Child Mind Institute Summer Program Q&A

The Child Mind Institute Summer Program is a three-week summer treatment camp for children ages five through nine who have ADHD or who need help with behavioral, learning and social issues. Children benefit from a high level of support that enables them to participate in sports and other structured group activities that have been challenging for them. Program directors Mandi Silverman, PsyD, MBA, and Michelle Kaplan, LCSW, explain the program in more detail here.

Who is right for the Summer Program?

The program is for kids who have struggled to behave appropriately and get along with other children in structured environments, from school to sports and other afterschool activities. The program gives them three weeks of full-time practice doing those things with kids their own age, with someone right by their side to support them.

How does it work?

The Summer Program is different from typical treatments. Rather than teaching kids a skill and then telling them to practice later — on a play date or in class or at recess — we’re able to coach them live through real life experiences and interactions with other kids.

Think of it as a human video game — it works because kids get immediate rewards for the behaviors, however small, that we want to see. You follow directions, you earn a point. You’re standing in line patiently, you earn five more points. You’re being a good role model, you just got two more points.

There is a high frequency of feedback, so that in everything they’re doing they’re getting positive feedback or information on how to correct what’s happening. Counselors working with the kids are trained to respond in a way that we know will increase behaviors that we want to see and reduce the behaviors that are interfering with their functioning.

How is the program structured?

It will mimic a school day, with some academic time to prevent lag over the summer, but with more emphasis on sports and other recreational and social activities.

We build in extra support to help kids manage their behavior during transitions, lunchtime, recess — the less structured times during the school day that are the hardest for a lot of these kids.

How does that support work?

Before these challenging periods, we review the positive behavior expectations, how kids can earn points towards a reward, how they can work towards a privilege, what we are looking to see so that they get this fun thing. We do a lot of what we call “catching kids doing the right things” to give them positive attention, so that other kids want to do that thing too, get that positive attention and that reward, too.

We also emphasize to kids who have behavioral difficulties that they can do this, they are able to succeed. We want them to see how it feels to get positive feedback when you’re actually caught doing something good.

A lot of kids, by the time they come to us, feel very negative about school and camp. They’ve been labeled the bad kid, their parents are getting negative reports, and that has become their identity in the classroom or at camp. This is a chance for them to have a positive experience instead. It’s our goal to highlight the small positive moments and use them to build up their self-esteem

What about kids who’ve been kicked out of summer camps?

Some kids have been unsuccessful at other camps and they have been kicked out, because the folks in mainstream camps have very little training with regards to behavior management. They don’t want to deal with it.

We do want to deal with it.  We know that kids’ behavior can improve a lot when we help kids work through whatever is getting in their way.

Why are sports important?

A lot of kids with ADHD and other behavior difficulties struggle with being in a structured sport — they can’t handle so many rules and they get over-stimulated. That’s hard on them because sports are not only fun but socially important, a place where many kids form friendships. We want to help them be successful not just in school but in other structured activities.

Parents also know it’s important for their kids to be physically active — to lure them away from video games, to exercise and maybe spend some energy in a healthy way.  Finally, research tells us that children who have behavioral issues have overall better social outcomes after participating in a group activity like sports.

What is the parent component?

We include weekly parent training sessions to complement the work kids are doing. Research shows that kids are more able to apply new skills to real-life situations when their parents are partners in the program. Whatever the kids are working on with us, the parents should learn how to reinforce those skills when they have a game or are playing with their siblings or cousins.

We’re also inviting any other caregivers or educators who are part of the child’s life to participate in the parent training, because we know that the more people in a child’s environment that we can train in these skills the better the child will do.

Why do this in the summer?

Some families who would like to participate in social skills groups or parent training just can’t fit it into their schedule during the school year. The summer program offers an opportunity for a more intensive level of skills training where you can dedicate those three weeks just for this.