I’ve often thought it would be great if all parents could go through the kind of training and orientation we provide our counselors before they start working with kids during the summer. I’ve heard many times from past counselors that they learned a lot of their parenting techniques from working at camp!
Often, parents and teachers spend a lot of time focused on what they don’t want their children to be doing, instead of on what they do want them to be doing. At camp, we train our counselors in positive behavior management techniques. Here are three of the concepts we teach our counselors:
Instead of looking for what a camper is doing incorrectly, we focus immediately on what they are doing well. When kids realize that we will notice the good stuff they do, they are encouraged to do more of the desired, good behaviors. A side benefit is that other campers see that we notice good behavior and are encouraged to do the same, so that they, too, will get positive attention. If most of the cabin group is doing something incorrectly, we compliment and point out the kids who are doing what we like rather than nagging the rest of them. So, instead of “Stop messing around and get your shoes on for breakfast,” we say, “Hey, great job getting your shoes on the first time I asked, Joe and Sam.” Everyone else hears our compliment and are encouraged to get moving (and perhaps listen the first time we ask next time)!
At home, my favorite example of this is “Great job having your napkin in your lap, Owen.” By complimenting one child, the rest are immediately reminded to do what you complimented on.
Refrain from using “Don’t” and “No”
In phrasing rules and instructions at GAC, we use positive wording whenever possible. When adults use “don’t” or “no,” children often only hear the only part of the sentence that comes after the “don’t” or “no.” It’s much more effective to let campers know what we DO want them doing. On a ski boat, our instructors will say, “Keep your hands inside the boat,” instead of “Don’t put your hands outside the boat.” On a rocky trail where it’s safer to walk, instead of “Don’t run!,” we say, “Walk, please!”
At home, this can be things like, “Keep your hands and feet to yourself,” when kids are poking or hitting each other. Or, “Time to clean up now,” instead of “No more playing.”
The 80-20 Rule
When discussing an inappropriate or negative behavior with a camper, we train our counselors in the “80-20” rule. Our counselors know that in a conversation with a camper about a behavioral issue, it’s best to do only 20% of the talking. The camper, in turn, does 80% of the talking while the counselor listens. We want campers to figure out the impact their behavior had on others and determine their own plan for improvement. So, we ask open-ended questions, such as:
“How would you feel if someone called you that name?”
“What can you do differently next time when you’re angry?”
When the camper thinks through and comes up with their own improvement plan, they have ownership in it and are much more likely to be successful. Plus, the counselor can then compliment them on their great idea for improvement and the conversation can have a positive tone and focus.
These are just a few of the many techniques we train our counselors to utilize at camp. I think they can be extremely helpful for parents to use at home, too!