Autonomy at Camp!

There are so many wonderful and valuable experiences that take place at overnight camp. Camp allows children to grow and develop by providing them with healthy and meaningful opportunities that help build their sense of identity. The camp environment not only offers campers the social and emotional skills to succeed but gives campers the autonomy to make success possible. Autonomy at camp allows campers to make new friends, set their own goals, take on new challenges, feel proud of their efforts and accomplishments, and boost self-confidence and independence.

As parents and caregivers, we naturally want to protect our children and make their lives easier.  It’s tempting to make decisions that we believe will be best for them, perform tasks for them, or come to the rescue when things get hard. Though we are coming from a place of love, constantly doing things for our kids can negatively impact their self-confidence and autonomy. When we deny kids the opportunity to be autonomous, they may feel powerless, or perceive that we don’t think they are capable.

Research has shown that autonomy has tremendous benefits for kids of all ages. Studies have linked autonomy to long-term motivation, independence, confidence, and a decrease in risky behaviors, anxiety, and depression. Psychologist Holly Schiffrin writes “the biggest gift parents can give their children is the opportunity to make their own decisions. Parents who “help” their children too much stress themselves out and leave their kids ill-prepared to be adults.”  The gift of overnight camp is the gift of giving kids the opportunity to make their own decisions and develop a healthy identity.

Camp helps kids become more independent by fostering autonomy in a natural environment. With the support and encouragement of camp counselors, campers can practice independence and create a sense of mastery over their environment. Camp staff is there to role model healthy decision-making, provide guidance, and let kids do things on their own. Campers feel safe and secure to try new things, face obstacles and become creative thinkers. Each day, campers have the opportunity to make choices. From the basic task of picking out what to wear, what to eat, what clubs and electives to sign up for, and how to spend downtime, campers make choices and feel empowered. Camp also allows campers to feel capable when taking care of responsibilities in the bunk and around camp. Campers are living in a community setting where they take on responsibilities that may ordinarily be done for them at home. Being able to take care of their belongings, work well with others, and make their own decisions creates a sense of autonomy that transfers way beyond their time at camp.

Camp is the perfect place for kids to practice making their own decisions, pursuing goals, and developing a deeper sense of identity. Autonomy is a gift we give to our children by providing guidance and the freedom to make these decisions. By offering age-appropriate opportunities to make choices, camp teaches kids to problem solve, handle challenges and become more autonomous, confident, happy, and capable people.