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Is my child ready for sleep-away camp?

An estimated 12 million kids will be heading to sleep-away camp this summer, but deciding whether your child should be one of them can be a tough call. Some children welcome the independence of sleep-away camp; other kids fear it. How can you tell which camp your child falls into? Look for these signs:

  • Age. Children should be at least 6 years old before they head away to a residential camp, say both the American Camp Association and the National Camp Association. Younger children just aren’t ready emotionally—nor have they acquired the necessary independence—to be away from their families for days at a time.
  • Interest. Whose idea is this camp thing anyway? If your child is the one expressing interest, that’s a clear sign he or she has at least thought about what being away from home will be like and can handle it. If you’re the one pushing for camp and your child seems hesitant, respect his or her reluctance. Involving your child in the camp decision will make the experience more positive for everyone.
  • Personality. Is your kid one of those adaptable, independent sorts who doesn’t rely on you to get up in the morning or be tucked in at night? Is he or she also comfortable sleeping at other people’s homes? If you can answer yes, your child may be ready.

If your child is on the fence, sleep-away camp may still be an option if he or she can express fears and you can offer coping strategies. For example, is your child worried about being homesick? Ask relatives or friends to invite him or her for a weekend and see how your child handles several nights away from home. Recruit a friend to attend camp with your child, or before leaving home, ask the camp director to put you in touch with someone who will be in the same cabin. Let your child know that most kids are homesick the first few days—research shows that as many as 90 percent of campers experience homesickness—but the feelings usually diminish as kids make friends and get more comfortable.