Camp Counsellor Lessons I Learned from Parenting This Week.

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December appreciation for how hard it can be to be a Summer Camp Counsellor in July

In the last week, I have been ignored, unreasonably yelled at, contradicted, made to beg, punched several times, exposed to bodily fluids, been the source of simultaneous disdain &reverence, pulled from a deep sleep because someone’s cup was “only mostly full,” and generally ordered around by the entitled little people that live in my house.

So, what have I learned from them…

Kids just don’t listen most the time.

This is the top reason why we spend so much time on ideas like clear expectations and active listening in training. Kids just don’t listen! Take an extra 15mins some time in the next week and practice those skills. It’s actually really hard (especially if your talking to kids). Then make a special point of adding your thoughts, notes, and observations on what worked and what didn’t to your training notes for next summer.

Kids are unreasonable by their nature.

My youngest son had a total, full body, meltdown the other day because he was unsatisfied with my response about why a light bulb had burned out.  I, of course, was trying to explain exactly why a light bulb burns out or “breaks” and then bring the (ridiculous and mind numbing) conversation to an end. He, of course, just wanted to talk and engage with me. Teach and train your staff to engage, be interested, and take the campers lead in conversations. Teach them to look for what kids really want. At the end of the day, having a sound, logical, and factually correct argument or retort to a camper’s misbehavior or inappropriate language only means that you are older, it doesn’t mean you won. Winning means that we are able to help a camper connect their behavior with what they want, and hopefully teach them better ways to get it.

Saying the opposite than the adult is fun.

This one is sort of related to the last one. Being contradictory is kind of fun when you’re a kid. You are messing around with the unwritten rules of power in a safe way. It kind of looks like they are just being jerks, but what they are really doing is testing and playing with boundaries that actually do have some give to them. Train your staff on how to redirect this kind of behavior as well as how to develop a good dose of patience. As a parent, these are the moments that I have to step back and just not take myself so seriously, its hard for me, so we really need to help our young staff with that kind of skill set.  egging, negotiating, bargaining, and bribing is real life. I’m not suggesting that we beg our campers to do anything or bribe them either. I’m basically saying that the idea that “adults are in control” is a myth. We have some control, we set up the boundaries, and for the most part, the rules of the game, but kids are free agents to act however they choose inside of that game.

This summer, add compromise and consensus building into the training you do around camper behavior management. Our young staff have to get good at negotiating in order to meet the needs of everyone.

Kids have a hard time controlling their bodies.

My kids are young, and my boys (ages 2 & 3 ½) are pretty typical boys in that they do a lot of wrestling, tackling, and general rough play. They can often be seen running through the living room flinging their bodies around without a care, even if the flinging is all over me. The thing I have noticed is that they seem out of control and precise and calculated all at the same time. It seems like they are trying to be out of control.

Which doesn’t make any sense. I have come to understand that it is more that they are learning to control themselves. I think the same things is true for camp age kids, they just might be farther along in their development. I think it is also true of their emotional and intellectual selves on top of their physical selves. However, we really don’t frame bad behavior like that. Try to shift your staffs’ perspective this summer, so they have the understanding that when the campers are out of control, it is because they are learning how to be in control and how to play around with that in different environments.

It is possible to be a hero and a villain at the same time.

This is one of the hardest things for a young counselor to understand. To often, they air on the side of being a camper’s friend, and we all know the potential pitfalls to that approach. With my kids I have come to realize that I can be their parent, friend, play mate, adversary, and confidant all in the same 5 minutes of play. I have to be comfortable in all these spaces so I can be the best I can be for them. The same is true for your staff. So instead of listing off all the things we shouldn’t be for campers (like their friends or confidant) spend some time developing a training that speaks to how to be ALL of these things.


My kids problems are ridiculous. All three of them can be full face, slobbery, crying in under 5 seconds. Over something as stupid as someone picking up a toy that they were playing with yesterday. It’s easy to shut that down, ignore it, or worse, roll your eyes and have real disdain for their problems. The same is true for camp age kids. What they are going through is very real for them. It doesn’t matter how superfluous their issues seem to you, for them they are real, painful, and important.

Teach your staff this idea. Have them write down something that is important to them, that they are pretty sure is not important to other people. Break them down into pairs and have them share it with each other. You are having them practice empathy, caring, active listening, and most importantly having some perspective on other peoples stuff.

Please and thank you actually does help.

It just does. Your staff are role models for the kids. Take your biggest core values and make sure your staff know exactly how to DO them or SAY them all the time so they are showing kids how to do it. If it matters to you and your organization, it should matter to the staff, and then it WILL matter to the campers.

And finally, if its warm, wet, or sticky and not yours, try not to touch it.

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