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Summer camp season is almost upon us. (In fact, if you haven't already registed your kid for a program, you're a little behind schedule!) But how can you tell if your kid is ready for a sleep away camp experience? Child psychologist and Today show contributor Michele Borba shares her advice:
"Most experts feel that age 8 is when a child is ready for a summer camp," Borba says. "Most parents feel kids are ready for their first overnight by age 7. Even then, there's no magic age when your child is emotionally ready to be away from home. Even she begs to spend a few hours or the night away, she may not be ready."
Here are some basic questions to help gauge whether your child is ready to venture forth without you for just a sleep-over let alone away at camp:
Does she sleep in her own bed all night? Or is she climbing in with you at two o’clock in the morning?
Does she have any problems separating from you when she goes to day care, the baby-sitters or school?
Has she successfully made it through the night at a close friend's house, or with relatives?
Is this something my child wants to do or is it what I hope she will do?
"If you can say 'yes' to each of those queries, then apply the 'Baby Step Model,' Borba advises. "Start by sending your kid to a half-day camp, next to a full-day, then overnight, then a weekend away, until finally she’s packed off to the week (or more) long camp. Watch to see how well your child adjusts to each step along the way (as well as how the camp counselors adjust to your kid)."
But be prepared for setbacks: "Even with all that advance prep, research shows that things aren’t always total bliss," Borba says. "Up to 80% of kids who go to sleep away camp miss something about home, so don’t be surprised if you get that 'Mom, come pick me up now!' call."
The good news, Borba says: Most of those pangs ease within a few days. To gauge how well your child is doing, simply ask the question: How homesick have you been feeling? "Most parents assume it will worsen the symptoms when, on the contrary, researchers find it actually puts you in a better position to hear where your child is coming from and check-in on his emotional state," Borba says. "Then you can decide if he can make it a bit longer or does need to be rescued."