Q: My 10-year-old son is having a miserable experience at the two-week camp we sent him to. He says he hates it there, that the other kids don’t like him, and the counselor he was assigned to is mean — all this after just two days. He wants to come home. My instinct is to go get him, but my best friend says he’s manipulating me. What should we do?
A: First, this is not apocalyptic. No matter what decision you make, your son’s future is not compromised. If you go and get him, he hasn’t beaten you at some mind game. In other words, I would disagree with your friend. Your son’s not trying to manipulate you; he’s trying to get you to come get him and bring him home, and he’s being rather blatant about it. Manipulation is much more subtle than he’s capable of at this point in his life. Furthermore, I’m reasonably certain you can take his complaints at face value. He hates it there. The question becomes, “So what?”
If, on the other hand, you leave him there, he will not become catatonic and require confinement in a rubber room for the remainder of his life. He’ll get over it. In fact, if you ignore his complaints or simply respond with, “We made our decision when we wrote the check,” he will probably give up on his attempts to manipulate you — just kidding — and find some reason to make his camp experience more tolerable.
If I was in your shoes, I’d leave him there. But I’m a man, and men tend to have little sympathy for complaints of this sort, especially from their sons.
Q: Our 6-year-old says she’s afraid to go to sleep in her own bed, on her own. She wants one of us to stay in there with her until she falls asleep, which takes up to an hour. The further problem is she wakes up in the middle of the night screaming for us, and we have to sit with her again. This is getting old quickly, not to mention we haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. Your ideas?
A: I recently had the parents of a 4-year-old with the very same problem tell their daughter that they had talked to a doctor who told them that bedtime fears happen when a child isn’t getting enough sleep. The fictional doctor prescribed a strict 6:30 p.m. bedtime until the child’s fears, including the screaming in the middle of the night, stopped for two straight weeks. At bedtime, the parents simply asked the girl, “Do you want us to stay with you?” If she said yes, then the two weeks started over the next day.
The parents later told me that it took three days for the child to realize that early bedtime was not worth having her parents stay with her while she fell asleep. At that point, she began proudly going to bed and off to sleep on her own.
It’s important to mention that I also told this little girl’s parents that they absolutely had to stop talking about the child’s fears. Asking questions like, “What are you afraid of?” and trying to reassure children that their fears are not real only makes matters worse.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.