I’m a lucky man – I get to go to “summer camp” all year round. This is something that many kids with ADHD wish they could do!
Often, families ask us what we do at camp that changed their child. They want to know what systems we use that might be transferred to home and school.
Certainly, there are a range of goals that each family has when sending their children to a residential summer camp. Some want social skills improvement, others want their children to gain a general sense of independence. Camp can offer as many outcomes as there are campers. So it’s important for us to evaluate how the skills they learn at camp can generalize to home. What do the campers really bring home that is of value? And how can we, as parents, apply that all year round?
As a parent, there are FIVE main things kids get from summer camp that you can focus on at home to keep that camp experience beneficial all year round. You can:
Set realistic expectations and consequences
Encourage responsibility and communication
Support authentic friendships
Cultivate leadership skills
At summer camp, many kids feel that they are in a community that includes other kids just like them. This is particularly true in a camp that serves kids with special needs like ADHD. Kids can see –often for the first time – that to be themselves is completely OK.
At home this certainly may be more difficult. We all have a natural tendency to compare, but comparisons to siblings, friends, or cousins can be disturbing and damage self esteem.
Instead, focus on naming the successes and accomplishments you see in your child. You give your kids vitamins to enhance their energy – why not praise to enhance their self-esteem? At camp we praise our campers for their efforts constantly. This can be difficult at home or school – but that extra recognition can go a long way.
Set Realistic Expectations and Consequences
Good camps create a safe place for their campers by offering a consistent range of expectations and rules. Campers learn to give themselves credit for who they are and the skills they enjoy, free from ridicule or scapegoating. Clear and realistic expectations are critical for maintaining an even balance at home, too. Our kids – your child and our camper – rely upon routine and balance that is not overwhelming. When they feel safe, they are able to share needs with you without fear of reprisal or ridicule.
Similarly, consequences must match the issue and should never be a surprise or grow out of anger. As hard as it may be, emotion needs to take a back seat. Years ago we all talked about loving the child but not accepting a behavior – that must still be the message.
Encourage Responsibility and Communication
Residential campers have a chance to gain independence – as much as possible for someone their age. At home, sometimes it may seem easier to do their chores for them. But what do they take away? Allow your children to achieve success from completing their own tasks – chores around home, walking the family dog, helping to choose a few items at the super market. For older kids this might mean a job – perhaps cutting a neighbor’s lawn or removing snow after a storm. Opportunities are also found away from home, perhaps mentoring a younger child at school or volunteering at a local animal shelter.
Accomplishment breeds satisfaction, feelings of value and worthiness. There’s nothing quite like a warm sense of success.
Camping also encourages improved communication. Many kids find their voice at summer camp –that is, they are able to talk about a problem or issue without a meltdown or shutdown, or advocate for themselves with their peers or supervisors. At my camp, Summit, we have a wind down time just before bedtime. Counsellors lead conversations about the day’s successes and what there is to look forward to tomorrow.
Knowing what your child is thinking and feeling is a significant tool to support them. Translated to home life, you might consider starting a family town meeting. Let everyone talk a little bit about their day – the highs and the lows – and express their feelings. Your suggestions can be offered to plan for what’s coming next and guide your family through rough patches.
Support Authentic Relationships
A guiding goal for all of our programs is simply: making friends. While this may seem mundane and uncomplicated, it can be painfully difficult. The growth of friendships – along with the sense of safety and security – also happens at camp. Families immediately recognize this success and happiness from the moment their camper returns home. Are there a few classmates that might be suited and encouraged for this kind of circle of friends at home? Will your school allow these kids to have a meal or participate in a guided activity? Are you ready to be a club leader, providing these few kids a guided time to interact and eventually bond?
Cultivate Leadership Skills
Camp also offers many places where a child may excel and feel like a real leader. If there is a special skill or interest your child enjoys, it might be a building block for success. Is there a local museum that has a science club, or a local coach who inspire your child to join a team? Many of our kids also find achievement in areas you might not even consider – from dance to magic to skits to theater. If you are fortunate to have a range of programs in your community, you might be able to find that art therapist who has a group – or even a music or drama therapist who uses the medium for positive children’s activities.
We realize that taking camp home is not easy – but utilizing the methods and strategies we use will certainly offer your child successes, self worth, and fun all year round!
Sanity Is Not Optional
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