Nurturing Resilience

Raising children to be competent and caring.

Summer Camps Make Kids Resilient

Sending children to a residential, or day camp, builds resilience

I recently spoke to 300 camp directors about how to make children more resilient to life stress. Summer camps, we discovered, are perfect places to help children optimize their psychosocial development.

After all, summer camps are places where children get the experiences they need to bolster their range of coping strategies. There are the simple challenges of learning how to build a fire, going on a hike, or conquering a high ropes course. There are the much more complex challenges of getting along with a new group of peers, learning how to ask for help from others, or taking manageable amount of risks without a parent following after you.

The best camping experiences offer these opportunities for manageable amounts of risk and responsibility, what I term "the risk takers advantage" (see my book Too Safe for Their Own Good for more examples). The worst camps pander to children as if they are entitled little creatures whose parents are paying big sums of money. Children at camp can't be treated like customers if they are going to get anything out of the experience. They need to be treated like students whose caregivers, the counselors, know what the kids need to grow.

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Camps that pull this off and make kids, especially teens, put away the makeup, stash the iPods, get a little dirty and even a little frustrated while having fun and making new friends, are the kinds of camps that offer children the best of what they need. Looking at those experiences from the vantage point of my research on resilience, I know that camps help our children develop great coping strategies when they provide seven things all children need:

1)    New relationships, not just with peers, but with trusted adults other than their parents. Just think about how useful a skill like that is: being able to negotiate on your own with an adult for what you need.

2)    A powerful identity that makes the child feel confident in front of others. Your child may not be the best on the ropes course, the fastest swimmer, or the next teen idol when he sings, but chances are that a good camp counselor is going to help your child find something to be proud of that he can do well.

3)    Camps help children feel in control of their lives, and those experiences of self-efficacy can travel home as easily as a special art project or the pine cone they carry in their backpack. Children who experience themselves as competent will be better problem-solvers in new situations long after their laundry is cleaned and the smell of the campfire forgotten.

4)    Camps make sure that all children are treated fairly. The wonderful thing about camps is that every child starts without the baggage they carry from school. They may be a geek or the child with dyslexia. At camp they will both find opportunities to just be kids who are valued for who they are. No camps tolerate bullying (and if they do, you should withdraw your child immediately).

5)    At camp kids get what they need to develop physically. Ideally, fresh air, exercise, a balance between routine and unstructured time, and all the good food their bodies need. Not that smores (marshmallows, chocolate and graham cracker treats) don't have a place at the campfire, but a good camp is also about helping children find healthy lifestyles.

6)    Perhaps best of all, camps offer kids a chance to feel like they belong. All those goofy chants and team songs, the sense of common purpose and attachment to the identity that camps promote go a long way to offering children a sense of being rooted.

7)    And finally, camps can offer children a better sense of their culture. It might be skit night, or a special camp program that reflects the values of the community that sponsors the camp, or maybe it's just a chance for children to understand themselves a bit more as they learn about others. Camps give kids both cultural roots and the chance to understand others who have cultures very different than their own.

That's an impressive list of factors that good camping experiences provide our children. Whether it is a subsidized day camp in a city or a luxurious residential facility up in the mountains, camps can give our kids a spicy combination of experiences that prepare them well for life. Add to that experience the chance for a child's parents to reinforce at home what the child nurtures at camp, and maybe, just maybe, we'll find in our communities and schools amazing kids who show the resilience to make good decisions throughout their lives.

 

 

Camping Benefits

I agree with everything you said in your article. It is so critical that children have the right balance between struggle and nurture. A society of kids is encouraged with light adult support when needed which gives children a sense of independence, confidence and control. Camping benefits are not the cure to the dismal state of education that most of these children are tethered to during the year, but thank goodness for summers!

trust

I agree with your comments on camp. My son goes to my brother's camp in the summer for two week, and loves it. I now want to send him to an additional camp, but I am scared of him being harm by an adult. I know my fear is irrational, but I can't seem to shake the feeling.

I want him to gain the skills and expierences, you wrote about in your article. Give me advice to let go and let him be more independent.

summer camp

Your article was sent to me by a camp friend I've know for close to 40 years. You are soooo right on the mark! I went to a wonderful camp in East Texas as a teenager at a very pivitol time in my life - during my parents divorce. Everything in my young life at home was so out of whack - and camp was my salvation. I am the person I am today because of that great experience! And, I know I'm not alone. Camp is one of the greatest experiences you can give a child. Not all camps are the same - so when looking for a good one, do your homework!

summer camp

Your article was sent to me by a camp friend I've know for close to 40 years. You are soooo right on the mark! I went to a wonderful camp in East Texas as a teenager at a very pivitol time in my life - during my parents divorce. Everything in my young life at home was so out of whack - and camp was my salvation. I am the person I am today because of that great experience! And, I know I'm not alone. Camp is one of the greatest experiences you can give a child. Not all camps are the same - so when looking for a good one, do your homework! The right camp can make all the difference!

Camp...It Does A Body Good

Those of us in the camping industry have known for years the value of camp. Those who have experienced camp as a camper or a staff member will tell you that the experience has changed their lives.

Camp made me who I am today....the Camp Director at Surprise Lake Camp...rich in tradition and standards for 110 years!

I plan on sharing this with my staff during the 8 day precamp orientation.

Check out our blog for more information..http://143slc.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=810&action=edit

Great article

summer camp

Some of the richest memories of my early teens and teen years were in Girl Scout Summer Camp programs! I loved learning how to be in the outdoors. The skills all of us girls acquired and the FUN we had are all cherished experiences! It did make me feel very confident and competent as a human being. It helped me to dare to go out on the proverbial limb and really live life
I am now a custodial grandmother with a 13 year old granddaughter and would love to send her to camp and can't afford to -- it makes me very sad for her! Especially since she had a brain injury 2 1/2 years ago and is now finally 80% well -- she has worked hard to get here! I am doing research to find a place for her!

Summer Camps for Kids

I am agreeing with your article post. In the summer time they really need some recreational programs that can make them happy and have fun. There are lots of boarding academies are providing summer camp programs in the summer holidays. In these summer camps for kids, children can enjoy and can learn lots of new things.

This article is so true. I

This article is so true. I feel that every kid should go to summer camp. I went to summer camp when I was younger and have the best memories from those years. I wanted my children to experience the same memories. I send my kids to http://www.frogbridge.com/daycamp/index.html. This caters to every childs needs. With all of the technologys today we need to keep our children active and I truley feels that summer day camps are a great opportunity.

summer camps

I whole heartedly agree! I was a camper as a child and both my children started going to camp at age 9. The one thing I have found very interesting watching them develop is the activities that I thought they would be most interested in was NOT what they ended up choosing. With no parents to influence them they have the opportunity to do what they truly want deep down. I thought my son would spend all of his free time at the sports field, instead he developed quite an interest and skill in woodcraft - not what I expected!

Summer Camp

Great article and being a Director of a camp I couldn't agree more. In particular with the above mentioned point 'with no parents to influence, kids have the opportunity to do what they truly want deep down'. I see it so many times, without influence of siblings or parents, children can be who they want and do what they want (within reason of course), this in turn helps them to develop and also helps with self confidence and self esteem.

Summer Camp Beneficial!

I send my kids to camp every summer! The first year I sent them I think it was harder on me then it was on them! They came home with new friends, pen pals, interests in new hobbies, a better understanding of diversity and more importantly, memories that will last a lifetime! If you live around the NJ area I highly recommend sending you kids to Frogbridge Day Camp!! My kids LOVE it!! Here is a link to them if you want more information! http://www.frogbridge.com/daycamp/01_philosophy.htm

great experience

I agree with everything in this article. I really do think my kids gained a lot of confidence and interpersonal skills by being with other children. They both went to frogbridge daycamp last summer. They had endless activities and the staff is amazing, most of them are teachers. I felt really comfortable dropping them off everyday. if you're from nj check out frogbridge for you kids, they have different mini camps for kids of all ages.
http://www.frogbridge.com/daycamp/02_programs-camper-divisions.htm

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Michael Ungar, Ph.D., is a family therapist, a researcher at Dalhousie University, and the author of The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids.

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