Q: Our 11-year old son has made it clear to us that he would much rather spend the summer at home playing video games and “hanging with his friends” than going to diabetes camp. We know this will be such a wonderful opportunity for him, but how do we help him want to go? What if he still refuses?
A: If asking your son “Do you want to go to diabetes camp?” received a less than enthusiastic response, you might consider rephrasing the question. What do you think his answer would be if you asked a question highlighting activities that some of the camps may offer, such as, “Do you want to go zip-lining this summer? Do you want to learn how to surf or sail or go horseback riding?” Or how about simply asking, “Do you want a break from feeling different because of your type 1 diabetes?”
On the surface, diabetes camp is just like any other summer camp, filled with plenty of fun things to do and exciting ways to get active. What makes campers want to come back year after year — and even live year-round at diabetes camp if they could — is the power that comes from being part of a community filled with kids just like themselves. Suddenly, it’s not a big deal to stop and check your blood sugar — because everyone else is, too! Camp has the ability to boost self-confidence and self-esteem in kids with type l like few other things can. It’s little wonder that friends made in this special atmosphere are often friends that last a lifetime.
To help your son look forward to this summer, browse camp brochures together to find activities you know interest him. Check online to see if any video clips of campers in action are posted. And don’t forget to bring up camp at your son’s next diabetes care team appointment. Chances are his doctor and diabetes educator will be among your staunchest allies in getting your son on board for camp. In fact, I regularly see pediatric endocrinologists and diabetes educators visit camps just to join in on the fun — they love it as much as the kids do!
In cases where kids remain resistant to camp despite their parents’ best efforts, it could be a sign that the child is feeling fearful or apprehensive about taking on this new experience. In other words, your son may be afraid that he won’t know anyone, while everyone else will already be best friends. Or he might be worried that he will feel homesick. If you get the sense it’s fear — and not apathy — that’s driving his reaction, have an honest conversation about this. Has your son ever been to sleepaway camp before? If not, maybe instead of starting with an overnight program, you could attend a family weekend camp together or look into a diabetes day camp program. We even have “bring a friend” camp weekends that encourage campers with type 1 to bring along a buddy without diabetes. By the end of the weekend, usually both friends are sad to leave!
If it comes out that he’s worried about not knowing anyone at camp, try to find another similar-age child — perhaps someone you know through your support group or diabetes clinic — who will attend the same program. Even if it’s just a brief introduction beforehand, it means your son will have at least one friendly face to look forward to seeing. Also reassure him that it’s the job of camp counselors and the camp director to make sure everyone feels a part of the community, especially first-time campers. Giving your son a choice about the type and duration of the program may also help ease underlying concerns.
However, for some kids, the excitement of camp just doesn’t come until they actually get there and experience it. So while you can give your son the choice of day camp or overnight, try not to give him the choice of entirely passing up what turns out to be a life-changing experience for so many children.
— Sarah Gleich is the associate state executive director and director of programs for the Nevada Diabetes Association and California Diabetes Association.
How Other Parents Deal “My son was diagnosed last year at age 14, so when I floated the idea of diabetes camp, at first he didn’t like it because he thought the other campers would be much younger. However, with the help of his diabetes educator, I tracked down a wonderful outdoor adventure camp just for teens with diabetes. He loved it! Camp certainly provided a break — for all of us — during a very difficult time.”
— Sandra C., Phoenix, mom of 14-year-old Derek
Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about diabetes camps and the Lilly Diabetes Camp Care Package Program. Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.