Camps for Kids With Behavioral Issues

by Erica Loop

According to the American Camp Association, camp experiences can help kids develop self-esteem, increase confidence and improve physical health. If your child has behavioral issues, this doesn't mean that she can't reap the benefits of a summer camp program. While she might struggle in a traditional program, there are an array of options available specifically for children with behavioral issues.

Similarities and Differences

Although on the surface, behavioral camps may look like any other summer camp -- with typical activities such as swimming, boating, arts and crafts, hiking and sports -- there are differences that make these programs ideal for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, oppositional defiant disorder or other issues. These camps coach kids on coping strategies such as developing self-regulatory behaviors to use during school times, learning how to self-soothe during times of emotional frustration or gaining focus and attention abilities.

Social Skills

The camps can teach essential social skills to children who feel isolated or have problems making friends, resulting in their feeling left out or awkward at school. Some behavioral camps may focus specifically on this type of development, featuring activities that are designed to promote positive peer interactions such as group scavenger hunts, team boating, team sports and group bonfires. Camps without that social skills focus still have ways to help children develop those abilities. Such interactive and team-building activities can lead to new friendships.

Treatment Programs

Some behavioral camps are based on a summer treatment program model. This type of program concentrates on providing the child with strategies and techniques to cope and excel in a school or social setting. Unlike other behavioral camps, these programs typically focus on helping children with ADHD, or similar attention-focusing issues, through intensive therapy that can help the child's overall behaviors and emotional development, and may also address learning problems. Led by professional therapists and psychological or developmental paraprofessionals, these camps use a combination of therapeutic techniques and recreational activities to modify behavior and provide the child with the skills for success when it comes to integrating back into a mainstream school environment. For example, a summer treatment program camp may focus on improving attention or completing tasks to help the child to stay on track academically when the school year starts.

Life Skills

Children with behavioral issues can learn valuable life skills through a summer camp program. Camps may focus on day-to-day skills such as having the campers make their beds and keep their cabins -- or tents -- neat and tidy every day, or they may center on more challenging areas. For example, a behavioral camp for teens may take an adventure or outdoors skills approach, helping kids to achieve goals, work as a team or master tasks that they once thought were insurmountable, such as making it through white water river rapids or getting through a rope or obstacle course as a team. This can help the behaviorally challenged child to develop a sense of self-confidence, learn how to conquer fears or master new skills.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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