How camp makes children more resilient

Posted by on February 24, 2014

I have been thinking a lot about the news reports coming from Newton, a town adjacent to Chestnut Hill, where I live and the location of our Micah winter office.  This fall, Newton was rocked by three teen suicides, all within weeks of each other.  My heart breaks for the families of these teens and for the many current and former campers and staff who have been directly touched by these awful events.  As the community responds to these tragedies, I too have been thinking about our Micah community and how we support our campers, both at camp and in the off season.  What can we do to prevent other children from hurting themselves?  Is there something we can do to help our kids not feel so hopeless?  Then I realized, we at Camp Micah already do this.  It is ingrained in our philosophy to support each other, to take risks (maybe even struggle or fail at something), but still strive to be the best we can.  Countless experts have discussed the importance of resilience in children as they develop into healthy young adults.

 

Being camp professionals, we know how important summer camp can be for a child’s social,  emotional and behavioral growth.   As Michael Ungar, PhD wrote in the September/October 2012 issue of ACA’s Camping Magazine, “So which experiences, then, are most likely to make children resilient? The best camps do not provide cookie-cutter solutions to what kids need. Instead, great camps understand that the factors that make children resilient are cumulative. One experience contributes to others, expanding a child’s psychosocial resources exponentially.”

 

We believe that one of the most important things we do at Camp Micah is to build and increase self-esteem in each and every camper.  How do we do this?  It actually begins when we meet each of our campers, in their home, prior to the summer.  We would be unable to successfully impart our philosophy of acceptance without camper and family buy in.  One of the first things we do when sitting down with a new family is to go over our camp philosophy and describe what it means to us to be a part of the Micah community.  We also take this time to really get to know each of our campers beginning our critical relationship building process.

 

Another important part of this process is how we grow and nurture our staff.  Each year, we always begin our week long staff training by sharing our Micah philosophy.  On the very first night, Mark talks about self-esteem.  He talks about the difference between false self-esteem (when everyone “wins” a trophy) vs. true self-esteem, instilling in children a feeling of self worth and accomplishment.  In an article by Lizette Borreli on www.medicaldaily.com titled “How Summer Camp Helps Develop Your Child’s Mental Health and Resilience” she wrote “Summer camp can aid children with building their self-esteem in a healthy and positive way. The “can-do” attitude is a trait many parents want to instill in their kids. However, this can only be achieved if they are faced with new challenges on their own.”

 

We know that much of the building of self-esteem occurs when we struggle with something allowing our campers to develop and use their coping skills.  Whether it is achieving success in scaling our climbing wall, getting up on water skis for the first time or meeting a new group of peers and developing relationships, camp provides the ideal setting to try new things.  Our staff are trained to help children embrace these moments, both the struggles and triumphs.  On the website www.healthychildren.org, I read that “In today’s environment, children and teens need to develop strengths, acquire skills to cope, recover from hardships, and be prepared for future challenges. They need to be resilient in order to succeed in life.”  I think this perfectly describes what we do at Camp Micah each and every summer.  It is our hope that the skill development and resulting resilience, in combination with the many peer and staff relationships that grow, give our campers many valuable tools to seek help should they need it, whether that is at camp or at home.