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Tips for making, keeping friends at summer camp

“Make new friends, but keep the old,” isn’t just a rule for Girl Scouts to follow. The advice extends to kids of all ages, especially with a variety of camps and new friends on the horizon this summer.

Summer camp is a prime opportunity for kids to expand their group outside of the typical classroom environment.

“When students have the opportunity to interact formally through controlled and collaborative interactions in the classroom, there’s benefit to that, but informal connections are also incredibly beneficial for kids,” Jennifer Stanfill, director of Parkway’s Choice Programs, said.

But for some kids, it can be difficult to step outside their comfort zones and master the technique of expanding their circles. Below are tips from local guidance counselors and school staff members that campers of all ages can keep in mind when making new acquaintances this summer:

Keep it natural

It can be intimidating to take that first step into a camp environment and getting up the nerve to meet new people. But the best advice of to be yourself and don’t try to “put up a front.” Also, it’s helpful if mom and dad don’t try to help.

“Most socialization should happen naturally and, as kids get older, it should be less and less coached and forced and arranged,” Todd Minichiello, Rockwood’s coordinator of prevention and guidance services, said.

Keep it real

While kids range from extroverted to introverted, everyone is in the same boat on the first day of a new experience.

“It’s normal to have some anxiety when making friends and going to a new place and meeting new people,” Minichiello said. “That stress is universal, which means that there are a lot of kids that think they’re the only shy one. In reality, everyone that gets off that bus on the first day is a little shy.”

According to Stanfill, the presence of a theme at camp can inspire some campers to make friends simply by bonding over a similar interest. However, experiencing a diverse camping environment also provides tangible benefits and plenty of opportunities to socialize.

“I think the greatest benefit is that you meet people that are like you and you meet people that aren’t like you,” Stanfill said.

Keep it positive

Summer camp provides a wonderful opportunity for students to navigate new places and meet new people, but it also can be overwhelming for some kids. According to Minichiello, a trick for coping with any anxiousness that might occur is to turn apprehension into positive energy and promote a change in mindset.

“If I know my child is going to be a little shy at camp, instead of saying, ‘Don’t be shy,’ I might say, ‘There’s going to be a lot of shy kids at camp today,’ and ‘Can you be a leader for those kids by introducing yourself and making sure they feel welcome? [Can you let them] know you’re there for them and be a friend?’” Minichiello said.

Keep it social

Gone are the days of letters and long-distance phone calls. Keeping in touch with new friends after camp ends has never been easier, thanks to the prevalence of social media.

According to Parkway North High counselor Erin Schulte, the use of social media can help kids stay in contact with friends from school and camp. The convenience of apps like Facetime and Snapchat might also encourage shyer campers to make connections knowing that future communication with new friends is a feasible option.

“As kids get older and [social media use] becomes appropriate,” Schulte said. “I think social media keeps them in touch with that other person, [it] allows for those communications to stay current.”

Keep it open

Just because you make new friends doesn’t mean your old friends need to be put on a shelf, the important thing is to keep in mind is that within your circle of friends there’s room for many.

“If you’re worried about balance, just let the people in your life know that they are important to you,” Schulte said.

Acknowledging the presence of new friends while remaining open to new friendships will help kids expand their circle of friends without others feeling left out or jealous.

“I think friendships, in general, are just making the people you’re with and the people you’re friends with feel appreciated and important,” Schulte said. “While you’re at camp and you’re making new friends, be with them and enjoy that, but if you miss your friends from home, tell them ‘this would have been so funny if you were there.'”

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