Originally Published in the Lakelands Leader in our advice column The Laudable Life
Q: We’re planning to send our son to camp for the last two weeks of July and he’s anxious about going. He’s always been a little socially awkward and he’s worried about fitting in and making friends. I don’t want to force him but my husband feels that camp would be good for him to develop his social skills and gain confidence. Plus I think it’s too late for a refund. What should we do?
A: It’s common for children to be anxious about new social situations, especially when connecting with peers is already hard. Your hesitance to force it is understandable since doing so could 1) increase his anxiety, 2) decrease the chance he will agree in the future if he’s forced to do it without the skills he needs to be successful, and 3) damage his relationship with you by compromising his trust in his parents or triangulate relations if he sees dad as the “heavy.” If camp is causing him undue anxiety, be patient; try to understand what that’s like for him. Perhaps he’s open to giving the first day a try if he knows you’ll pick him up if needed. You want to encourage him to go outside his comfort zone, but if you push too hard it can backfire. Gail Groboski, our Senior Young Child Clinician, says that “If his anxiety is severe enough as to interfere with participating in age appropriate activities it may be a sign that it’s time to consult with a child psychologist or therapist as counseling can offer particular social skills and anxiety management tools to support him in stepping out of his comfort zone.”