How Camp Helps Kids Develop Coping Skills

In Developing Leaders at Camp, Jay Gilbert provides insight on how camp can help kids develop strength and confidence, including the coping skills necessary to deal with homesickness, camp life, changes in their environment and challenges in the “real world” once they return home.


camps help kids develop coping skills

Camp Kirk - Photograph by Alex McCusker


With the dramatic rise of helicopter parenting, it is often tougher for a parent to send their child to camp for the first time than it is for the child, who has never been away from home for a prolonged period of time.  Not knowing what the camper will be up to, not being accountable for their safety and more make for very nervous parents when they should be on holiday!

While away at camp, rest assured, the child is well cared for by his counsellors.  At the same time though, a whole new set of experiences are thrown his way, and many that aren’t so easy to deal with.  For example, the following may occur:

  • Homesickness: Being away from home for the first time without parents close by is a frequent challenge experienced by young or new campers.
  • Different Rules: Some rules may contradict a camper’s regular habit of “I do what I want”.  Daily programming is sometimes optional in the sense that the camper has a choice of what he wants to do.  However, participating is not optional, it is mandatory.
  • Dislike of the camp food: Whether it’s the taste, the variety of the menu, the snacks, or the rationing of portions, many campers struggle with camp food.

How Camp Life Helps Kids Cope with Change

How do the campers cope in these situations?  For some, this is a struggle not worth letting go of, and often ends with the camper making a big deal that endures for the duration of the camp session.  For other campers, they simply accept that camp life is different than home life and move on.

Clearly, these are two opposite ways of coping and dealing with change.  Camp habits that are not habitual at home need to be respected, and the campers quickly learn this.  So the good news about having different rules at camp means the campers have an opportunity to adapt and also choose to have an attitude shift that helps them cope with the new environment in a positive way.

When your child returns from camp, you’ll be able to tell how he coped with the change.  He will complain or he will not.

I’m not really suggesting today that there are structured ways camp helps our children learn to deal with change and cope with it.  What I am suggesting is that camp presents our kids with challenges that they will have to cope with, and they figure out how they’ll handle it on their own.

Learning to Deal with Homesickness and Improve Self-Confidence

A camper who copes with the challenge of homesickness also benefits from a boost in self-confidence and self-esteem. The challenge is sometimes made easier when he can succeed alongside a cabin mate who also faces the same challenge simultaneously.

Camp is a great opportunity to build emotional strength and persistence in our campers.  Whether we’re trying to get the homesick boys to stop thinking about home by participating in an activity, or by having a race to see who can eat their meal the fastest without using their hands, our campers are finding out how they operate in a situation of unknowns or irregular conditions.

In their futures, this skill of adaptability, as well as the ability to deal with ambiguity and face challenges head on, will prove that your kids were built up to be stronger at camp.  Plus, when they’re facing “real world” challenges, they can think back to the camp days and how they faced challenge and change then.

Developing Leaders at Camp: Jay Gilbert


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Has camp helped your child develop coping skills? What other skills have they learned to deal with change and new environments? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


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About JayGilbert

MBA graduate sharing thoughts on leadership. Striving to unlock talents of human resources & promote leadership development in youth. Book launch for The Cabin Path - Lessons Learned At Camp is April 7, 2012.

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