As the summer glow fades and we begin to think about next summer, the talk inevitably turns to how camps will manage camper behavior next summer. The world is certainly changing rapidly with increased access to technology, agonizing social pressures and the race-for-success at school. The one constant is that camp is a place to put all of this aside and enter a world of supervised risk-taking, freedom and self-discovery. While we want to encourage young people to feel “freer” at camp, there is still a need to ensure their safety and positive relationship building by training our staff how to manage behavior.

Here are 5 Best Practices to incorporate as you begin to plan how to approach training your staff on this critically important aspect of camp.

MANAGE, NOT CHANGE

Dr. Matt Pulewitz (http://www.drmattpsych.com/), a clinical psychologist and good friend who works with many camps, consistently delivers the message to staff that they can only aim to manage behavior and NOT change behavior. Our job as youth development professionals is to make sure young people live within the rules we have in place for the length of time we are responsible for them. For example, we can encourage and guide our campers to make their beds every morning even if they don’t do this at home. We can’t expect that when they get home making their beds every day continues (if they do, you’ll have lots of very happy parents).

MISSION

As you begin to discuss the values that are associated with the behavior you hope to see at camp (no bullying, sharing, etiquette in the dining hall, etc.), you must make sure that they match the Mission of your camp. These are not independent and will help you explain your behavior management plan to your parents. If parents understand that your behavior management plan is rooted in your camp philosophy, their level of trust and will only grow.

BEHAVIOR PLANS

I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about behavior plans and how to work these into your Behavior Management plan. I am huge proponent that behavior plans should be reactions to specific camper actions that don’t meet your camp’s philosophy and/or tolerance and NOT threats to the general camp population. These plans should be individualized and parents should be your partners in creating these documents and reinforcing any further consequences.

NATURAL CONSEQUENCES

The biggest mistake frontline staff make when trying to manage groups is giving consequences that don’t help mitigate the behavior. Too often, we hear counselors take away “flashlight time” at night because a camper doesn’t do their job in the bunk during clean-up in the morning. It’s imperative that we teach and continue to reinforce to staff the appropriate way to dole out consequences that are meaningful and timely.

HELICOPTER COUNSELORS

Much like helicopter parents, we often encounter helicopter counselors who feel so much pressure that they don’t allow campers to take the calculated risks we encourage at camp. Staff need to be reminded that it’s ok to let some behavior go as long as it doesn’t jeopardize safety (or go against the mission). Not every “issue” is a big deal and everyone will have a better experience if counselors let campers just be kids.

To learn more about Professor Dave head to his website (www.professordave.camp) or send him an email @ dave@professordave.camp.

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