Too Young for Camp? // my husband and I are arguing about our son’s homesickness

By Slovie Jungreis Wolff

Thank you for your timely letter. As camp season approaches, many parents and children are grappling with similar quandaries. I understand the deep emotions you are expressing. Your husband feels strongly that the time has come for your son to grow up. You, on the other hand, don’t want to push your child and watch him suffer. Your son is a very sensitive boy who cries when camp is even mentioned. What should you do?
Let us begin by stating that both you and your husband have the same goal. You both want to raise an independent child who will embrace new places and experiences with a healthy attitude. After all, the day will come, b’ezras Hashem, when your son will need to be self-sufficient. The question is, how do you reach this destination in the best way possible?
You describe an 11-year-old boy who refuses even to spend a Shabbos with his grandparents. Do you simply throw him into the deep end of the pool and hope he swims, or do you provide him with swimming lessons and help him progress from beginner to advanced?
I’d like to preface my response with a clarification:
There’s a difference between a child who has expressed a desire to go to camp and is already signed up but is now feeling nervous, and a child who is anxious, prone to intense homesickness and has difficulty going on overnights. The first child needs some reassurance, as well as reminders that he made a commitment. The second child is simply not ready for camp right now. This doesn’t mean that the intensely homesick child shouldn’t or can’t go to camp. But he requires your help so that he can be a well-adjusted camper next year.
The words of Shlomo Hamelech, “Chanoch l’naar al pi darko, educate a child according to his way,” are our clearest guiding light in this scenario. This means that when it comes to raising our children, it’s not about our personalities or traits, it’s about working with the neshamah we have been given. The issue is how we help this child climb the ladder of life and overcome his fears and challenges successfully.
I understand that your husband questions what will be different if you wait another year. But what will happen when this boy, who has never even spent a Shabbos with his grandparents, is thrust into a new situation? What is gained by sending him to camp prematurely? A child grappling with homesickness and intense anxiety can be easily bullied or lose self-confidence. Your child has to learn how to deal with his emotions. Right now, he doesn’t have the practical skills or understanding to overcome these feelings. Unless you have experienced intense homesickness, fear or loneliness, you cannot possibly comprehend what he is feeling.


To read more, subscribe to Ami