My son is going into 5th grade next fall. I still can’t believe that he’s a tween. It seems it was only yesterday that he would not let go of my hand in preschool. He was one of those kids that would cry and need extra comforting to let go.
Although I did not consider sending him away for sleep away camp for this summer, when I saw a 4 weeks long day camp that provided the opportunity for him to go with his counselors on a five-day trip to Orlando and Tampa, I thought he would be ready. I convinced my husband, who sometimes has more separation anxiety issues than I would have ever imagined, to agree.
I then hoped, okay, even prayed, I was right.
I hoped I was right to make him feel that I trusted him to go on a short trip by himself and to empower him with the knowledge that he can be independent and self-sufficient.
I admit I barely slept the night before he left. What if I was wrong? My husband’s fears also made me nervous. Was I pushing too much?
Well, my son came back from his trip with a huge smile. Of course I’m relieved, but most of all, I am so happy. Here’s what I learned from his trip, even though I did not go with him.
Trust your instincts
I felt it was time to let my son go off on his own to some degree, even if I don’t think it’s time for him to go away for several weeks. Each child is different and you should trust your knowledge of his or her personality.
Pack what’s needed
In my case, the trip organizers gave the parents a detailed list of what to pack and it was tremendously helpful. If your child is going on an overnight trip and no list was provided, ask the teacher or counselor what to pack. Then, add an extra pair of underwear and socks, at the very least, in case something happens. You should also include a plastic bag for dirty laundry. The best tip I received was including dryer sheets, so everything would smell decent at least.
Organize to make it easy
To make it easier for my son to find what he was looking for, I grouped similar items and put each set in a resealable bag (including underwear, socks, and bathing suits). I put all of my son’s toiletries (travel size shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, etc.) in a zippered bag (we used one of my husband’s Dopp bags) so he could take it with him to the bathroom and throw it back in his duffel once he was done.
Give them wings and they will fly
My son has learned over the years how to manage his money, to sleep on his own, be respectful of shared spaces, and to stay close to a responsible adult when taking a trip or going to an amusement park. All of that came in handy during his four-night trip. The most surprising thing was that he actually brought back almost all the money we gave him for incidentals.
Know how to stay in touch, but don’t nag
Different camps have very different policies about how to stay in touch with your child. Some ban mobile phones, email and contacting counselors directly. In my case, texting the counselor was allowed. However, the whole idea is to let your child experience some kind of independence, so I vote against texting or calling every 5 minutes. You should also understand that even if you give your child a mobile phone (if allowed), there’s no guarantee he will use it or respond to your calls or texts. Contacting the camp office, counselor or teacher directly is much more efficient and will give you greater peace of mind. However, keep it within reasonable limits. If you can’t stand the idea of your child being out of reach for a few hours, YOU are probably not ready to let go and need to work through your own apprehensions and insecurities.
Embrace the loss of control and the lesson it will bring
I’m pretty strict at home with certain things, including bath time. So, I actually expected my son to continue with his routine away from home. Guess what? He didn’t. He decided to shower every other day. Not my preference, but at least he told me the truth. When I explained to him why showering after a hot day is necessary not because mami says so but because it’s hygiene 101, he finally got it.
Has your tween gone away for a few days? Did it teach you anything? I’d love to hear about your experience.
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