How to Conquer Your Fears

It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who reminded us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Camp provides one of the most gentle, nurturing backdrops to encourage girls to face their fears and conquer their anxieties. As counselors we are an integral part of this process. Here are some simple tools to help your campers overcome three common fears at camp.

The Fear of Water

  1. Start by encouraging the camper to ease into the water. Sit by the lake with only her toes in the water.
  2. Once the camper is comfortable, move to standing calf-deep in the water. Ask the camper to splash herself with water on her thighs. Once confident with this, splash water on her arms and chest.
  3. When the camper feels comfortable submerging most of her body in the water help her learn how to get her face wet.
  4. Sprinkle only “raindrops” on the camper’s face and hair, to mimic the sensation of a shower. Once the camper’s hair is wet ask her to dip her chin underneath the water. Have her then tilt her face toward the surface of the water and get her forehead wet. Once the camper feels very comfortable performing these tasks, move to teach her to blow bubbles underwater.
  5. Place your index finger in front of the camper’s face. Tell her to imagine your finger is a birthday candle that she must blow out. Once the camper masters the blowing technique, slowly lower your finger having the camper repeat the process until your finger is under the surface of the water and she must have her mouth is the water to “blow out the candle.”

The Fear of Spiders

  1. Begin by educating your camper about spiders. Explain how important spiders our to our ecosystem and how many good things they do for us. Describe how most spiders do not wish to engage with humans (we are bigger than they are- that’s scary to a little, old spider!), primarily eat insects, and lack the capability to bite a human even if they wanted to.
  2. Next introduce your camper to some spider-friendly books. In some cases, the more pictures the better, so that the camper can interact imaginatively with a friendly image of a spider. Other campers will respond to you reading aloud about spiders before bed. Some of our favorite books include Charlotte’s Web, Simon and Schuster Children’s Guide to Insects and Spiders, The Very Busy Spider, and The Eensy Weensy Spider Freaks Out!
  3. Incorporate spider toys as part of your cabin decorations. These could be paper hangings your campers have designed and constructed themselves, toy models of spiders, or stuffed animal spiders. This will help the camper become acquainted with both the form and function of spiders.
  4. Find a real spider (at camp this is not hard!) Have the camper stand next to you, but at a distance to the spider that she feels comfortable. While in the physical proximity of a spider have your camper recall all the ways in which spiders benefit society. Help her to visually identify different parts of the spider’s body and describe their function.

The Fear of Heights

  1. Encourage your camper to sign up for gymnastics. Here, she can begin by balancing on the low balance beam and work towards balancing on the full beam.
  2. Once your camper has slowing exposed herself to these, move to take her on a hike where she can clearly see the altitude increasing, but is assured a gentle path with solid footing.
  3. Before beginning the hike establish at “scared scale” with your camper. Tell her that at different points in the hike you would like to gauge her fear level. One representing “very comfortable” and ten representing “extremely fearful.”Ask her what number she feels comfortable reaching and tell her the moment she feels that number you will immediately turn around. Each day challenge your camper to get a little farther on the hike.
  4. Once a camper has acclimated to a height where she feels comfortable spend time with her in this space. Encourage her to engage in activities that relax her in these elevated places. For example, bring a bottle of lemonade for your camper and her cabin mates  to enjoy at a mountain summit, or have your camper and her friends make bracelets on a waterfall bridge.

When helping a camper overcome a fear it is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all policy that will work for every girl. The key is patience. Your job is to help a camper face her fear when she is ready, but only she can decide when the time is right.

The Heart of a Wooded Mountain

Is Camp a Threatened Tradition?

For quite a while, we’ve been writing on this blog about the benefits of summer camp for children. For more than 100 years now in the United States, sleepaway camps have been organized and generations of children have grown stronger, more confident, become leaders, forged close friendships, and acquired all kinds of physical, personal and social skills as a result. There really is little doubt that the sleep away camp experience of “getting away” for a few weeks is valuable for children in long-lasting and profound ways.

cabin mates girls friendships at summer camp

Even while recognizing all of this, however, there is a growing awareness that certain modern forces are threatening this great American tradition. Today, much more than a generation ago, there is competition making claims on our kid’s summer time. A recent article by Mary Beth McCauley in the Christian Science Monitor entitled “Sunset for Summer Camp?” claims as much. Quite correctly, the author observes that demand for shorter camp sessions is increasing, as opposed to longer “all summer” camps. A number of factors are contributing to this trend. School systems are shortening summer vacations. Competitive school sports teams and their coaches driven to win are requiring summer workouts (e.g., soccer “camp”) and scheduled practice days before school opens. Parents are reserving parts of the summer for family travel and vacations. Students are taking summer classes “to get ahead” (SAT prep, for example), and local, short-term day camps abound. With so many options, each claiming to be most important, it’s easy to understand why some parents find it difficult to place longer camp sessions at the top of the heap.

Fortunately, understanding the camp experience, seeing the dramatic positive effects it provides all year round, there are those, and so many Rockbrook parents are among them, who know camp is one of the most important things you can do for your child.  For these parents, camp isn’t just a summertime diversion, some kind of extended amusement park; it’s a core part of their child’s personal development.  It’s a place for kids to grow and discover who they are.  Sure it’s fun, but it’s the kind of fun that means something long afterwords.

We hear it all the time from our parents; camp means the world to their daughters, and they are committed to providing a camp experience for them.  This helps explain why, despite economic pressures and competing summer demands, Rockbrook enjoys strong enrollment, with sessions filling and waiting lists forming each summer.  Camp is important to our families, and to the girls who attend and make Rockbrook their own.  Around here, camp is stronger than all of the forces that may be threatening the traditions we’ve all come to appreciate.

Empowering Kids through Camp

Growing more powerful at kid summer camp

Back in July, Nancy Gibbs wrote a short article in Time Magazine called “The Meaning of Summer Camp.”  There’s a lot she discusses, but the article’s tagline gets to the heart of it: “It used to be about acquiring survival skills. Now it’s about the social skills that need work.”  Parents used to send their kids to summer camp to toughen up a bit, to learn practical outdoor skills.  Being away from the “comforts of home” and away from parents’ assistance, made this possible.  Now, Gibbs observes, camp is a place for kids to “unplug” and explore life without cellphones, text messaging, and their Facebook accounts. In other words, camp is still a place to break from the familiar, and when faced with new challenges, grow in new ways. Gibbs identifies the social benefits (learning to share, communicate, cooperate and so forth) that follow, but we should add physical (like becoming a stronger swimmer), emotional (like the joy of being completely silly), and psychological (like becoming more confident and self-assured) benefits as well.

Sometimes it’s hard to see this, but all these benefits of a kids camp, not to mention how fun it is, arise because camp is so different from life at home and at school.  Preserving that difference is one of the main reasons Rockbrook doesn’t allow cellphones, computers, Internet access, electronic games, and other forms of technology that tether kids to what they have at home.  It’s one reason why sneaking a cellphone into camp is a terrible idea.  While it may make you feel better, it will dilute, if not destroy, what summer camp is all about.

Camp is a place to acquire new skills and grow up a little while having a great time with your friends.  It works because it’s not the same as home, and that’s a good thing.

A Place to Grow

A place for girls to grow

In her book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogel critiques what she sees as a troubling trend in parenting these days— an excessive tendency to shield children from any kind of discomfort.

“Parents are so busy protecting their children that they don’t give them a chance to learn how to maneuver on their own outside home or school.”

Spending time at summer camp serves as a welcome counter force to this trend. As they choose their own activities, sleep in rustic cabins, live with and make new friends, young people at camp are given a great opportunity to grow. Far beyond what parents might orchestrate at home, camp encourages kids to become more independent, to try new things, and to learn from the experience.

It’s a lot of things (like a really fun time!), but perhaps most fundamentally, camp is a setting for exploring who we really are.  Stepping out of our normal routines, we can try new things, endure discomforts and setbacks (try again), and marvel at unexpected accomplishments.

Seen this video? It’s more about how camp is a place for girls to grow.