Dealing With A Late Change Of Heart About Camp

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Dear Miriam,

Members of my family have been going to the same summer camp for generations. Now, two weeks before camp starts, my son is telling me that he doesn’t want to go this year. He went last year and seemed to have a great time. I don’t know how seriously to take this totally impractical change of heart. What’s the best approach to get us through the summer?


Crying about Camp


Dear Crying,

Change is hard, and I mean this for both you and your son. For you, even the idea that your son might not want to continue this beloved tradition is probably very jarring. For your son, the change from the school year to some time off and then to camp is a lot of transitions in a short amount of time.

If I had to bet, I think his not wanting to go is a symptom of too many things happening all at once and not anything specific to the camp. He may grumble at first but will likely warm up to the idea once it’s actually happening. Even so, it’s a good idea to give the staff at camp a heads-up to keep an eye on him to make sure nothing seems amiss.

In the meantime, you need to talk to him. Ask what he remembers from last year and be willing to hear both the good and the bad. Give him lots of space to reminisce. If there are pictures from last summer, look at them together and talk about them. Ask if he has any particular concerns about going back, and even if they seem silly to you, don’t dismiss them, and make sure he feels heard.

If you hear concerns that are bigger than you expect, consider what options you have for the summer. Can he leave early if things go badly? Are there trusted adults at camp he can go to if needed? Do you just need this to work and can’t offer him any outs, and if so, how can you entice him to do something that goes against his guts? And then ask yourself if you want to entice your kid to do something that goes against his guts.

I get it. At this point in the summer you might not have a choice. You might lose out on both childcare and a lot of money if you’re forced into making another plan. I really do think that if something terrible happened last summer, you would have heard about it before now. But on the off chance there is a real and substantial reason your son doesn’t want to go back, be prepared to put his comfort and safety before family tradition, money, and convenience.

I hope he goes to camp and that he has a wonderful time. But no matter how the summer goes, be ready for the fact that he may not attend this camp forever. Assuming he goes and that things go well enough, a few months after he gets back, set aside some time to talk about how he was feeling before, during and after camp. Follow up on any concerns he shared with you to find out what impact, if any, they had on his summer. And when it comes to planning for next summer, make sure his voice and thoughts and opinions are fully part of the equation. He should be empowered to express his opinions, to attend a camp where he feels comfortable, and to be a partner in deciding his summer plans.

Be well,