THE BLOG
08/22/2014 11:53 am ET | Updated Oct 22, 2014

Fostering Independence at Home, Using Lessons from Camp

Camp Towanda

As Owners and Directors of a sleepaway camp, so many families come to us hoping that a summer away from the comforts of home will elicit change in their children. After all, summer camp is one of the few places left in our world where children can "unplug" and connect with their peers and adults in the purest way; a place where they can become more responsible, take care of themselves, learn new skills and make new friends. But what parents soon realize is that when you give your child the gift of independence, even bigger changes occur. But why?

As parents, we spend so many countless hours carefully managing every detail of our child's lives. We craft the perfect schedules, make play dates with all the kids we prefer our child spend time with, cheer them to victory from the sidelines, care for their cuts and scrapes when they fall and answer their many questions. We are their crash mats, their rescue squad and their pep squad. But what happens when you take that all away? You let them experience life in their own hands.

At camp, kids learn how to wait in line for their turn, how to participate in an activity that may not be their favorite and how to try something that is out of their comfort zone. They learn self-discipline, respect and confidence. They learn how to relate and coexist and not hide behind technology. They try new foods that they never would because mom is not there as a short order chef. And most importantly, when parents aren't there, kids are given the chance to step into their independence. They learn how it feels to be able to say, "I did it!", without their parents' assistance, coaching or persuasion.

When children are away from their parents they can own their success. Have you ever noticed that when kids play sports in town, they are focused on the sidelines... looking for a thumbs up from mom or dad when they hit a line drive into left field instead of experiencing the joy and pride of that moment for themselves? Or what happens when they round third base, trip and fall? Before they can dust themselves off and run home, the EMT has been called in to treat them with band-aids. When children are on their own, they learn how to feel success and cope with challenges. They develop grit and resilience, and those are the skills they will need in the 21st century and beyond! Those are the skills that they develop when they are confident and safe in their own hands.

While home is very comfortable, it can also be filled with anxiety and pressure of friends, community, siblings and parents' expectations. As many children head back-to-school, how can we continue to nurture self-confidence, independence and grit from the home front? Here are some suggestions, using the approaches that work so well at camp:

  1. Respect that your child is a work-in-progress. Give them opportunities to try new things that may challenge and push them out of their comfort zones. Be open to their feedback. So what if they don't like it? So what if they fall? They will learn just as much from what they don't like, as from what they do like. If you put them in a box or label them "the tennis player," "the dancer," "the artist," "the picky eater," or "the shy one," it will only hold them back.
  2. Listen to what they are saying. Not just how they are saying it. Sometimes children flex their independence and challenge us with attitude or emotion. But when you scratch the surface, you see something deeper. Before you jump on their words, find meaning behind them.
  3. Put them to work. Chores are great lessons for shared responsibility. Have them continue to make their beds, even if time is short. Have them set the table and clear dishes like in the old days. And give out allowance for regular jobs done well.
  4. Hold them accountable. Say no when appropriate, let them make mistakes and feel the consequences of their actions. Hold back the desire to quickly "fix" everything.
  5. Stay strong. Don't let them push your buttons and be squeaky to get out of doing things. Stay tough -- the firmer you remain, the less they will complain and get the job done quicker. Kids thrive with rules and structure.
No one said parenting is easy. Like our children, we are a work in progress and can always learn more. Two of our favorite books are Homesick and Happy by Dr. Michael Thompson PhD and Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogul PhD. They have inspired us, and so many of our camp families, to "let go" to let them grow.

Interested in more parenting articles about summer camp? Follow the Camp Towanda parenting blog here or visit www.camptowanda.com.

Interested in upcoming events at Camp? Check out Soul Camp, a sleepaway camp for adults!