Summer child-care solutions for older kids

What to do when kids resist camp, but are too young to stay home alone.

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Back when my daughter, Avery, was a compliant pushover, I organized our summer break according to my schedule, enrolling her in camps spaced between family vacations and a visit from Grammie. Now that she’s nine, Avery thinks she should be involved in the process. She announced this spring that she didn’t want to do camps unless she was with her friends. Her stance further complicates the annual headache of summer planning. To find a solution, I’ve been consulting with the moms of her three BFFs to sync our kids’ schedules.

Many parents who work outside the home are at a loss for what to do when their older children become picky about day camp. “This time frame, from about age nine to 11, is a transitional period between early childhood and adolescence, and kids want to have some autonomy,” says Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, a professor of applied developmental psychology in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Peer relationships become more important, and it’s normal for kids to push back against parental plans that dictate how they spend their time. We can respect our kids’ need for independence by involving them in the planning—to a degree. “Ultimately, you have to do what works for your family, but it’s important to make kids feel they have some input,” says Schonert-Reichl.

Creative care: There are options beyond camp that give kids some freedom and responsibility and focus on their interests, says Katie Herrick Bugbee, senior managing editor and resident global parenting expert at Care.com, an online care resource. The programs might not last the full day though, so you may need to enlist help shuttling your child around and filling out the rest of her time. Volunteer opportunities are one option. Last summer, we asked if Avery could spend a couple of afternoons helping out at a local doggy daycare and the owner agreed. You may also want to inquire about leadership roles with camps or teams. “If your child takes a class, check with the instructor to see if there’s another session before or after hers where she can help out,” suggests Herrick Bugbee.

Another option? Hire a group sitter. “Gather with one or two friends and share the cost of a summer nanny,” Bugbee suggests. Alternatively, maybe there’s a local teen you can call on for a week or two to hang out with your child, take him to the park or the library, and offer a little bit of a break from summer scheduling.

Flex time: “Request some flexibility in your summer hours,” says Terry Carson, a Toronto-based parenting coach. Calgary mom Benita Simms* and her husband, Jerry,* have both been given the go-ahead by their employers to alter their summer hours for a couple of weeks to round out the time between family holidays and camps for their nine-year-old son. Jerry will go to work early and return around lunch (and work some weekends) and Benita will work a later shift.

Buck up, camper: Calgary mom Michele Liang was informed by her eight-year-old son, Cole, that he didn’t want to go to camp this summer. “Cole is desperate to have time with his friends, but they have different interests when it comes to camps.” Liang was sympathetic, but the reality is that day camps work best as summer child care for their family. So this year, they involved Cole in the planning, searching out new camps that aligned with his interests and worked with their schedules, and then they let him pick.

Providing kids with choices that fit within your parameters is a respectful, collaborative strategy, says Schonert-Reichl, adding that in the end, it’s OK to say, “Suck it up, you’re going to camp”—in a nice way.

Did you know? Though the Canada Safety Council recommends ten as the minimum age a child should be able to stay home alone (there is no Canadian law declaring a legal age), the experts interviewed for this story agree that kids nine to11 are too young to be home alone for the whole day.

 * name has been changed
A version of this article appeared in our June 2014 issue with the headline “Summer bummer,” p. 54.
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