FAIRMONT — For many kids, by the time they must learn coping skills, it’s already too late, experts say.
WVU Medicine and the United Summit Center are holding a daily camp where kids and young teens can learn coping and communication skills, along with resiliency and calming techniques.
On Wednesday, at the pavilion in Windmill Park, a group of kids were gathered around picnic tables filling out a page titled “Kidbook” in which they gave information such as their names and ages, and drew pictures of hobbies they enjoy, to teach them self-awareness.
“The goal in this camp is to teach resiliency,” said Robin Hayes, a mental health specialist with the United Summit Center. “We teach coping skills, self-awareness, self-esteem. Each day is a different topic to help the kids feel better about themselves.”
The camp started on Monday and is running every day until Friday, with two groups each day — from 9 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 4 p.m.
Parents are invited to drop off their children or young teens for free activities, food and drinks. Thursday and Friday are still open for parents to bring their kids, with no registration required.
“I think mental health is important; there’s such a stigma around it,” Hayes said. “People think it’s not as important as physical health, but it is. It affects your physical health in a lot of ways.”
Many children and their parents don’t learn how to deal with conflicts or anger in a healthy way, Hayes said. The United Summit Center helps through counseling sessions.
While the Summit Center does work with adults, getting these skills in the minds of children as ways of dealing with stress and anger is important to the child’s development, she said.
“It’s important to have these things drilled into [kids] so they grow up with it,” Hayes said. “That way, it’s not a surprise to them when they get older and then they get hit with mental struggles. It’s so important they learn at an early age.”
After the kids were done with their “Kidbook” worksheets, they were taken out onto the grass and given bubble wands. The summit staff used blowing bubbles as an exercise in calm breathing techniques.
“I know what it’s like to be blurry in your head a little bit,” said Andre Mardmomen, mental health specialist for the Summit Center. “As kids get older and older, their lives get more and more stressful. If you can learn to have natural instincts on how to cope with those stresses. Long term, it’ll give good results.”
At the start of each session, the kids took turns writing down worries on a paper leaves. They then stuck the leaves to a painted “worry tree” – symbolically leaving those concerns behind.
“We’re teaching kids it’s OK to struggle with mental health, it’s OK to have these things going on,” Hayes said. “We just remind them, ‘You’re not alone in this.’”
Parents interested in having a child participate in the last two days of the camp may contact Robin Hayes via email at email@example.com or by phone at 304-623-5666 ext. 1257, or just show up at Windmill Park at 9 a.m. or 1 p.m.