A strange new condition is afflicting parents this summer, and it's not pretty.
We all know the first day of camp can be an emotional time. But nowadays, it's the parent who need comforting--not the kid. Experts are pointing to a new phenomenon called "kid-sickness" where parents cry and cling to their kid on the first day of camp. Chalk it up to the Internet and cell phones making it easier to be in our kids' lives, "helicopter" parenting, or maybe the fact that many parents feel the world is more dangerous than ever before, but mom anxiety is definitely on the rise.
"A major reason kid-sickness occurs is because lots of parents now refer to their kids as their 'friend' rather than their 'child,'" says Peg Smith, CEO, The American Camp Association. "So when the kid leaves, the parent feels extremely empty without their 'best buddy.'"
"Sending your child away to summer camp requires a terrifying leap of faith," explains Joanne Kates, director of Amp Arowhan in Northern Ontario, who says she deals with 10 times as many phone calls from anxious and often meddling parents as she did 10 years ago. She saw a specific change after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Her camp has a policy where children aren't allowed to phone, fax, or email their parents. But the kids can use a private service that works with the camp to exchange handwritten messages, which are scanned and sent to parents every week.
"It's perfectly normal to miss your kids, but it's important not to show your anxiety otherwise they'll carry that burden with them," says child psychologist Frances Walfish, Psy.D. "And kids are very perceptive--they can sense when grown-ups are worried at just three months old."
So how do you calm your jitters? For starters, choose your camp wisely. "Consider who your child is and if he'll thrive at that particular place," says Walfish. Ask yourself, Why is this camp suited for him? Why does he want to go? Listen to your gut to make the best decisions.
Also important to remember: "For most kids, camp is a good thing," says Walfish. "Letting your kid live on his own teaches him decision-making skills and independence. What's more, he'll learn to negotiate for himself in a totally new environment with kids he hasn't gone to school with for years."
If you're truly worried, it may be a good idea to visit the camp grounds before the session starts so your child can familiarize himself with the area, know where the medical office is, even see his room, so he can visualize his summer there. That way, when camp starts things won't seem so scary. "You may even be able to sign up for pre-camp counseling," says Smith. "Lots of camp directors are willing to visit the family's home a few weeks before camp starts to answer any questions."
As for your own tears, while it's OK to say, "I'll miss you," steer clear of statements like, "What will I do without you?" or "I'm soooo sad you're leaving." If your kid is worried about you, he won't enjoy himself, which is really the whole point of the experience.
Then, keep busy. Have date night with your hubby, re-visit old hobbies, or do anything else you've been putting off. Or share your concerns with other moms who sent their kids to camp. You'll discover that separation anxiety is a common--and very manageable--condition.
And remember this: "You'll deal with much worse when your child leaves home for college, so camp is great preparation for the years ahead," says Walfish.
Have you ever suffered from "kid-sickness"?