A summer at Deerhorn is full of fun. There is no doubt about that. Kids wake up before the sun rises, ready to get the fun started. Days at Deerhorn are full of all of the fun things that make a true Boyhood Adventure…swimming, kayaking, sailing, horseback riding, mountain biking, archery, trips down the slide, dogs, launches off the Rave. They eat meals with their friends, compete with their team in team competition every evening, and every night they get to have a sleepover in a koogee with their buddies. We market camp as “all fun, all the time!” Kids come to camp with expectations high, after seeing videos and pictures showing all the fun that is possible at Deerhorn, and hearing from their friends how fun camp is.
But I think we do a disservice to both kids and their parents by setting up camp as “all fun.” Kids watch videos of other kids biking the trails or getting up on skis, and they have expectations of this perfect utopia, where everyone gets along all the time and gets up on skis the first time. So when kids get to camp and desperately miss home, or don’t get along with one of their koogee-mates, they feel like something is wrong with them, or that the entire camp experience just isn’t for them. I think an important part of preparing for a summer at camp is talking about how there WILL be struggles, and that’s totally normal. In fact, that’s where the learning happens!
You walk into lunch and find it’s something you don’t like or have never had before.
There is someone in your koogee who is annoying you.
The biking trails look harder than you thought, and you are a little scared to try.
You’re frustrated because you just can’t hit the target in archery.
You’re having a hard time falling asleep in a different bed.
You were so excited to come to camp. Now that you’re here, you really miss home.
Discomfort is a part of life, and learning how to deal with it is an important skill. As parents, it’s really hard to let our kids feel uncomfortable. We want to help them avoid discomfort instead of teaching them how to tolerate discomfort. But learning how to sit with discomfort when they are kids is so important for when they’re older. Otherwise, they grow up to be adults who need to find a way to escape that discomfort rather than face it head on. They grow up to be anxious adults, because, at its root, anxiety is the fear of future discomfort.
Don’t get me wrong…Deerhorn is So. Much. Fun. Parents always talk about the “magic” of Deerhorn. But it’s also a safe space to learn skills, make mistakes, and grow resilience. As Dr. Becky says in her book, Good Inside, “Building resilience is about developing the capacity to tolerate distress, to stay in and with a tough, challenging moment, to find our footing and our goodness even when we don’t have confirmation of achievement or pending success.” It’s how kids become good learners and amazing problem solvers. They aren’t afraid of the struggle. They still feel like themselves even when things aren’t going perfectly.
The bottom line is that we need to normalize struggle…whether that struggle happens at school, on a sports team, or at summer camp. We need to teach kids that just because they are struggling with something doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them. That just because their day at camp wasn’t perfect, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. They learn how to sit with those feelings of discomfort and how to find solutions. They grow self-confidence that they can tackle the hard stuff. And that is where the true magic happens.