By Jack Schott
I don’t like punishment. I never liked taking away flashlight time, or putting kids in time out. Punishment isn’t a long term deterrent of behavior and it gives kids the wrong message, but what other options do we have? Sometimes kids are mean, unsafe, or damage property.
Our staff, especially our young staff, often are scared and in an effort to keep the peace become overly authoritarian. Or because they don’t know what to do give up and don’t engage at all. We try to give our staff a simple framework to start and the leeway to be creative when this isn’t working.
The goal of the WISE A, goofy names tend to stick, conflict system is to heal harm, mitigate future harm, and build community. Before any conversation with or among kids we start by setting the goal from the start. It puts campers and staff on the same page, working for the same goal.
What is the behavior?
Am I concerned because campers are swearing? Are they hitting each other? What is the specific behavior that I am concerned about?
What is the impact of the behavior?
This is where we want to push our staff to think critically and challenge their own assumptions. If campers are teasing each other what are we worried about? If they are swearing why do we care? If they are refusing to eat what could happen?
What might be the source of this behavior?
Is this happening because they are hungry? Are they lonely and looking for connection? Do they not feel autonomous? Do they not trust us? Are they not confident because they are in a new space?
Most kids don’t come to camp with the intention of annoying staff or hurting other campers. We train our staff to look at challenging behavior as a reflection of unmet needs. This is something most camp directors get intuitively, but we find making it explicit for staff to be extremely fruitful.
What changes can we all explore?
This is the hardest part. It mean putting aside ego and being willing to earnestly brainstorm together. What can the staff member do differently, maybe what can the camp change, and then what are we asking for from the camper? If we can get to a point where campers actually trust us, they typically can articulate what they need, but that trust is hard to earn.
What agreements can we make?
If we can get to this point life is easy. We have figured out what happened, what the impact is, why it might be happening, the changes we are hoping for, and the last step is to make some tangible agreements. What can we all specifically do to make this happen?
The key to real conflict resolution is to remove blame, shame, and judgment and instead focus on connection, honesty, and candor. Kids are far more perceptive and capable than we give them credit for. When they are given a chance can blow us away with their ability to problem solve together. For a more radical approach where we try to remove rules and instead live in a community of agreements and conflicts as opposed to authority and rule breakers you can check out this article on our restorative conflict system.
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