I Wanna Go Home

Q: My 11-year-old daughter is in sleep-away camp for the first time this summer. She begged us to let her go, even though the rest of the family is going to our bungalow colony as we do each year. Camp is an additional expense for us, but she was so eager to go that we didn’t want to disappoint her.

My daughter is the oldest of many, bli ayin hara, a “big sister”-type who finds it difficult not to be in charge of things. I guess we let her do a lot — she is so competent.

Now she is unhappy in camp, and particularly complains about her counselor who, she feels, is too self-absorbed, doesn’t care much about the campers in the bunk and often spends time talking to other staff members. The counselor seems to be an extreme person in terms of her moods — very enthusiastic one minute, extremely critical the next — and my daughter never knows what to expect. This girl is the niece of the camp owner and (according to my daughter) probably got the job because of her family connection.

My daughter complains about everything from mosquitos to disorganized activities. She has friends in her bunk, so that doesn’t seem to be an issue for her. Regarding the possibility of changing bunks, the only space available is with a group of “nerds” (as she calls them). She isn’t interested in that option. I have spoken to the camp director and she said my daughter has an “attitude” problem. They are not taking much responsibility in responding to my daughter’s feelings.

My daughter wants to leave camp on Visiting Day and not finish out the remaining 10 days. My husband feels rachmanus towards her and wants to take her back to our bungalow colony. I don’t agree. What are your feelings about this?

A: Barring very problematic circumstances, it is always advisable to complete an educational or social program one has embarked on — especially if it is time-limited and possesses redeeming qualities. Psychologically, knowing that one was able to appropriately cope with exasperating situations and learn how to improve one’s problem-solving techniques is a gift in itself.

For whatever reason, your daughter is finding it difficult to acclimate to a new environment, perhaps with less than competent authority figures (i.e., her counselor), where her opinion is not the main consideration. For her own benefit, she needs to learn to comply and deal with imperfect authority figures (she will inevitably encounter others in the future!), as part of the maturation process.

Leaving a less-than-desirable environment can sometimes be the beginning of a faulty coping mechanism, reflecting avoidance of problems that can be resolved. The way your daughter will view herself (and the way her surrounding society will view her) will not be positive.

Instead of being left with the memory of “I couldn’t cope — I had to leave when issues became uncomfortable,” your daughter’s self-image can be a more positive one. For the 10 days that remain of camp, she can learn to “reframe” her thoughts (to view positively something she first perceived in a seemingly negative light). This can be achieved through “self-talk” (as Rabbi Zelig Pliskin continually speaks about). Self-talk consists of positive verbal affirmations, such as “A decision to be happy is my decision now,” or “Every moment can be a great moment.” This tool is a major component of cognitive behavior therapy, which is used most often with those suffering from anxiety disorders.

On a simplistic level, she can be given incentives to stay in camp until it ends.

Your daughter apparently managed with the mosquitos and disorganized day camp schedules that no doubt were part of her bungalow colony experiences, and she can do it now, as well. None of her issues seem severe enough to warrant going home on Visiting Day.