Sleep-Away Camp

Camping Out

Sleep-away camp is a great idea. At first. Your only child had friends who went last summer and had such an awesome time they convinced your kid that he would love the great outdoors too. For months you and your offspring devoured glossy camp brochures. You fantasized about riding horses, canoeing, rafting, swimming, and catching slippery silver fish. You thought about the many new friends your child would make. Your child dreamed of feeling grown up and independent. Finally you made a decision and chose idyllic Camp Winnebego where you have been told there is no poison oak, the food tastes like it comes from Julia Child’s kitchen, and the deer sip from clear, bright streams. It’s going to be the best experience your kid ever had. Then the day of departure arrives. You pile into the car and drive into the mountains. It’s not too far from home, just a few hours. But the closer you get to your destination the more uncomfortable your child becomes. He wants to know if he can call you if he gets lonely. He wants to know how often you will visit him. He wants to go home.

When you arrive at fragrant Camp Winnebego your child looks like he is about to lose his best friend… you. The counselors do everything to make him comfortable, and you try reasoning with him. Nothing works. You don’t want to give in (especially since you have paid for the whole week up front and the fees are non-refundable) to his fears, but you don’t want to abandon him either. Finally, you walk back to the car with the image of your child’s sad little face burned into your mind. On one hand you think that this will be an excellent growth experience (what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger), but on the other you can’t believe you can torment your own flesh and blood this way. Of course, parents of only children may have as much difficulty separating from their child as their child has separating from them.

Everyone has to give a little. With planning, your child’s the first camp experience can be beneficial for the whole family. It’s easier than you might think 29 to make your kid feel relaxed about leaving his cozy nest for a tent in the woods. Because only children don’t have siblings to disrupt their lives, change can sometimes be unsettling. But take heart, it’s a big step for the majority of kids. This summer 5,000,000 American children will leave for summer camp and for most, homesickness tags along with them.


Finding the right camp is the first step. You will want to choose a camp that offers a wide range of facilities and balances group and individual activities. This will give your child an opportunity to explore his/her leadership abilities and a chance to make the most of spare time. Before deciding on a camp, you should visit it yourself if at all possible. Meet the director and the staff. If you don’t like them, why would your child ? Also, does this camp match some of your child’s interests and expose him to new ones?


You and your child have decided that Camp Winnebego is a fit, but now you and your child have to prepare to separate. Here are some things you can do before camp starts to make things go more smoothly. 

  • Arrange for your child to visit relatives who live some distance away but with whom your child is comfortable. 
  • Have your child make brief trips to relatives or friends in the same city (you drop him off and leave). 
  • Encourage your child to spend the night at a friend’s or relative’s home whenever possible.


Only-child families can be very close and deeply involved with one another. If you feel that your family is a little too interconnected, carefully begin to spend time away from your child before camp begins. 

  • Take occasional weekend trips by yourself. Your child will learn that while you may leave, you always come back. By extension, he will come to understand that when he leaves you will be there waiting for him to return.
  • Go to the camp visiting day, but don’t be too tearful or clingy. Yes, parents can be more emotional than kids over separation. If your child has begun to adapt to camp but you are sad, he may feel guilty about having a good time.


Homesickness can be as debilitating as the flu. There may be no fever, but there is a deep ache. While there is no magic potion to cure this illness, some relief is available. 

  • Kids say that taking a “transitional object” with them can help alleviate homesickness. The object can be a photograph, a stuffed animal, or the always comforting “blankie” from baby days. Transitional objects keep home close and present. 
  • Most camps won’t let kids call home because it makes homesickness worse. Write lots of letters, send funny cards and care packages to your child. Encourage him to write back. Many camps offer computer classes and are linked to the Internet, so e-mail may be another way to say, “We love and support you.”


No matter how hard the adjustment to camp may be, it’s a place to learn new skills, test courage, and reach out to others. Your child will have to share a small space with kids he may or may not like, eat strange food, and function as part of a group. For only children who are used to being recognized as individuals, this may not be easy. But in camp the rule is adapt or be miserable, and kids like to have a good time. Ultimately, the most important thing your child will take away with him from camp is a greater self-confidence and the knowledge that he can succeed on his own. If you haven’t already selected a camp check out  the web for listings of camps in the United States and Canada along with tips for successful camping.