Child Sense: When an older sibling is at camp

Priscilla J. Dunstan

Parents often underestimate the anxiety and loneliness a younger sibling has when an older sibling goes off to camp. Young children don’t have a concrete understanding of time, and their immaturity makes it hard for them to believe their sibling’s absence is temporary. Keep them busy, do something special, and use this time to connect with your younger child.

Tactile children will feel the loss of a playmate keenly. Not having another person to play ball with, wrestle or build pillow forts can make them feel very lonely. It is important during this time that you arrange playdates or invite relatives to stay, providing opportunities to continue doing the fun, physical things they used to do. If your community center offers short { day camps, these can be wonderful for younger children, as it gives them the camp experience in an appropriate time frame. Tactile children can tend to act out as they start to miss their sibling, which usually takes the form of throwing things, pushing and more than usual tantrums. Use this opportunity to teach them to talk about what they are feeling, rather than physically showing their frustration.

Auditory children will notice how quiet the home has become and can feel unsettled when their older sibling goes to camp. The general noise in the house, music, TV and chatter at meal times is noticeably different with one less person. Your child will tend to become more whiney and noisy as they subconsciously try to fill up their auditory space. Fortunately, you can take control of this aspect, by being proactive in the sound you create. Take extra care to talk more to your child, play favorite music in the background, and try keeping an auditory diary, which can be either sent to their sibling at camp or played on return. This gives your auditory child an outlet to talk to their sibling even if one sided, and can contain music, video, friends’ well wishes or even just a brief “hello” from everyone at dinner. Of course, if you do get that special phone call from your camper, be sure to let your auditory child have a quick chat.

Taste and smell children will be quietly torn when their sibling goes away to camp. One part hopes the camper is having a wonderful time, while the other just wants the sibling back home. They will be unsure of how to express their feelings, as they will not want anyone else to feel bad. This is a perfect opportunity to teach them that having these confusing feelings is normal, and that expressing them with kindness is OK. Keeping these children busy is a must, so organize playdates, or give them extra responsibilities – maybe looking after a friend’s pet. You might also start planning how to welcome the sibling home – perhaps a party, with hand-drawn invites, handmade decorations and special foods that need practice preparation. The activities will make them feel better and more positive, as well as giving them crafts to do when things get quiet.

Showing your visual child pictures of where their sibling is and what activities they are doing will help them get an idea of what is going on. Visual children do not tend to be emotional, so they will understand that this is what happens when you get older. Dressing it up as a rite of passage will work wonders, and having them attend a small camp of their own, even if it is at home, will also help. They will get a lot of enjoyment from writing and receiving letters, and this can be a good way to have them start or practice their reading and writing. Giving them a cheap camera is also a fun idea, where they can start to keep a visual diary, and be able to show their sibling what they did while they were away.

Of course, you’ll be missing your camper too, so remember to find your own soothing activities too. Your child will be most comforted by your attitude about the sibling away at camp.