#KidDay: An invitation to connection

Every third Thursday in March, Camp Fire celebrates Absolutely Incredible Kid Day®, a holiday dedicated to encouraging the amazing young people in our lives. Since we founded it in 1997*, millions of people have marked #KidDay with messages to their favorite younger folks, telling them why they matter.  

It’s our annual invitation to intentional connection. So we’ve been thinking about how we can align our #KidDay efforts with what children and teens need from us now. Our National Youth Advisory Cabinet has been sharing what kinds of messages mean the most to them.   

We were also inspired by Stephanie Malia Krauss’s recent presentation at our National Leadership Conference. Her book Whole Child, Whole Life had so much applicable connection wisdom, we wanted to ask how to apply it to #KidDay encouragement this year.  

Stephanie’s own growing-up challenges made her curious about what it takes for kids to thrive. It’s a question she has explored throughout her professional life as an educator, coach, social worker, consultant, and author.  

“I dropped out of school soon after the eighth grade, but ended up in college at 16,” Stephanie said. “And I would wonder what I had that made me ready because I didn’t have an excellent childhood, excellent standardized test scores, or any of the typical success measures.”  

Stephanie Malia Krauss, Whole Child, Whole Life

What she did have was what researcher Jonathan Zaff called “a web of support,” including a middle school counselor who continued supporting her after she dropped out and consistent, practical care from coaches, friends’ parents, and bosses. Stephanie’s work now bridges that kind of frontline, community-led support with addressing the systemic barriers that keep kids from the futures they want. And connection is at the heart of it all.  

“What we know from the research is that being known and understood is one of the most tender and transformative experiences we can have,” said Stephanie. “And that magic connection of relationship ends up helping both the kid and the grown-up at the same time.” 

Here are five opportunities for deeper connection Stephanie suggested for #KidDay:  

1. Be curious about the differences in your growing-up experiences 

“The lived experience of today’s kids is significantly different from our own,” Stephanie said. “We know from the science that we’re wired and rewired based on our environments and experiences.” 

To create richer connections with young people, adults can check ourselves for assumptions we might be making and get curious about kids’ realities.  

Stephanie shared that her sons (ages 13 and almost 11) have been able to experience a “range of wonders,” including travel, an “eclectic” family, and chances to explore their passions, including athletics, art, and Lego. They also endured a pandemic, complex health issues and witnessed their godbrother survive and recover from a brutal school shooting. Their worries aren’t the same ones Stephanie had as a child.  

by climbing a tree

“It’s important for us to honor and recognize the reality of what kids have lived through and the strength and struggle that brings,” said Stephanie. “There’s something deeply profound in honoring their emerging, evolving stories.” 

Try it: This #KidDay, ask a young person what they love the most about being young right now. Then ask them what worries them.  

2. Listen first 

“Conversations about kids need to start with kids,” said Stephanie, whose most recent book opens with a preface written by her son.  

Stephanie described a recent listening and learning session she facilitated for a high school in Hawaii. Caregivers, teachers, coaches and counselors were invited to sit on the periphery of the circle while students were in the middle with Stephanie, sharing their thoughts on mental health, relationships and their hopes for the future. 

“The job of the grown-ups was to listen,” said Stephanie. “Those kinds of practices with groups and individuals can be really powerful, so long as trust is present and safety is held at the center.”   

two kids at afterschool program smiling at the camera together

Whether you’re holding a formal or informal listening session of your own, centering the voices of young people is a powerful statement of support. You can encourage them without saying a single word. 

Try it: Leading up to #KidDay, ask a young person how they want to be encouraged. Then follow their direction!  

3. Go beyond transactional to transformational 

Stephanie outlined five pieces to getting to know a whole child. The first three are the baseline need-to-knows for adults who are working with or caring for a young person:  

  • Demographics and determinants: What risks and opportunities do young people experience based on what they look like and where they live? 
  • Age and stage: What does the child need developmentally right now? 
  • Brain and body: How does the child’s health affect their life? 

“I could know all that information, but still not create the conditions where a child feels cared for,” said Stephanie.  

She described the first three categories as transactional — things an adult needs to know to do the basics of their youth-related job, whether that’s teaching, providing services, mentoring or caregiving. But the last two categories are the ones that can transform information into true relationship:  

  • People and places: Who are the people in the child’s life? Where do they spend time together? What is the child-like with those people and in those places? 
  • Strengths and struggles: What makes the child come alive and what shuts them down?  
the girls at camp holding and petting a cat

“If we can earnestly and honestly pursue those pieces, that’s when connection comes,” said Stephanie.  

Try it: Ask a young person where their favorite place is or who their favorite people are. Can you help arrange a #KidDay gathering or outing to celebrate those people or places? 

4. Recognize you’re part of a relationship web 

Stephanie is a fan of psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, who helped develop the Head Start program. She paraphrased one of his main tenets: Every kid needs one adult who thinks they are the greatest of all time. But they also need a whole network of people who are showing up and offering everyday support.  

You don’t need to be every kid’s Biggest Fan, but you can be a consistent source of positivity for a wide range of young people in your life. There will always be kids you don’t gel with. Stephanie said that’s ok: You can treat all kids with care and help connect them to adults they may relate to better. 

“We don’t have to be all things to all kids, all the time,” said Stephanie. “But we can strive to create the conditions that are optimal for whatever relationship needs to emerge.”  

group of girls smiling and laughing together in front of the camera

Try it: Do you know a young person who needs a mentor…who isn’t you? Use #KidDay as an excuse to make an introduction!  

5. Value the mundane moments 

Stephanie reminds adults that they often don’t know the impact they are having. For Whole Child, Whole Life, she interviewed David Shapiro, former CEO of MENTOR, about what he learned during his time there.  

“One of the things he said was never underestimate the power of a mundane moment,” remembered Stephanie. “What might be boring for you, may not be for the kid in your care. And that’s not for you to decide.” 

Stephanie encourages adults and kids to find ways to just be humans together, whenever you can. 

Boy holding ice cream and smiling big, holding up a peace sign with their hand

“The quality of connection is far more important than the quantity of time,” Stephanie said. “Our life is a string of moments and experiences. Do not undervalue the power of those moments, even if they’re periodic.” 

Try it: The next time you’re doing chores, driving between activities, or having another mundane moment with a kid in your life, let them know you like doing the everyday stuff with them and why.  

LEARN MORE about how you can participate in #KidDay2024! 

*#KidDay coincides with Camp Fire’s birthday – this year we turn 114 years old! 

March 1, 2024

Related Posts