Resilience: Are parents opening the door for their child’s independence?

Resilience: Are parents opening the door for their child’s independence?

Every year, millions of children prepare for the ultimate sleepaway camp experience. Many campers are veterans while others are nervous and need to rehearse being away from their homes, beds, parents and electronic devices.

Many parents make the crucial decision as early as September for their child to attend camp, which is certainly out of their comfort zone. Living conditions are different- especially rooming with a bunch of campers, some who are personable and others who may be annoying. The food that is served is not the typical home cooked meals they are used to. Campers will have the opportunity to master skills like archery, sports and culinary while playing fun games such as capture the flag, participate in hilariously silly skits and bond around campfires.

Why is leaving the home such a critical step to independence?

Part of the challenge for many children (more than we think!) is beating the homesickness which the parents can’t truly  help the child prepare for in advance. Taking this one step further, on a daily basis, parents are put in a position where they can no longer  do all they would like to do for their child. Some parents make sure that their children are heavily dependent on mom and dad to build self esteem, manage their social lives and pick their friends. Parents who control their children in this way, can not expect their children to be successful without them.  

It is time for parents to open the door and let their child walk out. Children need the summertime opportunity to walk away from their parents to learn about themselves. At times, they need to be on their own with experiences that belong only to the child without having to filter through what the parents think and feel about each situation and decision. Parents have to monitor and help guide when it’s appropriate, yet remember not to control. This experience is very difficult for many parents.  We as parents are always thinking: Will my child be happy? Will they make friends? What will happen if they don’t make the basketball team? What will I do if they are not in the bunk with a particular friend? Or if they are placed with the child who I don’t want him/her placed with? We often confuse homesickness with the parent’s child-sickness and control.

I will never forget a pre-Shabbos conversation that I overheard a parent having with their child who was away at sleepaway camp. This child enjoyed the first two weeks of camp, yet walked away with tearful eyes after hearing the following from a parent: I know you really miss us and it’s really hard for you to be away. Picture mommy and daddy sitting at the Shabbos table and then giving you brachot. Think of all the zemiros that we sing together. This shabbos we are having grandma and grandpa over and they really miss you as well. What was this parent trying to accomplish with this child? Was this helpful to the child? The parent actually expressed their own child-sickness and separation anxiety but did not give the child the positive erev Shabbos call they most likely intended.  The child went into the call excited to share all the wonderful things that happened in camp that week, yet walked away from the call sad and confused.

Most adults will tell you that some of their greatest achievements as a child were when they were away from their parents and taking a challenge that was even a bit risky. Camp builds leadership, confidence and identity.  It also allows for developing social skills, problem solving and self esteem.

Today’s parents are more emotionally close with and have deep attachments to their children while trying to protect their children from everything and anything they might perceive as traumatic. A study recently showed that parents have doubled the amount of time spent with their children in the last 20 years. Some of these hours are spent driving up to camp and settling their child into the bunk, unpacking and making their beds. Don’t we want the campers to have this experience on their own? Get on a camp bus and make new friends? Decide what to put in each cubby and how to make a camp bed? Don’t we want our children to learn how to be independent?

Every parent has to do their research and find the camp that they trust so that their child can learn to be more independent. A child needs to know that when they face a challenge, the victory belongs to them alone. If a child was homesick and moved past those feelings then the child accomplished this alone- without parental help. If the camper doesn’t like a program, has difficulty with another child or even with a staff member, it should be the child’s achievement in deciding who to turn to for guidance, solving these issues by problem solving and working out the details. The child will learn to speak appropriately and work with others, without a parent following behind. After all, don’t children need these tools for growing up? For school? For a career? For life?  A child who gets injured or dirties their clothing needs to learn how to solve these issues on their own without mommy and daddy smoothing things over. When parents are too involved in every move, it can have a regressive effect on the lives of their children.

As we conclude the second week of sleepaway camp, I am reminded of all the accomplishments of both our staff and campers. I have witnessed many children leave their comfort zone to achieve socially and begin to problem solve on their own. Those parents that encourage a mentality of independence will see true success from their children. I was extremely proud this week when a parent asked me to speak to their child and help work out some differences with the bunk dynamics. After two days of team building the campers have become closer friends and now interact in a new way. Unfortunately, there are always some parents that after hearing of a minor issue encourage their child to leave after the first month. Usually there is nothing majorly wrong and most issues can be solved quickly. Each small item becomes a learning experience for the camper to place in their problem solving toolbox of independence.  Parents who are child-sick sometimes harp on whatever they can to make sure that their child will want to leave camp and return home. I am sure though, that if we all work together, we will together raise more independent and successful children. This guided independence will eventually lead to a more professional work ethic as our children mature and prepare for a career in the future.

Bunk/School Requests- Who is really making the request?

When I think back to elementary school and even to my camping days I don’t remember the topic of requests being discussed. Today, one of the most popular topics at the beginning of every camp/ school season are requests. How many friend requests were actually met?  As soon as assignments are distributed, we as parents immediately work to gather a list of the class or bunk, some quickly post it on Facebook, and many of us get involved in the frenzy. We believe we are doing this on behalf of our children, yet it almost seems that some parents need to know for their personal satisfaction.  This concept has become  a “social event” amongst parents and at times overshadows  what is most important for our children- their happiness.

I recently wrote in Choosing a Summer Camp, that we all have reasons as to why we send our children to a particular school or camp. Hopefully, we have all done our research. However, there are so many other factors that we as parents need to be aware of  such as the decision process that the camp/ school uses when making placements.  Over the years we have allowed parents to request three friends and one is guaranteed. As educators we allow this because although we feel a particular class/ bunk is appropriate for the child, we also feel that it is   important for children  to be in their “comfort zone” and being with a friend can help with that. . In camp, we generally try to accommodate at least two requests if  possible.

friends blog

In today’s society, the parent’s excitement and possible anxiousness over their child’s placement can turn into great disappointment when the institution happens to have chosen “the one that my child didn’t really want…our child wanted/needs the other request.” This reality has become extremely sad and in most cases hurtful to a  child.  Usually the child does not even know or care and it’s the parents who insist on this “social placement” on behalf of their child. Often, the only reason the child is aware of it at all is because the parents announced it as a priority. Usually, when we think a child is “disappointed” they are able to get over the  hurdles relatively quickly . Parents often continue discussing the topic with the child instead of helping the child move on and meet new friends. A major component that parents do not always realize is that at the same time that the institution is being pushed to satisfy a request other  parents may have in confidence asked  for the same children to not be placed together. Many parents don’t believe that their child would ever be negatively requested. This all too common scenario places the school/ camp in a very uncomfortable situation.

On a practical level, schools look to place children where they  will learn to the best of their ability. Which teacher will develop the appropriate connection and bring out the child’s academic ability? That should be our focus. Our children generally have the  ability to broaden their friendships and to meet new people every year. I applaud those families who call me on the off-season expressing an interest for  their children to make new friends. Clearly, the requests are not the priority but rather the ability to broaden friendships  in a new setting. This scenario  reflects real life and helps prepare our children for the future.

Every school/ camp wants the best for each child. We need to trust that this is the goal of the institution we chose. While preparing for orientation and guiding staff for the most amazing season, it is important to  remember that it is the success of our children that is vital and not the exact line up of friends they sit next to. Occupying the administrator’s time, especially when at least one  request was granted, only detracts from the preparation and multiple hours that are needed to open the school/camp. Requests are important when used appropriately and we should be careful not to use them for our own “social placement.”