Camp Is Not For Every Child. . .Listen To Your Child's Fears

Jul 15, 2000

Agoraphobia is a terrible syndrome. It makes you NEED to be home, you simply, cannot leave home, without suffering panic attacks that are over whelming. I have had this as an adult, and I think that I, actually, had a form of it as a child.

Every year, my mother would bake cupcakes and cookies in huge amounts to gather the funds for me to go to music camp during my junior high school years. But, everytime it was time to go, I suffered unbelievable panic attacks, complete with total asthma attacks. I never went to camp. She was disappointed, but, didn't force me to go.

I don't know if my reasons may have been brought on by the fact that my step father had a habit of beating my mother (and me) on a regular basis, and that he threatened to kill her most every day. I do know that I always felt obligated to stay close to her in order to help her with this. I, at that age, could not go to spend the night with my relatives who had children my own age. I would try, but would end up in a panic attack, coughing and gagging. I would need to be returned home. I was pegged by those relatives as being a 'baby' because of it. (They refused to believe that my step father, with his baby blue eyes, soft spoken way of speaking when they were around, and big smiley face, could POSSIBLY be really doing what I tried to tell them was happening). It was no fun being called names, but more important to me that I get home and take care of my mother, as best I could.

School was attended, regularly, without a problem, as my step-father was always at work during those hours. But, evening would come, and it was time to be on guard. I will never forget the first night he took 3 huge bullets from his gun, put them on a dresser, and told me "This MIGHT be the night I shoot you in your sleep, your mother, and then, myself,so I won't go to prison.". He did that a lot. His parents were first cousins, and I think it may have affected his personality. He could fool anyone when he was being the 'great guy'. He became a monster every night.

I am not suggesting that your child has THIS particular fear. Hopefully, none of you had to go through anything like this. However, the child may have fears that are not so evident. I just want to make the point that a fear of leaving home for camp or for any where else, may be due to a fear that is very real to the child. It may not be a justified fear. But, if the child believes it, it is real to the child. The fear must be dealt with before a child is sent off to any camp, unless you want what could be terrible panic to be suffered by the child.

If your child is unable to spend a night away from home, without becoming terrified, why would you send such a child to camp? First, deal with the fear, so that camp can be a good memory, a great experience, to start with. Then, the child will have fond memories, and be anxious to go the next time. Listen to your child/ren. Ask why he/she doesn't want to go. The child may not understand why he/she is going. The child may feel you are just getting 'rid' of him/her for that time. The child may have problems 'wetting' in the night, yet. I can only think that this would be terrible for the child at camp. By 'camp' age, a child who understands how long camp is, that he/she will be meeting friends he/she knows, as well as making new ones, should be happy to go. If your child has been to a camp, and now, refuses to go, find out why. What happened at the last camp? Is it something that is likely to happen again, or something that won't happen, again? Does your child fear swimming? Can you get the child swimming lessons, before camp? Is your child afraid of the dark? This is very serious for a lot of older children. Can you practice having lights out?

Listen to the child. Believe your child's fears. Make your decision based on your child's readiness or his/her not readiness for being (1) away from you for so long and (2) his/her ability to believe he/she can keep up with the other campers without looking foolish.

Camp is not for every child. What sounds like a great vacation to you may sound horrible to the child. If you know another child who attended this camp, or will be attending it when you want your child to go. . .try to have the children interact before camp time. The other child may give your child the bravery to go. Maybe, your child has an entirely strange idea of what going to camp is all about. This could be 'fixed' if the 'old hat' child can talk to your child about what fun it is. I don't believe in forcing a child to go to camp.

I had two birth sons. One loved to go to camp. He was athletic, friendly, and adventurous. One son never wanted to go. He was friendly and social, but had a night 'wetting' problem due to surgeries he'd had, and was terrified he'd have a 'mistake'. I never sent him to camp, and he seems none the worse for it.

Watch and listen to your child. A normal anxiety can be expected, but, if it is truly panic, listen to it. A child can mature well without having ever gone to a camp. I recommend sending children who are prepared to go, and do not recommend forcing a child, who truly may have a good reason for not wanting to go, to attend camp.

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