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ONE CHILD AT CAMP, ANOTHER AT HOME

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by American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey® (ACA)

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   You’ve just dropped your older daughter off at camp for the summer.  Her younger brother isn’t quite ready for the camp experience and is staying at home with you.  You may be concerned about how to ease their separation.  Or you may be wondering how to assure your stay-at-home child that he shouldn’t feel left out of the fun, while not spoiling him at the same time.

   What special things should you do or take into consideration for your younger child while your eldest is away, so that both take the separation in stride and enjoy their respective summer activities?  


   According to child and family therapist Bob Ditter, of Boston, MA, your younger child will, in fact, be likely to be missing his older sibling.  In preparing for that likelihood, Ditter suggests taking a photo of your younger child and his older sibling together before the older one leaves for camp.  Your younger child can refer to – and enjoy – the photo, perhaps in his bedroom, as a reminder that the day will soon come when the two of them will be together again.

   As for how your youngest will feel during this period, Ditter points out that he will probably be feeling two emotions at the same time.  He will miss the older sibling, but at the same time, enjoy the undivided attention from you.  “Parents should pull for that healthier emotion of feeling connected to the sibling,” says Ditter, who recommends helping your children to maintain contact with each other while your older child is away.

  Here’s one easy way to do that.  Encourage the older child to write a letter from camp to her younger sibling.  Children – like all of us – love to get something personal, just for themselves, in the mail.

   Having said that, it’s often hard to get kids to sit down and write at camp, so a little nudge may be required.  “You need to prime the pump,” says Ditter.  He suggests preparing an envelope for your camper pre-addressed to your youngest.  You might even consider pre-scripting a letter, writing down on a page ideas to trigger writing or a few simple phrases that require only filling in the blanks, such as, “My favorite activity at camp is......,” or, “On a hike today I saw.......”.  With those prompts, your camper is more likely to write the note, in spite of all the other activities at camp.   Your camper will enjoy mail from home, too, not only from you, but also from his brother or sister.  Helping your younger child write a note to his or her sibling can reinforce the bond between the two, and no doubt will create a happy moment between you and your young one.

   If you’re wondering if you should plan doing special activities with your stay-at-home child, Ditter counsels that it’s best to plan on business as usual.  “All children are more caught up in the moment than adults,” says Ditter, “but younger kids especially so.  Once their brother or sister is at camp, they can easily get back to their regular routine at home.”

   As for planning a trip, it’s not advisable to go on a vacation while older child is at camp.  Day trips are okay, but Ditter recommends guarding against doing too much out of the ordinary.  “It sets kids up to lord it over the other,” he says.  The younger child will feel suddenly “special,” and the older child, upon learning about it when she returns from camp, will feel as though she has missed out on something.  Your returning camper may wonder, “Why did you wait until I was gone to do this special, fun thing?”  “It detracts from the older child’s experience at camp,” says Ditter.

   Reinforcing the bond between your children, assuring each of them of your love and support, and keeping to a normal routine – all can help enhance the positive experiences of camp for your older child, and pave the way for your youngest to look forward to the excitement of his first time at camp.

Courtesy of the American Camp Association® (ACA). With up to 300 health, safety, and programming standards, ACA is the only national association that accredits camps.  To learn more, visit www.CampParents.org.


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