Kids’ Big Fears: Part I

However, a fear of looking stupid is the main reason why most campers show reluctance to try a new activity. There is always someone who can do it better…and often several people who are exceptionally good at a given skill, such as diving, tennis, running, or resetting a Rubik’s Cube.

The fear of looking stupid causes campers to denigrate certain activities. “Nah, I don’t do that. It’s stupid.” Or, “Painting is for losers, dude.”

The fear of looking stupid can also force campers into staying with a narrow repertoire of activities, rather than trying new things.

This fear can also be used to ridicule the very children who can perform a skill well–those who look decidedly un-stupid doing it. The child who is a talented dancer might hear, “Nice move, moron.” Or, even more caustic, “Of course he can dance. He’s a fairy.”

Staff members must immediately step in when children are being this unkind to one another. But rather than the predictable lecture + punish sequence, take a step back and ask whether a core fear is generating this type of vituperative comment.

If someone is afraid of looking stupid, both a reprimand about inappropriate behavior as well as an opportunity to get over that fear might be needed.

Whenever staff members are goofy or adventurous, or model healthy risk-taking, they help all campers overcome their fear of looking stupid. Even better are the staffers who can look stupid and laugh it off. Modeling social resiliency is a potent antidote for this fear.

Being Shamed

Campers experience all types of totally natural but potentially embarrassing things at camp. Some girls get their periods for the first time; some boys have wet dreams for the first time; almost everyone misses home; everyone changes clothes in front of one another; and some children won’t dare take some of the risks their peers embrace.

The experience of shame–of being humiliated or disgraced in front of others–is so intensely unpleasant that it can have lasting effects. Whereas fear of looking stupid might dissuade a camper from trying a new activity, shame can dissuade one from ever returning to camp.

Symptoms of shame might resemble the fear of looking stupid, such as withdrawal and reluctance, but it is typically more subtle.

A camper who has been shamed might work hard to cover up the emotion by laughing it off, lashing out at another person, or pretending as if nothing has happened. In reality, the private suffering may be intense.

Staff members should work hard to normalize situations like homesickness and puberty. They should do the best they can, along with the camp health-care staff, to intelligently and discretely shepherd children through their emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

Staff should also ensure that healthy risk-taking embraces the “challenge by choice” philosophy, which encourages young people and gives them the no-shame option of not trying something.

And if ever a staff member witnesses the beginning of shame-inducing behavior, he or she should intervene by redirecting the group and then taking the child aside to help him or her understand what is happening and how best to cope.

Getting Lost

Like other core fears, the fear of getting lost is not unique to young people. It just turns out to be easier for young people to get lost, as we learned from Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel.

By definition, getting lost involves being in a new place (novelty) and not recognizing how to find one’s way (disorientation). Humans respond to novelty in different ways, depending on their temperament. Some people embrace newness; others become anxious.

And to further complicate the situation, young people typically have less worldly experience, so more of the world looks new to them than it would to an adult. Young people also lack the types of sophisticated way-finding skills that older adolescents and adults develop.

With all of these youthful risk factors for getting lost, staff members should work diligently to provide tours of camp, post appropriate signage, and accompany children to remote locations in camp. Staff can, quite literally, address young people’s fear of getting lost by helping them find their way.

Skilled staffers can also teach campers to find their way by showing them how the position of the sun and the stars can help them pinpoint cardinal directions. Orienteering is the perfect programmatic solution to any child’s core fear of getting lost.

Losing Control

It might seem as if young people love losing control, but don’t confuse love of excitement and hyperactivity (two common traits of childhood) with truly losing control.

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Related posts:

  1. Kids’ Big Fears, Part II
  2. Manners Matter
  3. The Beauties Of Camp Duties
  4. Homesickness And Acculturation Stress
  5. Am I Oversharing?
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