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What to do when your child, who has gone to sleep-away camp for the last 4 years, adamantly refuses to go after being informed that the parents are getting divorced

I am often asked such questions. There may be one or many
reasons, and it may or may not be related to the parents.

Trying to avoid jumping to conclusions is the first step.
When a parent or parents arrive for consultation about their child, I try to clarify what they want to gain from the consultation and how I can assist them. Sometimes, it is a matter of helping parents talk with a child, helping them learn to listen to their child, and helping parents
take perspective.

Sometimes it is a brief process, and other times not,
especially depending on the age of the child.

There are several things to consider in such a situation, but it is not meant to be an exhaustive list:

• Does your child need permission to refuse so that he or she has the freedom to decide to go?

• is your child interested in doing something else with his or her time this year such as staying close to home and spending individual time with one or both parents?

• does your child want to be home with local friends, especially if there are upcoming activities or if previous camping friends are not attending this year?

• is it possible that your child has gone to camp for four years and wants simply to do something else such as get a job, go to a local camp, be a camp counselor, or spend time with grandparents or other relatives, to name a few examples?

• has the parental divorce stirred up insecurities in your child for which he or she needs some patience, understanding, and empathy?

Divorce may have nothing, a little, or a lot to do with your child’s refusal to go to sleep-away camp.

Giving your child an opportunity to express his or her needs may help provide clarification. In fact, this
may be your child’s first attempt to exert independence or
demonstrate emerging maturity through decision-making, especially if family dynamics have been dominated by the marital struggle, passively or overtly.

Thoughtfully approaching such situations can be growing and learning opportunities for parents and an open door to get to know your child better.

Your child may also be concerned about what is going to
happen while he or she is away at camp. This can be a time to validate your child’s concerns and to honestly consider the impact of legal proceedings on your child.

Divorce has the potential to help parents mature as individuals and as parents. Talk with your attorney
about your needs and what may be of benefit to you.

Sarah Wilhelms, MSW, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker in Missouri. She has a bachelor of arts degree with honors and a Master of Social Work with honors, both from Washington University in St. Louis. Sarah has been a social work clinician over 15 years with professional experience in family custody and visitation matters, grief and loss, foster care and adoption, healthcare, child development, developmental and learning
disabilities, and trauma. For more information, you may contact her at 314-605-9635.