05 November 2019

Re-building a child’s resilience - turning cry into try

Posted in Camping

Re-building a child’s resilience - turning cry into try

Chances are that your favourite memory of school is of going to Camp. No uniform, loads of challenging and fun activities, and uninterrupted time with friends was the perfect way to spend a few days. What you didn’t realise was that the activities were all helping you build your resilience. The skills you learned on Camp would serve you through your teenage and adult years.

Babies are born with an abundance of what we call resilience. They demand that their basic needs are met. If they get ignored, they cry harder, and so it continues until they get a nappy change or food or cuddles. A few months later, they learn how to roll over, then later again to crawl and then to walk. Instead of crying at their failures during these developmental milestones, they try. Again and again. They demonstrate resilience in the face of obstacles and challenges. They problem-solve until they achieve the success they are after.

As a parent, you encourage their attempts. You smile and laugh and praise, picking them up occasionally; always accepting that these learned behaviours will have a lot of failures before bub achieves the success they work so hard toward.

Fast forward a few years, and the child has developed an aversion to risk. She’s frightened of the swimming pool because she might get sucked down the plug hole. He won’t walk barefoot on grass. Broccoli? No way, she doesn’t want trees growing out of her ears. Despite these perceived fears, you patiently (mostly) encourage and support toddlers to overcome them. You know that there is no real risk and if children don’t overcome their fear, they’ll miss out on things that are good for them. The fears take on a life of their own, and children become less capable of dealing with life’s obstacles.

If babies start life with resilience, how can parents ensure they maintain it?

Parents inevitably want their children’s lives to be safe. The emergence of helicopter parenting (hovering over the child all the time), lawnmower parenting (staying one step ahead of the child to remove obstacles, both physical and emotional), and over-parenting (doing things for the child that they are developmentally capable of doing themselves) all lower resilience in children and lead to difficulties in later years. Low self-esteem, reduced leadership skills1, teenage anxiety and depression2, and adults unable to take responsibility for their own actions are some of the results of poor resilience. With the demands of full-time work, supervising homework, sporting activities, and being an all-round taxi service, it’s hard for parents to provide opportunities for their children to take controlled risks. This is where Camp is so beneficial.

As part of the YMCA, Camp Leslie Dam operates under the Safeguarding Children and Young People Framework3. Camp Leslie Dam provides opportunities for children to face risk in a safe manner and to problem-solve ways to overcome obstacles. Opportunities abound at Camp, with both physical and social benefits.

Groups of 15-20 student work together throughout Camp. Get-to-know-you activities help children start social bonding and helps them develop a sense of belonging: group work and common experiences throughout Camp continue this process. In a different setting than usual, they develop their identity and create new friendships. They learn that people behave differently in different settings: the naughty student becomes a leader, the shy student finds confidence. They develop trust and respect for themselves and for others. Water-based activities such as stand-up paddle-boarding, canoeing, kayaking and rafting offer children experiences many have never had before. Instructors, lifeguards, and life-jackets reduce actual risk while children manage the perceived risk. “What if I fall out?” “I can’t balance!” “Are there sharks in Leslie Dam?”

High activities include rock climbing, abseiling, giant swing, and vertical challenge. With instructors, safety harnesses, and ropes, children know that there is no risk yet some find that their fear creates major obstacles. “It’s too high.” “I’m going to fall.” “I don’t know where to put my hand.” Resilience is not dependent on expertise, but on learning how to face fears or challenges and working out ways to overcome them. Children fail at Camp all the time. They might fall off their paddle-board or miss their footing on the rock wall, but each time they get up and try again, they experience success and their resilience is being built. They turn cry into try.

Camp Leslie Dam encourages children to face challenges both small and large:

  • “Hmph! I always have Coco Pops for breakfast and you don’t have any!”
  • “Will I wear the blue or the green T-shirt today?”
  • “I know these safety ropes work but I don’t feel safe.”
  • “I don’t want to be in a group with _____.”
  • “I miss my iPad.”

Changes to routine and trying new things helps children adapt and develop flexibility that serves them well into the future. Camp Leslie Dam helps children build self-confidence, resilience, and independence through participating in adventure activities, challenging themselves, and building social relationships.

That’s for the parents. For the children: Camp Leslie Dam is FUN!

References:

YMCA Brisbane