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How to build resilient kids when life events leave adults shaken

Sue Lein
Posted by Sue Lein

Date: Saturday, 10 December 2016. -  
History, American Summer Camp , In the Press, Camp News

Despite my years on the earth, I'll admit that recent political events have left me shaken. I've been thinking a lot about our country, my family, friends and customers and what's my role in moving forward in a positive way for all of us. What's different this time is the level of raw emotions all around me. A teacher friend of mine told me that his students have been "rattled" since the election. My LGBT friends are scared for their children's safety. My Muslim neighbors are hiding who they are. A disabled college student I know is worried he'll lose his government loans and have to leave school. Every day, someone discloses their fears like I've never witnessed in my adult life.

My professional life is all about taking care of other peoples’ children. I own a children’s summer camp based in Massachusetts. Each summer we talk about how lucky we are to be isolated from the news and craziness of the outside world. We work hard to create a bubble where kids feel safe and respected. Our rewards are watching them find themselves and grow in a multitude of ways. At our camp, one of the main values we encourage is individualism. We work to inspire the children to embrace their true selves and to cheer their friends on for their unique strengths. They know they’re protected here physically and emotionally. Please tell me this hasn’t become a quaint relic of the past and that we can still  give them this place where they can be lighthearted if only for a few weeks. We must preserve this safe haven so that they have the time to prepare themselves for the world.

Camp is one of the few places where kids can be kids and where trusted adults play with them and nurture them like their own family. “It’s my happy place,” they tell me. “I feel the best about myself at camp.” I watch personal connections made every day and I see differences disappear. We have campers from all over the world, the country and from many different walks of life. Here, they are just kids. The world becomes smaller and we delight in our shared experiences that we can’t replicate outside of our camp bubble.

But I worry this summer that kids will be holding in their feelings more. That they’ll be nervous about sharing anything that causes them to standout. This summer will they arrive with their guards up more than other years? Will they open up about their fears and let us show them that this is a caring, nonjudgmental place? How do I get ready to do this, when my worries are so heightened?

I remind myself that camping has been around for over a century and has sheltered kids during wartime and civil upheavals. It’s a constant. Camp traditions and community transcend the outside world and they live on long after the last campfire. I repeat the mantra that it’s our job as the adults to protect the children but also build in resilience and confidence so they can take care of themselves. I want them to look forward to their time away as a respite from fear and harsh words.

For me, I will be standing up for my friends and neighbors and guarding them with my actions and love, every day. And for my campers… this summer will be one where the bubble of camp and the values it stands by is needed even more.

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