Summer camp is a truly unique experience in child development. Over the course of several summer weeks, kids make astronomical strides – they become more independent, learn to navigate social situations, and adapt to living in a group environment. They make their own beds and proactively brush their teeth; they get themselves ready for the day, and oftentimes navigate campus independently, walking from activity to activity.
And inevitably, as soon as summer ends, parents step in and begin undoing much of the great work that has been done. Of course, parents don’t intend to undermine the camp experience – these incredible benefits are why they choose to invest in a summer at camp to begin with – however, their instinct to take care of their children can ultimately be an obstacle that keeps children from continually taking care of themselves.
The Parent’s Trap
One inevitable aspect of overnight camp is that parents are necessarily removed from the growth that takes place over the summer. The fact that parents aren’t around is what allows this growth to take place in the first place. However, one consequence of parents not having seen their children grow day by day is that they assume the child who comes home after summer requires the same coddling as the child they sent off to camp.
I spent the summer as the Program Director at a premier full-season girls’ camp in Maine, and after camp had concluded a number of moms came to camp and joined their daughters for a Mother-Daughter weekend. Within hours of arrival, I saw parents tying their daughter’s shoes and cutting their daughter’s food. Of course, these campers had spent a full summer responsible for their own laces and cutlery – and while counselors were there to look after campers and offer guidance, the kids were tasked with developing these skills; and by and large, they managed just fine. By stepping in and taking care of your child’s needs, rather than encouraging them to build on the skills they have developed, parents set their children up for regression and mitigate the incredible growth that a summer at camp provides.
Summer is a Building Block
So how can parents make the most of a child’s summer, and help them continue to build the skills they developed at camp? The answer is simple: don’t let them off the hook. If your child has spent a summer making their own bed and cleaning, encourage them to do the same thing during the school year – there may be resistance, but your child is capable and will be better off for this approach, (though you may want to take a page out of camp’s book and incentivize them with ice cream). Rather than laying out your child’s school-clothes in the morning, remind them of what they need to wear and trust them to get ready themselves.
Of course, every child is different and you need to be realistic with expectations. One child might still need some help tucking their sheets in, and no matter how independent your nine year-old may be, they are unlikely to do their own laundry or cook their own meals. However, by continuing to push your children to grow, rather than allowing them to revert to the way things were, you will aid in their development and hopefully raise a child who is capable, confident, and resilient.