By Eliza Kingsford, LPC, Executive Director, Wellspring Camps
Many parents may feel some trepidation in allowing their children to go to sleepaway camp for the first time. There may be anxiety about how they will cope with being away from home and whether or not the experience is a productive one. However, there are many valuable lessons children learn from being on their own, and even a few weeks away can impart unforgettable memories and lessons that will stay with them for a lifetime.
1. Making Friends
While this may seem like an easy skill, many children struggle with being social and find that making friends does not come easily. In a camp environment that is tailored to your child’s interests, peer connection is inevitable. There’s also the added benefit that camps are generally smaller than a school environment, and making friends can be practiced in a safe space.
2. Learning to Cope in Difficult Situations
Not surprisingly, homesickness is one of the most common issues that campers struggle with at sleepaway camp. New surroundings lead to new feelings, but this can be a perfect time to practice coping skills and learn how to effectively handle difficult emotions. Campers have the support of their counselors and camp administrative staff, but it’s not mom and dad, so they will have to rely on their innate (and sometimes learned) skills to deal with sadness or anxiety. As long as this does not become a problem that would indicate damage to their emotional well-being, this is a good atmosphere for them to learn to practice those skills.
3. Creating a Sense of Independence
Sleepaway camp is a safe environment for campers to begin to learn some independence from their parents. They can practice decision making skills (shall I choose a turkey sandwich or peanut butter and jelly), assertiveness training (no thank you, I’m not interested), coping skills (I’m sad, but my bunkmate makes me laugh), and other aspects of independence that they don’t get to practice while their parents are around.
4. Camaraderie of Fellow Campers Who Have Experienced the Same Struggles
At Wellspring Camps, campers have a unique connection with each other. Oftentimes, campers who struggle with obesity and being overweight don’t feel like they fit in at home, are teased for their weight, or just don’t feel comfortable in their own skin. Wellspring might be the first time when they feel that others understand what they’re going through and accept them for who they are. Feeling completely at ease around their peers enables campers to truly be themselves, an invaluable experience.
5. Creating a Healthy Obsession
This one is unique to Wellspring’s philosophy as an organization committed to changing lifestyles for good. We are committed to instilling confidence, skills sets and behavior change in order to create a lasting healthy impact on all of our campers. We hope campers leave with a new lens on health and nutrition and the behavior change that is necessary to accomplish long-term success.
Whether you send your child to day camp or sleepaway camp, summer camp is a great option that will contribute to your child’s education and maturity, leaving them with memories and lessons that will last a lifetime.
Eliza Kingsford is a Licensed Psychotherapist, specializing in weight management, body image and eating disorders, as well as the Executive Director for Wellspring Camps and a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor.