Visiting Day…. the right of passage that has been all over the internet. The Running…. The Hugging…. The Candy and Junk Food…. The Smiles and Happy Faces…..
And then, there is that one child, that one family, that is having a very different experience. You have planned for 3 1/2 weeks for the moment and your child finally finds you and is hysterical crying. OMG!!!! What happened? What’s going on? They have been to this camp for 4 years, always happy and all of a sudden they are absolutely a blubbering mess of tears, complaints, angst, and more. What is going on?
There are a couple of things for you to do and the first is of utmost importance: MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS!
Take a look at the situation in the following order:
1. Health – Identify if your child is physically ill, or coming down with something.
2. Overwhelmed – Is your child overwhelmed by the build up of your arrival? Is he or she finally able to release all of this pent up emotion and finally get it out of their system?
3. BFF Issue – Let’s just call this the temporary “he/she is picking on me” syndrome. There may have been a spat that occurred right before you got to camp, or a few days prior. The feelings may still be lingering, unresolved, and “Mom/Dad” is there to save the day.
4. Counselor Issue – This one is something to have your antennae up for. If your child indicates there is an issue with the counselor, again, don’t make any assumptions but give your child a safe space to talk freely about what is going on. If there are ruffled feathers due to a disciplinary issue, this can be resolved easily. If there is something deeper as to abuse or inappropriate touching etc., be sure to get the Camp Director involved right away. But beware of putting words into your child’s mouth. Allow them the comfort to just talk and share their experience. Remember, the counselors are young adults at the start of their lives as well. An inappropriate accusation can destroy their lives as well as your child’s. If there is something inappropriate occurring, make sure you handle it with care and class. We will focus on this in a separate article.
5. Outgrown the camp – At the start, I mentioned that you are returning for the 4th year — as an example — and this is the first year that the tears are flowing. And often times, this can happen when your child is around 12 or 13 years old. They have attended the same camp, with the same kids, and enjoyed every moment of camp in the past. But alas, young teenage-hood has struck.
Children develop differently at different times in different ways. I remember at 12 years old, I looked like I was the littlest one on the ball field, on the tennis courts, anywhere relative to my peers who had already gone through a growth spurt. Those who know me, know that I never quite had that growth spurt, but during those middle school years, kids grow physically and emotionally at very different rates. So what kind of changes occur and how does it impact your child’s summer experience?
Some children develop physically and are stronger and better athletes — and therefore, need a different setting ie a specialty camp
Some children begin to understand their preferences ie non-athletic and more intellectual desires, more specialized in their desires, and need a change towards a boarding school program or age appropriate travel program
The rah-rah of the past several years is no longer their desires and they may need a more sedate setting
Just want a new experience
Bottom line is there is nothing wrong with the camp and nothing wrong with your child. It is just time to move on. The benefits of the existing experience have been achieved and there are more worlds to conquer in the future. Some children are destined to go to the same camp and be with the same kids year after year and never want to leave. Some children are destined to got to several camps, several experiences, several different programs. The beauty is that each child and each family has many options.
I attended two different traditional camps, tennis specialty camp, travel program and an international boarding school program. Each one was excellent, exciting, and eye opening. My sister attended the same camp for seven years. They were both correct experiences for us. I have clients who have been all over the map with choices for their children.
So what to do with your crying child at visiting day? Hug them, love them, and send them back to camp (assuming it is safe and you have verified that). Let them know that they can have a wonderful time for the next few weeks and that you will talk about options in the future. But today, enjoy all the donuts, junk food, presents, shows and more.