Worrying when our kids are away from us is normal for parents. Every time I’ve ever dropped my kids off for a new adventure without me, I’m excited for them. But I’m also concerned about their safety, secretly wishing they would just STAY HOME, then counting the days until they return. I know it’s not rational (few things about parenting are), but I believe my kids are always safest when they’re home with me.
If you are new to sending your kids to summer camp, let me reassure you that while they are away, you can relax your worrying muscles. I’ve spent more than three decades working at a summer camp, sending my kids to other camps, and participating in the networking and training of summer camp professionals. I know A LOT of camp directors, have visited many camps through the American Camp Association accreditation process, and am a faithful reader of Camping Magazine. I definitely know about camp.
In Episode 91 of the Sunshine Parenting Podcast, I chat with my longtime friend, Camp Owner/Director Maria Horner. Maria and her husband, Tom, have been the executive directors of Catalina Island Camps since 1995. In this episode, we discuss four reasons not to worry while your child is at camp.
You have chosen a camp program that’s accredited by the American Camp Association. This means that the camp meets the ACA’s high standards to ensure a safe and nurturing environment for your child.
You have been in touch with the camp director. Always be upfront with any issues your child may be dealing with so that the staff can be prepared to help them. Take time review at all the material that the camp has sent you ahead of time and phone them with any questions you may have.
You have prepared yourself for the experience:
Want more reasons not to worry? Read this Sunshine Parenting post: 5 Reasons NOT to Worry While Your Kids are at Camp.
Audrey: “One of the reasons not to worry is actually the amount of training we do with our staff.”
Maria: “You chose an accredited camp, so if you’re coming to my camp, or if you’re going to any other camps in your Happy Campers group, those camps are all accredited by the American Camp Association, which means that those camps care enough to undergo a thorough peer review of its operation. And that includes everything from staff quality and training to emergency management–all things that they’re doing voluntarily to ensure that their program is top notch.”
Maria: “Camp professionals from around the country can volunteer to be what we call standards visitors. So every five years, a team of trained standards visitors go into each accredited camp and observe, both through documentation and practices actually in place, based on the identified standards, to see that the camps are in compliance with all of them.”
Maria: “If you’re going to allow me to take care of your child for two or three or four weeks during the summer, I’d actually think it stranger if you don’t want to talk to me first. I would imagine you would want to know who’s the person in charge of the place where your child’s going to be spending a lot of time. Pick up the phone and actually talk to the person who is running the show.”
Maria: “I really encourage parents to be as upfront and transparent about your child as possible. We can do a lot at our camp and we can do it way more successfully when we know in advance. If we have to spend a few days figuring out what’s going on with the kid, either socially or behaviorally, or even with their food issues, that’s time lost. If we knew that up front, we would be able to meet those needs right from the very beginning.”
Maria: “Get online and watch videos from camp. Besides our promotional videos, we have a program with our go-pro cameras and the kids make videos every summer. And that’s a great way to get an insight into what camp looks like through the eyes of our campers.”
Maria: “I think you really want to focus on the fun when you talk with your child. I think definitely engage your child in conversation to get a sense of their excitement level and if there are things that they are nervous about, you work together to develop strategies for the child to be able to address those.”
Maria: “It’s okay for me to be nervous, as a mom. It’s not okay for me to project that onto my child.”
Audrey: “What I really want parents to communicate to their kids is: ‘Hey, at camp there are all these adults there to help you have a great experience. So if you need anything and I’m not there, here are some people you can talk to: your counselor, the camp director Maria, the head counselors.’ I think that if you look on the website, or call the camp, you can find out who those people are. I think that empowering your kid to talk to those people is really important.”
Audrey: “I do think we are very connected with our kids, which is a good thing and close relationships are fantastic. But the dark side is that it makes it a little harder–when your child’s doing something independent from you–for you to have the separation.”
Maria: “One of the things that I often tell parents is to really take advantage of this opportunity. Consider what it means to have some time either just to yourself or for you and your spouse together. That doesn’t happen very often in the craziness of life and raising children.”
Maria: “We tell kids, it’s okay to miss home when you’re at camp. You can miss home and still have fun at camp at the same time. Those two things aren’t in conflict with one another. The same thing is true for the parent’s side. Of course, you miss your child and worry about them. That’s to be expected. And you can still allow them to have this amazing growth experience, even if you’re a little bit nervous.
Audrey: “Give yourself permission to enjoy yourself. Spend some more time on a hobby you haven’t had time for, go out to dinner, go to movies–there’s nothing wrong with that. And actually, you giving your child the gift of a more relaxed, happier parent when they get home from camp is amazing.”
Maria: “It okay to have an incredible experience not all together. It’s okay to let your child do fun things without you and it’s okay to do fun things without them.”
Audrey: “It’s always this kind of mixed bag; you’re excited for your kid when they have some new adventure or get some great job far away, but then you’re also like, ‘Oh bummer. They’re kind of far away.’ I think always keeping these things in mind that it’s okay to have both feelings.”
How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, MA, has been the owner of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989 and currently serves as the Chief Visionary Officer. In addition to her vision-casting and mentoring at GAC, Sunshine is an author (Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults), podcast host, speaker and coach on the topics of parenting, social skills, and happiness. Find out more at her website, Sunshine Parenting.