One of the unique aspects of sleepaway camp is the cabin experience. Living with a group of 10 or so of your peers – and the supervision of two or three college-aged counselors – provides a critical opportunity for growth in many areas. Kids learn to communicate with each other effectively and positively, to collaborate and share their space and their time, and navigate conflict both on their own and with the assistance of their counselors. Every child benefits from practicing these skills, but perhaps none more so than an only child.

For those of us that have grown up with siblings, we know that they often understand us better than anyone else. They’re our closest living relatives, after all – biologically, you share more DNA with your sibling than your parent or child. They knew us in our youth, they know us in our adulthood, and they usually share the same upbringing. And we also know that we spent much of our younger days arguing with them.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Kids that grow up with siblings - and therefore sibling rivalry - have constant practice at a critical communicative skill: how to negotiate conflict. Conflict starts early and continues throughout childhood. A Time article ( describes how siblings are “constantly at war” – almost literally. One study showed that siblings average around one fight every 10 minutes they are together. The number gets a little smaller as they get older, but not much. I’m sure that comes as no surprise to parents with more than one child. I grew up with a brother, and it certainly seems about right.

But what about single child households? There are many perks to being an only child. Single children are often articulate and intelligent, as they’ve had adults as their primary peers at home, so they learn quickly in order to keep up. However, while only children may be superior negotiators with parents, they lag behind their peers who have siblings in negotiating with peers (which is much of what they’ll be doing the rest of their lives). 

There are many reasons for which a family will have only one child. While only children certainly have the opportunity to navigate conflict and conflict resolution in school with their classmates, it’s not quite the same as the all-day, live-in dynamic of growing up with a sibling.

Summer camp, however, can provide that only child with 10 or so sisters or brothers for the weeks while they’re at camp. In a cabin with that many kids, there will inevitably be a few disagreements. For three weeks (or however many weeks their camp session may be), an only child can practice living – and of course, arguing, on occasion - with their peers, like they would with a sibling. Even a child with a sibling (except if that sibling is a twin) can practice the slightly different dynamic of negotiating with same-age peers until they reach a resolution.

Another important aspect of the camp experience is how these resolutions are reached. Parents often help their children do this, which will certainly end a conflict sooner than letting two young, excitable minds sort it out themselves. Children learn valuable new skills from their parents’ resolution strategies. However, the article above also describes how kids that were given the opportunity to negotiate a conflict on their own actually tended to reach a longer-lasting solution than if their parents had a heavy hand in the process.

At camp, skilled counselors will know when to lead the conflict resolution process, but also when it is best to let the campers resolve on their own. They lead by example, and let the campers learn from their own experiences to develop long-lasting conflict resolution strategies. And, when needed, the counselors will teach directly.

Going to camp is a powerful growth experience for many children, but it can be particularly beneficial for only children. There’s a unique advantage to living among friends and learning how to work through disagreements and conflicts on a peer-to-peer level. Children with siblings practice this at home every day; for only children, camp offers a critical opportunity to experience total immersion in peer interaction and conflict resolution.


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