We have just been informed that my daughter's (13) sleep-away camp will not be opening this summer. She had a miserable few months because of the quarantine and lock-down and was so hoping for camp. Our family is in the city and there may be day-camps open, but the experience is not close to comparable. She is now devastated. What can we tell her? How will she get past this?
I know that your concerns are shared by many parents at this difficult time. So many people are scrambling to find appropriate and positive options for their children for the summer season. I have some thoughts and a couple of practical suggestions.
As good parents, we are constantly concerned for the happiness and wellbeing of our children. We want to ensure that they are always happy and protected from hurtful emotions. However, there is a point at which our need to make our children happy can actually work against their ultimate emotional security. Though it can be difficult, we should never lose focus of the long-term goals that we have for our kids. Do we want them to always be happy in the moment, or do we want them to reach adulthood with positive and adaptive coping skills that will serve them for their entire lives?
In many circumstances, we instinctively balance our children’s immediate happiness and their ability to deal with life’s ups and downs. There are times when we choose to make them happy in the moment and times when we allow them to feel upset. When it is appropriate for them to feel disappointed—and to learn various lessons from this—we are teaching them limits, right from wrong, and general coping skills. Then there are instances in which we feel at a loss to help our kids.
In this particular circumstance, there is likely nothing that you can do to change the facts of the situation. It may be less hurtful for you if you recognize that this may be an opportunity to teach your daughter how to deal with disappointment. Since you cannot change the situation, you may be able to help her to accept it. Naturally, this won’t make her feel much—if at all—better in the moment, but she can learn a valuable skill in terms of how people should deal with challenges.
Specifically, you can allow your daughter to vent her frustration, letting her know that you feel her pain. Then (usually when she is not actively upset) you can encourage her to speak with friends who are in the same predicament. This can help her to feel validated, and to feel less like she is the only one feeling this way. “Misery loves company” is one way of saying that misery decreases in the company of others who feel similarly.
Speaking with friends who will also be attending day camp may help your daughter to feel better about the day camp experience. It can also give your daughter ideas about what she can do after day camp. Often, kids are more accepting of ideas and perspectives put forth by their friends than those encouraged by their parents. The very same idea that you would offer may seem more tantalizing when coming from a friend.
Hopefully, once the summer begins your daughter will accept it for what it is, allowing her disappointment to fade as the summer progresses.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
Brooklyn, NY | Far Rockaway, NY
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317