ANXIETY is perhaps the greatest inhibitor for achieving academic, social and emotional potential. For those with learning challenges, it creates an insurmountable roadblock that unless addressed diminishes developmental growth and establishes a cycle of recurring failure. For many of our children, the energy spent trying to hide in plain sight while existing in a parallel fashion within a strange and confusing world is all encompassing and leaves no room for anything but continued vigilance. Imagine existing in a social or academic world where everyone speaks a foreign language and your only concern is trying to not let others know you only speak English. You smile, you nod your head, you gravitate to the edge of conversation or perhaps spend time tying and retying your shoes; you essentially learn to go with the flow but are so filled with anxiety that you do not have time to learn the language spoken by those around you!
At Camp Northwood, we have integrated specific systems into our programming in order to reduce anxiety within our camp community. The results, as many of our families will attest, can be magical. The reduction of anxiety can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to integrate into a peer based community. The overwhelming level of energy previously spent trying to survive a social experience can instead be focused on engaging peers in a social community.
Steps for reducing anxiety:
- Establish Routines and Schedules. Consistency is predictable and eliminates the fear of “what’s next”. If for some reason the schedule must change, plenty of prior notice should be given with a clear explanation as to why the change is being made.
- Transitional Preparation. Discuss new events, activities and environments in order to prepare children for what is to come. Provide appropriate social language that may be useful in new situations and discuss safety strategies and language that will enable the child to properly seek support when necessary.
- Create Compatible Social Clusters. Age, developmental levels, interest areas, language development all play a role when determining appropriate social peer groups. When children share these aspects of “Social Potential” they have a better chance of experiencing reduced levels of social anxiety.
- Foster a Culture of Respect. Everyone belongs. Everyone is unique with their own strengths and challenges. Everyone deserves an opportunity to participate without fear of being judged. Children and Adults should give and receive equal degrees of respect.
- Highlight Success. All too often children don’t recognize social success and identify the steps/strategies that enabled them to succeed. Catch children using successful social strategies and let them know you noticed. Praise doesn’t always have to be over the top and often is more meaningful when given in a one to one setting.
- Redirect social interactions when necessary. These “teachable moments” are opportunities to identify and evaluate successful vs unsuccessful social strategies offering children with a clear direction for success in the future. Focus on the positive and while making amends to those that may have been offended is important, emphasize that everyone makes mistakes. As long as we learn from our mistakes, we can move on looking for success in the future.
- Continue the Social Dialogue. There is no better way to help reduce social anxiety than to reinforce to our children that they are not alone. Continual feedback and dialogue regarding social interactions and activity based experiences helps to not only provide a constant stream of positive feedback and redirection when necessary, but also reduces a child’s sense of isolation.
At Camp Northwood our staff has been trained to integrate these strategies to reduce anxiety into every aspect of their campers’ summer experiences. Because of this, we see great strides made as the campers develop their social skills, self-esteem and independence. A thoughtful approach to creating a safe social community is critical to providing healthy programming to our vulnerable camper population. Anxiety, if allowed, would overwhelm and dictate the outcomes of our campers’ summer experiences. Yet, when held in check through the use of intentional strategies, our campers are able to leave their debilitating coping mechanisms at the front gate and join a camp community of children that just want to belong.
For more information about Camp Northwood, our programming and admissions for the summer of 2016, please visit us at: http://www.nwood.com or give us a call in the office at: 315-831-3621.