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The prospect of a no-kids week in the summer might have you hurrying to find a sleep-away slot for your child. Or your child might already be part of a Scout troop or other group that includes a summer sleep-away camping opportunity. Maybe the family of your child’s best friend has offered to include him in their vacation this year.

But you hesitate. How can you tell if your child is ready?

A quick rule-of-thumb is age. A week away from home is often too much to manage for kids younger than nine, unless the excursion is with a grandparent or someone else that’s family or as-good-as-family. Nine-year-olds have enough experience under their belts to adapt to most situations and they understand their own feelings well enough to soothe the inevitable homesickness. They have a good command of time and can tell “how long there is left to go” before the vacation comes to an end.

A second consideration is experience: has your child slept over at a friend’s house without problems? Is your child able to handle her affairs without her parents around, can she adapt to another set of rules and customs, and can she sleep in a strange bed without tears? A child who has never slept over at the home of a friend might find sleep-away camp too big a leap this summer.

Third, is the camp you’re thinking of a good fit for your child? If your kid is a bold adventurer eager for a challenge, he might love to rough it in the wilderness. But if your child likes his creature-comforts, enrolling him in a rugged experience “for his own good” is unlikely to make him a happy camper. There is a wide range of camps, suiting kids of every taste. And every camp – even one that seemingly presents little challenge – will stretch your child and teach him new things. Try to find a camp that will make your child happy.

Fourth, does your child want to go? If your child is dead-set against sleep-away camp then there is little to be accomplished by forcing her to go. Of course, as soon as you sign up your child, she will experience “buyer’s remorse.” Cold feet are to be expected and usually are not a reason to withdraw. But if sleep-away camp is the last thing your child wants this summer, then see what other options are open that she’ll find more acceptable.

Finally, are you ready? Can you be happy without knowing what your child is doing every minute of the day? Can you survive without knowing if he’s eating well or sleeping well and if the other kids are being nice to him? It goes without saying that you’ll choose a camp wisely. A good camp that’s well supervised and fun can create wonderful memories and a wish to return next year. But the other secret to a great camp experience is the readiness of the child and his parents. Sleep-away camp is a big step, a rite of passage.

If both of you are ready, then sleep-away camp can be a summer treat for the whole family.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.

Summer is sleepover season. With no school days to work around, more evenings are free for sleepovers. And your children even may be invited away for an entire weekend. It all sounds fun and usually it is. Assuming that your child is old enough to enjoy a sleepover and not need to come home at midnight, what else should you think about before you say “yes”?

Here are some thoughts…

  1. Know the family. It seems obvious that you should know the names of the people your child will stay with and their address, but many times children don’t know this basic information about their school friends.  So know first and last names, who lives in the home and where the home is before you consider a “yes.”
  2. Know something about the family. Does this family share your values? Think here about media use, substance use, use of profanity, and use of harsh discipline. If you don’t know the family well enough to have a good idea of its values, then you really don’t know enough to let your child stay over.
  3. Know about obvious dangers. If the family owns guns, are all of them locked up? If the family owns a dog, is it completely safe? If there is a possibility the family will go swimming, go four-wheeling, or shoot off fireworks who will be in charge and how will the kids be kept safe? The way to know is to ask. Don’t be embarrassed. Ask.
  4. Know who’s in charge. Are the parents planning to go out themselves on the sleepover night and leave the children with a babysitter or older teen? Who will be there and how can you reach that person?
  5. Know how many other kids will be there. Is this a single-kid sleepover or a slumber party? If there will be a crowd of kids there, the ability of any parent to control the group is diminished and some parents give up altogether. The possibility for mayhem increases, including raids by a group of the opposite sex, drinking, dangerous stunts, and nasty gossip. Give extra thought to consenting to a slumber party, especially if your child is a teen or preteen.
  6. Know that your child knows how to reach you. Make sure your child knows you will always come to pick her up – anywhere, anytime – if she feels she needs to make an exit. Make sure your child know that if she feels uncomfortable about anything or anyone, she should trust her gut and speak up – or just get out.

One way to find out more about a family your child wants to visit overnight is to host a sleepover for that family’s child at your home first. You’ll get an idea of what the child thinks are “normal” family activities and you’ll get an idea of how attentive the child’s parents are. Just remember that no actual sleeping happens at most sleepovers.

Most families are pretty much like yours and most sleepovers go off without a hitch. The sleepovers that go wrong are unusual enough to make the evening news. But it still pays to be careful. It’s okay to say “no” if you cannot responsibly say “yes.”


© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.