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Why I won’t put my screaming child on the bus to camp.

Day one…

Although my 5  year-old had been less than enthusiastic about the start of camp, I pumped it up to sound like each day was nothing more than playing with puppies under rainbows while eating ice cream. Hell, a unicorn might just frolic by.

I can’t say he was sold, but by the first day, he was uncertain enough that when the bus pulled up and the doors opened, my child, momentarily flustered, just stepped on. It was only once he went to sit down that he actually realized what was happening. He was on a bus. Going to camp. That’s when the screaming began.

And the kicking.

And howling.

Before I could even start the bribery, my hysterical, snot covered son ran from the bus and cowered behind a bush on our lawn.

Day two…

After another failed attempt on the bus, I drove him to camp. Of course the entire way, he expressed how much he didn’t want to go. I told him that he needed to try it, before he could tell me he didn’t like it. Seemed logical to me.

Apparently, he didn’t care a lick for logic because when I tried to leave, he clung to me like a monkey with the claws of lion.  I bribed. I reasoned. I begged. I talked nice. I talked mean. I talked in circles for an hour, until finally I told the counselor to just take him.

She tore him from me. My heart ripped as well, as I walked away crying to the sounds of his screams.

At the end of the day, when I picked him up, I asked if he had a good time. He evaded me a bit, finally shrugged and said,“It was okay.” Almost immediately, hope lit his face and he asked, “Did I do good enough to take tomorrow off?”


Day three…

Repeat of day two.

Day four…

I try a different tactic. Maybe camp is too long. Maybe he needs a shorter day. Maybe he needs to feel some control. So together, we look at the schedule and decide that he’ll take the morning off and then after lunch I’ll drive him over. If he can walk in without freaking out like a rabid, trapped animal, I’d let him do this any number of days of the week. Seriously, I just wanted to see him separate without trauma for us both. He needed to do it for himself. And for me.

We had a lovely morning, drawing and playing. Then, after lunch at Dunkin Donuts, we drove over. I was feeling optimistic. Even if he went to camp just afternoons and I ditched the bus and drove – even though my middle son was getting on it every day – I was willing to do that for an easy transition. Oh, what I wouldn’t do for an easy transition!

As we pulled up I heard his low mutterings. “I don’t wanna go.”

I grit my teeth and sang. “You’re going baby. And you’re not going to cry. Right?”

No response.

Uh oh.

By the time we got in, it was clear that any deal that was made beforehand was now null and void. He immediately backed away from the camp director and rooted himself to me with both arms and legs.

I had been duped.

Again we negotiated. Again we talked sternly. Again we bribed. And again my child screamed bloody murder and refused. The director looked at my wild-eyed beast and said, “I’m not going to physically take him again. I don’t think I can do it again.”

My child sensing victory, started slowly scooting on the floor backwards toward the exit door.

The director, obviously over me and my difficult child, dismissed us with, “I really think you need to just put him in the bus in the morning. We’ll take care of him from there.”

My child bolted for the door.

The whole ride home, with my giddy, chatty child, I thought about what the director and camp instructors said. What some of my friends and family said. Had actually been saying since the beginning. Get his little ass on that bus, no matter what.

They say it so strongly and convincingly, as if there’s nothing more normal or acceptable than to strap your child against his will and then wave him off like some Stepford mom for a fun day at camp.

Is it me or does this go against the object of camp, which is for you to pay too much money for your kids to go happily and willingly and spend the day having so much fun they can’t wait to go back. That they actually like it because… they like it.

Going through all this stress to get my kid to camp to have fun seems contrary to the point.  I know what people say, they’ve got to get used to it. But really, I don’t completely get that. If they’re having fun, what’s to get used to? Maybe they’re not having so much fun if they’re dying to stay home. I can assure you, accompanying me to the supermarket should not trump swimming and playing sports.

Or maybe, five is not ten, or even seven. It’s five, and at five years-old, some kids are not prepared for a day of activity with strangers away from home. Many kids love it. Many more, just have those personalities that willingly accept their situations and make the most of it. You know, when faced with no choice, most will naturally assimilate. But some, well some, are mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore. Like my son.

I keep wondering if all the people telling me to just get him on that bus, screaming or not, would put their own kid on. Would watch them scream and flail with a look a terror and betrayal in their eyes. I know my old pediatrician would. She’s the one who recommended ferberizing to the point of vomiting. “That was how I did it with my kid.” She almost bragged. “I just stripped the sheet and left him. They have to learn.”

What exactly are they learning? That they’re on their own? That they need to get this independence thing? They tell me, I can’t let him manipulate me. He must go to camp. And while I’m sure there are control issues here as well as separation, I really don’t think of it as manipulation. I think he really doesn’t want to go. That if I force him, eventually he’ll suck it up, and probably in spite of himself, have some fun, because he has no other choice.

But is that really what camp is supposed to be?

Not if you ask me. Because if my kid isn’t happy going to camp, then I’m not happy sending him.

happy camper

Happy camper

Unhappy camper

Unhappy camper


About Ice Scream Mama

Mama to 3 boys, wife to Mr. Baseball and daughter of a sad man. I have a double scoop every day.

66 responses »

  1. Sounds traumatic! Sometimes what we think will be “fun” as adults are not fun for kids. This reminds me of our vacation, when my daughter tells me that she loved the hotel bathroom (and neglects to mention the other fun things we did). oh well….maybe when she’s older!

    • it was terrible!! but yes, i think it’s exactly that. and it’s so funny. sometimes stuff that we think would be so great is really intimidating and the little stuff thrill them. maybe next year…

      • It reminds me of going to a small, kid-friendly amusement park over the weekend. Every year my kids are willing to try one more ride (or so it seems). This year my daughter went on the Ferris wheel & did NOT look happy about it (she was sandwiched between Grandma & an Aunt and gripped the bar with white knuckles, looking very stern). But when she got off, she told me she liked it. You’re right – maybe next year camp will be better! Every kid is different, and ready for things at different times. And wow, yeah, you’re pediatrician sounds a bit harsh! You totally have to do what works for your family.

      • that’s great! it’s a line between getting them to try things and semi-encouraging their fear. i’m walking a line, but his reaction was so strong, that i can’t. and yeah, that’s why it’s my former pediatrician. ha.

  2. I am a real stickler when it comes to going to school, no if’s and’s or but’s, and I have left screaming kids, and then died inside. But I agree with you, camp is different. And he is five. Personally I find the mom gig really hard and in the end I think you have to trust your gut!! Mom knows best!! xo (I could not say no to that little face!!)

    • it is tough and i do worry if i’m doing the right thing, but his reaction has been so strong, that i can’t ignore it. it’s camp not kindergarten. i’m working one day at a time. small sigh. 😉

      • It is hard to know what is right but you know him the best. Trust your instinct. I always find I get into trouble when I ignore my gut and listen to others. xo

  3. This one is tough for me, because I was an introverted and really shy kid. Spending the day with strangers at camp made me so anxious I couldn’t sleep the night before and I remember crying and feeling sick when my mom would drop me off. And while I did generally have fun in spite of myself, it never felt as good as the relief of going home.
    Like you said though, he’s five. It’s not kindergarten and camp should be fun at that age!!!
    I think you should trust your instincts on this.
    I sometimes wish my parents had pushed me to deal with the shyness by forcing more of these experiences on me, but even if they had, I would have always been happier in a less stimulating environment because of the introversion.
    I can’t imagine being able to just put my daughter on the bus if she was that upset…
    Again, trust your instincts. Maybe he’ll grow to love camp someday, but if it’s not this summer, it’s not this summer!
    Hugs. You are a good Mom! I really felt this post.

    • it’s not easy, that line between pushing them and protecting them. i do feel like some kids are just not into the camps and while i’d love a little summer time off here, i can’t do it knowing he’s miserable. next year, might be a whole other story, but for now, i’m going to chose his relief – which is palpable! – to forcing the issue. it’s way too stressful for both of us. thank you!

  4. Here’s my 2 cents, for whatever it’s worth, based on my 6 year old.

    Nathan has been difficult to leave anywhere except his grandparents since as long as I can remember. He has cried, screamed, wailed, run away, fought, kicked, slapped, locked himself in the car, fallen on the floor refusing to get up, and clung to me as though he was trying to crawl back inside. I needed him to go each time because I needed to work. There was no other option. But because he was small, he didn’t understand. He’s six now, he still doesn’t understand.

    3 weeks into camp this morning I still had to spend 10 minutes convincing my kid, crying, to get out of the car.

    He cried every morning and had nightmares about kindergarten from August of last year until December. But he had to go. And he has to go to camp. And when he starts complaining about 1st grade (I’m going to bet that will start around mid-August), he’s going to have to just go. We have no option, but again, he’s too small for that to matter to him.

    I have two fears: he will be known as the kid who cries about everything and that he will hurt himself or someone else with the more aggressive meltdowns. I hate the phrase they have to learn, but in a way I get it.

    My husband says I’m too easy on him and he’s manipulating me. I drop him off every day feeling like the worst mother ever. I pick(ed) him up every day to his counselor/day care provider/teacher saying within 5 minutes of me leaving he was fine, acting age appropriate and making friends. It’s always the same. That sets my heart at ease after 8 hours of having it broken apart.

    I get where you’re coming from. I don’t have a bus to have to shove my kid on, but I do have to run away and let a door slam behind me to him crying. Kids do know how to manipulate, and some kids have a really hard time with leaving their moms, and some kids might know how to use having a hard time to their advantage when they think it may work (I’m saying this about mine, not yours). If you think that’s the case, you can’t let it work. If you think there’s something else, work on that.

    Be firm, if that’s what you decide is best. Go with your gut. Love him hard, as I know you do.

    Many hugs. Sorry for the book length comment.

    • thank you for your book length comment. it is sooo hard. i know. i had him ripped from me all last week, and i guess, because it’s not kindergarten and i am home, and he’s still young, i’m not willing to do it to both of us any longer. i would love for the time to myself and for him to swim and have a great day but right now it’s more stress than anything else. some kids don’t naturally separate with ease. and some are horrible! but mine is five and yours is 6. still very young. my oldest cried in k and 1st.. by 2nd he was much better and by 3rd he had come into his own. some kids just need a little more time. many hugs right back at you! parenting is freaking tough!

  5. Winnie Schindler

    poor baby, breaks a grandmas heart, so you can go on the bus with him to work (like his daddy wanted me to do) love him.

    On Mon, Jul 15, 2013 at 7:06 AM, Icescreammama

  6. Wow, you are hilarious and a great writer! I was giggling out loud as I relived my experience through your post. We have another go around at it this year. Fingers crossed. This time it’s at the church up the road. We’ve been there as a family once just so he would feel comfy going… “see, Mom and Dad come here too”… although I have a feeling I’ll be talking nice, talking mean, bribing, etc. And still come home with my sweet boy who wants to be with me instead. But, I’m holding out hope as it would be nice to finish a cup of coffee in the morning while still warm. As you wrote, I need this too! We’ll see. Great post.

    • thank you so much. and yep, i’m over here waiting for my summer to begin also. i tried a local art class this morning – anything!!!! but he made me stay with him. my hope is that after he sees it’s really fun and non threatening that i can leave for a little. my coffee is so cold!! 😉 good luck.

  7. that’s gotta hurt you to see him like that. 😦 i’m so sorry.

  8. This is hard. I think this is one of the hardest things. I don’t have kids, and I dearly loved camp, so I’m not sure what you can do except trust your gut. You are a great mom, and you love those little boys as hard as you possibly can. He’ll be fine, and you will too.

    • thanks. it’s hard. they are all different. my oldest was a little resistant but went reasonably easy, my middle strode right on that bus without looking back, but him, whooooo this is something else… day by day

  9. Its not easy – you do what you feel is right for your child – screw what other people say. I know that’s harsh too but its a reality…I don’t know how many times people tell me to just force my kids because they have to learn – sorry, at age 5 they are just kids and they need to know that when they tell us that they don’t like something that we will listen and take their feelings into consideration. How else are they going to trust us to listen to them when something bad really does happen to them? Go with your mommy gut – it knows better.

  10. I’m sure my 2 cents does not really count here, but i’ll give it a go anyway (c:

    I do think you nailed it on the head yourself: “You know, when faced with no choice, most will naturally assimilate.”(Quote: You!)… The problem is the choice/alternative that he knows is there… And even worse, YOU know is there!

    We all have been through this separation anxiety and I see Sydney go through now as well, negotiating with Pam and being hand carried to the camp now and then take the bus home – On even days and on un-even days she’ll deliver AND pickup… You give them a hand and they’ll grab your arm! And if they figure out they can do so by using their tears and pleading, then so be it! All is fair in love and war… And the parents lose… Because the choice is there!!!

    Where i am from, both parents work full time and there are no nannies or grand parents ready to step in.. No goofing off that can be traded with taking care of an unreasonable and negotiating child. So… There… Left with no choice, the little negotiator WILL go to camp! And will love it even though it takes a few days to realize…

    That being said, Pam might just cave in as well, so soon the two of them can do day camp at home and have fun that way! Who says camp has to take place at a synagogue anyway! (c;

    • of course your 2 cents counts. and i do appreciate what you’re saying. and you’re right, if i was working, it would be a different story here. but i’m not. so since i’m lucky enough to be home, i don’t think at 5 i have to force him into liking camp if he is so stressed about it. it’s not that important to me.

  11. I totally agree with you. I don’t think there’s any value in traumatizing kids over stuff like this.

  12. I think you’re right. At 5, if they have that hard a time going to camp, then I couldn’t do it. You can’t say you didn’t try. Maybe he’s actually just not ready!

    • thanks. i’m actually a little surprised that everyone’s so nice. i was expecting a bit of a beating. but yeah, i really just don’t think he’s ready. and if he doesn’t have to… well than he doesn’t have to. although, this is not the summer i had planned. haha

  13. Don’t do it, Mamma, please don’t force him to camp!! I was a shy, self conscious child, and when my mom sent me to day camp or tennis lessons it was torture. I preferred to be home colouring or playing make believe with my dolls. My parents for years have made sure that my 3 kids had “something to do” every summer, even tho they had other things in mind. Your son is at school all year, and if in the summer he wants to hang out with you, let him. There will be more important battles to fight. This isn’t one of them.

    • thank you! you just made me feel so much better. i think that’s exactly how my little boy thinks. he’s so happy coloring and doing imaginary battles with his figures! i think i’ll save this battle for kindergarten where it matters. 🙂

  14. If you’re surprised logic doesn’t work on a five-year-old, wait till he’s a teenager! Take one scoop of icecream, two if you must, and take a lie down…! 😉

  15. I so feel this for you. I am not there yet, but I feel the gut wrench when your kid is screaming. But also? I love you so much for having lunch at DUnkin Donuts. SO MUCH! oxoxo

  16. I am married to a man who had all these choices you are giving your son, and now I get to be the one to show him how to function in an adult world where these choices are not always available. Mom will not always be there, your poor wife may not always be there, and sometimes we have to do what we don’t want to do. Maturity and accountability don’t happen by accident, they have to be taught beginning at a young age. It’s best that you teach those qualities and not leave that hard lesson to future strangers (or his poor wife! Wait, did I say that already?)

    • i so appreciate your strong and well written argument. however, i still maintain that i will shield my son from the real world, at least until kindergarten. and the poor wife, poor wife is in trouble no matter what, she’s going to have me for a MIL. 😉

  17. I love the pictures so much. I actually pulled my daughter from a week of day camp that I had already paid for. She did great at sleepaway camp but this was just too much, and I saw the anxiety, and I’m like, you know what, you can chillax at home while mom works this week. I think we become expert at reading when they are having the normal growing pains about separation and when they are really feeling anxiety and fear that won’t go away with a hug and a shove. Great post.

    • sometimes, you just have to listen to your kid and trust your gut. he was inconsolable. seriously, i’ve never seen him so insane. it definitely wasn’t worth it. it did make me feel less guilty when the camp refunded my money.

  18. When my son was 9 I took him to a friend’s birthday party at a Rock Climbing gym where all the kids were strapped into harnesses and given an opportunity to climb the walls.

    I remember watching my son climb at 10 feet up and and then stopping because he made the mistake of looking down. He was really scared and asked to come down. I let the instructor have five minutes to try to encourage him to keep going, but he was having none of it so I told the guy to let him come down.

    He looked at me and suggested that I was crippling him by giving in. Had he not been supporting my son on the wall I might have ripped off of arm and beat him to death with it.

    There are times and places when it is important and appropriate to push our children and times where it doesn’t have to be done.

    As the parents we get to make those decisions.

  19. We put so many rules and expectations on our kids that we sometimes forget how young they still are. Then we let other people talk us into feeling bad, because our child is not normal… And when I say “we” I actually mean myself. My son still had such a hard time going to camp when he was 8 that he got himself so constipated I had to take him to the emergency room.
    Ever since then I don’t give a shit anymore what other people say about my parenting – I just go with my gut; eventually they all grow up. and I’m allowing my kids to do it at their own pace.

  20. Eh, he’s five. And it’s camp. Not school, not grandma’s gotta-go-and-behave-dinner. Camp. If you have the time & energy for him to be home, then let him be home. Tell him that camp is supposed to be fun and that “this is a phase” (my kids always liked knowing they were “in a phase,” as if it reassured them that things wouldn’t always be the same), and that next summer when he’s a Big Boy of six, he will be excited about camp… or something like that. At five, he’s got lots of time left to learn that sometimes you gotta do stuff, even though it’s not what we *want* to do.

  21. Oh, man. What a tough situation. I really feel like it’s not a cut and dry thing. It’s not like there’s only this one way to instill responsibility / separation / independence / build character / whatever. But it’s also not like being forced to spend a summer’s day swimming and playing with other kids will doom him to a crippling abandonment complex. I think it’s helpful to view the tree in the context of the forest.

    There was this one kid in my 5 y/o’s preschool who basically didn’t have to do anything ever because “he just wasn’t ready.” His mom also made him wear a surgical mask to school when the flu was going around. And no one was surprised. So I’d feel comfortable speculating that there are larger issues with overprotectiveness happening there and maybe that kid needs to go to camp, like, badly. But, on the other hand, other kids are perfectly normal, well adjusted kids who aren’t down for camp just now.

    So I guess this is a long winded way of saying, go you. You know your kid best.

    • absolutely, there are always two sides and ways to view. many of the people around me have said to just get him there no matter what or how, although if they actually saw it, i don’t know if they’d stick with that. regardless, yeah, there are extremes and i am definitely am more on the over-momming side, but seriously, i was so looking forward to those hours. this is not the summer i want. i wanted him in camp very badly.. even half day, three days a week, maybe a tuesday… sigh. if i thought it was anything short of traumatic, he’d be there.

  22. I think you are a wonderful mama and I trust your choices. If this were school (kindergarten) I might feel differently, but it’s camp. Optional. A bummer for you, but such a loving choice at this age for him. Give him a hug for me!

  23. At the end of the day, it you and your kiddo. I certainly have no grounds to have an opinion on your opinion piece, but I say that from what I know of you via this blog you care, you’re a great mama and only want the best for them. You know far better than anyone telling you what you “should” do, so you do you. xox

    • absolutely. i was getting some slack, but i know to go with my gut. i’ve listened to the peanut gallery against my better judgement a few times, and generally regretted it.

  24. I couldn’t agree more! Good for you!!Lisa

    Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2013 11:06:35 +0000 To:

  25. nataliedeyoung

    You are such a good, in-tune mama. 🙂

  26. I think you nailed it with the spending the day with strangers thing. My 5 year old went through this last summer. He would cry and cling and we would finally just have to leave him (we HAD TO go to work). He eventually adjusted and was fine, so much so that this year he happily runs off to play with new kids and be instructed by strange teachers in an unknown environment. Maybe it’s just assimilation. Maybe they just need time. Whatever it is, they don’t all start out ready to run away from the familiar and loved. Give him time. He’ll get there. Eventually.

    And if by college he isn’t running away, THEN maybe you force him on the bus! 😉

  27. Those photos are priceless. My grandparents raised me and I always found my grandmother stricter. This memory was formed at age 4 when I began kindergarten. (my birthday fell the end of November). I done fine the first week and then I suppose after the weekend, I thought school was over. That Monday much to my granny’s dismay, my grandfather walked back up the driveway with me in tow because I cried. She drove me to school a couple days. Then not trusting my grandfather anymore, she put me on the bus despite my crying and begging. This isn’t a traumatic memory for me. I now have two girls and this is what I do know. I didn’t have to technically began kindergarten for another year. My two daughters, 11 and 7, weren’t required to go to pre-school. It was a choice. Had either one of them cried for more than a week of going, I would have caved until law required me to send them to kindergarten. Now, I did realize after my crying wasn’t working with her, I loved school. But we all have to go to school as required by law. Camp, it’s supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Last summer my then 9 (almost 10) year old went away for a week to 4-H camp. It’s the first time either of us had been apart that long and there was a strict no calling or talking policy. I could email her everyday but she couldn’t email back. She had a great time. This year didn’t want to go and I didn’t force it. Just for what it’s worth as a mom, I think if your son was going to ‘get used to’ camp and enjoy his day, then each morning wouldn’t have been so stressful. Especially, the arrangement after lunch. I think each parent knows in their heart what is best for their children and you sound like a great mom!!!!

    • thank you for writing! it makes me relieved to hear that even though you cried and didn’t want to go to school, that you actually did love it. it’s true, there’s a big transition to adapt before we allow ourselves to relax and enjoy. i’ll do it for kindergarten in september, but i wasn’t prepared to torture both of us for camp. after this summer, he’s officially a ‘boy’ and no longer a baby, but of course, always my baby.. 🙂

  28. Thank you, Thank you, thank you for your blog post. I got here by googling “kid hates camp.” My son is 10 but is exactly like your son, from birth – I also almost succeeded in the Ferber method, that is, until he jumped out of the crib after a week of screaming and puking. The end result – I had him sleep with me 🙂 Anyway, he doesn’t want to go to day camp – I am wrestling with the following: people telling me it builds character, that he’s manipulating me…and of course, the COST – we get no refund. But my heart is breaking! It’s supposed to be fun and to see him up ALL night with anxiety and then crying before he leaves…sigh. I still haven’t decided to pull him or not; either way, I would feel bad – either I am “too soft” (and feel guilty that I spent a lot of money for naught) – or, that it’s actually backfiring and instead of building character, it’s making him unhappy. Lawd, it’s hard to be a mommy 🙂

    • i totally feel you. i really believe that some kids just don’t like camp. i don’t know why other people feel the need to make more of it than that… it’s not always manipulation. and it’s not always necessary to push them to do things they don’t want to do – especially ones designed for fun. having said that, because he’s 10, you need to make sure there isn’t some reason behind him not wanting to go… also, if there are concession you can make for him to enjoy it more – giving him a day off a week, picking him up early… just throwing it out there. but if he’s honestly tried it and not enjoyed it, i think he’s old enough to know it. you’ve got to trust your instincts. good luck!! and yeah, it ain’t easy. thanks for visiting. 🙂

  29. Pingback: Celebration Symphony | friendlyfairytales

  30. Camp’s optional. Kindergarten isn’t. Is it? Dang, I’m not even sure. My daughter’s 4 and she ran hard in the direction of camp every day. What does that say about me? Best not to ask such questions… 🙂 Oh, by the way, the fairies want a word when you have a minute:

  31. And by the way, the fairies want a word with you, when you have a minute: 😉


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