C.L. asks from Charlottesville, VA on June 25, 2008
Shy 6 Year Old Having Trouble at Summer Camp
My 6 year old son loves school, has friends there, and seems to make friends somewhat easily. However, he started a summer camp last week and when I drop him off, he clings to me crying for me to stay with him. It is heartbreaking. He is shy in new situations, and with a gym full of new faces and chaos, he clams up and becomes terrified for me to leave. I try to hype up how much fun he will have, I tell him I love him, and try to leave as quickly as possible. But he just clings to me and won't leave my side. When I pick him up, he always seems involved and is having fun with the group. It just seems to be the initial drop off where he gets nervous. What I have noticed is that when the group is in a controlled situation (i.e. lined up to get on the bus) he is fine and will go right over. But when we arrive during "free play" he gets anxious. Any tips on helping him feel comfortable in this situation? I want him to be able to make some friends there so he can look for them when we arrive. But I know how difficult it can be (I was shy growing up as well). Anyone else experience this?
M.W. answers from Washington DC on June 26, 2008
This sounds exactly like my son, now 8. I like the other suggestion of having a camp counselor come over to him first thing - that kind of thing has always been really helpful to my son. You may also see if the counselors can help him develop a friendship with a child who is similar in temperament. I would avoid letting your son see your anxiety, which only will make him more anxious. Be firm but loving when you detach him at the start of camp. Tell him you love him and know that he'll have fun, and that you are available if he REALLY needs you, but that you'll see him at pickup. Also, make sure (as discretely as possible) that the camp is providing a well-organized environment and that adequate supervision is given, because problems there could also contribute to your son's anxiety.
It takes a while for this to wear off. My son is never going to be one of those kids who bounces into a new situation and takes over with a big smile and a loud hello, but he can comfortably walk into new situations and deal with it with confidence. The loving and assuring environment that you provide at home really will help shape this. It's kind of late, but the pre-K and K experience are also a big help. If he has good self-esteem from positive early experiences then he'll develop his own sense of independence.
Have faith in him, give him lots of love and just a *little* push and he'll be fine. Feel free to email me if you want. Good luck!
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S.C. answers from Norfolk on June 26, 2008
Get him there early. If possible let him be the first or second child there so the counsler can get him engaged BEFORE the chaos begins. Good luck.
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L.R. answers from Washington DC on June 25, 2008
Hi, C., I haven't had direct experience with my daughter with this, but I've known lots of parents who have. Not all kids are ready for the energy and craziness of summer day camps at 6. Sounds like the camp begins with "free play" until all the campers are present, then the more organized stuff begins and he's OK with the latter.
The chaos and noise are overwhelming your son, who clearly does fine with more organized activities--this is pretty typical for kids who either are shy or simply like organization and structure in their time (it will be a blessing when he's older if he's still like that, believe me!).
You could: Talk to a camp staffer about coming over to him each day and welcoming him and walking him over to some other kids who are less bouncy during the free time(that way your son may feel more like someone's in control); talk to a camp staffer also about whether your son is truly having a good time the rest of the day, participating fully and willingly, etc.; stick around yourself until the initial free play time is over, the actual camp activities have begun and your son is called to the first real activity. I don't mean hover, I just mean see if he will go and play with other kids if you're standing nearby. If it'll only make him cling worse, the idea of a staffer helping him settle might be better.
Maybe drop in unexpectedly during the camp a few times, where he can't spot you and run over, and check out what's going on when the parents aren't around. It sounds like the rest of his day goes OK for him, but if you observe and believe the whole camp situation is noisy, chaotic, disorganized or overwhelming all day long, reconsider whether he should do this type of camp next time--he may prefer art camp to sports camp, or outdoor day camp to indoor gym camp, or science camp (yes, they have them for little kids) to gymnastics camp, etc.
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D.S. answers from Allentown on June 26, 2008
Your child seems to be showing signs of beginning stages of social anxiety.
write to Dr. Katharine Leslie, CFLE at ____@____.com
See what she recommends.
Good luck. Hope this helps. D.
D.K. answers from Washington DC on July 02, 2008
Hi, my 6 year old son has a similar temperment, so what I always do is casually talk to him about how the other kids may be feeling the same way he is. His reticence stems from a fear that all the other kids are already friends and he's going to be an outsider. I try to show him that this isn't true by regaling him with tales of my own times at camp and talking earnestly with him about how everyone wants to fit in and have friends, even the other kids he's afraid to socialize with. The more we talk about how the other kids are probably feeling, the more in tune with them he starts to feel. This also has the added benefit of making him more likely to approach other children and offer his friendship first, because he says "maybe they're scared like me and need me to be their friend."
Your son sounds just as sensitive as my son, and if there's one thing you can count on with sensitive kids, it's that you can almost always get them to understand another person's point of view. I've observed that sensitive children are blessed with substantial amounts of the nurture instinct, especially boys. Try to appeal to that side of him so he can focus on helping others feel comfortable instead of focusing on how uncomfortable he's feeling. This will lead to more confidence on his part and he will soon feel comfortable on his own.
S.T. answers from Washington DC on June 26, 2008
maybe get there a bit early so your presence can help him get over the initial social terror. it's hard even for adults to break into an already established group like the ones formed for the free play time. it's good to be firm, detach and go when the time comes, but he may be less anxious if he knows he's got a 10 or 15 minute window of your safe anchor presence while he looks over the situation and decides how to approach it.
even if he's clinging to you and not looking it over<G>.
L.P. answers from Washington DC on June 27, 2008
I have experienced this with both of my daughters - the separation is difficult, but you know they have had a good time because they are happy when you pick them up. A couple of people have already suggested arriving there a little early, and this is always a good idea so it doesn't seem overwhelmingly chaotic and he has the full attention of whoever is in charge. My advice from having my own children with separation anxiety and also from being a pre-school teacher and seeing the other side of it - children crying for two minutes after their parents leave and then having a wonderful time - is don't draw out the leaving process. Don't stay any longer than a couple of minutes, either find a fun toy or bring him directly to the person in charge and say "Hi, here's ..." then say to your son "I love you, have a great time and I'll see you a little later" (or something similar). Then leave. I've had to peel my girls off me and walk out the door before, saying "I love you, see you later" and it is heart breaking when they are trying to cling on and crying for you, but they are fine and you know that they will end up enjoying themselves. If you draw out the leaving process it makes it worse and gives the child more time to get themselves more stressed out and it will make the next time even more painful because they sense that you don't want to leave them while they are upset so they will cry all the more to try to keep you there a few minutes longer.
They do grow out of it eventually too.