A Place to Share: Letting Go

A Place to Share

by Bruce Muchnick, Ed.D.

Soon, parents will load their cars, vans, and SUVs with their children's
trunks, duffel bags and "stuff" and either drive to camp
or gather at shopping malls, airports, church and synagogue parking lots
to send their children off to camp by coach busses and planes while other
parents will be looking for the arrival of day camp busses in their neighborhoods.

The children of these parents will be among the millions of kids who
fill thousands of day and overnight camps of many different varieties
and sponsorships for either a short-term encampment or for a full season.

Looking around, we would probably sense the mounting anticipation, the
palpably felt excitement in the air. We would doubtlessly witness innumerable
hugs, kisses, hear words of encouragement, and, perhaps, see some tears.
There may be a shared but largely unspoken awareness that this departure
from home will somehow be different from other experiences in parenting
or in being a child. This act, this process of separating can have profound
meaning in the lives of children and their parents.

As a practicing psychologist (here in the office and at camp), I deeply
respect the profound impact that summer camp can have on children's
development. One very significant contribution is that camp can provide
the opportunity for children (and their parents) to practice for varying
lengths of time "letting go" in a unique setting that supports
and encourages this very important process.

Life can be viewed as an unquantifiable series of letting go and coming
together experiences. This process begins at birth when the umbilical
cord is clamped and cut (letting go) and the newborn infant is placed
in the waiting arms of his/her parents (coming together). Letting go/coming
together experiences continue with naps, time alone in the crib, a few
hours with a baby sitter while the parents have a break, visits with
grandparents. Opportunities for letting go/coming together experiences
seem to accelerate when kids join play groups or participate in day care
programs, attend nursery school, elementary school, engage in overnight
visits with friends or relatives, leap into middle school, camp, high
school, college and . . . into adulthood. Letting go is inevitable, healthy,
and desirable. This process provides children with opportunities to develop
autonomy and a stronger, healthy sense of self.

What awaits kids at camp is the opportunity to relax, have fun, let
their creative juices flow and experience the spontaneous joys of childhood.
Children, parents, community leaders, clergy, and social service agencies
often perceive a summer at camp as a respite from the strains of everyday
family life and the pressures and tensions of school. Away from the inevitable
pressures and distractions of life at home, aptly described by David
Elkind in The Hurried Child and All Grown Up and No Place to Go, children
have the opportunity to unburden themselves and renew their sense of
being kids.

At camp, children can learn to enjoy the outdoors, develop a greater
appreciation for the environment, experience the companionship of other
children, and learn skills that enhance competence, self-confidence,
self-reliance, the ability to cooperate with others, and, hopefully,
a greater awareness of life that is larger than one's self. Campers
can obtain guidance in problem solving from young adults and grownups
working as counselors, as well as specialists and support staff. Staffers,
in turn, have opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of children
and their needs, expand interpersonal skills to enhance their work with
children, with one another, and with management in a setting that also
supports their own personal growth.

Allowing a child to go off to camp also provides parents with opportunities
to take better care of themselves, to "sleep with both eyes closed," to
fill time not spent carpooling, reviewing homework, or running so many
errands with more time for engaging in their own interests, to do some
of the things parents are not able to do when the kids are around. This
increases the likelihood that when children return from camp at the end
of the day or at the end of the summer, parents will be refreshed, available,
and accessible again.

Bruce Muchnick, Ed.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice
based in Glenside, Pennsylvania. He is the founder and managing director
of Summer Camp Resources, P.C., a group of experienced professionals
who provide a variety of organizational and mental health services to
camp communities. You can contact the author at brumuch@summercampresources.com.

Originally published in the 2006 May/June issue
of Camping Magazine.