I swear my parents never worried about this stuff.
July 27, 2010 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Please help me decide if I should force my son to go on a camp sleep-over.

My husband and I are in a quandry about this parenting question. Please help! (Sorry in advance for the long question...)

Background: We have a 7-year-old son. He tends to be quite attached to us, but is also very social and "popular" -- he gets along well with kids and adults, participates in music lessons and an athletic team. He is generally a great participator, though he often has to be encouraged to take the first step. Usually when it comes to an activity or a social event, he's shy for about 1 minute, then once he's gotten going he's gold.

Sleep-over background: He hasn't done any sleep-overs at friends houses yet. (I've noticed that in our city sleep-overs tend to be more girl-oriented at this age. We haven't been invited to any sleep-overs.) Two weeks ago he did a sleepover at a day camp he was attending. He had a lot of fun, and also felt homesick, and cried a little. Within a day or two afterwards, he had forgotten all the fun, and only really remembered the homesickness and sadness.

Now this week he's enrolled in a special week-long camp run by his beloved P.E. teacher. This camp is way, way more expensive than anything else we've planned for the summer, and a big part of my willingness to enroll my son (and spend the money) was his determination that he wanted to do the big sleepover on Thursday night. He is enrolled alongside his bestest friend in the entire world, and also two other kids from his same class. There is another boy from the same grade, and then one other kid that they're all acquainted with. So, a total of only 6 kids.

Now my kid is saying he's too scared to attend the sleepover. He's fixated on how scared he was at that last sleepover. If he doesn't attend the sleepover, he won't attend camp at all Thursday or Friday. (The logistics don't work out as the sleepover is up in the mountains.) If he doesn't go, I'm sure he'll be missing out on lots of fun. I'll also be disappointed at shelling out so much money and having him only attend 3 of 5 days. My son is so anxious about the sleepover that he's been talking about it every day, and apparently cried yesterday during camp just thinking about it.

So as we see it, our parenting options are:

-- Let him skip out. He's young, he's not ready for it. I shouldn't push him too hard.

-- Get tough. Tell him he said he would go (when we enrolled) and so he has go to. The end. (This is typically not our style of parenting.)

-- Resort to bribery. We already tried: "If you go, you can have a swiss army knife because the camp leader allows them." The kid, who does really want a swiss army knife, almost went for this, but then declined. We could up the bribe to a $50 video game he's been wanting. He's been saving his allowance, but we could just buy it for him.

-- Something else. Any ideas?

Help, parents! What should we do?!?
posted by BlahLaLa to Human Relations (69 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Let him skip out. My most unpleasant memories are from when I was forced to participate in activities I did not want to participate in.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:38 PM on July 27, 2010 [16 favorites]

Please don't make your son do something he isn't ready to do yet. It's not as if he's never been on a sleepover.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:38 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't force him, but try to persuade him before you give up. Appeal to his intrinsic desire to be one of the "big kids." Maybe buy him some desirable toy he'd enjoy sharing with others, and encourage him to take it with him. But at the end of the day, if he still says "no," that's the end of it.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:41 PM on July 27, 2010

IANAP (I am not a parent).

I think you should make him go, but I also think you should spend some time chatting with him about why he was so upset. Homesick, yes, but what about the other things? Was there a particular thing he missed, like a bedtime ritual or his wubbie or something like that? Did people make fun of him when he got upset? Maybe you can work on those things point by point. Not everything will have a logical answer, of course, but you can help him feel good about growing up and making decisions for himself. Things like giving him a corner of a wubbie to take with him, or something that smells like home, or an mp3 of your voice (okay, that's a crazy idea, but it just might work) could help.

Has he read this book? It's cute on its own merits, and it doesn't necessarily deal directly with some of these things, but it addresses some of the things that might make kids anxious -- what if someone I think is really cool and want to like me finds out that I am not as grown up and cool as I say I am?
posted by Madamina at 2:41 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is there anything about this sleepover that you think makes it more likely to go well for your son than the last one? For example, his bestest friend will be there... did he have good friends with him at the last one, or was he a little lonely? Does he have a better relationship with the teacher running this camp than the counselors at the last sleepover? I think it could be a good experience for him and would consider forcing the issue, but only if you have reason to believe that this one will go better.
posted by telegraph at 2:41 PM on July 27, 2010

can you or your husband attend the sleepover as a chaperone? then he can see that it is a lot of fun, but if it gets to be too much, you're right there to help?
posted by nadawi at 2:43 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

also, i would host a sleepover soon. you say you've never been invited to one and that it's more a girl thing in your area - you can be the one that changes that. and, besides some pizzas, it won't cost you a ton of money.
posted by nadawi at 2:46 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am not a parent, but if I were, and maybe one day I will be, I would probably talk to his P.E. teacher. Voice your concerns and the two of you decide if having the P.E. teacher talk to him would help or not (it may, it may not, I don't know in your situation).

Also, have you asked him what he wanted to do? If it's a "no, I don't want to do the sleepover," then why and try and assuage his fears?
posted by TheBones at 2:46 PM on July 27, 2010

Disclaimer: I'm not a parent.
I say push him to go. I think 7 is old enough to be able to spend a night with your friends sans parents. (Of course, I was always that kid who couldn't wait to get out on my own and thought that the homesick kids were all weirdos, but maybe I'm just wacky that way.)

I think something that might help him is to pack a bunch of "survival" gear together--the pocket knife, maybe a few feet of rope, a carabiner or two, teach him how to tie a few basic knots--so that he feels really on top of his game and prepared. Get him a little guide book to plants or birds so he has something to fixate on besides homesickness. I went nuts for that kind of stuff as a kid.

Let him take something totally frivolous if he wants, if it will make him feel more comfortable.

And something I would do is fold a little note from mom and dad into his PJs along the lines of "we're so proud of you! we love you! good night, kiddo!" so he can feel connected to you when he's getting ready to go to sleep.
posted by phunniemee at 2:46 PM on July 27, 2010

Seconding Madamina and IANAP also. Talk with him to find out what in particular he didn't like and try to get him to overcome his fears.

This situation can either be a bridge you can build together to help him deal with this problem, or a wall where it's something that might stay there for years to come and prevent him going on sleepovers in the future.

If in the end he really, really doesn't want to go, then don't make him.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:47 PM on July 27, 2010

Do you have a cell phone you could loan him? Will he get reception up in the mountains? If he knew he could call you right away if he got too homesick, he might feel better.

I'm not a big fan of forcing kids to do stuff they're not ready for, but I also know that if I'd agreed to do something expensive then decided later I didn't want to, my folks would not have gone for it. Then again, 7 is pretty young to be able to think ahead very well. I'd vote to let him know he doesn't have to go (so as not to spoil the last day or so), but that you would really like it if he did, and he could get himself the video game for being brave and staying the whole time.
posted by wending my way at 2:47 PM on July 27, 2010

Don't make him go, and don't be angry with him if and when he doesn't. My dad got mad at me when I refused to go to a Halloween party when I was like, seven, and I still remember how awful that was.
posted by reductiondesign at 2:48 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

If the expensive camp is nonrefundable, I'd have a hard time not trying to want to convince him to go.

But babysteps, Dr. Marvin. We must crawl before we can walk...and when he crawled, he fell flat on his face. And that was 1 night!

Homesickness is normal, but it usually passes. Tell your son that what he's feeling is normal. Use examples of when you felt homesick when you were his age. But tell him that he will be safe and he will have lots of fun with his buddy and his PE teacher. Listen to his worries. Acknowledge them. Ask him if there's anything that you can to to make him feel better. Maybe talking things out will make them easier.

Also make sure you tell him (and make it very clear) that you will be there when camp is over and he will get to sleep in his own bed and that you will miss him too when he is gone, but you really envy him because of all the big fun he'll have at camp.
posted by inturnaround at 2:50 PM on July 27, 2010

Would you care as much about him not going if you hadn't put out any money? Would you care even a little about him not going, if you hadn't put out any money?

This is just my opinion, but if your feelings mainly come from the fact that the money will be wasted ... I personally, wouldn't want to force my 7 year old to do something they were scared of largely just because of that. I think I would personally only be *forcing* them to do something like this in an emergency.

If this becomes an issue, where he starts begging you for expensive things, and then wasting/not using them, I think that's its own issue to be dealt with separately, at that time. Honestly I think a better deterrent for that is something along the lines of what he'll get anyway if he doesn't sleep over - he'll miss out on fun.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:50 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sleepovers are weird. They're kind of like potty training. You can cajole all you want but if the kid isn't ready the kid isn't ready. There's nothing to be gained by getting all "Mommie Dearest" on him and forcing him to go. Eventually he'll overcome the separation anxiety naturally which is the really the best way to approach it.
posted by GuyZero at 2:52 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

it might help you to try to put the money issue out of your mind, especially when discussing it with him. i remember some things around that age that i was forced into because of money and it came off as "i care more about the money than i do about how scared you are". if abandonment is one of his sleepover issues, that doesn't really reinforce the right ideas.
posted by nadawi at 2:55 PM on July 27, 2010

I am a parent of two boys, 6 and 4. If I were in your situation, I'd try to address his fears. Sit down with him, find out what he's scared of and work from there.

It is hard to do but forget about how much it cost to enroll him. If you get it back if he doesn't go then that's great but the money shouldn't be the issue here, your child's healthy emotional development should be.

If push came to shove, I'd let it go and not force him into it because that will likely impact him more negatively than the event itself (that his parents "claim" to have his interests but will end up forcing him to do whatever they want him to do).

The idea of attending as a chaperone is a very good one if its at all possible.
posted by fenriq at 3:02 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I spent many years of college and grad school working at a summer camp each year. Seven is a bit young, but I have seen kids that age and younger take over four hundred acres without looking back, and ten year olds who just weren't ready. There is no way to tell without knowing the child very well, and even then it is iffy. (Every year parents would call worried about their child's homesickness, and everyone that was with the kid everyday would be totally confused.)

So without any guarantees made, to me this sounds like a great chance for your son. A counselor he already knows. A friend in the next bunk. A small group close in age. This is something really hard to find. Really.

He was excited, and then started getting worried. A part of that is to be expected -- hey, this is new, and big, big deal. But a part of that might be his picking up on your own nervousness; pleasing parents is important, and kids know how to read these things.

Because of this special, unique situation I think you should let him go. When he mentions his fears, accept them and tell they make sense, but then remind him of all the really fun things he is going to do and how there will be friends and counselors there that he can rely on. (and please don't tell him how much you are going to mess him and how sad you will be while he is gone. He knows that, he really does, and he doesn't need that much responsibility yet. Also, don't tell how much fun you're going to have while he is gone either, there is a middle line that needs to be walked.)

Good luck and tell him some1 said, "Have Fun!"
posted by Some1 at 3:03 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, get used to losing money on kids. It seems like it's wasted money but an economist will tell you that sunk costs should not influence decision making. The money is already gone - nothing will get it back. Now the question is not return on investment but what is the best decision for your son.
posted by GuyZero at 3:03 PM on July 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm not a parent, but I'm a counselor at a day camp for kids where we have a big sleepover and I've dealt with children who are probably in a similar situation to your child.

If this is possible with your camp, I'd ask him to try out the activities planned for the children who are sleeping over, but tell him that you will take him home when it is time to sleep. Whether you do this or not is a different story, the likelihood that your child will get wrapped into the fun and want to stay after an hour or two of hanging out with his friends are pretty good.

I've also seen parents pull the "but your buddy is doing it!" card. From the simple "but you'll be fine, you'll be with John and you know him" to "look, John is sleeping over and he's the same age as you, are you a baby or a big boy like John?" the success of all this depends on your kid's personality though.

When it comes down to it, as a counselor I am always HAPPY to see parents pushing their kids to go to the overnight. Use your judgement as a parent. Don't leave your child there crying. But give him the push he needs.

P.S.: I would not send a child that age with a cell phone. I'd give it to his counselor, explain the situation, and let them judge when to call. Not to mention the cell phone would be a reminder of your absence, but if you give it to the counselor to hold he will probably (probably) forget all about you and his troubles and just want to do what everyone else is.
posted by ejfox at 3:04 PM on July 27, 2010 [6 favorites]

IANAP, but I was a little kid who could do anything as long as I knew that later that night I'd be back at home in my own safe bed, with my parents right in the other room. I just wasn't a sleepover kid, unless it was with my grandparents and even then I was a bit anxious.

Sure, you'd get your money's worth if he attended all 5 days, but if he's nervous/anxious/crying for 4 of those days (and possibly that 4th night too) is it really worth it?

I say let him stay home.
posted by ladygypsy at 3:05 PM on July 27, 2010

Can you start preparing him for the sleepover in a non-threatening way, and in a way that lets him have some control over the plans?

Before my 7 yr old did a two night camp trip this summer, we talked through a lot of things for the trip. He tried out his sleeping bag on his bed. We talked about what stuffed animals he wanted to bring, and whether the should go in the foot of the sleeping bag or in his backpack. I let him decide which clothes, bathing suit, pillow etc. he wanted to bring.

He was still worried that he would be homesick right up to the day he went, but he had a wonderful time.
posted by saffry at 3:07 PM on July 27, 2010

What's difficult about this is the fact that overall, he had a good time at the last sleepover, but has forgotten about that and fixated on the sad bits. If you force him to go, and he's sad and homesick even for just a little bit, he'll never want to go to a sleepover again, ever. So I think talking to him and trying to figure out why the sad time last sleepover totally outweighs the good time is the approach I would take. It's okay for him to be sad, and it's okay for him to be homesick. From what little you've said, I wonder if he thinks being unhappy is a very bad thing. Try talking to him about being homesick is normal and even expected, how even adults get homesick, how that is part of trips but it doesn't ruin them, &c. I also like the idea of a "survival kit", but maybe with more sentimental home things he likes tucked in as well as camping stuff.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:07 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tough one. If you've never forced him before this could become a huge, long term negative. He's definitely on the young side of "oh, you have to grow up sometime, for crying out loud," stuff, and he has experienced a 100% failure rate with sleeping away so far. If you can't significantly increase his support system and/or bribe him to go (I am a strong believer in incentives) then I say no. But I think it's worth as much cajoling and free games and Daddy will go with you stuff as you can stomach, because not going will increase his failure rate to 2 out of 2 and make stuff with his friends weird.

Seconding the "have your own sleepovers" advice. Moving it to his turf, his friends, etc. sounds it may like the best medicine. It breaks it down so you just have the "away" part to worry about later.

Oh, also - for years everyone thought I was desperately homesick the first day of camp every year, because I was nervous about going and spent at least a day in bed each summer - it was actually altitude sickness. He might have a bully/bedwetting/bugs/whatever problem you can help him fix. Even the camp director and nurse thought my puking was psychological. Make sure it's not something you've missed.
posted by SMPA at 3:09 PM on July 27, 2010

These answers are all so interesting -- and I can't wait to read more of them, but to clarify a few points:

-- No, we cannot attend. And we can't bring him home at bedtime. (I suppose we technically could, but it will be a 2 hour drive from our home so 4 hours round trip, and more importantly I think it might have a detrimental effect on the other kids, since it's such a small group.

-- There is no point in sending him with a cell phone, as there will be no coverage.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:11 PM on July 27, 2010

I am a parent and I have lived your current problem.

Depending on the situation, I use all three above strategies. But in this case, I would use a combination of force, persuasion, mitigation, and bribery.

Persuasion: I've used (more or less successfully) my son's desire to be more grown up and to have more of the associated priviledges.
A lot of this is tied to growing up and becoming a man. Being a man means standing behind commitments. Also being a man means being brave. And being brave doesn't mean not being afraid -- it means doing what needs to be done in spite of being afraid. (Use anecdotes of this using his favorite role models.)
Also focus on the opportunity costs of staying home. Sometimes getting to go do all those really cool things means having to face some uncertainty and initial fear. It's never (well, not usually) as bad in your mind beforehand as it is in reality.
Remind him of times in the past he was afraid at first but ended up having fun.
Remind him of all his friends that are going. They'd miss having him along.
And so on.

Can you send him with a few small items that will remind him of home and comfort him? Also, can you arrange to have him receive letters each day that you provide in advance? (In the letters focus on how glad you are he's getting to do this and how proud you are that he decided to go. Do NOT say how much you miss him.)
Let the camp director/counselor know this is a potential problem. Most camp counselors are well trained in how to handle homesickness, especially with younger kids.

Bribery: Set before him a reward commensurate with the maturity that making such a decision and carrying through represents. Treat this as a Rite Of Passage, a significant step in growing up, and promise him something that will make him feel more grown up. Dangle a video game if you need to, but choose one that represents a little bit of "growing up" (maybe his first "T" game?).

Force: Bottom line -- Tell him that he must go give it a try since he committed to it and you spent the money already, referring to persuasive arguments above.

Of course, revise for true paralyzing fear or panic attacks. I just have this kid who is consistently negative at the outset and always end up having fun iof he just gives it a chance.
posted by cross_impact at 3:11 PM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Are you sure there's not something else going on here regarding the other children or the teacher/chaperon? It sounds like you really need to sit down and really explore why your son is so upset about sleeping over at camp. To me, his degree of worry is much higher than one would expect, which makes me think that maybe something unpleasant happened at camp the last time.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:15 PM on July 27, 2010

if you can't go, then you might be sending the message "i'll spend money on the problem, but not actual time."

let him skip this one, and hold one at your home in a couple weeks.
posted by nadawi at 3:17 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a mommy of three kids. And seeing this from a different perspective.

Please...listen to your kid here. He's telling you he doesn't want to do something. He's telling you he's scared. Whether it's a new babysitter who scares him, an odd neighbor, a spooky teacher, whatever, he's telling you about a situation that is making him uncomfortable.

Set everything else aside and give him the message that you're listening to him and respecting his feelings and that his inner voice is always a good voice to listen to.

Also, the best scenario is that he overcomes something that scared him, the worst scenario is that he'll never forget how scared he was all night and how you didn't trust his feelings. It's not worth the risk. He'll have plenty of future opportunities to tackle new challenges; 7 is a little young to force him onto things.

And I'd hold off on sleepovers at his age...it's pretty young for boys. My son's sleepover social life didn't kick into gear until he was about 10 an I have to say, they're not always all that successful. Some kids cry, some wet the bed, some need to leave early, some get slightly out of control and alpha male.

In fact, we're in the process of planning my little man's 12th birthday party and he decided he didn't want a sleepover because in his words, "All my buddies start to get weird...".

But he does have 1:1 sleepovers with his best buddy; those became more successful around the age of 10.
posted by dzaz at 3:28 PM on July 27, 2010 [10 favorites]

I do not think this is one of those questions that has a right or wrong answer--I am not even sure any opinion is more/less valid than any other. Flip a coin--heads he goes tails he stays. What I do think is very important is that you not second guess what ever decision you and your spouse make. He may go and have a wonderful time, he may forget about his fear, he may cry most of the night and wake up excited or you may get a call from the camp he is having a tough time. He may stay home and regret it, take it out on himself, take it out on you or forget he was ever going to camp and have a wonderful time. Regardless, I think it is your resolve and behavior that is important--If he goes make it clear that is a firm decision, he may be afraid, ask what you can do to help, don,t over think it and have letters (etc) there when he arrives. If he stays home, don't over think it--it is just another day, accept his fear. If he regrets not going accept it as a matter of fact--if he is relieved accept it as a matter of fact. This is not the situation that will color his life. I have horrible memories of my first camp experience (age 10 ) and walked to the closest town to call my parents (they came). I have wonderful memories of traveling extensively by myself in my late teens. Who knows . I never did like any kind of camp and I still travel very reluctantly with other people. I also have a wonderful group of friends--and I do go on remote trips fishing with some of them. Just saying--who knows.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:36 PM on July 27, 2010

How does his best friend feel about this event? I'm guessing he's excited to go. See if you can build on that.

Can you throw a sleepover for him and his best friend at your house, so your son can see his best friend being away from his family?
posted by filthy light thief at 3:46 PM on July 27, 2010

C'mon guys, he's seven. Not twelve, or fourteen. He's still a little kid, he's going to miss his parents. There's nothing wrong with that.

If he's scared, don't force him. There'll be plenty of sleepovers when he's older. It's kind of like potty training - when he's ready you'll know.
posted by humpy at 3:47 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding this advice from dzaz:

Please...listen to your kid here. He's telling you he doesn't want to do something. He's telling you he's scared. Whether it's a new babysitter who scares him, an odd neighbor, a spooky teacher, whatever, he's telling you about a situation that is making him uncomfortable.

Set everything else aside and give him the message that you're listening to him and respecting his feelings and that his inner voice is always a good voice to listen to.

posted by marsha56 at 3:48 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like he is 'catastrophizing' the event. Every day he is building it up to be more and more scary. He is, like we adults have learned to do, creating his own anxiety.

I would tell him he doesn't have to go, but 'let's get ready just in case you change your mind'. That way he will have some control over his feelings about it.

Also, with the pressure/stress off of him, he may hear all the other kids getting excited and get excited himself, freely, without the dread.

Just don't use this to manipulate him into going. Really mean it when you say he doesn't have to go, and don't put any judgment on it, or make him feel he is bad/good weak/brave depending on what he chooses. He is only 7.
posted by Vaike at 3:49 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am with the other who have said don't send him, he's not ready.

BUT he's also old enough to understand logical consequences. You might let him know, "We trust you if you say that you are too scared to go on the sleep over and that is fine. However, we spent a lot of money on this camp and feel like some of it has been wasted. You absolutely do not have to do anything you don't want to, but I want you to know next time you want us to spend money on something we may remember this and hesitate."

You just want him to know where you're coming from, and he should be informed of this somewhat "sneaky" adult consequence before he makes his final decision.
posted by Saminal at 3:52 PM on July 27, 2010

Great answers -- please keep them coming. A couple more clarifications:

-- The entire camp experience is just this week, Monday - Friday. The sleepover is just Thursday night -- they go up to the mountains on Thursday, spend the night -- all together in one big tent -- and then return on Friday, at which time this camp ends.

-- I got a MeMail from a user who felt it might be important to mention the topic of one of my previous posts, which is that we co-sleep, at my son's request. That may definitely be part of this issue.

-- Lastly, I just want to reiterate one part of my issue, which is just that my son had such a great time at the other sleepover he went on two weeks ago. (It was a similar one-night deal.) His story afterwards was all about: "The campfire! The smores! The talent show! The counselor who did fire-dancing! The canoes! The kayaks! And I was homesick." And now his story is just: "I was homesick, I was homesick, I was homesick."

But I'm really appreciating everyone's feedback. It's very, very helpful.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:56 PM on July 27, 2010

Oh. The co-sleeping changes everything. I don't think you should make him go. Maybe work on getting him to sleep independently and then the next time it won't be such a big deal. But I think that it's a huge change to expect him to go from snuggling with mom and dad every night at home to sleeping in a tent with non-family.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:02 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was the 7 year old once before in this situation. My parents convinced me to give it a try, but if I was still too scared before all the kids loaded on the bus for the overnight, I didn't have to go. They were hoping I'd come around, but I didn't.

One of my best childhood memories is my Mom coming to pick me up and take me home. She even stopped for Friendlies on the way out, but I learned at a later date that was just in case I changed my mind again.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:05 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Co sleeping does change things a bit--however--I really do think all of us are over thinking this. The best thing is he goes and has a wonderful time or stay home and has a wonderful time. The worst case scenario is he goes and has a miserable time or he stays home and has a miserable time. I have to say--all things considered I do think it is better to try and fail than play it seafe and feel as if you let your self and others down. Real disappointments are always easier to deal with than imagined disappointments. Real fears rather than imagined fears. In this particular case it does seem to me it is a bit like throwing a child in the water in order to learn to swim. But if he does go I do believe I can promise you he will not drown and will feel good about himself--that does not mean he will not feel homesick.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:17 PM on July 27, 2010

Don't make him go, but afterwards, see if you can get pictures from the camp so he can see all the fun he missed. Then maybe next time he'll have a different attitude.

Alos, schedule some sleepovers with his best friend.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:21 PM on July 27, 2010

You might let him know, "We trust you if you say that you are too scared to go on the sleep over and that is fine. However, we spent a lot of money on this camp and feel like some of it has been wasted."

Oh man, I would feel like real crap if my parents ever said that to me at the age of 7. He's 7 and co-sleeps with his parents. He's a little dude.

Sure, if at 12 he insists on guitar lessons and a guitar and after $1000 decides he hates it, I might remind him of the expense when he decides that drums are what he really wants to play.
posted by dzaz at 4:29 PM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

There IS a chance he might change his mind, too, right? If he has a blast on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, maybe he'll decide he wants to go on Thursday after all. Tell him that he doesn't have to go, but that it's ok if he changes his mind too. His best friend might just talk him into it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:35 PM on July 27, 2010

Bottom line is that you messed up. You shouldn't have put out the money before he had even left the house before for a night without you...especially since he still sleeps with you. Take the hit.

Might want to start weaning him already and get him onto sleeping by himself. I know he requests it, but if he doesn't learn to sleep in a separate bed in another room, how will he learn to sleep anywhere else?
posted by inturnaround at 4:45 PM on July 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

Being a man means standing behind commitments. Also being a man means being brave. And being brave doesn't mean not being afraid -- it means doing what needs to be done in spite of being afraid.

I've got to vote for this, even remembering how much it made me cry as a girl. I went to camp at 6 for the first time and one day I was so homesick in the morning I vomited pancakes. But I also spent time in a beautiful setting that is imprinted on my memory forever. Then when I was 9 I went even farther away, and was even lonelier; and I got to kneel and drink from mountain streams whenever I wanted, and swim in deep lakes. Every adventure starts when you leave home.

You don't have to fuss at him to tell him he's got to do it. Just say, "Sweetheart, I'm sorry, but you made a decision, and we all have to stick to our decisions in the end. If you decide you never want to do it again, you don't have to," etc.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:32 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are they leaving this Thursday? If not can you talk one of the other parents into hosting a pre-campout sleepover? You could let him go and then pick him up if it doesn't work out. Four hours in the middle of the night isn't fun, but it sounds like he may have a great time and not call. If you do decide to send him, you can pack a few family pictures and maybe a picture frame or a stuffed animal that lets you record a message.
posted by defreckled at 5:35 PM on July 27, 2010

Don't make him go. I went to sleepaway camp at age 7 and wasn't ready for it, and it's still one of the few times in my childhood I remember being really scared and unhappy. In my case I was in a cabin with bunkbeds, and I was scared of sleeping on the top bunk, but the girls who had gotten there before me had already taken the bottom ones. Eventually the counsellor got the mattress off the bunk and I slept on the floor.

If your kid says he doesn't want to go, don't make him go. There's nothing to be gained from it. He'll have plenty of chances to have good sleepover memories when he's older. The only way it might make sense for him to go is if you can go with him. Would the camp allow that? Do they need extra help?
posted by MsMolly at 5:46 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Regardless of whether or not you're co-sleeping, please don't force him to go. Saying "buck up, son" isn't cool for him if he isn't ready. He's old enough to do feel like he ought to do what you say because you're his mom, even though it's scaring him. He still has plenty of time to have lots of adventures, missing out on this isn't going to ruin him forever.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:57 PM on July 27, 2010


Don't traumatize the kid. He will lose more from the damage to his relationship with you than he will gain from the camp.
posted by flabdablet at 7:24 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Being a man means standing behind commitments. Also being a man means being brave. And being brave doesn't mean not being afraid -- it means doing what needs to be done in spite of being afraid

Being a man is an unreasonable expectation to put on a 7 year old kid.
posted by flabdablet at 7:25 PM on July 27, 2010 [13 favorites]

My young nephew (also seven) begged for weeks, planned for days, talked about nothing else, and then cried and got homesick sleeping over with me -- in the basement guest room of his own house, with his own sleeping bag and pillow. I only had to put on slippers to take him "home", but he felt better right away. At breakfast he proudly talked about our "sleepover" and the fun we had, even though he didn't stay.

Don't make him go. And don't make him worry about missing anything or wasting money or not being a big boy. Just let him know that it's okay to make up his own mind. Vaike advises above to be gentle and no-pressure, yet ready in case he changes his mind -- that's a really good idea. It maintains a safe place for him to prepare to make his own decisions based on his own experience, whenever he's ready to do so.

If he feels sad and changes his mind when it's too late (that would be me at seven) you could even be ready to have your own family sleepover in the living room or in a tent.
posted by Sallyfur at 7:50 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are your seven year old son and mine separated at birth? Our son's nickname around here is The Tender Flower. You wouldn't believe how his sister (3) terrorizes him. But he's my Tender Flower and if that's the way he is, then that's the way I love him. We've had similar things and we have never forced - but we have often made a strong case for doing the scary thing that's based not on the money or sticking by your word or anything, but along the lines of: I think you wanted to do this because it's something you'd actually really enjoy, and now that it's closer you're seeing more of the scary parts, but I think if you do it you'll end up being really glad you made that choice. I am not going to say you have to go, but I am going to say you have to think really hard about what's making you want to change your mind, and about whether there's anything else you can do to make that feel better that will still let you go and have a great time. If you still choose not to go that's fine - but you can't make that choice the first moment you start having scary feelings. Don't give me your final decision now, tell me tomorrow. And I'll be glad to help you come up with ideas for how to make it less scary while still having the fun.

OK, I don't do that all at a run or he'd be calling Child Services halfway through, but that's the gist. I'd say with an approach like this he gives whatever it is a try about 75% of the time. The other 25%, we keep our word and say "okay." Also, we generally slip in a safety net that we're almost sure won't be used. I know the thing is 2 hours away so you can't really say "we'll just come get you," but the truth is if he went off totally happy and then you got a call at 10pm saying he was hysterical with misery, you would go get him, right? So we say things like 'And you know if it were truly horrible, if you really couldn't stand it, you could call us. You're not just stranded out there.' We've never been called on that - yet.
posted by Betsy Vane at 8:27 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

He sleeps with you at age 7?

As a parent of three adults, FWTW, I think this is the answer to the 'why' part of the question (I know, it wasn't part of the question really, but it puts an entirely new light on it compared to not knowing this fact).

Not knowing if there is any serious psychological trauma behind this, and assuming there is not, I would say forget the sleepover, and start working TODAY on starting down the path to him leaving home in 10 years or so, and being happy and confident in going out into the world as a young adult. Our children have to learn about being independent adults, and it starts pretty young with them exploring new things, learning that they can be away from us and the world doesn't stop (in fact, being away from mum and dad can be great fun).

Apart from one obvious benefit to you and your husband that springs to mind, you owe it to him to start with getting him out and into his own bed. There are lots of hints above on how this can be made into a big exciting adventure for him - how about making this a 'project' for you and your husband over the coming weeks/months?

Good luck!

on review, if there is a really serious reason for him sleeping with you, the above is all the more important, but it would need to be done in a manner consistent with addressing that reason. Unless you/he are planning on living together forever.
posted by GeeEmm at 8:40 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please don't force your child to go. If he really, absolutely doesn't want to, then don't force him. He should want to go without bribes. This isn't a dentist appointment or something where attendance is essential for the sake of health. If you're worried about him missing out on a lot of fun, there will be other opportunities. When he hears about all the fun from his friends the next day, he might think about participating in the future. What's important is that the choice to participate is his, not yours.

I know that my judgments and perceptions of certain things were shaped by my parents penchant towards pushing me to attend this or attend that, thinking that they knew what's "best" and that it would help me "grow". No. It just made me frustrated and sad.

If he really doesn't want to go, even after discussing with him about his fears, why not have a sleepover in your living room, with just you and him (and maybe dad ^_^). Spread some blankets out of the floor, gather up your pillows and sit around and play games and eat snacks until bedtime. Tell some stories and drift off to sleep.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 8:53 PM on July 27, 2010

Nthing don't force him to go. When I was 10 my babysitter neglected to tell me my mom had called to say she was stopping at the store. There was a bad blizzard going on, with the TV news breaking in to say stay home, and she was over 2 hours late and I started crying. I went through a phase after that where I wouldn't go on any sleepovers unless my mom was there. I eventually outgrew it and your son will too.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:28 PM on July 27, 2010

Seconding what others have advised: There is no way that it's a good idea to force a 7 year-old to man up, hours away from home, with very little preparation.

Especially avoid, please, the idea of making your child commit to a potentially intense situation; children just aren't capable, IMO, of the notion of commitment. They're children, not little adults.

2 cents of advice from a parent with similar circumstances: Co-sleeping has to stop, for his sake, except perhaps in special circumstances (sickness, thunderstorm). Sleep-overs are doable, especially in groups of friends, but he needs to have an emergency-eject mechanism at least for the first couple of times: you need to be able to go get him, and be okay with it. Kids need to learn independence, but they also need Mom and Dad close by, to make their explorations safe, if only in their wee heads.

(PS: What about trying a sleep-over at a cousin's or grandma's house, if nearby? It's worked really well for this family.)
posted by slab_lizard at 9:37 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went to sleepover camp for 8 weeks when I was 7. I had a 9 yr old brother there too. I was extremely apprehensive to go and was literally homesick (puking) my first 4-6 days. I ended up sticking it out and loving it so much I returned for 8 more years. I remember very clearly the discussion I had with my folks and my reaction the first week. My parents assured me that if I wanted to come home I could, but I should try it first. I told them I was scared. I was unable to tell them what I was scared of because quite frankly I had no friggin clue what I was getting into. It just wasn't being at home with mom and dad and little bro.

In hindsight, the key to the entire transition and me becoming a good camper was the owners and staff at the camp. They were very respectful of my fears and very supportive, yet firm in helping me participate in camp and adjust to my summer life. I have no lasting scars; in fact, I think a lot of my independence and self reliance came from sleepovers and camp at a young age.

I strongly suggest that you have a discussion with the beloved PE teacher and camp director, owner, head counselor, etc. They will be the key to this being a traumatic experience or a fubar nightmare. If they have experience running a camp, they will have experience with this very issue. They can design activities to help keep him busy and quell his fear. It could be that his fear is based on whatever happened at his only other sleepover and that that experience was not typical.

I know you are your son's advocate and you want to protect him and do what is best for him long-term. I think he will be better off for having toughed it out even if he is scared than living with the thought that he bailed. To what extent will his bestest friend ridicule him for not going or be supportive? That will also be important to any outcome.

(On preview, the co-sleeping thing is so foreign to me at that age that I have no idea what to think and that you should be addressing that issue as soon as you can regardless of the sleepover thing.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:41 PM on July 27, 2010

Nthing to talk to the PE teacher.

Maybe he has weird embarrassing fears that maybe he can't quite articulate. Maybe he got teased for crying. Maybe he is putting a lot of pressure on himself to be a certain way, and is overthinking things.

Maybe he's not ready, or maybe he'll REALLY regret not going and will beat himself up more. Find out what's going on, if you can.

(Please don't bring up the money.)
posted by desuetude at 9:56 PM on July 27, 2010

I'm a little surprised at how many people are advocating not making him do it. My parents (I'm 27) forced me to do lots of things I was unsure of, didn't want to do, or was constantly changing my mind about. Sleepovers, birthday parties, soccer leagues, swim lessons (oh god, the swim lessons), you name it.

And I am SO GLAD they did. Frankly, I wish they had pushed me even more for some things I was particularly stubborn about. They taught me from a really young age to put myself out there and try new things. And, as soon as you try something, other things get less scary.

Kids are fickle and they like their comfort zone. It's up to parents to prod them along. Sure, I had some miserable times - throwing up during sleepovers, getting a fair share of bumps and scrapes from various sports, the crying - but overall, I look back on those experiences with fondness. These years are very formative, and I strongly urge you to gently push your child into new experiences.
posted by kookaburra at 10:10 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't know what you should do.

But here's my experience. My sweet parents, following some expert's advice on parenting, insisted I go to a sleep-away camp. I don't remember how old I was. I don't remember anything we did. What I DO remember very distinctly - and I'm going on 60 - is how miserable it made me.
posted by jeri at 10:39 PM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Kookaburra, I think most of the don't-force-him posters are actually advocating what you suggest in the second half of your post: prod, gently push. Getting your kid to listen to your reasons for why he should try new things is a great tool, one that would be totally undercut by simply forcing him to do it regardless. Forcing would show the kid that he's not being listened to or regarded - the beginning of goodbye to him listening to us.

Someone up above said there might not be one right or wrong answer. A lot depends on the makeup of the particular child. You, kookaburra, and I mean no disrespect, do not sound like you were a Tender Flower. Based on the totally insufficient and probably completely misleading tone of your post, you might be more like my daughter, aka Tough Cookie. At 3, TC has already mastered the art of changing her mind just to drive people nuts, and if she pulled something like this I'd probably say "the next thing that comes out of your mouth is the choice you're making and if I hear one more word about it I will TAKE AWAY YOUR PRINCESS DRESS AND GIVE IT TO THE POOR CHILDREN."

Point being - no, not that we are going to have massive therapy bills, we're planning to rely on the reform schools for that - what worked well for you might have to be softened or altered altogether for BlahLaLa Jr.
posted by Betsy Vane at 11:09 PM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Don't force him to go, but try to build his confidence about being able to handle going.

What does his friend have to say about this? Maybe have his friend promise to bail him out if something scary happens.

Remind him that it's only a day.. and no matter what he'll be back home when that time is up.
posted by bradly at 12:09 AM on July 28, 2010

My parents assured me that if I wanted to come home I could, but I should try it first.

This is what my parents told me when I got scared about stuff too, and it was really great. It's a lot easier to step a little out of our comfort zone if you know Mom and/or Dad will be right there if any problems arise.
posted by joshuaconner at 12:22 AM on July 28, 2010

Being a man is an unreasonable expectation to put on a 7 year old kid

But 7 year old boys are aware that they will be men eventually. They understand how that works and they are already forming their expectations about what that means. I wouldn't waste a teachable moment at that age.

I'm not taking about throwing the kid in the deep end. Becoming a man means learning the skills and behaviors -- yes, at a developmentally appropriate pace -- that men should have. Standing by your word and trying new and unfamiliar things are a part of that.

I would make it easy to fail, though. Experiencing and properly processing failure is another good developmental skill to develop. Have him shoot for going, but have a fallback so that he isn't miserable if he pulls out at the last minute. Be ready to hug him and help him debrief the experience, good or bad. My son gets praise for trying, succeed or not. "I'm proud of you for trying. Everyone who is great at something started out being bad at it. People who are successes in life experience a lot of failure, so don't feel bad. You're in good company."

Of course we want to nurture our children, but that means treating them like little adults small bit by small bit. I want my kid to know he can depend on me but ultimately not need to. But your mileage, and your kid, may vary.
posted by cross_impact at 7:58 AM on July 28, 2010

Okay, thanks everyone. I think the fact that there are such a wide variety of answers is because there really is no one right answer. As a few pointed out, it's a combo of our family culture, my kid's personality and the specific circumstance.

The camp is indeed this week. As of today we are...working on it. I've had the "I know you're scared, but I think that if you go you'll have a great adventure," talk. We've made it clear that we're not going to force him to go. We've also offered a videogame bribe. And I've told him not to make his decision yet. I'll post an update after he does.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:02 AM on July 28, 2010

It might be worth trying to get him excited about the stuff he'll miss out on if he doesn't go. If he gets really into the idea of doing activities A, B and C, he might be more amenable to going.

If he's dead set on not going, though, please don't force him. My parents made me sit on Santa's knee when I was 4, despite me nearly wetting my trousers with fear. They'd paid the money and I was going to sit there and I was going to enjoy it and that was that. God forbid I should be anything less than ecstatic. They've repeated these actions over the years. It's definitely had an effect on my attitude towards both social engagements and my parents.

If you can show him that you're both on Team BlahlaLa Junior, it will go a long way to making him more confident.
posted by Solomon at 8:03 AM on July 28, 2010

I went to 8 week, up north, sleepaway camp from age 8 to 14. I always hated the first few days because I could never fall asleep right away, but then I got over it because I was so tired and sunburned and skiied and volleyballed and archery-d out. And I went back by my own choice. Every year. Same thing. In retrospect my anxiety was more about not being able to fall alseep than being away from home. Maybe you can pinpoint what your son is worried about? New surroundings? New night noises? Bed wetting? Not being able to fall alseep? Waking up too much? You might not be able to do this in time for this week, but it may help in the future. I'm in the "encourage him to go" crowd.
posted by ShadePlant at 9:47 AM on July 28, 2010

Thanks for all the very thoughtful answers. I could have marked them all "best" on this difficult topic.

The end result: My son decided not to attend. We accepted that decision without anger or rancor, and just had him politely thank the PE teacher/camp leader for a fun three days. And then the leader graciously offered my son two make-up days at next week's camp. So he'll get a little more of the fun hiking day and beach day without the perceived trauma of sleeping over.

I think what really made my mind up was when my son turned down the bribe of a $50 videogame. It's something he really, really, REALLY wants and has been saving for (but he still is less than halfway there, moneywise). Turning that tempting treat down means he truly did not want to attend the sleepover, and in terms of the kinds of parents my husband and I are, that was enough.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:29 PM on July 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Good job.

There isn't a parent alive who has looked back, once the kids have left the nest, without wishing they'd done better at this, or tried that, or known the other. But I'm pretty sure that this incident will not be one of the ones that leaves you wishing you'd handled it differently.

It's often really hard to distinguish what the kid actually needs from the things we'd like to teach. This time, I think you've done exactly that.
posted by flabdablet at 2:33 AM on July 29, 2010

What a good instinct, to figure out a way to calibrate his feelings. I"ll try to remember that next time I have a dilemma like this. Really thoughtful, and I think your son will remember how you really listened to him. Thanks for letting us know how it turned out.
posted by Betsy Vane at 3:36 PM on July 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

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