As summer camps and other cherished summer programs announce that they will not open during summer 2020 due to COVID-19 risks, parents and guardians are left to share the news with children and manage the emotions that come as a result of, yet another, moment of change and  disappointment.

Supporting youth during this time begins with understanding that everyone’s needs are different. Factors like age-specific maturity and whether or not they have been to camp before will affect how each child receives the news and can guide the way you tell them and comfort them.

Adult’s Role Based on Child’s Age

For youth of all ages, the greatest gift we can give as an adult is to listen to them and provide validation. Resist the urge to “fix” the situation or problem-solve for them, as it will leave children feeling unsupported and fear that you do not think they can manage things on their own.

When they’re uncomfortable or upset, kids need empathy more than anything else. Showing them that you feel for them and providing assurance that you will help them through this challenging time will often be all they need to get through times of uncertainty.

  • For elementary school-aged youth, be the director: You need a plan of what to say and how to say it. Anticipate what questions your children might have and what responses you might give.
  • For middle school-aged youth, be the tour guide: You need to lead but can also change course, depending on your child’s response and tolerance for the conversation.
  • For high school-aged youth, be the torch-passer: More is less with this age, so share the information and then pass the torch to your children to let them lead the conversation while you
Talking to Elementary School-Aged Youth

It is helpful to remember that words are not always an elementary-aged child’s best friend, and children of this age cannot always express how they are feeling. Keep in mind that behavior is communication, and often, you can determine how a child is tolerating the information you’ve shared by watching their behavior both during and afterward – and then asking them about it without judgment. You might say:

  • “I notice you are stomping your feet a lot, and that isn’t like you.” 
  • “I see your eyes are tearing up, and I wonder if that means you are sad?”

The tone of your questions helps to assure your child that they are safe to share their feelings. It is fine to help your child label their feelings, if you feel confident that you are labeling those feelings correctly.

Be sure that once your child begins talking, you stop talking, giving them the opportunity to share what’s on their mind. Feel proud of yourself that you got your child to express their feelings!

Here are some things you might say to elementary school-age children who were planning to return to camp this summer or participate in other programs they've done in the past. We've left blank spaces where you would personalize your language to your family's experiences and plans:

  • “It’s hard when you don’t get to do what you thought you’d be doing.”
  • “I’m so sorry that you won’t get to experience _____ because I know you love it.”
  • “I know you will miss _____, and I am always here to talk with you about it.”
  • “We will work together to fill your time this summer with activities that make you happy.”
  • “I know you’re sad, and I’ll do everything I can to help you to feel better.”
  • “It’s normal to feel sad about this; I am sad for you, too.”
  • "Everybody at _____ cares so much about everyone being safe and healthy, and this summer it will be too difficult to keep everyone safe.”
  • “We will keep talking about _____ because it’s so important to us and so we don’t forget all the wonderful things about it.”
  • “_____ is such a special place, and everyone is so disappointed because so many people love it and will miss it.”
  • “I know it doesn’t feel good, but I also know that there will be a time when you feel better.”
  • “It’s hard to imagine that this feeling will pass, and I hope you are OK.”
  • “This is such a loss, and I’m so sorry.”
  • “Sometimes when things are hard, it’s okay to give yourself permission to not think about it for a little bit. How about we don’t think about _____ not happening again until after dinner…?”

Here are some things you might say to elementary-aged children who would've been attending summer camp or other programs for the first time:

  • “I’m so sorry this won’t be the summer you get to experience _____.”
  • “I can’t imagine how you're feeling, but I know you’re good at explaining it.”
  • “I do hope that you’ll be as excited in the future to try something new as you were about _____ for this summer.”
  • “We’re going to work together to come up with fun things for you to do this summer.”
Talking to Middle School and High School-Aged Youth

Teens and tweens need for information to be conveyed to them in an honest and frank manner. The conversation should be collaborative, with you sharing the information and then following the lead of your teen. Teens may be interested in talking about the situation all at once or may need time to process and then revisit.

Remember that, even at this age, behavior is communication. Often, you can tell how your teen is tolerating the information you are sharing by watching their behavior both during and after the conversation. It’s important to remember, too, that teens often need time and space in order to fully engage in a conversation after receiving difficult information.

At this age, peer relationships are also very important, and your teens may want to talk with their friends before they talk with you. You can help support their camp/program friendships – in the time they need them most – by suggesting they connect with their friends to talk about the situation.

Some statements that might be helpful are:

  • “Hey, I see that you’re really sad right now. I know you may not want to talk about it, but I’m here for you when and if you do want to talk.”
  • “I know you may want to talk with your friends first but let me know if you want to chat with me about _____ later.”

The tone of your question can help assure your teen that they are safe to share their feelings. Acknowledge that this is a grieving process for your teen and validate the emotions that they are experiencing. It may be helpful to avoid using words like “I understand” and instead use statements such as “I can imagine…” or “It sounds like…”.

Here are some things you might say to middle and high school-aged youth:

  • “I know how much you were looking forward to returning to _____. Are there things we can do at home that will be helpful to you during this time?” (Note: It may be helpful to ask your teen what their favorite camp/program activities are and ways in which these might be able to be recreated virtually.)
  • “_____'s biggest concern is always your health and safety, and in this time, they're not able to provide that same safe environment they would normally because of COVID-19.”
  • “It is so normal to be upset and experience a lot of emotions around this news. I’m here to talk about it anytime you need.”
  • “_____ has been doing a lot of virtual programming in the last several months; I bet they are going to come up with all kinds of ways for you to stay connected to your friends this summer. I know this won’t be the same for you, but maybe there will be some new types of activities for you to experience.”
  • “There will be opportunities for you to talk with and hear directly from the _____'s directors about this decision and plans for moving forward.” (Note: If your child has specific questions for camp/program leadership, it might be helpful to have them write these down.)

Content was adapted from the original at ReformJudiasm.org

Thriving Thursday: Sharing Our Proven Path to Youth Success

Camp Fire uses Thrive{ology} to teach youth to identify sparks, develop a growth mindset, learn goal management, and take time to reflect.

During this COVID-19 crisis, Camp Fire is here to do what we do best – help children and youth thrive by  providing tools to parents and other adults that help youth discover their sparks, gain self-confidence, enhance social emotional learning skills, learn life-changing life skills, develop a growth mindset, learn goal management and take time to reflect and reframe in the face of adversity.

Throughout this shelter in place, every Thursday, Camp Fire First Texas will provide families interactive games, routines or a daily ritual they can incorporate to help their child thrive.  Join the Thriving Thursday email group or follow Camp Fire First Texas on Facebook and Instagram.