I have been a camp director for 20 years and this is one of the questions I am most frequently asked. Should my child go to camp alone? Should my child bring a friend to camp? The answer I almost always give, “it depends”, frustrates anxious parents who are looking for definitive guidance. The answer depends heavily on this question “Why do you think your child needs to attend camp with a friend?”
If you think that your child “cannot make it at camp” without a friend, my recommendation will surprise you. Send your child solo. Don’t panic at the world “solo”, I use it only to convey that your child will arrive without a known friend, not that he won’t have friends once he’s there! The right camp is loving and nurturing, with counselors well trained in helping children reach their full potential – and this includes facilitating new friendships from the very first moment camp starts. The statement that your child needs a friend either reflects the fear that you’ve chosen the wrong camp or that you do not have the faith that your child can make friends. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have already unconsciously communicated this anxiety to your child.
First, you need to confirm you’ve chosen the right camp. Call the director and share your concerns about your child. See what s/he suggests. Once you’re comfortable with your choice of camp, then examine your own attitude. You must adopt the attitude that your child’s success is a foregone conclusion. Convey confidence and excitement about camp. A parent’s body language on opening day at our camp is a great predictor of a camper’s success. Parents who linger trying to reassure, frequently have campers who struggle. Those who smile and point out opportunities and potential, tend to have children who do the same. I admire the mothers who smile the entire time, but wear sunglasses to hide their tears when they say goodbye.
Sending your child solo will force her to be responsible for making her own friendships, rather than clinging to the security of a known friend. This is where your child will experience life-changing growth and I suspect is one of the reasons you’re sending your child to camp in the first place, to develop confidence and independence. I would also suggest a longer camp term (2 weeks minimum) to give your child the extra needed time to practice these friendship skills. A shy child can practice avoidance for a week, but most likely will start to feel comfortable the second week and may have made a life long friend by the third week. (see related article – What's a good length of time for summer camp? )
Sending a first time camper with a friend does have one distinct advantage- providing comfort before camp starts. “At least he’ll know one person” is a frequent statement I hear. Yes, that is true, but I would gladly trade off the pre-camp comfort of a known friend for development of friendship making skills that will last a lifetime.
Susie Baskin is the owner and executive director of Camp Champions in Marble Falls, TX, along with her husband, Steve. They live at the camp year round and have raised their four children there. Read her bio at About Us.
Want More Like This? See Also: How Camp Teaches That Failure Can Lead to Success