by Charity R. Bartley Howard
Children may feel they’re in a different world when they’re at residential sleepover summer camp—but while they’re off having fun, daily happenings at home don’t stop because they’re away. Sometimes this means that bad things happen at home, and it is up to you as a parent to decide what you are going to do with this information.
If something serious happens, such as a death in the family, there will be no question. Parents will contact the camp and let the staff know they are picking up their child. They will tell their child face-to-face about what happened.
The dilemma occurs when the news is upsetting or sad, but is not really considered a catastrophic event. It’s a new experience for you in parenting children, and you wonder if you should tell your child right away or wait until camp ends.
Step 1: Consider your individual child and the nature of the news
Counselors and camp directors recommended to Parent USA City that parents first ask themselves if the news can wait or if it needs to be shared immediately.
Keep in mind not every child can handle upsetting news. If the camper is unable to work with negative news then it can probably wait. Some children might want to go home or they might not enjoy their time at camp any longer after hearing such news.
Alaina Griggs has been a counselor with Spring Mill Bible Camp in Mitchell, Indiana, for more than 10 years. She started attending the camp herself as a camper and moved up to being in a cabin leading campers and teaching various classes.
She finds when making this decision, “It depends on the camper, because as parents you know your child best and understand how they will react.”
Kali Edwards, a counselor at Cedar Lodge Summer Camp in southwest Michigan, agrees. “This is an individual decision based on the parent’s knowledge of their child and the severity of the situation,” she says.
Step 2: Confide in camp staff
Camp staff recommend that you talk with your child’s camp director and camp counselor before giving your child upsetting news. They have dealt before with a variety of situations and know how to handle them.
“In the past, if there is a death in the family, the parents normally contact the director or child’s cabin counselor prior to informing the campers,” Edwards says. “For pet deaths, most parents have waited until they pick up the child to inform them of the loss.”
Let your camp staff be your guide. They are a great source of advice as well as support when dealing with your situation.
Both Spring Mill Bible Camp and Cedar Lodge Summer Camp have been around for more than four decades, so their staff have depth and breadth of experience. Spring Mill Bible Camp hosts nine weekly camp sessions every summer for campers ages 8 to 18, including a new college week. The goal is to provide a way for campers to gain friendships while becoming closer to Jesus. There is a softball field, a four-goal basketball court, and tennis courts on 80 acres of wooded hills. Cedar Lodge is a family-run day camp and residential camp (it was started by Edwards’ grandparents) for boys and girls. It is American Camp Associated Accredited and has a private lake and a wooded area built for biking and hiking as well. Campers stay in cabins at this small-capacity camp.
Step 3: Tell the child in person
Both Edwards and Griggs believe that parents should either wait to deliver the news when the child comes home, or they should come to the camp. In either case, the parent needs to tell the child face to face. What should not be done is telling the child the painful news over the phone, via email, or in a letter.
Alana Griggs expresses, “If it is something they need to know, then tell them in person, allowing you to comfort them.”
Edwards adds, “Remember that your child is away from their loved ones, those who support them best. Upsetting news can be very traumatic in such a setting, and parents should proceed with caution. Have a plan in place and be ready to answer all questions. Your child may not want to stay at camp after receiving such news, so know how you are going to handle that.”
Advantages of waiting
The consonance that Parent USA City received from talking with parents and staff from various camps is that, although every situation is different as is every camper, it is usually best to wait until your camper comes home to give them the upsetting news.
When you are considering telling a camper bad news, Edwards feels the camper should be able “to enjoy camp without the black cloud or burden of upsetting news. It is going to be upsetting regardless of the time or place they are told, so allow them to enjoy camp.”
Charity R. Bartley Howard lives in Central Indiana with her husband and two young sons. With degrees in journalism and English, she began her career in newspapers where she was a lifestyles editor. Her experience includes a wide variety from writing press releases to book reviews and editing articles and manuscripts.
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