Camp can be a beneficial, fun, life-changing experience for every child, but if you have two or more children in your household the biggest decision looking ahead to this summer may be "Do I send one or all of them to camp?"
Even if your children get along famously and enjoy many of the same activities, before you decide to send anyone to a residential camp for a summer adventure they'll never forget, you should ask yourself the following questions about each of your children individually:
- How old is your child? Keep in mind that kids under age seven may not readily adjust to being away from home.
- Does your child show an interest in attending camp?
- Has your child had positive overnight experiences at friends' or relatives' homes, or are sleepovers a source of anxiety?
- What activities does your child expect to do at camp, and are those expectations positive and realistic?
If, after careful thought and talking to your children as a family, you decide all the siblings in the house are ready and equipped for camp, the next consideration may be "Do I send them to the same camp, or do I separate them?"
There are pros and cons to both choices. Siblings who are close in age and interests and consistently get along with each other may find camp even more enjoyable if given the opportunity to experience it together. And when the camp experience is over, the siblings can reminisce and engage jointly in any new hobbies they picked up over the summer. Keep in mind, however, that camp also helps attendees develop better social skills and encourages independence and healthy risk-taking. If your children are too focused on each other, they could miss the opportunity to make new friends and spread their wings.
If you think your children's photos ought to appear by the term "sibling rivalry" in the latest child psychology text book and they fight like cats and dogs, consider sending them to different camps. You don't want unhealthy competition to color what ought to be a fun-filled experience.
You may also choose a compromise. You can always send your children to the same camp so they know someone is there if needed, but request that they be placed in separate cabins and activity groups. That way, they can compare notes when they are back home, but each will have had their own unique and rewarding experience.
What do you do if the younger sibling in the house just isn't ready to attend camp yet, but your older son or daughter is raring to go and you choose to let them?
Bob Ditter, family therapist and one of the nation's leading experts on camp, cautions it is likely that the child left at home will experience separation anxiety and truly miss his or her older sibling. He suggests a few courses of action to relieve the longing:
- Before the eldest child leaves for camp take a picture of your children together that the younger sibling can keep in their room or carry around in their pocket until big sis or bro returns.
- Encourage your son or daughter who is going to camp to take the time while there to write a letter home to their younger sibling. Getting personalized mail will single out the younger sibling in a positive way and reinforce the bond between siblings.
- Don't worry about planning special activities with your stay-at-home child. "All children are more caught up in the moment than adults, but younger kids especially so," Ditter said. "Once their brother or sister is at camp, they can easily get back to their regular routine at home."
- Remind your younger child that camp is still in their future when they are a little older.
One more plus to siblings attending camp together: Camps often will offer discounts for two or more siblings.
Whether you decide to send one at a time or they all go together, keep your children's interests in mind when researching potential camps.