Summer Camp, Resilience, and the Meeting House: A Common Bond

For this week’s blog we have a special guest post from our Clinical Director, Jackie Covell.

This summer many of my students and clients have spent one or more weeks at camp. Although the experience of camp can be a bit daunting, especially for first-time campers and parents, it is a fantastic opportunity to learn and practice social and emotional skills. Additionally, many camps provide feedback for parents at the end of a session, sharing insights which are particularly valuable in helping kids integrate what they learned.

When I first began as Clinical Director of the Meeting House, I recognized the similarities between camp friendships and the connections kids were making at TMH. Five years later, I’m even more convinced that camps and TMH reinforce one another, particularly in terms of helping kids build resilience. Resilience has to do with an individual’s ability to “spring back” from adversity and withstand change, and with research showing that resilience is a key determinant of emotional wellbeing, strong relationships, and even career success, we should be creating as many opportunities as possible for kids to strengthen this skill. In addition to secure attachments to loving caregivers, opportunities like the ones kids have at camp and TMH -- to learn, gain mastery, and develop an internal sense of self-control -- all contribute to the development of resilience.

We all can support kids in developing their resilience. As parents, when talking to your kids about their experiences at camp or interpreting feedback from counselors, it’s important to frame both achievements and setbacks as resilience-building opportunities. Programs and activities that build resilience are focused on doing the following:

1. Providing children with opportunities for coping, without teachers or parents intervening. This may include social interactions, risk taking, or simply having to voice an opinion. Think about how your child fares in this category. Does your child seek out adults to problem solve? Does your child take matters into his or her own hands? If so, does it work out to everyone’s best advantage?


2. Introducing children to people outside of home and school to create the opportunity for relationship-building. This is integral at camp and at TMH. Changing groups from activity to activity, new kids arriving, interacting with multiple counselors -- all of these allow kids to exercise the option of forming new bonds. How does your child do? Does your child only stick to the kids he/she already knows from school or home? Did your child make a new friend at camp? Did he/she integrate easily and contribute to the group’s harmony? Consider these behaviors, try not to judge or ascribe a feeling to them, and use them as a guide for what work needs to be done in this area.

3. Giving children the opportunity to master skills without adult help. This doesn’t mean sending them into wood-working and hoping for the best! It does mean allowing them to “noodle” through a problem before jumping in to rescue them. In the long run this builds confidence and self-esteem and helps children develop their identity and voice. Was your child in control? Making his or her bed, and following other rules? Did your child forge ahead when the lake was cold or run for the nurse’s office? This feedback will help define where some relative rough spots need to be smoothed over.

4. Treating each child fairly. This means giving each child gets what he or she needs and recognizing that not all children need the same things. Did your child recognize and accept the rules? Is he or she calling “unfair” during games, activities, and at home? Understanding the concept of “fairness” is closely related to perspective-taking, a skill that we work on consistently at TMH, and which is essential for social interaction.

At TMH we see ourselves as aligned with the best that camp has to offer. This includes treating children as if we know they can and will grow, and communicating with parents so our work will be reinforced at home. Most importantly, we strive to give children and their families the feeling of belonging to a community of like-minded people, who accept and care for them just as them are.

Looking forward to seeing see each of you back at TMH in September!