Assertive Relationships with Campers

**Borrowed from BSC Staff handbook**

Counselors must learn to present themselves to campers in a strong and confident manner. It is the right and responsibility of counselors to be “in charge” of “your campers.” In order to be in charge you must have the respect of the campers. You will not earn this respect by screaming, yelling insults, etc. Nor do you earn their respect by letting them do everything they want.

Describe behavior

Avoid making judgments, assumptions, or unclear messages. Don’t tell campers s/he is bad, but let them know when his behavior is inappropriate. Focusing on feelings may be helpful. Usually, it suffices to say, “I know that you wanted the ball, but was there another way to get it without hitting Johnny?” The overall goal is to help the camper learn from the experience, not to belittle, punish, or “pick on.” If a camper is upset, reflect what he is feeling. This shows that you do care about the camper. You could say something like this, “I know that you were really angry at me because you had to sit out of the evening program and you thought that was unfair.”

Let campers know what is expected of them

This should be done from the minute they arrive. Be straightforward in your dealings with campers. Use closed ended choices. Use phases like:

  • I want…
  • Your job is…
  • The rule is…
  • You have a choice, you may… or you can… (consequences)…

Avoid asking questions, such as:

  • How about…
  • Don’t you think…

Do not cut down campers:

  • “Slobs”… (instead use, “girls and boys”)

Watch your body language

It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. 93% of how people respond is accounted for by nonverbal behaviors of the sender. Watch your:

  • Hand gestures
  • Shaking head
  • Eye contact
  • Body contact

Cabin rules

The way you establish rules and consequences in your cabin will determine the kind of summer you and your campers will have. Let the campers know what they can expect. Make your rules and consequences clear and concise. In order to get their campers to follow rules and consequences in the cabin, the counselors must be willing to adhere to the rules and consequences as well. Use advised cabin rules as a guide to establishing rules in the cabin.

Let the campers, during the first night chat, give rules they feel are important. Discuss the rules and why they are important the first night of camp before the campers go to bed.

Create and discuss consequences in the cabin. Follow through on consequences. The minute after you set a rule, the camper will feel obligated to test the limits to see if you will follow through. You must follow through or the rules are useless and your summer will be unpleasant!

Give reasons, not defensively

When campers protest, they should be given a respectful explanation of why the request is being made. “Because I am the counselor” or “Because I said so” is not enough and is usually not acceptable to the camper. Be clear and concise with the camper. Explain your reasoning behind your decision. Camp age children have an over sense of justice and fairness.

Avoid verbal power struggles

Keep repeating what is expected like a “broken record.” Refuse to get into an argument with a camper.

Get camper input

Ask how they feel about cabin rules. Discuss them and change them if warranted. After a rule is broken, ask the camper what you should do about it.

Assertive penalizing – enforcing penalties for misbehavior

Actions do speak louder than words. Do not get upset yourself. We tend to not think clearly when we are upset. You might have to ask the camper to go sit on his bunk or you may have to get away from the camper until you calm down. Think of yourself as a referee in a sports event. Assess predetermined consequences quickly and calmly. You should not:

  • Take away food
  • Take away mail
  • Take away canteen
  • Inflict physical punishment
  • Take away evening programs

You should:

  • Use “time out” technique and take campers our of activity. Time out maximum rule: one minute for every year of the camper or until the camper has calmed down and is under control.
  • Talk out the problem with the camper, “Tell me about what happened.” Remember you want the camper to learn a better way to solve a problem.
  • Take the camper to the Unit Leader
  • Take away cabin privileges (ie flashlight time, talk time during rest period, etc)

Penalties are far more effective and have more impact in an atmosphere of encouragement. Provide daily rewards and incentives for campers (ex: camper of the day, bed making contests, etc).

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! You must have staff collaboration in the cabin. Support your co-counselors. The campers will know if you and your co-counselor get along and communicate. If they see that you do not communicate with each other, they will “play off” each of you.

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