Dayton camp teaches grieving kids how to cope

Local children who are grieving can learn how to cope with grief and remember loved ones who have died at a summer camp.

Professional grief counselors and trained volunteers lead activities at the camp held by Camp Pathways, run by Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, June 25.

There are four main things that they teach the kids about grief, which are the similar skills taught to grieving adults, said Lisa Balster, director of patient and family support services at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton.

“No. 1: all of your feelings really are OK. It’s all about letting them out in appropriate ways and just letting yourself be where you are,” Balster said. Camp leaders teach that as long as you aren’t hurting yourself or other people, that your feelings are just fine.

Balster said kids often have better instincts than adults sometimes on when to step back, take a break, to distance from anger or whatever they are feeling and have fun.

Secondly, Balster said they also help kids identify several people who can support them. Sometimes family might be grieving too, so a teacher or someone at a club or group they belong to might be those support people.

Another thing they teach is how to have a plan for a bad day. People have highs and lows and don’t always see a bad day coming.

“Grief can tend to blindside people in that way,” she said.

By anticipating that there will be bad days, children can plan ahead on taking a walk or calling someone for help when a bad day comes along.

Lastly, the camp teaches kids about remembering their loved one and finding a way now to remember that relationship. Sometimes when people are afraid of grief and pain, they instead try to forget.

This year for COVID-19, the camp has been compressed to one daytime event, but when it was longer and overnight they would have a memorial service at the end of the week and have adults also attend.

At that point, the kids are often teaching the adults at the service.

“They’re like ‘we’re going to go up and put the stone and say the person’s name. And it’s OK to cry, and it’s OK to have your feelings,” Balster said.

The kids take the skills they learned and often can help the adults in their life learn when they see how the children have learned to deal with grief.

There are many typical camp activities like swimming and a rope course.

One of the benefits the campers receive is an opportunity to be with other children who have also experienced the death of a loved one. The camp dates back to the early 1990s and there are people helping at the camp who originally attended the grief camp as small children.

“We’ve got a group of three brothers that lost their mom when they were like six, eight and ten. They come out there every summer and they help us and it’s just amazing,” Balster said.

How to attend

Space is widely available to children ages 7-10. There also are a few spots remaining for ages 11-12 and teen boys. Registration is required. Priority will be given to children who are actively grieving and who have not attended camp in the past.

Camp Pathways will be held June 25 at Camp Joy Outdoor Education Center, 10117 Old 3 C Highway, Clarksville. Camp is free and transportation is provided from Ohio’s Hospice Dayton campus.

Register online at or call 937-258-4 Dayton kids entered the pandemic coming od year

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