As educators, we spend much of the last day of school reflecting on all that we have accomplished this year, (and then on what we want to do better next year!). The first piece of this reflection is taking a step back, and simply watching the students as they sit in the end of the year assembly. I take the time to recall each child's first days of school this year, and how much he/she has grown and changed. I make mental notes of all their accomplishments, and then try to tell them personally what I have noticed.
As parents, we try to do this as well. In my family, we have a celebratory dinner where we speak of what we have accomplished. I make every effort to not focus on the grades- with my own family and with my students- but to rather focus on the work they did on the character traits, the effort, the changes in study habits, the growth in how they treated others and their increased taking of responsibility for themselves. This is the first “talk” we will have with our children as the year comes to a close.
The second “talk” we then have with our children, (in between countless trips to Target for camp supplies), is preparing them for camp. I want to stress that this “talk” should happen every year despite your child's having gone to camp many times before. There are a number of challenges kids face when either at day camp, sleepaway camp or just “hanging around.” This is our chance to help them prepare for those challenges. As a reminder, here are some aspects to highlight.
The first most essential component is to recall that no matter how organized and supervised camp is, camp is still a largely less supervised and less structured setting. In addition, despite much improved and exemplary efforts of camps to hire and to train their staff, our children are mainly supervised by teenagers who are only a few years older then themselves and may not have fully-developed, adult decision making skills. We therefore need to remind them of the importance of keeping themselves safe, and telling a trusted adult when they do not feel safe. “Safe” means physically or emotionally. If they simply have a sinking feeling that things are not going they way they would like them to, they need to tell someone. Especially for our children who are going to sleepaway camp, this is an important conversation. We are not around to be their “trusted adult.” Who will their “trusted adult” be? What if the someone who is “bothering” them is their counselor or an adult in the camp? Our goal is not to scare them, but in a more low intensity manner and in a matter of fact way share with them to whom they can go.
This safety talk relates to generally not engaging in risky behaviors. (Ex. Not going off to the woods when not with their group etc.). Risky behaviors also include alcohol and other drugs. I also want to share a link to a game that teens have been playing called The Choking Game. Please watch the video and add it to your list of risky behaviors to discuss with your children. http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=space+monkey++chocking+game&view=detail&mid=F44DDAAA9AB77562CB8EF44DDAAA9AB77562CB8E&first=0&FORM=NVPFVR&qpvt=space+monkey++chocking+game
Safety, of course, relates to a frank conversation about abuse. We have had these talks with the students in school, but it bears repeating. Abuse can range from verbal, physical to sexual abuse. Perpetrators can be adults or peers. Children should realize that they should not tolerate anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. We frankly discuss with the students situations like, someone opening the shower curtain when we are showering as a “joke” or going off with someone (adult or peer) without a group. We need to highlight that even if someone we care about or whom we like is making us feel uncomfortable we need to tell someone.
As parents, we need to feel empowered as well. A friend of mine shared that her daughter in day camp told her that the male bus counselor was sitting close to her and stroking her hair. Despite the fact that this may have been innocent, camps need to be informed. What is the supervision like when children are changing in after swim in the locker rooms? We should never feel hesitant to share concerns.
We all know the amount of time we spend in schools stressing respect and not bullying other children. In the same way, children should be reassured that bullying is not tolerated in camp either. The “prank” that goes just too far is not acceptable just because it’s camp. Please make it clear to your child that they should never tolerate being bullied or the bullying of others.
There are other aspects of camp that can be challenging for some. The social component can be a challenge as camp is much more social than school. Issues like kids in the bunk not getting along with each other, making friends when you don’t really know anyone, or branching out and making new friends are all examples of some situations to be talked about. Athletics can be a challenge for other students. Some kids are not as athletic as others or do not enjoy sports, and find camp difficult for that reason. There may be some students going to sleepaway for the first time. Homesickness is an issue. All of the above make up the “pre-camp talk.”
Then there is the last “talk” of the summer. This one usually happens a few weeks before school. We sit down with our children and set goals for the coming year. What would I like do work better on this year that did not quite work out last year? Are there systems that I want to put into place so that I am better organized? Do I want to work harder at my in-class behavior and monitoring my own attention in class? Do I want to stop procrastinating and study for things in advance? It is a sort of “new year’s resolutions” activity. But, more important than setting the resolutions is planning practical ways to implement realistically achievable goals. As we teach the students in Advisory, goals should be SMART:
Savvy- Easy to understand, not at all vague, specific and in the realm of possibility.
Measureable- Be specific about the outcome you expect. The destination should be clear.
Active - Goals should tell you about what action you must take to get there. Verbs should be in sentence.
Reachable- Although goals stretch you, they should be in your reach. Ask yourself, “Do I feel I can attain this goal? Is it realistic for me? Am I comfortable with this challenge?” It’s hard to stay motivated if your goals seem unreachable.
Timed- Have a clear deadline set- a specific date. These dates motivate you.
So, you thought that once you had that “puberty talk” you were done or יוצא for all time? Sorry. No such luck. Our job as parents is to keep on talking. They may pretend they are not listening, but they hear every word we say.
It is hard to believe that this is the last Parenting Pointers blog of the year. School has ended and we are busily shopping, packing and schlepping duffles. If I may, I’d like you to take a break to read this column, as it stresses some other preparations for summer that are essential for parents. This week’s column is about the “talks” we need to have with our children before they leave to camp and before they begin school again at http://
parentingpointersfrohlich.blog spot.com .
Thank you to all of you who have been loyal readers all year, and especially to those of you who have e-mailed me comments and responses.
Best wishes for a wonderful and relaxing summer of (no homework!!) and enjoying your children.
Dr. Aliza Frohlich