All the questions and answers come directly from Smart Love Solutions in Early Childhood-A Handbook for Parents, Teachers and Caregivers by Drs. Martha Heineman Pieper and William J. Pieper.
Q: Should I insist that my four-year-old continue going to summer camp?
My four-year-old, who had a successful first year in preschool, was supposed to be in a summer camp doing sports, art, etc. He was really looking forward to it, so I was amazed when he came home after the first day and said he didn’t want to go back.
I have been forcing him to go because I think it will be good for him and I’m sure he will like it if he gives it a chance, but he is actually becoming more, rather than less, resistant. I am afraid to give in and let him think he can dictate what he will and won’t do. Please advise.
A: The real issue is not whether you are going to allow your son to dictate to you; it’s when to make a child do something he doesn’t want to do.
The best principle for making this decision is only to insist when the behavior is necessary (for health, safety, family needs, etc.). It’s never a good idea to make children do something just to establish that you are more powerful than they are and can order them around. In fact, teaching children that “might makes right” is a bad idea that boomerangs as children get older and stronger. Applying this principle to your son’s summer vacation, think of it as a time when he has free time and should have relatively free choice. Even though your son was happily looking forward to summer camp, something about the reality of going to it has turned him off. Since he is unhappy about going, try to enroll him in a different program. Or if you are not working, perhaps he would be happiest staying home with you and going on outings to the beach, the park or the zoo. You will accomplish much by showing your son that whenever possible you will honor his preference. He will know that you value his choices and as he grows up, he will copy you and learn to respect the choices of others. For now, the knowledge that you want to honor his wishes will help him to be more accepting at those times when you can’t do as he wants.