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Talking to Campers About a Summer Without Takodah

Ryan Reed — May 14, 2020


By now you’ve heard that Camp Takodah is closed for the 2020 summer camp season. We have every confidence that we made the decision that was right for our community, yet we’re all very, very sad about the reality of a summer without Takodah — and we know our campers are too.

COVID-19 has had profound impacts on youth mental health. Kids were pulled from school with little warning, in-person connection is limited, people are legitimately concerned for their physical health, and many families are experiencing financial hardship. Adapting to this new normal has been no small task for any of us, but there was always summer camp to look forward to…right?

Well, now we’re faced with another bump in the road to navigate. Takodah’s closure is likely to make your campers feel disappointed, frustrated, and angry. Because we want to support camp families in the wake of this difficult announcement, we’ve compiled a list of the strategies for talking to your kids that we’ve taken from experts in youth mental health and parenting.

Here’s what they suggest:

Know That Grief Isn’t a Linear Process

Grief comes in waves and is almost never as simple as receiving bad news, feeling sad for a while, and moving on from the experience forever. As such, expect that your child will experience highs and lows as they move through a summer without camp. A dandelion might remind them of the time they made flower crowns on B-Field or a splatter of paint on their Croc could spark memories of Hobby Nook. Those moments are inevitable and natural.

In schools and therapeutic settings, many professionals use weather as a metaphor for changing emotions. For example, it might be helpful to talk to your child about sadness as a cloud that will show up, stay for a while, and eventually go away. The reminder that difficult feelings are temporary and bound to minimize over time can make a huge difference on your child’s outlook.

Focus on the Four S’s

It’s really distressing to watch kids experience difficult emotions, and many of us have a tendency to kick into “fix it” mode when they’re distressed. However, we do our children a service when we encourage them to take the lead role in working through their own challenges. When we limit our involvement to supporting from the sidelines, kids build resilience and improve their self-confidence.

To strike the right balance, Tina Payne Bryson (PhD), suggests the “Four S’s” strategy — focus on making your child feel safe, seen, and soothed in order to build security. All you need to do is show up, listen, and empathize while they process.

Minimize Toxic Positivity

According to Tanglaw Mental Health, “toxic positivity is the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy and optimistic state in any situation — in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of genuine human emotional experience.”

Most of us have great intentions when we encourage someone to “think happy thoughts” or remind them “it could be worse.” Despite wanting the person to feel better, though, when we speak with toxic positivity, we send the message that those feelings should be denied or avoided.

“Negative” emotions like anger, sadness, and frustration are natural and requisite aspects of the human experience. Further, they’re adaptive. As an example, when we experience guilt for insulting someone, we learn to communicate differently, and our relationships improve as a result.

So, next time you’re ready to tell your child to “look on the bright side,” take a breath. Instead, try, “This is really hard. I’m here for you, I believe you can get through this, and we’ll make sense of it when we can.”

Be Kind to Yourself

We can’t support the kids in our lives if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Recognize that this is uncharted territory for everyone and none of us is navigating this experience perfectly. The house might be messier than usual, it might feel like Netflix is raising your child, and you might be living on frozen pizza — and that’s okay, that’s temporary, and that doesn’t define you as a parent. When your kids know you love them, “good enough” is more than enough.

Looking for more information? Check out these resources:

Helping Our Kids Manage Summer Disappointments

Parenting in a Pandemic: Tips to Keep the Calm at Home

Toxic Positivity: Don’t Always Look on the Bright Side

How to be Your Best Self in Times of Crisis

12 Ways to Raise a Competent, Confident Child with Grit