We have now officially entered summer, and that means that camp is in full swing for millions of kids around the country. There are so many options available to families — from day camp at the local rec center to months-long hard core adventure camps — but they all offer kids the opportunity to stretch and grow in ways that they aren’t able to during the traditional school year. One of the most important things summer camp teaches kids is how to engage in and manage new and different peer relationships. But what if your kiddo struggles with social skills? Can they handle camp? We say yes, of course they can! There are many camps designed for kids with special needs (we’re lucky enough here to have access to Camp Yakety Yak), but camps for typically developing kids are an option as well. Simple strategies like stories and mapping can go a long way in facilitating a successful camp experience for any child, and especially those with social skills challenges.
Behavior mapping approaches the same issues from a different perspective, and can also be hugely helpful. Mapping is based on the Michelle Garcia-Winner classic “What’s does expected/unexpected look like?” I personally love this dandy Social Behavior Map from Winner, on which you list the behavior, how it makes other people feel, the natural consequences of the behavior, and how it makes you feel. So, for example, the unexpected behavior might be not changing your shirt for 7 days in a row (c’mon . . . you know this happens). It makes other people feel uncomfortable. The natural consequence is that you start to stink and people don’t want to be around you. Then, you feel sad, hurt, and lonely because you have no one to talk to. You would then, of course, talk about the expected behavior of changing your shirt every day and complete the chart with the feelings and consequences that go with that behavior.
Summer camp is awkward for everyone, but hopefully these little tips will help ease some of the anxiety for all involved. Oh! And remember to share whatever you come up with with the staff at your kiddo’s camp! They’ll appreciate it, and are more likely to cut your child some slack if an issue does arise if they have a heads up. Here’s to a summer camp full of new friends, roasted marshmallows, silly songs, and no poison ivy!