Campfire Notes

Want An Independent, Self-Confident Kid? Camp Can Help!

Want An Independent, Self-Confident Kid? Camp Can Help!

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director. Originally published at Sunshine Parenting.

While it’s easy to think of ways to teach our kids to do laundry or solve math problems, finding a way to instill important character traits isn’t as simple. The way we model traits we want our children to exhibit has a powerful influence on them, and some traits (kindnessgratitude, and generosity) they learn first and foremost from parents.

But there are other traits best learned through experiences outside the home and beyond the watchful (sometimes too watchful) eyes of parents. Camp experiences offer exactly the kind of experience away from home where children grow important character traits like independence, self-confidence, and grit.

#1 Independence

“Looking back at my life, camp has been the most influential part of it. I can truly say camp is where I developed my independence, gained confidence, and learned what friendship truly means.”
-Lizz

Being hyper-involved and in constant communication with our children has become something modern parents brag about. But when do we start letting go and giving our kids a chance to feel independent? This has become much more challenging in an age where cell phones are always attached to our (and their) hips and tracking apps are ubiquitous. In fact, as parents today we tend to foster dependence even when we’re trying not to. Forgot their lunch? A friend says something mean? Stubbed their toe? We know right away and swoop in to help.

Whether the result of parenting trends or ultra-high levels of physical and digital connectedness, today’s children are much less independent than we were at the same age.  I find it hard to resist editing my son’s paper to make it “just a little bit better” or jumping in to help make his lunch when he’s running late for school. Thirty years ago, we were babysitting infants at age 13.  Today, some of us hire babysitters for our 13-year-olds!

Camp experiences offer the unique opportunity for kids to see how much they can do without us hovering nearby. They build their independence skills because they take more responsibility for themselves and their belongings, make their own decisions, and feel a sense of autonomy. For many kids, camp is the first opportunity they’ve had to experience these things.

#2 Self-Confidence

“Camp has really helped me become more confident with who I am and has helped me try new things. Without camp, I would be too shy to go up to someone and introduce myself. Camp has had a giant impact on my personality, and without it I would be a completely different person.”
-Stephanie

When we tell our kid she’s “great” at something, it’s easy for her to be wary of the praise. We parents are notorious for seeing our kids through rose-colored lenses and thinking they are the greatest at _______ (fill in the blank); our kids know intuitively that our assessment of them, however complimentary, is most likely not accurate or objective.

However, when another respected adult mentor – like a camp counselor! – recognizes a positive trait in our child and points it out, that can have a powerful impact. When someone outside the immediate family recognizes our child’s unique qualities and helps him or her address weaknesses, it can build real self-confidence.

#3 Grit

“I love the encouragement that I got, both from counselors and campers, to try new things all the time. I love that the camp encourages you to do that. The camp atmosphere made me stand out and be unique, in ways that I would have been too embarrassed to try at home.”
-Claire

“Grit” became the new buzzword in education and parenting circles thanks to Paul Tough’s best-selling book, How Children Succeed. Angela Duckworth further cemented the importance of grit, or resilience, in her popular TED talk: Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance, and her book, Grit. People with grit have “stick-to-itiveness,” persistence, and resilience, all of which help them work hard and push past difficulties and failures.

We all need some grit. But how do we teach grit to a distinctively non-gritty kid or young adult—one who quits when something gets challenging, who doesn’t want to try anything new or difficult, or who prefers playing endless video games to practicing piano, reading, or some other more useful-seeming skill?

As parents, it’s hard to create experiences that require our children to use grit, but at camp those experiences happen every day. While struggling to climb the rock wall or attempting to get up on water skis for the 12th time, our kids develop their grit muscles in a big way at camp. And, they likely wouldn’t try for as long or as hard if we parents were hovering nearby with our worried expressions. At camp, kids are encouraged to set goals, challenge themselves, and overcome failure again and again. And that develops their grit.

Interrupting the cycle of dependence can only happen when we as parents are willing to encourage our children to develop their independence, self-confidence, and grit, and, though it may seem counter-intuitive, that happens best when we’re not around.

Related/Resources:

Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk: Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough

10 Reasons Great Parents Choose Summer Camp

Too Much Screen Time? 4 Ways Summer Camp Can Help

 

 

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Seven Messages For A Reluctant Camper

Seven Messages For A Reluctant Camper

“Children want to be independent, and they realize that they cannot be truly independent until they beat homesickness, even when they have a painful case of it.” -Michael Thompson, PhD., Homesick and Happy

Do you have a reluctant camper or one who’s not sure if camp is right for him or her?

I talk to a lot of parents before they send their children to camp, and many have campers who are anxious about going to camp. In some cases, they’ve had a negative experience at a one-week school science camp and don’t think they can “make it for two weeks” and are worried about being homesick. In other cases, the kid is a “home body” who prefers being online to playing outdoors.

When talking to parents who are unsure if they should send their child to camp, I share my opinion that for very young kids (ages 6-8), it’s best to wait on camp if they are not enthusiastic about going. Many of our younger campers are siblings of older kids who have attended camp. They have heard about camp for years and can’t wait to participate. Those young kids who are excited to come to camp do fine and rarely struggle with homesickness.

But if your child is nine or ten and is still saying they’re “not ready” or “don’t want to go,” you as a parent need to decide what’s best for your child. After spending close to three decades working at camp, I’ve learned that the same kid who is anxious and hesitant about going to camp when he’s nine or ten will most likely still be anxious when he’s thirteen. As a parent, you need to decide how to approach your child’s anxiety, as well as your own. You can avoid it, not send them to camp, and hope they develop independence in other ways, which is definitely possible. Or, you can bite the bullet, give them these positive messages, and send them off to camp with a smile, knowing that it may be hard for them, but they will grow from the experience.

In Michael Thompson, PhD.’s book Homesick and Happy, he says “It is the very challenge of camp that makes it such a life-changing experience for so many children.”

According to Thompson, “Homesickness is not a psychiatric illness. It is not a disorder. It is the natural, inevitable consequence of leaving home. Every child is going to feel it, more or less, sooner or later. Every adult has had to face it and overcome it at some point in life … If you cannot master it, you cannot leave home.”

I know there are many parents and children who just can’t stomach the idea of going through some painful time apart. You need not read further if you are not sending your reluctant child to camp. This article is for those of you who have decided that your child is going to camp regardless of their reluctance, and also for parents whose previously excited camper is now having last-minute camp anxiety.

Pick and choose the messages that you believe will resonate with your child, and, of course, use your own words. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathize while expressing confidence in your child and in the camp experience. Share your own stories!

You are confident in them.

“I am so excited that you get to go to camp this year. You are ready for this adventure, and I know it will be so much fun.”

Missing home is okay.

“You may feel homesick, and that’s okay. A lot of kids feel that way. That just means that you love us and you love home. I feel homesick when I’m on trips, too. Missing home is part of life. But I konw you can still have fun at camp, even if you feel sad sometimes.”

Reassure them that there are people at camp who will take care of their needs.

“There are adults at camp (counselors, directors) who are there to take care of you and help you with anything you need. They can help with things you normally come to me about. Let them know if you are feeling sad, and they can help you. They have lots of experience working with kids who are away from home for the first time.”

Encourage them to see the bigger picture.

“It may seem like a long way off, but in a few years, you’ll be ready for college. I want you to feel confident in your ability to live away from me, so that you can choose any school you like, even if it’s far away from home. Think of camp like your practice time for when you’re older and ready to move away for school or a job. You’ll get better at being independent by starting now, when you’re young, with short spurts of time away. Some kids aren’t doing well when they start college because they don’t have any experience being away from home. I want you to feel great when you go to college, because you’ll know that you’ve already been successful with short camp stays.”

Share the reality that good things in life come with some pain and failure.

“Many good things in life aren’t easy at first. Learning a new sport or trying something new is really hard. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to discover something you really love. If you never go through anything hard, you’re going to miss out on some great experiences. The first few days of camp may be hard, and that’s okay. I know you’ll work through it and figure out what makes you feel better. I have confidence in you, and I am so proud of you for going to camp and trying this new adventure!”

Make sure they know you want to hear about everything.

“Every day comes with its good and bad parts. When you’re at camp, I want you to write me letters and tell me all of the stuff that you’re doing and feeling. If you feel homesick at rest time, tell me about it, and also tell me what you did to help yourself. Did you talk to your counselor? Keep yourself busy playing cards with friends? Write me a letter? I also want you to share good stuff. Did you get your favorite food for lunch? Try rock climbing? Get up on a wakeboard? I want to hear both the good and bad things about camp in your letters.”

You are not going to pick him up early.

“Even if you’re a little homesick for the whole time you’re at camp, you’re going to feel so much better about the experience if you stick it out and make the best of it. Most kids feel better after a few days of getting settled in and adjusted, and I know you’ll feel great once you let yourself relax and just start enjoying all the fun things at camp. I’m not going to pick you up early, no matter what, because I know you will feel really proud of yourself for making it through camp, even if you have some hard days.”

Another great way to encourage your child to be more enthusiastic about camp, besides sharing these messages, is to connect them with someone who’s been to camp and has had a positive experience. Hearing from a trusted friend how much fun camp is can help a child overcome their anxieties.

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke is the Owner/Director of Gold Arrow Camp. You can read more posts on her blog, Sunshine Parenting

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