Military Kids Cope With Change Through Symbolism


CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Eight children and a counselor sat on a blue, circular picnic-table cloth and listened to a 5-year-old boy speak about the things that make him sad. The boy said he doesn’t like seeing his mother cry when his father leaves for a long time.   More than 100 children shared experiences with one another at Stuart Mesa Elementary School during the second Camp Courage Optimism Patience Encouragement held here Feb. 9.   The day camp taught military children, ages 5 to 18, to be courageous, optimistic, patient, and encouraging to cope with a parent's deployment or injury.   Stuart Mesa Elementary school teachers and local students were trained by the camp’s licensed trainers to counsel the children on coping with these life events.   The camp attendees were divided into age-specific groups. They all engaged in the same type of demonstrations, but the specific groups allowed for age-appropriate conversation.  

The camp kicked off with group discussions about courage.   Having courage to accept changes, and the emotions that come with them, was demonstrated using a bottles of water and colored food dye.   The counselors added red dye to the clear water bottles as the children discussed things that made them angry. Blue dye was added for the things that made the children sad, and green for all of their worries.

After identifying the negative emotions the children felt about the deployments or injuries, the counselor showed the group that the water had turned black. Coping skills, represented by bleach, were then added to the bottle. The group discussed healthy ways to deal with their emotions, such as allowing jealousy to become a motivator to improve upon yourself, and the bleach slowly changed the water from black back to clear. This color change demonstration symbolized the diminishing effects on stress by using coping skills. 

The counselors used similar activities to open the discussions on optimism, patience and encouragement.   To initiate the discussion on optimism, the counselors told the children to think of something they do not like. The counselors passed out pink and camouflage plastic sun glasses, and asked the children if they could see how that negative thing could be positive.

A girl in the teen group said, “I hate homework.” She then put on the glasses and after a moment of contemplation said, “Homework will help me get into collage though.”   Counselors smashed clay planting pots and gave a piece to each of the children during their demonstration of patience. The children wrote with colored markers good things about their families on the outside and their concerns on the inside of their piece. The counselors hot-glued the pieces back together while explaining that it takes time for a family to overcome challenges.   During the last discussion of the day the children learned about the power of words while talking about encouraging themselves and others to get through challenging events.  The children received bracelets then wrote phrases on them such as “I am smart” and “I am helpful around the house.”

Brig. Gen. Vincent A. Coglianese, base commanding general and regional author for five military installations in the Southwestern United States, toured the camp and visited each of the classrooms to talk to the children.

Ethan, a 5-year-old camp attendee, drew a picture of himself and Coglianese and incorporated it into one of his crafts, a snowglobe.   “This is you, and this is me,” Ethan said, as Coglianese pulled him into his lap. “I’m going to be a Marine too.”   The day’s events ended with a ceremony where Reep and Sarah Bravo, a licensed professional counselor supervisor and co-founder of Camp C.O.P.E., presented each of the children with Camp C.O.P.E. challenge coins and bracelet.

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