After 16 months of our children being locked up, they are finally in their little piece of heaven.
But heaven can be a strange place when you have just been through hell.
Recent data now shows that 50-70% of children have anxiety disorders as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These numbers are, quite frankly, horrifying and reaffirm to us how important it was for us to be able to give these kids a summer of relative normalcy.
But just because we’ve opened our gates and welcomed the campers, doesn’t mean that the past year-and-a-half is gone and forgotten. For the kids that usually adjust to being at camp in a day, it may take three or four. For the kids that take three or four days to get into the groove, it may take a week or even ten days. This means that your child may be having a great time but may also be homesick the entire time they are here. They’ve been by your side 24 hours a day and it takes time to adjust. These kids need camp more than ever but sometimes even the things we need the most can be a bit challenging. What we are saying is please don’t be surprised if the summer they have looked forward to for so long is not 100% perfect. Perfect is never attainable. Making things better is always the goal and you know as well as we do that anything is better than what these kids have had to endure this past year.
A common question that we’ve been getting is, “Why isn’t my child over-the-moon happy to be at camp? Why are we getting sad letters when they’ve been so excited for the chance to be at camp?” There are many reasons why a child could feel this way. Firstly, this is their first entry back into real life and their brains are re-adjusting to living with constant social interaction. They are learning how to relate to many types of people and personalities rather than just those of their family or household. Perhaps most importantly, they are re-learning how to deal with conflict. You can avoid dealing with conflict if you don’t have any new relationships or growth which is what has occurred this past year, but that does not lead to happiness.
All of this is simply exhausting for anyone, let alone a child. However, the same reason that they may have a tough hour or day at camp is also why they are also laughing, playing and having so much fun for the first time in a long time; because they are engaging with real life peers while learning skills and gaining self-confidence with spontaneity, creativity, and the freedom to be outdoors.
Secondly, your children that have been here before may forget that camp was never perfect. They needed to look forward to camp to get them through the year and now they are faced with the reality of what their camp experience always was. Of course we all remember the amazing moments (of which there are still plenty) but we tend to let ourselves forget the times we may have struggled a bit or the times when things weren’t as flawless. They have put so much pressure on themselves for this summer to be nothing but perfect and have made themselves believe that it has to be fantastic on day one because they need it to be that way so badly. And of course, they are naturally more anxious than ever without their parent(s) by their side. It’s a real process for all of us to deal with these healthy challenges and it’s our job at camp to nurture that growth at every stage of their experience. Group living brings out the best in us; it develops the deepest friendships possible and gives us the skills so that the rest of our lives can be fulfilling, but it is also a huge change for these kids right now.
So, we ask you to please be patient and allow your children to adjust or re-adjust to their happy place. For the majority of the campers that are right back to where they were two summers ago, it’s as though no time has passed. For some that are taking a bit longer to get there, as long as they are moving in a positive direction, we all have to remember that, ironically, they are the campers that need the summer camp experience most right now. Nothing else will bring them closer to where they were 16 months ago than facing challenges, gaining independence, playing freely, and interacting face-to-face with others.
Finally, please understand that we have twice as many first-time campers as ever as a whole year of kids missed a summer so we are busier than ever providing them with the support that they deserve. We also have first year staff that missed their CIT training, and we have second year staff that have not been first year staff as well. We are so proud of our staff and told them the other night at our staff meeting that they are the heroes of the summer, but we still know how important it is that we give them our time and support so that they can be the absolute best they can be. We can’t believe how hard they are working and how quickly they are learning on the job. Our Unit Head and Activity Head teams have never been better and our ten-person director team, along with our emotional support health care staff, have been a huge support to all of us.
So, feel free to tell us if you get a lousy letter in case we don’t know; but remember, having some challenges along the way does not mean that the camp experience is not a positive one; in fact, those challenges may be just what your child needs to get them back to a life of fun, friends and fulfillment.
The reason we have time to write this blog is that it’s clear to us that things are starting to look more like how we remember a Manitou summer looking, and we’re back to having a great vibe and lots of energy! Everyone is finally in full swing and we can tell the hard work of all 220 staff is truly making a positive difference in your children’s lives.