by Rose Levenson, Nitzanim Unit Head
As a long-time counselor and unit head for our Nitzanim campers who are the youngest on camp, I have had the pleasure of being able to carry around many toys, stickers, and fun things with me when walking around. I am known for having a sparkly magic wand, Play-Doh, and more recently, a set of Inside Out action figures! Although they are absolutely adorable and fun to play with, these action figures also serve a more serious purpose as well.
Sending your children to camp for the first, fourth, or even fourteenth time can be an emotional challenge for everyone involved. I have comforted many a crying child (and many crying parents too!) over my years at camp. Through these emotional roller-coasters, I have learned a lot. A lot of us have challenges talking about our emotions. Even for adults, it takes a vulnerable soul to open up and talk about when they are sad or why they are feeling afraid in a certain situation.
So, you might wonder how we train our staff and talk about emotions in real time with our campers. Here is a bit about how each of the emotional characters may play themselves out:
JOY: Camp is a place where fun is at the center of everything we do. We seek to provide our campers and our staff with experiences that highlight the joy of being Jewish and being in a kehillah kedosha (a holy community). We intentionally facilitate conversations about the positive moments of each day, and use our nighttime rituals to share them with the entire bunk. At home, you can do this too! Positivity is contagious, and it is an amazing gift to take a few minutes each day, maybe around the dinner table, to talk about each person’s best moments.
SADNESS: If you worry that your child will be sad at camp this summer, you are not alone! We often have campers who come to camp who think they are sick because many people refer to this at “homesickness.” We spend a lot of time with our staff teaching them that when a child is crying or missing home, this is a temporary moment. Therefore, we label this as a “temporary moment of sadness” (TMS for short). Many people believe that feeling sad is a terrible emotion! While it is not always pleasant, it is an organic emotion that we feel during the course of our lives. At camp, we do not ignore sadness, and neither should you! Instead, we validate our campers who are sad, remind them that it is temporary, and quickly move the conversation to what the camper enjoys at camp. We highly recommend discussing sadness with your child before they go to camp. Give your camper a leg up by replacing the word homesickness with temporary moment of sadness. Share with your child that if they feel sad at camp, their counselors are there to help them!
ANGER: Ooof! Anger. We all know it, we’ve all seen it, and we’ve all felt it. Usually, this emotion plays itself out at camp due to the very fact that we are living in a communal setting. Talk to your children about the realities of communal living! If something is frustrating them, they should address the issue before it festers. This is easier said than done! Many children, and even adults, need help in this task. The perfect person to help? Our counselors! Although there are some realities of communal living that we all have to learn to deal with, counselors can help a child manage the challenges and frustrations, and alleviate them.
FEAR: Although camp is a place where we all try new things and learn to love them, it is also a place that challenges our fears and asks us to face them head on. Some campers fear the zipline, for others it is the lake. When we talk about fear with our staff, we explain to them that although fear is often the root emotion in a situation, the way that it manifests might look like sadness or anger. Especially with our younger campers, some children do not always recognize that fear is at the bottom of why they are upset in a situation. When we train the counselors, we role play scenes in which a child is acting out, and have them try to determine what the root cause of the distress is. Often, it comes down to fear. We ask counselors to embrace these moments, and ask campers if they are feeling afraid. When we are able to get to the root, counselors are able to coach campers through their fear, and help them achieve goals they never thought they could achieve.
DISGUST: The single most often place this emotion plays itself out is in our chadar ochel (dining hall). We intentionally plan our menus for children at camp, yet there are some meals that a child does not love at first sight. There are always multiple options at camp, including sandwiches and a full salad bar. Help your child avoid this challenge at home, by introducing them to a few new foods at home before the summer starts. Practice offering them something they will probably not like, and work on guiding them as to how to find other options at the meal that they will eat. Conveying the message that they will not love every meal, but there is always something they can eat and that they need to eat something, is essential.
BING BONG! The Imaginary Friend! Without fail, every year, I have parents that pull me aside and whisper their most burning question to me. What is this burning question? “Will my child be made fun of or laughed at if they have their stuffed animal on their bed? They don’t want me to leave their favorite stuffie with them, but I know that they can’t sleep without it! What do I do?” This question is one of my favorites, mostly because usually more than one parent in the same bunk will ask me this! I always want to connect them to each other! Firstly, there are many counselors who bring their own stuffed animals to camp (myself included!!!). At camp we teach children the importance of respecting others, and we do not tolerate bullying or making fun of others. Therefore, your child’s imaginary friend, stuffed animal, or favorite blanket are welcome and appreciated, especially if they make them feel more secure! Talk to your child about accepting others, and how they would like to be treated. Although they might not be bringing a stuffed animal, they might have other lovies or special items or ways of doing things that they worry about.
We hope that you find these ideas helpful, and wanted to share a few more. We encourage you to watch Inside Out before sending your children to camp this summer, and use some of the resources provided by the Foundation for Jewish Camp as a way to start a conversation about emotions. For example, you could use this sheet to connect our different emotional voices with Jewish text. One of my favorite resources is this poster to help children and their families think about the way emotions can overlap. Feel free to reach out to us about any of these resources, and make sure to come up and say hi on the first day of camp! I might even have my action figures with me!
Rose Levenson will be spending her sixth summer at camp this summer and her third as unit head for Nitzanim, our 3rd-5th grade campers. She hails from the sweet town of Hershey, PA, and now lives in Boston, MA where she is currently pursuing an MBA in Non-Profit Management and an MA in Jewish Professional Leadership at Brandeis University, and works as a Youth Advisor at Temple Sinai in Brookline.