Courtesy of Tamarack Camp's Facebook

Embracing the moment and opening the door for new opportunities for families.

Some people express that summer camp is a privilege for kids. For those who have seen camps’ incredible impact, summer camp is an important opportunity for children that helps shape our community’s future. Jewish identity, authenticity, leadership, lifelong friendships, problem-solving skills, respect for the outdoors, disconnection from technology and independence represent just some of what kids gain.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised by our communities each year to make camp financially accessible. Inspiring young leaders give up internships and opportunities for higher paying summer jobs to accept a coveted counselor position. Professionals and volunteers work tirelessly year-round to create two magical months. After living through unimaginable times over the past eight weeks, comes the news that our beloved camps have made necessary decisions to close for the summer. Camps are adhering to the first rule they teach: Safety first.

Parents’ initial instinct is to protect their children from hurt. Watching our children experience yet another COVID-related loss is so tough. For those for whom camp is so important, losing a precious camp summer is akin to a grief process. The initial emotions are very raw. Parents and kids are feeling disbelief, sadness, anger, questioning, denial and understanding, to name a few.

At this moment, what our kids need from their parents is to be attentive, present and available. Listen. Validate. Show empathy. Hug and hold your child. Use words such as: “I hear you.” “This hurts so much.” “This is so incredibly disappointing.” “This is so hard to believe.”

Encourage your kids to share their feelings. Give them space, if and when needed. Some kids will have a lot to say and show many emotions. Others may take time and will need help verbalizing their feelings. Many teens may lean more into their friends. This is OK. Encourage their connections and let them know you are there. While feelings may be very intense, avoid words such as “devastating” and “catastrophic.” Reflect where they are with accurate labels while modeling a resolve that we will recover and heal.

Providing hope for the future can be helpful while recognizing kids may not be ready to hear about how they will have many more summers or opportunities. Adults have this vantage while kids’ perspective is based more in the present. Encourage your kids to connect with friends and family, share photos, stories and memories. Allow for them to talk about what they will miss and what is lost.

One of the concerns for many campers is the plan for next summer. Will they get to make up the program that was lost? The honest answer is camps have so much to figure out in the weeks and months ahead. Acknowledge the uncertainty and discuss how they have successfully dealt with the unknown in the past. Encourage kids to share ideas with their camp. Having their voice heard can help. Think of ways to financially support our community camps as they will need our help to survive.

Finding the Positive

Families are now facing very practical challenges with job commitments and day care. Children and teens desperately want to see their friends again. Families are stressed. The old adage of one day at a time is a good approach for now. We need to find positives in each day while we navigate these uncharted waters.

Parents are asking how to keep our kids occupied with meaningful activities. Here is a golden opportunity that lies in the days and weeks ahead:

When the raw emotion begins to settle and the time feels right, talk with your kids about what they gain from going to camp. Ask your child why the camp experience is so important. Parents should reflect on this question, too. Is it about connecting with friends? Building and growing new friendships? Being authentic and your best version of yourself? Trying new things? Unplugging?

No, we can’t re-create camp in the same exact way. We can’t replace the loss. However, if we really consider these thoughts as opportunities, we can approach our coming weeks similar to camp. By being creative and resourceful, we can tap into the spirit, the essence and even some of the magic of camp.

Talk with your child, teens and/or young adult about how they can be more authentic, vulnerable and accepting in their relationships. Light Shabbat candles. Sing together. Take your child on a hike. Build a fire. Find new and unique arts and crafts projects. Create a family Havdalah, reflecting on the past week together while sharing feelings and looking ahead. Look out at the stars each night. These are just some examples and together families can discover many more. If we integrate these types of experiences into our families in the coming weeks, the impact will be great for your family and the memories can be very special.

Losing a summer of camp is very painful for our kids and the community of camps. At the end of the day, it’s said that camp is about people and the relationships. This is not just a camp lesson but also a lesson we learn in life.

Relationships shape the core of who we all are, and they will help us heal from this moment in time. No relationship is more important than the one with your child. This is exactly what will help you, your family and community get through this very difficult time.

Dr. Daniel Klein is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Child and Family Solutions Center. A self-described “camp lifer” whose career was inspired by camp, he is a former camper, counselor and parent of two campers who live for their summers. He presently serves as an officer on the board of directors of the Bloomfield Hills based nonprofit Tamarack Camps. 

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