This article appears in Summer Camp magazine 2018.
Making friends is easy for some people and harder for others, but at summer camp making connections is one of the main goals. The kids are all attending camp together, usually away from their circle of friends. The adults are trying to create a sense of belonging and connectedness.
“Friendship is a two-way street,” said Jason Sebell, a director at Camps Kenwood and Evergreen in Wilmot, New Hampshire. You need to signal to others that you are open to friendship, he said.
Approaching a potential friend and saying “Can we be friends?” is awkward. Instead, make yourself look appealing as a friend.
“The easiest way to make a friend is to do something fun” like playing a game, Sebell said.
Ever heard of roof ball? All you need is a tennis ball and a building. Throw the ball at the roof, then catch it.
“You can play it alone. You can invite someone watching to join in,” Sebell said.
If it’s a more organized game like basketball, wait for a break and then ask to join in, said Fred Frankel, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at University of California Los Angeles and former director of the UCLA’s Children’s Friendship Programs.
The main key to building a friendship is to strike up a commonality, Frankel said. Make it easier for others to see what your interests are. If you’re into music, wear a T-shirt broadcasting your favorite band’s name. A shirt with a funny take on a math equation or the periodic table shows that you think learning is cool.
Most people think they are approachable, but not everyone is always correct, Sebell said. Parents can help. Send your child to camp with something small that they can share with others such as a deck of cards or a small Lego set, he said.
Encourage your child to have empathy, Sebell said. Initial attempts at friendship may falter a bit, but kids who are polite, caring and respectful will be more successful than those who aren’t. A smile goes a long way.
“Most people go to camp to make friends. If a conversation is awkward, give it a minute. This could be a friend. So much of camp is what you put into it,” Sebell said.
Be open to new friends
“Campers should be prepared to come to camp open-minded and ready to participate and try new things. They should be willing to put themselves out there, talk to new people and ask the adults if they need help,” said Louis Lasko, assistant camp director at Camp Laurelwood, a Jewish overnight camp in Madison, Connecticut. “It is important that parents talk about making friends so their kids are prepared for a new social experience. New campers need to know that making friends may be challenging at first, but if they put in the effort they can make lifelong friends.”
Great summer experiences start before kids even arrive at camp. Some camps ask families to fill out a dossier of questions about their camper indicating their interests and characteristics. If the camp offers a get-together event, attend so that your child can meet potential friends, Sebell said.