations without giving the child an opportunity to handle them independently.

The Psychology Behind Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parenting during summer camp can stem from various psychological needs that, to an extent, are perfectly normal. Some of these include:

  • Fear of the unknown:  Parents may feel anxious about their child’s safety, well-being, or ability to navigate new environments without their guidance. This can make them unsure about when to trust the expertise of camp staff and when to become involved. 
  • Natural desire to protect:  Particularly because they’ve worked so hard to keep their children safe and happy until the moment their child leaves home for the first time, it can be hard to let go of the “protector” role on a dime. Parents may want to shield their child from failure, disappointment, or discomfort—at all costs.
  • Social motives:  Some parents may feel pressure to ensure their child performs exceptionally well at camp, either to keep up with other families in their social circles, or to boost their own self-esteem. Although these are less healthy motives than others, they are quite common.
  • Lack of trust:  In some cases, parents may struggle to trust the camp staff or believe that their child is capable of handling challenges independently. This may be particularly true if they did not attend camp themselves.

Although the urge to hover over your child while they’re at camp may come from the best of intentions, being overly protective can do serious harm to your child’s development. Some of the possible consequences too much parental supervision include:

  • Embarrassing them in front of their new friends
  • Keeping them from important socializing opportunities
  • An inability to solve problems for themselves
  • Poor coping mechanisms in the face of challenges, frustrations, and disappointments
  • Your child blaming you (and others) for their problems

Before your child leaves for summer camp—whether it’s for the first time or the fifth—it can be helpful to take a moment to assess your own feelings about their upcoming camp experience. If you’re feeling anxious about your child’s overnight camp experience, talk to your partner, a friend, or a fellow camp parent. This can give you a chance to process your emotions, gain some perspective, and consider some constructive ways to set your child up for success.

Why Children Need To Learn To Advocate for Themselves

Encouraging children to advocate for themselves at summer camp offers numerous benefits:

  • Encouraging personal growth:  Self-advocacy fosters resilience, self-confidence, and adaptability, helping your child develop essential life skills that extend far beyond the camp environment.
  • Strengthening relationships:  By advocating for themselves, children learn to communicate assertively and navigate social situations effectively, strengthening their interpersonal skills and fostering meaningful connections with peers and camp staff.
  • Gaining independence:  Allowing your child to solve problems on their own empowers them to become independent thinkers and decision-makers, setting them up for success in future endeavors.
  • Reducing anxiety:  Learning to navigate challenges and solve problems independently can reduce both your child’s and your own anxiety, as you both gain confidence in their abilities and resilience.

Remember, the goal of summer camp is to provide your child with an environment where they can learn, grow, explore new experiences—and have fun! With a little emotional honesty and planning, you can equip your child with the tools they need to navigate a wide variety of future obstacles and become confident, resilient individuals.

Set Your Child Up for Success With Surprise Lake Camp

Did you know that Surprise Lake Camp has its own Camper Care Team to help campers through homesickness and other struggles that may concern parents? The team includes a variety of mental health professionals. Personable and experienced, these specialists help watch for and address any potential issues, from homesickness to social dynamics. Campers know them as friendly listeners who can help them think through challenges, while counselors turn to them for advice on supporting their campers.  

Take the next step: explore our first-time camper experiences and request more information. Then come for a tour! 

Surprise Lake Camp is a nonprofit organization that provides a home away from home for generations of young people. We believe in the value of community and friendship. Our Jewish values and identity shape our connection to nature. We’re dedicated to helping young people unplug, grow, and develop values, confidence, and skills to last a lifetime, adding to SLC’s storied history as the nation’s longest-running Jewish sleepaway camp.

When you make a charitable gift to Surprise Lake Camp, you give children life-changing experiences. Partner with us to provide campers confidence, growth, friendships, and Jewish identity. Donate today!