Visiting Day Tips & Preparation
About the only thing you can expect on visiting day is that it won’t go quite how you planned it. That’s OK, as long as you remain flexible and open to the experience. Most of you have read my research on homesickness prevention. Think of visiting day as the flip side of that coin. Whereas homesickness is a byproduct of an actual or anticipated separation from home, your child’s erratic visiting day behavior is a byproduct of the intense reunion. Responding sanely takes forethought.
Let’s start with the most obvious bright point: Visiting camp can bring your child great pleasure. But be sure to come only when the camp allows. For example, some camps have a “parents’ weekend,” where parents get to visit their children and see them perform some of the new skills they’ve learned. Other camps have a “visiting day” between sessions, so if your child is staying at camp for two consecutive sessions, you can visit for a day in between.
Whatever the case, abide by the camp’s published schedule. Visiting camp unannounced or on a day that has not been scheduled for visitation is a bad plan. More so than phone calls, in-person visits are an immediate form of contact that can provoke homesickness in your child and envy among her friends.
Unscheduled visits are disruptive to campers’ developing sense of independence. If you have any doubts about the appropriateness of your visit, be sure to call the camp and speak with the director.
Next, prepare yourself for some capricious displays of emotion. Thinking in categories makes it all seem less chaotic. Among the wide range of conduct you’re likely to see on visiting day or closing day are:
The Fountain of Youth. Fountain of Youth kids will be very excited about their camp experience and will immediately want to describe everything about camp in two minutes. Parents will be drenched with a steady stream of stories and explanations that they may not completely understand. Not to worry. Fountain of Youth kids know that their parents are the most important people in their lives, so they want to share with them all the great things that happened. Whirlwind tours of important places and people are a common part of this sharing. Parents should just smile and go along for the ride (with a camera, of course!).
The Poker Face. Poker Face kids probably had a great time at camp, but are oddly quiet on closing day. They don’t want to tell their parents much right away, but parents should not assume this is because they disliked camp. It’s just that Poker Face kids have an especially hard time leaving. They may be a little depressed about leaving new friends and wonderful places. However, the stories and experiences, good or bad, will come out in time. Parents who want the scoop right away can spend a few extra minutes talking to the child’s cabin leader.
The Tearful Camper. Tearful Campers are visibly moved by the close of camp. Tears are a real testament to the power of the overnight camp experience. Indeed, a priceless moment for a cabin leader or a parent is witnessing a camper who cried when he arrived (because the separation was so hard) suddenly cry from sadness that he is leaving. Tearful Campers may want to leave quickly to avoid the awkwardness of the moment, or they may wish to linger. Parents should ask their child’s preference or play the day by ear.
The Sensationalist. Sensationalists immediately tell their parents the single most dramatic thing that happened to them during their camp stay. “When we were camping out, the tent stakes broke and it started to rain, and my sleeping bag got muddy, and then we heard thunder, and I thought we were gonna die!” Don’t assume the worst. All campers have a mix of powerful positive and negative experiences at camp. Sensationalists may tell horror stories, but most of them had a great time at camp. Parents should listen carefully to get a balanced account of the session.
A few other things to remember about visiting day:
• Be on time. Stick to what you promised on opening day. Your son or daughter will be counting on it.
• Take a tour. Your child would love to show you around camp. Keep any critical comments to yourself—this is your child’s time to shine, not defend himself.
• Keep an open mind. You’ll wonder about certain aspects of camp. Ask gently for an explanation before passing judgment. Praise all of your child’s accomplishments.
• Share any sad news early and in person. Telling your child about the death of a pet or sharing any other bad news is best done in person, not in a letter or a phone call (when you’re not there to provide comfort). Break any bad news to your child early on visiting day to give you both time to talk about it.
• Send a replacement if you’ll be absent. Your child wants to see you more than anyone else in the world. However, if you can’t make it up for visiting day, tell your child far in advance. If possible, plan for a friend’s parents to include your child in their own visiting day festivities.
• Prepare for strong feelings. Visiting day can be a wonderfully emotional time, but it’s often hard for kids to say goodbye. Resist the temptation to offer your child a ride home. Instead, be understanding and encouraging. You’ll see her again soon.
Enjoy the summer!
Dr. Christopher Thurber