How Can You Tell if Your Child is Ready for Overnight Summer Camp?
Overnight summer camp seems to be a rite of passage for children these days. At some point in their childhood, children should experience a week away from their parents and learn how to handle themselves long term on their own. A summer camp is the perfect place for them to figure this out because it is a structured and safe environment for them to explore being responsible for themselves. Usually this is a success and most kids come back full of knowledge about themselves and self confidence.
How can you tell ahead of time whether your child is ready or not? At what point to you push the issue and send your child even though they might not think they are ready? Let me be the first to say that there is no correct age for this type of readiness. I know seven year olds that have spent a week at summer camp and been fine. I also know eleven year olds that were not ready. It all depends on the maturity level of the child.
Children mature at different rates. One of my younger kids is more mature than my oldest. I'm not sure there is much a parent can do to control this. You just have to deal with each child individually. What areas does a child need to be mature in to go away for a week?
If your child handles overnight sleepovers with friends and relatives well then a week long overnight camp might be fine. If you are making middle of the night runs to pick up your child (I have been there) then they certainly aren't ready to be on their own for a week. Does your child struggle to make friends? Is your child clingy to you when you go new places? He or she might not be ready. Would she be going with a group of people that she is already involved with? Is her best friend going? These things will make it easier on her and help the week be a success.
One of the first steps in helping your child be away from you is to allow them to be away from you. Long before we let our kids do overnight camps we have them do week long day camps close to our house. This allows them to get used to being at camp with the security of going home for the night. If this is handled well, then the next step is overnight camp. I have found plenty of camps that end with one overnight or are just two or three nights for younger children. This is a great way to help your child get used to being away from home without having to be gone an entire week.
One thing to consider is issues your child deals with on a regular basis. Does your child deal with bed wetting, nightmares, anxiety over sleep of any kind, etc? This would make an overnight camp extremely difficult for them. Does your child have developmental delays or emotional issues? This would make things difficult and you can assume they will be ready for summer camp later than most kids. Does your child have food allergies? It can be a challenge to find appropriate things to eat when you have food allergies.
Typically, the older the child is the better they will be able to handle an overnight camp. If you have any hesitations about whether your child is ready then talk to your child. Ask them how they feel about sleeping somewhere else for a week. Ask them how they would handle different situations that might come up during the week. By having a frank talk with your child you will get a better sense of whether they are ready for it or not. They could surprise you and really want to go, or they could surprise and express no desire to go to camp at all. Each child is different and just because all of his friends are going does not mean your child should go. I strongly believe though that if you have any doubts or hesitation about sending them then you should probably wait another year.