Child Sense: When younger kids stay at home while siblings are summer campers

DunstanBabyNewYork.comJuly 14, 2014 

When older siblings go off to camp often younger siblings who are left behind can show anxiety. While at first being the sole focus of Mom or Dad, after a while they will feel the loss of their siblings. This is because young children don't have a concrete understanding of time, and their immaturity can make it hard for them to understand that their older sibling's absence is temporary. There are things that you can do, however, that will make this period easier for your younger child to understand.

Showing your visual child pictures of where her sibling is and what activities she's doing will help her get an idea of what is going on. Dressing it up as a rite of passage will work wonders, and having her attend a small camp of her own, even if it is at home, will also help. Visual children do not tend to be overly emotional, so explain that this is what happens when you get older. They will get a lot of enjoyment from writing and receiving letters, and this can be a good way to have your child start or practice her reading and writing. Giving her a cheap camera is also a fun idea, so she can start to keep a visual diary, and be able to show her sibling what she did while the sibling was away at camp.

The general noise in the house, music, TV and chatter at meal times is noticeably different with one less person. Auditory children will notice how quiet the home has become and can feel unsettled when their older sibling goes to camp. This can lead to your child becoming more whiney and noisy as he subconsciously tries to fill up his auditory space. Fortunately, you can take control of this aspect, by being proactive in the sound you create. Take extra care to talk more to your child, play favorite music in the background, and try keeping an auditory diary, which can be either sent to the sibling at camp or played on return. This gives your auditory child an outlet to talk to his sibling even if one sided, and can contain music, video, friends' well wishes or even just a brief "hello" from everyone at dinner. Of course, if you do get that special phone call from your camper, be sure to let your auditory child have a quick chat.

Tactile children will feel the loss of a playmate keenly. Not having another person to play ball with, wrestle or help build pillow forts can make them feel very lonely. It is important during this time that you arrange playdates or invite relatives to stay, providing opportunities to continue doing the fun, physical things they used to do. If your community center offers short day camps, these can be wonderful for younger children, as it gives them the camp experience in an appropriate time frame. Tactile children can tend to act out as they start to miss a sibling, which usually takes the form of throwing things, pushing and more tantrums than usual. Use this opportunity to teach them to talk about what they are feeling, rather than physically showing their frustration.

Taste and smell children will be quietly torn when their sibling goes away to camp. One part hopes the camper is having a wonderful time, while the other just wants the sibling back home. They will be unsure of how to express their feelings, as they will not want anyone else to feel bad. This is a perfect opportunity to teach them that having these confusing feelings is normal, and that expressing them with kindness is OK. Keeping these children busy is a must, so organize playdates, or give them extra responsibilities - maybe looking after a friend's pet. You might also start planning how to welcome the sibling home - perhaps a party, with hand-drawn invites, handmade decorations and special foods that need practice preparation. The activities will make them feel better and more positive, as well as giving them crafts to do when things get quiet.

Your child will be most comforted by your attitude about the sibling away at camp, and about positive time they get to spend with you. Make the most of this time to bond and interact with your younger child, as it won't be long before he, too, is off at camp!

Priscilla Dunstan is a behavioral researcher and creator of the Dunstan Baby Language and author of "Child Sense" and "Calm the Crying." She currently works in New York as a behavioral consultant. Learn more about Dunstan at

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