Siblings at camp

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  July 26, 2011 06:00 AM

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My daughters, 9 & 11, are at the same over-night camp, the older one for second year, the young for the first. The younger is unhappy and seeks out her sister for comfort. How do I know this? Not from the 9 year old! The 11 yr old wrote me a letter, complaining! I was so surprised that she felt it was a burden; they are usually very close. What should I do?

From: RT, Orange, NJ

Dear RT,

Have you spoken with the camp? Presumably, they know your younger daughter is homesick and are helping her through that, but that also need to know it's affecting the older girl, too. That your older daughter doesn't like being the big sister in the camp setting? You're thinking she's being mean to her sister? Uh uh. Don't go there. Much more likely, she's not sure how to help her sister and she's looking to you for guidance. Tell her, via return mail, to get the help of appropriate counselors, and thank her for being a good sister. It's lovely that the younger one would turn to the older, but the older should not be made to feel burdened by her sister or responsible for her.

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3 comments so far...
  1. "Burden" is such a loaded word...sounds like you are upset with Older for being upset with Younger.

    Yes, Older should be nice and helpful to Younger, but there's a limit to how much responsibility she should have for her sibling. Absolutely do not make her or let her feel guilty about wanting to enjoy her own experience without taking care of her sister all of the time. She's not a babysitter, and if Younger goes running to Older all the time, she is not going to learn anything or experience anything on her own.

    Posted by di July 26, 11 04:09 PM
  1. Burden may be a little harsh...quite simply the younger one just may not be ready for camp yet and doesnt know how to handle that. Probably seemed like a good idea at the time but now that shes away....the LW should call the camp and ask to speak with not only the younger child but counselors as well...Maybe she needs to come home! Camp isnt for everyone. The older daughter goes to camp to be with friends and obviously enjoys the experience. She shouldnt have that taken away from her.

    Posted by RREN July 27, 11 12:56 PM
  1. The only reason why I would call the camp is not to make sure the younger one leaves the older one alone at camp, but that something is not happening to the younger one that she is afraid to tell me. And even then, I'm not sure I would do anything at all.

    First, every piece of news you get is on a 3 day time delay. That's when you get the letter--3 days after it happened. If my parents had responded to every letter of mine at camp, they would have been calling the camp once a week and then driving me to the closest psychiatrist to see why one letter a week was lovely and the other was miserable. Most of the time I was having the time of my life--no other experience compares to overnight camp. I don't even remember the bad times, but lets just say I think I was more likely to write when I was looking for some support.

    Second, you are relying on an 11 year old, probably on the cusp of puberty and surrounded by other 11 year olds, to be a good historian. They aren't. Some queen bee could have said to her "Why is your bratty sister always hanging around" and that was enough for her to send this letter. The younger one could have said hi to her in the dining hall and that set her off.

    Third, camp is (and really should be) Lord of the Flies with a few adults so there is no violence and blood shed. Kids have to figure out how to work things in this situation. That's what camp is all about.

    I think maybe I would see what the next letters say. If you think your younger daughter is having a problem, then I would check in with someone. But if the older one is just bugged by the younger's presence? She'll have to learn to deal with it just like she did at home.

    Posted by ash July 27, 11 02:43 PM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. "Burden" is such a loaded word...sounds like you are upset with Older for being upset with Younger.

    Yes, Older should be nice and helpful to Younger, but there's a limit to how much responsibility she should have for her sibling. Absolutely do not make her or let her feel guilty about wanting to enjoy her own experience without taking care of her sister all of the time. She's not a babysitter, and if Younger goes running to Older all the time, she is not going to learn anything or experience anything on her own.

    Posted by di July 26, 11 04:09 PM
  1. Burden may be a little harsh...quite simply the younger one just may not be ready for camp yet and doesnt know how to handle that. Probably seemed like a good idea at the time but now that shes away....the LW should call the camp and ask to speak with not only the younger child but counselors as well...Maybe she needs to come home! Camp isnt for everyone. The older daughter goes to camp to be with friends and obviously enjoys the experience. She shouldnt have that taken away from her.

    Posted by RREN July 27, 11 12:56 PM
  1. The only reason why I would call the camp is not to make sure the younger one leaves the older one alone at camp, but that something is not happening to the younger one that she is afraid to tell me. And even then, I'm not sure I would do anything at all.

    First, every piece of news you get is on a 3 day time delay. That's when you get the letter--3 days after it happened. If my parents had responded to every letter of mine at camp, they would have been calling the camp once a week and then driving me to the closest psychiatrist to see why one letter a week was lovely and the other was miserable. Most of the time I was having the time of my life--no other experience compares to overnight camp. I don't even remember the bad times, but lets just say I think I was more likely to write when I was looking for some support.

    Second, you are relying on an 11 year old, probably on the cusp of puberty and surrounded by other 11 year olds, to be a good historian. They aren't. Some queen bee could have said to her "Why is your bratty sister always hanging around" and that was enough for her to send this letter. The younger one could have said hi to her in the dining hall and that set her off.

    Third, camp is (and really should be) Lord of the Flies with a few adults so there is no violence and blood shed. Kids have to figure out how to work things in this situation. That's what camp is all about.

    I think maybe I would see what the next letters say. If you think your younger daughter is having a problem, then I would check in with someone. But if the older one is just bugged by the younger's presence? She'll have to learn to deal with it just like she did at home.

    Posted by ash July 27, 11 02:43 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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