By Rabbi Yitzie Ross

Question:

My 10-year-old son is refusing to go to camp this summer. I offered him either sleepaway or day camp, but he says he doesn’t like camp and he wants to stay home and “veg.” He’s an easygoing boy, and I can’t imagine him making any trouble, but I’m just worried he’ll be bored. I’d also be saving a few thousand dollars in camp tuition, which is nice. Is it a problem if I let him stay home?

Name Withheld

Answer:

Most children look forward to camp all year long. However, there are always those kids who don’t enjoy the camp experience at all, and this frequently includes day camps. It might be an aversion to sports, making new friends, or even becoming homesick. These kids don’t want to hear about it.

It might be frustrating for you to have your child home; nonetheless, I don’t believe that any child should be forced to go to camp. Having said that, before you allow your son to stay home for the summer, you need to set up guidelines and conditions.

First and foremost, boys should spend some part of each day learning with a chavrusa or tutor. Although many summer camps tout their advanced and superior learning programs, I believe that the basic goal in most camps is to ensure that each boy is prepared for the new school year. Therefore, you need to make sure that your child keeps up as well.

Ideally, this tutor should learn with your son for an hour every day. If he can only come a few days a week, that’s also fine. It would be beneficial to arrange for the learning sessions to take place in a shul or yeshiva, to demonstrate to your son that learning is serious. If this is not possible, make sure that the learning takes place in a quiet room, free from all distractions. He should always be dressed properly and have davened before learning.

The second condition should be regarding friends. One huge benefit of camp is that kids have an opportunity to develop and mature socially through interacting with others. You don’t want your son to miss out on this experience. So you should set up a playdate or an outing with friends at least twice a week. They can spend time playing in someone’s backyard or you can take them bowling one day. It doesn’t necessarily matter in whose house they get together or what they do. The point is, he must remain social.

The third condition should be setting up a schedule or routine. Your son is going to have a lot of free time in his day. This could be the reason why he doesn’t want to go to camp, since some kids need time to be free and explore without being subjected to a rigid schedule. However, he needs to create (with your help) a basic itinerary for each day. You don’t want every day to become pajama day or iPad day. He can go on a bug hunt, play with Legos, ride a bike, or do anything else. He just can’t hang out in the house all day.

The final condition should be that he can’t tell you, “I’m bored.” Those words can drive any parent crazy. Although you will gladly help him arrange activities, it’s not your problem if he has nothing to do.

I’ve included some hints to help you make an informed decision.

  1. Find out why your son doesn’t want to go to camp. Tell him that you’re curious and that you won’t pressure him.
  2. See if there’s a smaller camp that might be better suited for him.
  3. Ask if he will agree to go for a half a summer.
  4. Find out from friends if any of their children are in a similar situation. If so, try to create a daily playdate.
  5. If you are not home during the day, and the only one who would be watching your son would be a housekeeper, I would rethink letting him stay home.
  6. If your child is mature enough, maybe you can get him a “job” for a few days of the week. Walking dogs, mowing lawns, or anything that will keep him busy and productive.
  7. Limit electronics to a specific amount of time per day. This includes rainy days.
  8. Make sure to clear your schedule once or twice to spend quality time with your son. It’ll mean the world to him.
  9. Don’t harp on the fact that he’s acting differently than the other boys his age. He knows.
  10. Get him a musical instrument and some lesson books. Sometimes music can bring a child out of his shell.
  11. Make sure that even though he has some freedom, you know who he’s hanging out with at all times.

Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.

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