This is a real interview with a parent who has enrolled their son in Camp Baker for 3 years now and is reflecting on the changes that Camp Baker has helped to create in their lives.
Can you briefly describe what life was like for your family before your son was attended Camp Baker?
Before attending Camp Baker, my son had a lot of behavioral issues at school, he was disruptive to the other kids, and most of the time he was not able to participate positively. At home, compliance and tantrums were a huge problem, to the extent that his aggressive behaviors were so dangerous for others and destructive to property, that I had to restrain him on a regular basis. When he was younger, he used to punch me in the face when he was having one of his tantrums. He would escalate to a degree that was extremely challenging to deal with. His behaviors have drastically changed since attending Camp Baker, and since I have participated in learning the skills to best support him.
What made you want to contact The Baker Center?
I first heard about Camp Baker through the behavioral therapist at his school. As an only parent, finding support systems that worked for him had been extremely challenging. Previously, babysitters had quit, teachers were unable to support him, and I knew that he would not be successful in any typical camp setting.
When the recommendation for Camp Baker was given, it felt like a good fit because it was a summer camp specifically designed for kids with ADHD and behavioral difficulties. The idea that the program is structured with these kids’ specific needs and challenges in mind made me believe that he could find success there.
How was your experience with The Baker Center different than previous treatment experiences?
I had started seeking support for my son when he was three years old, bringing him to a couple of different therapists over the years. Going to these therapy sessions were okay, but they didn’t really seem to be super effective since I wasn’t also receiving strategies for how to support him. He started at Camp Baker in 2019, and attended in 2021, 2022 and 2023, and our experience there stands out for a few reasons.
During Camp Baker, there are in-person parent nights built in. As a mom who has been struggling with my child’s challenges for so long, it was empowering to hear other parents talking about their own kids and to know that there are other parents going through the same things. These parent nights provided community in knowing that we were all addressing these challenges together, and that the professionals at Camp Baker know how to help parents in a way that will work for the child. Instead of taking a kid to a therapist and dropping them off to be “fixed,” we were in it together, learning skills for how to support our kids.
The messaging Camp Baker staff provided helped us to reframe the way we thought about our kids. Instead of our kids being “bad” or a “problem” to be fixed, they were kids who just needed to be supported in a different way. The change in mindset helped the future look brighter for my son, instead of focusing on the bad things that could happen to him if his behavior did not improve, which was really scary.
What was the Camp Baker experience like for your son?
He has enjoyed Camp Baker over the years! The first-time that kids go to Camp Baker, there is a recognition that Camp Baker is different from any other program they’ve experienced. There are high expectations set at camp, where kids have to follow the rules in order to benefit from the “points system” and get rewards. In the beginning, he was definitely thinking, “What is this?,” but over time he grew to like the structure of Camp Baker. He was always ready to go to Camp in the morning, he made some great friends, and had a lot of fun!
Are there skills that he learned at Camp Baker that you still see him using throughout daily life?
For him, and I’m sure for other kids, learning how to label what emotions they are experiencing at any given time is so impactful. Having a strategy to use to move beyond moments of extreme emotion or frustration is great. For example, he learned how to use the skill of active ignoring when kids around him engage in behaviors that annoy him or disrupt his activities. In the past, he might have gotten dysregulated by reacting to another kid’s misbehavior, but now he can calmly move through that moment and use this skill to stay regulated.
He has even started to use the language that they use at Camp Baker to talk about his own behavior and feelings. Camp Baker does a nice job of labeling behaviors clearly to help set solid expectations and help kids to understand that they can control their own destiny and the consequences that come with their choices, whether positive or negative. For example, he will talk about “non-compliance” in the home or at Camp, and fully understands that it comes with a consequence. Because of this, he can make informed choices about how to behave.
He has also learned how to talk about his emotions clearly, which has been an extremely useful tool. For example, at school the other day, he asked to go home early from homework help because he was having an “emotional day.” He was able to express his difficulties to his teacher, and advocate for his needs, without becoming dysregulated.
Another moment I saw him use this skill was recently, when a kid in his class took a video of him without his permission. Instead of getting aggressive and confronting the other kid, he went to talk to a teacher about it calmly to solve the problem.
He also advocated for his needs in a really big way at the beginning of the school year. He took the initiative to set up a meeting with his teachers to talk about when it is or is not appropriate to take breaks for himself throughout the school day. In years past, this sort of calm and even approach would not have been possible, and it was really helpful for him to understand when taking breaks would be okay throughout the school day.
What about skills that you have learned that you use to support him, and the skills the counselors used at Camp?
The trained counselors at Camp Baker were very intentional about noticing the good things that kids did throughout the day, giving them probably around 5 times the praise that they have received anywhere else.
Through parent nights, I also learned this skill of positive attention and praise, and it is effective to this day. I try to be intentional about praising even the small things at home. For example, the other day I praised him, “Thank you for coming up the stairs the first time I asked!.” and he still loves it. Learning how to focus on the positive helped me to change the narrative that he was a “bad kid.”
Throughout his time at Camp, he has never had a bad report come home. Of course, there were days that he faced challenges, but he never had a “bad day.” This year, he talked about going back to Camp months in advance!
From a parenting perspective, you really learn when you’re doing something that’s not helpful for your kid. Raising your voice, rushing them, being negative, and criticizing don’t really encourage good behavior. Camp Baker helped me, and so many other parents, identify what works and what doesn’t.
What advice do you have for other parents and families out there who are struggling with the same things that you and your son did before Camp Baker?
Something that I often say is that you can’t think about how you’re going to change your child. Instead, you have to think about how you’re going to change how you react to your child’s behavior. You are not going to change your kid, you have to change how you interact with them. The ways that Camp Baker teaches you how to do this are positive, and really do make a difference in your kid’s behavior.
For my son and myself, learning skills at Camp Baker was way more impactful than my son seeing a counselor at school. Meeting once a week was not enough to get in enough learning and practice to truly make a difference.
Camp Baker is unique because is an intensive amount of time. Because it is so concentrated, it is almost like it is equivalent to 4 years of therapy. 6 weeks may not sound like a long time, but 6 weeks every day with parents and kids learning the skills results in a huge change.
What have you noticed after attending Camp Baker for a few years?
One thing I will say is that we go through stages. He’s older now, so some of the skills, like time-out, he resists more than he used to. Overall, the need for and the use of skills will wax and wane over the years. We go through stages where you’re using the skills and they’re working, then you may not have to use them as much because everything is going well. When you eventually do have to use them again, it can be challenging to get back into the swing of things. Even so, he reacts well to them and is still able to calm down much faster now than he ever was before.
This past year, and during the current school year so far, I haven’t received any notice about behavioral difficulties. Not once have I gotten a call to come and pick him up from school because of his behavior. This is a huge change, and a far cry from when he was really struggling and school was not an environment where he could succeed.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t have challenges. He still is experiencing some bullying and difficult situations with peers at school, but now he knows how to handle it. Instead of engaging and getting worked up, he can walk away calmly, be kind in the face of adversity, and talk to teachers when things are hard for him. He has learned to exhibit a lot of self-control.
What would you say to parents who are considering attending Camp Baker or a similar Summer Treatment Program?
I would say that it’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Camp Baker is a lot of work, especially at the beginning. But, if you attend the parent nights, use the skills, and especially start to do one-on-one time with your kid to create a positive connection, it will work. If you want things to get better, you have to do it.
One of the best parts about Camp Baker is the parent nights. Not only do they take place during Camp, but also throughout the school year. Having a supportive space where staff can provide reminders and guidance on how to use the skills effectively is helpful for staying consistent even beyond Camp.
How would you describe your experience with the Staff at Camp Baker?
It probably takes parents time to trust the process and the people, but I would encourage people to believe in the fact that these are trained professionals running a behavioral therapy program. The staff at Camp Baker have done this before, and it works.
Dr. Stephani Synn, Dr. Sarah Tannenbaum, and the others are extremely knowledgeable and extremely patient. When parents have questions, their patience, consistency, and attention to each parent is admirable. After a few years of attending parent nights, I can attest to how consistent and knowledgeable they are.
Trust the process, it is a very professional program with people who really understand ADHD. The sooner you can embrace it, the sooner you can have a better relationship with your child and help them be successful.
I once did a call with a parent who was thinking about Camp Baker for their kid, and I received a surprising question: “Is Camp Baker safe?” I was taken aback, since I couldn't imagine a safer environment for a kid with ADHD and behavioral problems. I responded that it is more than safe, and these kids are in the best possible hands that they could be in.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your experience, or additional advice you have for parents like yourself?
My main piece of advice is that if you’re having trouble, seek out help. Throughout our time with The Baker Center, we have also sought out additional support from the Center for Effective Therapy, and from Dr. Stephani Synn directly.
We did telehealth treatment sessions in 2020, since my brother was living with me and my son, and I thought it would be helpful for him to learn some of the skills too. We did some sessions to learn and practice the skills together and to problem solve around specific challenges we were having at the time.
Additionally, when my son finished the 5th grade, the transition from a COVID year to a non-COVID year was awful. The school did not execute his IEP, and he ended up getting suspended because of the challenges he was having. It felt like his progress was moving backwards. To help address the problem, I had Dr. Stephani Synn join me on a call with the school. As a single parent, her support as a professional who knows my son well was incredibly helpful. She was able to give some advice to the school on skills that we know work well for him, and strategies that have been effective in the past at improving his behavior.
This kind of continued support from Camp Baker and The Baker Center staff was impactful long-term.