One of the most memorable parts of camp are the friendships formed between campers. Many campers arrive at SOAR feeling anxious about not knowing anyone but leave with a bittersweet sadness as friends go their separate ways and return home. For some campers, social skills come easy. They are outgoing, make friends in any group, and have a high level of social intelligence. More often than not, this is not the case, which is why camp is such a precious time when it comes to friendships.
For campers who typically struggle to make friends, two weeks at camp is like a whole school year back at home! Campers are immersed into a new environment, with new people, and WITHOUT distractions, especially electronic devices. They are also surrounded by counselors who understand and who can help guide them through social interactions and how to form positive relationships. They are working together as a team, experiencing new adventures, conquering fears, and reaching goals! To put it simply, making friends at camp is usually easier for most kids. Our goal for each camper is that the friends they’ve made at camp will be a part of their life long after camp is over.
Here are a few things you can do to help your child keep up with friends they made at camp.
Encourage Your Camper to Reach Out
Your camper’s End of Course Packet includes contact information for all of the campers in their course. Hopefully your child has introduced you or told you about some of the friends they’ve made. If not, take some time to go over the contact sheet with them. This will likely spark memories of camp and help your child initiate reaching out to some of their friends.
Plan To Meet Up
You might be surprised to find that some of your child’s camp friends live within driving distance! Contact their parents and set up a time to meet. This is one of the best ways to maintain relationships during the school year and helps to keep campers looking forward to coming back to camp, this time with their friend!
Join Our Parent Group
Our Summer Camp Parent Group on Facebook consists of current and former parents of SOAR campers! While most campers have their own social accounts and will likely find one another after camp, parents can also connect to help initiate meet ups or to simply encourage their campers to reach out. If you haven’t already joined, you can do so here. It is a private group.
Executive Function skills are mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and figure out how to complete multiple tasks. For individuals with ADHD, these skills are weak, or non-existent, and, as a result, impact the way they manage their daily activities. As may be the case with your child, many of our campers have difficulty with these skills. We believe that summer camp can help campers learn new ways of getting things done and feeling more successful, too.
The camp environment and staff provides a framework for modeling, mentoring, and teaching strategies for honing the campers’ Executive Functioning skills while they are participating in exciting, adventure-based activities. Many studies show that the best approaches to improving Executive Function skills are those that:
- involve children and teenagers keen interests, those that bring pride and happiness
- consider stresses in their lives and explore ways to resolve
- encourage to be active and in challenging exercise
- set up an environment of social acceptance and
- give chances to practice Executive Function skills
(Diamond and Lee, 2011).
Planning and Organizing for CAMP or “Figuring out What to Do and How”
At SOAR, campers are taught and shown ways for planning, organizing, getting things done, improving social interactions, and self-monitoring as they maneuver the various phases of the day. They are also given opportunities to practice these skills each day. A lot of planning and organizing is required to successfully complete each day’s activities.
- Setting goals to work on while at camp at the beginning of session
- Getting support from Instructors for working toward set goals
- Going over each day’s plans with the Instructors
- Learning and understanding the steps necessary to make the day’s activities happen
- Preparing gear for trips, including backpacks, duffle bags, mess kits, and more
- Keeping up with mess kits and keeping them washed and clean
- Coming up with a system for keeping clothes sorted and dry
- Learning steps for setting up tents and taking down tents
Responsibilities at CAMP or “Getting Things Done and Having Fun”
One of the hurdles for those lacking strong Executive Function skills is getting started with tasks and also in completing them. Some of the things that come into play for campers are just how interested they are in the activity, do they know how to go about getting it done, and overcoming feeling overwhelmed with not knowing where to start. A structured plan means each person has daily roles & responsibilities with meals, trip preparation, clean up, and more.
- Encouraging each other to get tasks completed
- Knowing when you need to ask for help and knowing when you need to offer help
- Working to be cooperative with the team schedule and plans
- Learning the value of taking the first step, or getting started
- Aiming for an attitude of “keep trying”
- Honing ways to make and be a friend
Self-Monitoring at CAMP or “How am I Doing”
Self-monitoring is a very effective practice for campers to use as they work toward improving daily habits, behaviors, and attitudes. Learning the practice of checking themselves for improvement is empowering as they begin to take ownership of their own set goals. End of the day discussions allow for campers to review their day and to reflect on successes and opportunities. Also, at the end of the camper’s session at SOAR, they take part in a review of their progress with their instructors and parents:
- Reviewing how things went for you and your group, revisiting positive things and reflecting on opportunities
- Thinking about activities and interactions that happened and how they may have been done well or may have been done differently
- Remembering and using tips from Instructors on good ways to get things done and then practicing those skills
- Using the support of Instructors on how to build friendships
- Reviewing with parents and Instructors the progress made on goals at camp
Helping campers learn and adopt changes in their daily behaviors and habits result in better outcomes with planning, completing tasks, keeping track of their belongings, and self-monitoring. They end their camp session feeling proud of all they have been able to accomplish while having a great time. Summer camp provides a structured, safe, and happy place for campers to hone their Executive Function skills in a light-hearted and fun-filled way.
Diamond, A, & Lee, K. (2011. Interventions shown to aid executive function development. Science, 333, 959-964.
Parenting children living with learning and attention issues requires patience, understanding, and creative management. Often, siblings can get lost in the noise of disruption and crisis. As parents and caregivers we strive to find ways to meet the individual needs of each member of the family, but when the bright pink elephant comes spinning into the room like a Tasmanian devil, it tends to grab our attention. How many opportunities have been dramatically changed or lost due to the irascible temperament of one of your children? What was the resulting fallout for their siblings? How did you strive to compensate for the loss?
Judy Kendall researched this topic (Kendall, J., Sibling accounts of ADHD. Family Process, 38, Spring, 1999, 117-136) and found disruption associated with ADHD had the most impact on siblings. This included: physical and verbal aggression, out-of-control hyperactivity, emotional and social immaturity, academic underachievement and learning problems, family conflicts, poor peer relationships, and difficult relationships with extended family. This resulted in the sibling feeling victimized, a responsibility for having to care take of their brother or sister, and feelings of sorrow and loss.
Judy recommended keeping a watchful eye and examine if these trends are in place in your home. Finding opportunities to spend special time alone with the non-affected sibling can be enormously helpful. Often described as the “easy” child, they are often reluctant to make requests or demand additional resources, which is why it is so critical to consider their needs as equal priority. I recognize those words are easy to say but far more difficult to put into practice. It begins by recognizing when disruptions happen and creating a reminder to circle back and provide the necessary support.
The impact on family members of children with ADHD, particularly on siblings, is an important but under-researched area. This qualitative study is an initial step to learn more about this relationship. If the findings from this study are disconcerting to you, I encourage you to consider taking some of these positive steps to address this challenge within your own home.
I recognize that there are varying levels of disruption ranging from being late to school because poor time management to fits of anger resulting in the impulsive destruction of a sibling’s belongings. Given the feedback I have received from so many families and my own experience as a parent, I have a few suggestions:
1. Spend some time looking for common trends and particularly challenging situations and see if a change in the routine or safeguards can be put into place to lessen the disruptive influence. At the Willson home, book bags are prepped the night before and ready to go. If any of the children are creating a delay, I will drop off the child that is ready, and return to take the other child late to school. Should that occur, all electronics are lost until the next day. (Incidentally, I have only had to do that twice.) This makes sure that your child who is prepared and ready to go on time is not negatively impacted for their sibling’s behavior.
2. Consider implementing a Family Constitution that governs some of the typical situations you encounter, with pre-established solutions and consequences.
3. Learn how to answer the “That’s not fair” complaint often heard in every household that has multiple children. I simply say to both my children and participants at SOAR the following: “I make decisions based on what I believe is going to be in your best interest. I do not consult your brothers, sisters, peers when doing so. I am confident you don’t want me seeking their opinion when it comes to your consequences. Therefore, I don’t consult you when trying to determine what I believe is in the best interest for them.”
4. My wife and I make a great effort to have individual experiences with each of our children. This creates incredible bonding opportunities and allows each child to have an experience that is not exposed to the potential disruption of their sibling.
5. Avoid falling into the trap of having one child feel responsible for another. We have a mantra “Willson’s stick together” thus we all share some responsibility for each other and it is never one sided or over burdening to one sibling.
6. Recognizing frustration for all your children is a natural part of the growing process. The neurotypical child will feel disrupted and impacted. Your child with a learning and/or attention issue may struggle with how easy everything seems to come to their sibling, thus creating resentment and frustration. Validating the feelings of each of your children is critical. Creating a platform to have an open dialogue about feelings of frustration and loss can be critical. Very often, the children we serve feel genuinely bad when confronted by the result of their actions.
7. Creating opportunities for siblings to learn more about what makes their brother or sister so unique can have an incredible lasting impact. Take them to a CHADD or LDA support group meeting that is hosting an interesting topic. Consider going to a conference or workshop together. Families have been coming to our Family Weekend to help all children learn to better cope with each other, and many have sent both the affected and the neurotypical child to camp for the same reason.
Should you want more information on the subject I found the following links to be particularly helpful.
Helping the Siblings of Children with ADHD: Arthure L. Robin
The Impact of ADHD on Siblings