“Learning to rock climb is not a life skill,” says Shari Stoch, director at Camp Kodiak, “but learning to take risks is.” By that she doesn’t mean putting ourselves in danger, but rather understanding that some experiences aren’t comfortable. “Learning to persevere through that discomfort and take those risks is going to be really important for their success long term.” Discomfort can be taking part in a canoe trip, but it can also simply be getting used to working with others or participating in games. “If a child is uncomfortable socially,” says Stock, “and we rescue them from every situation, we’re really setting them up for a lot of loneliness.”
Developing resilience is important, though she feels that how we develop it is important too. Stoch believes it should never be sink or swim but instead scaffolding from one success to the next. She continues using the example of rock climbing, noting that if a child approaches the climbing wall, too often it can seem that there are only two options: You get to the top, or you don’t. “What the camper needs to understand,” says Stoch, “is that there’s lots of things between those two.” The first step may be simply putting on a harness, maybe climbing a few feet off the ground, or even just touching the wall. “Each of those steps is a success. Each of those steps is taking a risk, going a little bit past where they’re comfortable, toward a goal that feels unachievable.” She sees that as, ultimately, the most important thing. “Learning that you can do hard things is a really important goal.”
Tracey Grose defines resilience as the ability to “go forward in spite of difficulties” and, while they might seem small—dealing with a day of rain, being able to lose or win gracefully, taking a try at the rock-climbing wall—those experiences condition us for how to deal with the larger challenges when they arrive. As a parent, Grose acknowledges there’s a temptation sometimes to step in to help your child feel successful and comfortable. As a clinical social worker, she knows it’s important to let them learn what they need to succeed on their own.
“Children with resilience or ‘grit’,” she says, “have the ability to persevere in face of challenges.” As a parent, she acknowledges there’s a temptation to step in to help your child feel successful and comfortable sometimes. It’s important to let them learn what they need to succeed on their own. “If we always rescue them and solve problems for them, they don’t develop that internal drive to overcome difficulties and persist.”
This ability to persevere, adapt or ‘bounce back’ in spite of difficult situations and experiences can benefit kids and teens in many different situations. Examples include the transition from elementary to high school, conflicts with peers, or demanding assignments at school. The ability to persevere in the face of adversity is a tool critical to a child’s development, one they develop at camp.
What are the benefits of resilience?
Resilience gives children coping mechanisms that will be useful in the event of challenging situations. This will likely result in regulated emotions, stronger mental health, dedication to tasks and the ability to communicate thoughts and feelings when faced with difficulties or tasks they find hard to manage.
At camp, they develop independence and, over time, coping mechanisms and stress-relieving tools are learned. These tools will be useful in their day-to-day lives when they grow older.
Chantal Vaidyanath saw daughter Kavya develop resilience during her time at Rooks to Cooks camp. It was as simple as persevering through challenges of learning and cooking new recipes, but this skill helped Kavya work her way through the stress of the 2020 coronavirus quarantine.
“I think [resilience] is important in a child’s life because they’re going to experience many challenges. The world around them is constantly changing. If they have resilience, they’re going to be able to roll with the punches, [move] forward and continue to pursue their goals,” says Vaidyanath, adding that resilience benefits both mental and physical health, too. “Children who are more resilient [are] less likely to have mental and social difficulties like anxiety or succumbing to peer pressure,” she explains. “From a physical perspective as well, a child who is resilient would be more likely to keep in mind that, even though they’re getting really busy, they still need to be able to take care of their physical health, exercise and things like that.”
Tracey Grose believes that when children learn how to be resilient and persevere through responsibilities they have difficulty performing, they’ll develop a well-rounded experience in their lives. They’re “learning to care for [themselves], care for the environment, care for [their] daily living and pursue [their] interests.” This leads to the development of a well-rounded person, she says, “[because they’re] learning how to manage time and still be successful.”
How to develop resilience
Camp offers kids a variety of opportunities to develop resilience. It’s important for a child to develop this skill at a young age so they have a foundation to build from. At camp, they develop independence and, over time, coping mechanisms and stress-relieving tools are learned. These tools will be useful in their day-to-day lives when they grow older and face hardships in adulthood.
“Camps ... are a time for a child to enrich their experiences,” says Grose. The environment focuses on developing specific strengths and interests a child may have. Grose believes that children should be given every opportunity to discover and nurture strengths and interests. “Every child has gifts and talents,” she says. “They need to ... be given adequate opportunity to practice them to a certain level of proficiency so they can say, this is me. This is what I’m strong at.”
Stoch agrees. “We need to find the things our kids are great at, and we need to let them do those things over and over again.” Because all the strength they get from those experiences—the sense of mastery, confidence, participation—will be what they draw on when they approach challenges and difficulties. “Imagine what kind of payout you can get,” she says, “for accomplishing something you previously thought was impossible.” When kids try new things and challenge themselves, they learn, says Stoch, “that what feels like a limit is actually only just a starting point."
When a child discovers and develops their individual strengths, they grow in confidence and through that, develop resilience. “If their strength is athletic [or] in the arts, music, performance, [etc] then when they do something with a certain level of confidence or success ... it’s fuel to their engine.” Camps that provide a focus on the development of unique and individual skills are particularly good at this.
Chantal Vaidyanath also believes that, “the camp environment is really important for kids to develop resilience because they don’t have the usual support and guidance from their parents.”
Children develop resilience through a camp atmosphere, too, she thinks, because they’re interacting with others, listening to their instructor and working with others in the camp. Camp is beneficial for the development of resilience because children learn “how to solve new problems and face new challenges that they might not really be faced with at home.”
What's an example of resilience?
Grose sees her own eldest son, who has a learning disability, as an example of resilience. His reading comprehension is slower, so he requires time to decode and process language. Since the reading-and-writing structure of school was unrewarding to his particular learning style, she sees resilience in his ability to persevere through public education. Her family has also explored various options to assist his learning style and help him move forward in spite of any difficulties.
“He’s brilliant in music,” she says. “We’ve always done a lot to make sure he gets to explore his strengths in music, which builds his confidence.” Rather than solely focusing on strengthening his reading or writing skills, they’ve exposed him to audio books and supported his participation in music lessons, with great results.
“If we only focus on one source of reward or success for a child and they aren’t necessarily gifted in that area, there can be a whole loss of self-concept if they’re just not good at math or English ... My son’s very good at music, he knows that that’s his niche ... And his success can come from a combination of talents.”
How to support your child’s development of resilience
Chantal Vaidyanath attests to the way camp built up Kavya’s resilience to solve problems and face challenges on her own. She witnessed this increased inner strength in early 2020 when there were many “changes in [our] home due to the coronavirus quarantine. Kavya quickly adapted to doing school online and she was better prepared for her online classes. Chantal could see that “she’d learned a lot about etiquette.”
The increased independence and personal responsibility that kids experience at camp is an important part of developing resilience. Grose also recommends that parents give kids independent responsibility as a way of fostering resilience.
She begins to explain, “if they’re 2 or 3 years old, they can pick up toys and put them back in the toy box. At 4, they can make their bed.” A good rule-of-thumb is to increase responsibility when your child’s physical ability increases. Grose emphasizes that the value in this lesson is not for compensation or reward, but to teach resilience and responsibility. In this, it’s important that parents give positive reinforcement and support. “Some people have an idea that criticism or correcting is part of parenting,” she says, “[but] we definitely get more bees with honey. We get more success with positive reinforcement.”
When you provide a support network for your child, they know they can communicate their thoughts and feelings to you and aren’t navigating adversity alone. When you praise them for persevering through their challenges, you encourage more of this behaviour, which turns into habit, and your child will continue to develop resilience. Grose also recommends conducting a cognitive and learning disability assessment if you notice your child having more difficulty with certain tasks. This can indicate a neurological underpinning that makes it harder for your child to focus or complete their duties. As a professional, she affirms the value of assessments, and if you follow the recommendations of psychologists and counselors, your child will develop deeper emotional well-being and resilience. “There’s no limit to how much they can achieve,” she says, “as long as they have the right tools in place.”
Want your child to enhance their resilience?
Both Grose and Vaidyanath affirm the value of camp, as well as summertime or after-school activities, which offer children a setting that fosters independent activity. This setting helps them gain confidence and resilience, as they explore their own strengths and interests.