replied 8 years ago.
Danny had given you some good suggestions, and I'd like to try to help you further, with your son. First, I do believe four is a pretty young age to go to day camp and take all these field trips; however, I also think it's a great way for him to interact with kids his own age and get to visit some really interesting, fun places and do exciting things. Many four year olds are not emotionally ready to be away from home for so many hours. I experienced this with my own son, at the same age, so I know it's heart-wrenching and can empathize completely, especially if you're not there, physically, to comfort him. You thought you were providing him with a fantastic opportunity to go on vacation to his aunt's and grandparents' and go to camp during the summer, and now he seems miserable. Don't worry; I don't think this experience will have long lasting traumatizing effects.
I think a major part of the problem is related to separation anxiety, because he's here with his aunt and grandparents, with whom he feels comfortable, but you are in NY and not physically with him. Camp is a new experience/adventure, which many children of this age may feel anxious about and cry/not want to go, as you describe.
While showing him the places online where he will go with the camp on field trips, sounds like a good idea so he'll know what to expect and how things will look, his fear of leaving his aunt/grandparents and not being with you, is overriding any interest he may have in seeing these places. I agree that your sister should not talk about what he will be doing in camp the next day, at night, before he goes to sleep, as this is adding to his anxiety. It's important that your sister not appear upset at HIS upset, and just get him dressed, pack his lunch, etc., do all morning activities normally and then tell him it's time to leave/get in the car. Tell her to give him a say in the decision making of the morning ritual, which also may distract and help take his focus off 'I don't want to go to camp'; for example, "which cereal do you want for breakfast; Cheerios or Apple Jacks? which snack do you want with your lunch, THIS OR THAT? Which shorts do you want to put on today, the blue ones or green ones, etc." I'm sure you get the idea.
If he seems to be alright at the camp itself, has bonded with a particular counselor, and doesn't make as big of a fuss at going, if he'll remain on the camp grounds, I would not force him to go on these field trips. Is it too late to enroll him in a different type of camp that stays on the grounds and doesn't take as many field trips? If you pay by the week, and/or if the camp is willing to reimburse you for time not spent there, you may be able to find another program that is better suited to his current needs.
I completely agree with you that he needs to learn there will be unfamiliar situations in life, which he will need to get used to/adapt to, and then he will enjoy them, but again, he just might not be emotionally mature enough to understand this or handle this situation, being away from home and then, in addition, being away from his aunt's/grandparents' home from 9-5 every day. (I got the impression you live in NY and he's spending time in FL with your sister and your parents. But, perhaps you had to go to NY, and he does live in FL?)
See if you or your sister can find a half-day camp program for him, so he spends less hours away from her, and if he seems to be adapting well, perhaps she can change it to a full day, if he seems to want this.
I have one more idea that might help: have your sister discuss a favorite activity he will do when he comes home from camp, so he can look forward to that, and focus on the 'end' of the day, which should decrease his anxiety while he's at camp. Also, ask if any counselors stay behind, when the camp goes on these field trips, and perhaps he can stay with them and do activities that are familiar and which he likes, instead of going on the bus to the field trip activity.
I hope you, your sister and your parents are able to reach a happy medium with him, re: the camp situation, even if a change in camp needs to be made, if possible.
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