Helping Campers Cope
Camp’s suspension this summer is heartbreaking for campers, families, and our entire community. We encourage you to talk to your campers about this and to let them express their feelings. We have some resources that can help inform your approach. Here are a few general principles to consider; for more information see the information below.
- Be empathetic and understanding
- Encourage them to connect with their camp friends daily, and participate in virtual experiences with them this summer
- It might take your child a few days to process the news – they might not want to talk right away, but let them know you’re there if and when they’re ready
- Let us know if we can be of assistance helping your camper adjust to this new reality.
Below, you will find more detailed resources to support camper(s).
Supporting Your Camper: Covid-19 & Camp Interlaken Summer 2020 Suspension
At Interlaken, we help children cultivate tools to recognize and process their feelings. This document serves as a resource to help guide you and your family in the ongoing discussions with children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SHARE THE NEWS
It’s important to have a thoughtful approach as the messenger of this disappointing news. Many campers have anticipated this, so they may be saddened but not surprised. Approach your camper calmly, without catastrophizing or minimizing. Avoid a big build-up. Deliver the news with empathy and facts. Let your camper take in the news then allow them to set the tone. Some campers have prepared for this so will have less of a reaction than you anticipate, and some may be overwhelmed. The longer you wait to deliver the punchline, the more stressful it will become.
UNDERSTAND THE CYCLE OF CHANGE
Some campers may need more time to process and understand. Allow space for your camper to experience a range of feelings knowing that emotions may change from day to day. From you, children need validation, empathy, and above all; love. Avoid rushing to “fix” even when it’s hard for you to watch. Sadness, anger, attempts to negotiate, anxiety, and silence are all normal. Allow them to express their feelings but be clear that these hard feelings are not an excuse to be unkind or disrespectful. As therapists often say, “the only way out is through.” If we move too quickly towards solutions, they miss the opportunity to practice resiliency in the face of disappointment. Be patient; we’re all in the process of the cycle of change and will achieve reunification. This isn’t “bouncing back” but reunifying who we are in this situation; in this change. THAT is resilience.
MODEL HEALTHY COPING
This unprecedented time brings different levels of discomfort for all. It’s important to show your campers healthy ways of dealing with discomfort: taking breaks to recharge on your own, exercising, reaching out to your support system to vent or cry or laugh, engaging in something creative like art, music or cooking for fun, etc. We understand that the suspension of camp brings loss for you also. Your camper’s happiness affects you; their disappointment hurts you. They are watching you closely. Through your example, you’ll teach them how to respond to disappointments and hardship – now and when they are adults.
Supporting our campers and community begins with our understanding that everyone’s needs are different. Factors like-age specific maturity and whether they have been to camp before will affect how each camper receives the news and can guide effective ways for you to comfort them.
PARENT ROLE BASED ON A CAMPER’S AGE
For all ages, the greatest gift we can give our campers is to listen to them and provide validation. Showing empathy and giving assurance that you will help them through a challenging time will often be all a camper needs to get through uncertainty.
Elementary Aged Campers: Be the Leader
You need a plan of what to say and how to say it. Anticipate what questions they might have and what responses you might give. Remember that campers of this age cannot always express how they are feeling, and behavior is communication. You can often tell how a camper is processing the information you are sharing by pausing and watching their behavior (during and after) and then asking them about it without judgment.
The tone of your questions helps to assure your campers that it is safe to share feelings. It’s all right to help label feelings if you feel confident that you are labeling those feelings correctly. Be sure that once your child begins talking, you stop talking, listen, and provide your camper the opportunity to share what’s on their mind.
Middle School Aged Campers: Be the Tour Guide
You need to lead but can change course depending on your camper’s response and tolerance for the conversation. The conversation should be collaborative, with you sharing the information and pausing for them to comment.
This age needs information in an authentic, honest, and frank manner. By facilitating these difficult conversations with your camper, you are building their trust and skills in strengthening their ability to work through challenging situations.
High School Aged Campers: Be the Sounding Board
You need to share the information, and then pass the torch to let your camper lead the conversation while you listen. With this age, less is more. Teens may be interested in talking about the situation all at once, but often need time and space to fully engage in a conversation after receiving difficult information. It is also important to acknowledge that peer relationships are important at this age. They may want to talk with their friends before they talk with you.
Acknowledge that this is a grieving process for your teen and validate the emotions that they are experiencing. It may be helpful to avoid using phrases like “I understand” and instead use statements such as “I can imagine…” or “It sounds like…”.
COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR FIRST TIME CAMPER
Express to your campers that you are sad that this won’t be the summer that they get to experience a summer at Interlaken. Feel free to say something like “I do hope that you’ll be as excited in the future to try something new as you were about camp for this summer.” We encourage you to use “when language.” “We look forward to when you’ll go to Interlaken, until then let’s work together to come up with fun things to do this summer.” Camp Interlaken is a kehilah (community), and though they have not yet set foot on the shores of lake finely, they are still a part of the Interlaken family. Camp will be back. Camp Interlaken has been a staple in children’s Jewish journeys for more than 50 years, and we are just getting started. The question is not if, but when. Tell your campers that we look forward to seeing them at camp in the future.
COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR RETURNING CAMPER
Encourage your camper to reach out to their friends. The Camp Interlaken family is one of strong support and meaningful relationships. Staying connected with camp friends will give your camper a sense of connection and belonging instead of focusing on isolation and lack of control.
Help your camper find ways to move forward with tikkun olam (repairing the world). One of the most effective ways to manage hard times and adversity (and a step in a healthy grieving process) is making meaning. Find ways to bring strength, support, and warmth into each other’s lives. Examples include: sending “real” paper letters to camp friends or staff, writing a story about a fun experience at camp and sharing it with an older relative, using online services to send materials to camp friends to engage in a shared virtual activity, creating art, etc. Each camper is missing a unique camp experience, but our community is in this together and we can all benefit from acts of kindness.
Adapted from Herzl Camp, Camp Chi, Camp Tawanga, and the Union for Reform Judasim youth support page https://urjyouth.org/supporting-our-campers/
Thank you to the URJ for sharing this thoughtful guide and allowing many camps to adapt it.
More Helpful Resources
If Summer Camp Closes: Embracing the Moment and Opening the Door for New Opportunities for Families
Supporting Families During COVID-19
JED’s COVID-19 Resource Guide
How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary Situations
Parenting in a Pandemic: Tips to Keep the Calm at Home
How to Be Your Best Self in Times of Crisis
Emotional Regulation Worksheets: A Coping Skill Activity
Help Your Family Manage The Coronavirus
Empathy is the Cure
Talking Tough Topics with Kids
Coping Through Covid with Your Jewish Teen
Strategies to Manage and Heal
It’s Okay To Cry: Healthy Ways to Release Emotion
Giving Space for Campers and Counselors To Grieve
How to Talk To Your Children about Difficult News
Helping Children Cope with Changes during Covid-19
ONLINE RESOURCES FOR CAMP INTERLAKEN ENGAGEMENT
We are here for you, now and always. If have questions or need additional support, please reach out to any of us, at any time.
Toni Davison Levenberg, MA, Camp Director firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Gutman, Assistant Director email@example.com
Tova Blasberg, Program Director firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicole Hanlon, Camping Service Coordinator email@example.com
Michelle Lafferty, MSW, Social Worker firstname.lastname@example.org