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Child protests summer camp at age 5

By Heidi Stevens

Chicago Tribune

Your 5-year-old hates the summer camp he’s enrolled in. Is 5 too young to grin and bear it?

Parent advice from our panel of staff contributors:

On one hand, you don’t want a 5-year-old calling the shots in the household. On the other hand, the kid could have legitimate fears or concerns. One idea might be to contact the camp and get the names of parents who had 5-year-olds go there. See how their kid liked it. Then try to convey to your child the good points of the camp.

– Bill Hageman

Kids have an annoying habit of hating anything new, and sometimes a firm resistance-is-futile stance is needed to get them to give the experience a chance. Of course you want to be sure that your 5-year-old’s “hatred” isn’t valid (he’s being picked on, counselors are neglectful or too attentive), but my inclination would be to make the kid stick it out a bit longer.

– Phil Vettel

My 7-year-old hated after-care at camp last summer but liked the regular camp day. So her attitude at pickup didn’t reflect the whole day’s experience. If you can, pop by during the day for an unobserved observation. See if you can schedule a play date with a camp mate or two, too.

– Wendy Donahue

Expert advice:

“Some kids are just not campers,” says pediatrician Alanna Levine, author of “Raising a Self-Reliant Child: A Back-to-Basics Parenting Plan From Birth to Age 6” (Ten Speed Press). “They much prefer a less structured environment for summer.”

That doesn’t mean you have to (or can) accommodate this preference. Your family may need camp as child care. And your child’s definition of less structure may be never leaving the comfort of his couch.

“Spending the entire summer watching television is not going to be good for his creative energy,” says Levine.

But it’s important to consider a child’s temperament when debating whether to continue at this particular camp for the summer, she says.

“There are looser camps and stricter camps,” she says. “Maybe the right match for your child’s best friend is not the right match for him.”

Talk to your child about his days at camp, and try to get a feel for what’s bugging him.

“Ask specific questions: ‘What did you have for lunch? Who did you sit with?’ ” Levine says. “Talk about the good things and the bad things. It may be as simple as there’s a child there who’s being mean.”

And talk to the camp director or counselors to see how your child does throughout the day. If he appears to enjoy himself a few minutes after you depart, it’s worth encouraging him to stick it out.

“One of the things we should do as parents is push the boundaries of a child’s comfort zone,” Levine says. “You may not want to force a miserable child to go to camp, but you do want to help push their limits, which will reap so many benefits for them in terms of their own self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.”

Have a solution? Your college sophomore is upset you’re going to Rome without her. Should you bring her along? Find “The Parent ’Hood” page on Facebook, where you can post your parenting questions and offer tips and solutions.