Archive for Camper Behavior

What Campers Want and Need


This comes both from the group and from the leader.  It is achieved through little things: friendliness, praise, and a moment alone.


Campers miss their familiar routines.  Establishing structure will help campers feel secure (familiarity with campgrounds and procedures.)  Consistency in leading will also contribute to a sense of security, as will the establishment of trust.  Fear of being ridiculed or hurt interferes with a camper’s physical coordination.  Reactions may include: stuttering, retreating into a shell, fighting back, criticizing others, or gossiping.

New Experiences

New and different things are exciting for campers. It is important to remember that campers should be able to understand why something is different.


Campers want to stand out from the crowd.  When a camper is reluctant to participate in an activity, it may mean that they are afraid they “can’t” or “won’t” do well.

The desire for recognition may cause a camper to misbehave, especially if they are not receiving attention any other way.

Twelve Commandments of Discipline

Thou Shalt:

  1. Foresee problem areas and seek to deal with them before conflict develops.
  2. Understand that a positive action elicits desirable behavior sooner than a negative reaction.
  3. Use praise more then blame; encouragement rather than nagging.
  4. Avoid arbitrary rules.
  5. Strive for fairness.
  6. Be consistent but not inflexible.
  7. Avoid ridicule and sarcasm.
  8. Never threaten a child.
  9. Not humiliate a child in front of other peers.
  10. Delay severe punishment until you are calm and controlled.
  11. Listen to explanations before making final conclusions.
  12. Explain your decisions.


The word discipline comes from the Latin word disciple – a pupil, to instruct, educate, train.

True discipline includes nurturance and restriction – two necessary elements of growth.

The child that does not know boundaries for behavior feels insecure.

Punishment is only a temporary deterrent not a permanent solution.

The Threat of Physical Violence

This is (hopefully) a rare occurrence in a camp environment, a situation where a camper is in a position to be a physical threat to her/his counselors. In order to place this in context, I’ll talk about a scenario that I found myself in two summers ago, and explain how I dealt with it.

To use the kayaks in boating sessions, our campers have to complete 25 lengths in our pool, and to help them achieve this, counselors sometimes get in and complete it with them, cheering them on. I was doing just that. I had not swum properly for a while, and so was finding it just as hard going as the campers! When I had finished, I got out of the pool to an ongoing situation with my co-counselor and a camper. The camper had become aggressive, and was shouting at my co, and flicking a towel around at him. Rightly so, my co was not reacting to that, and trying to get him to calm down, my co-counselor was doing everything right, but it just wasn’t working.

I volunteered to be a ‘new face’, and take over where my co left off, just as the camper ran into the pump room of the pool. I followed him in, and he continued to be verbally aggressive, and to flick the towel at my face. I continued my co-counselors responses, trying to calm him down and get him out of the pump room. As he didn’t get the response he wanted, he picked up a wrench that was nearby, and started waving it around.

This is the point where the situation changed from inappropriate, to dangerous. As this was not going to resolve itself in a favorable manner (well for me anyway!), I took the wrench from his hands, and escorted him out of the pump room, where I made it quite clear how unacceptable this was. He was then passed over to a member of our Support and Intervention Team [SIT].

I think that this is the crux of my argument, that when circumstances like this occur, as rare as they are, they have to be resolved quickly, and in a way that you may not usually want to conduct yourself. At camp, I am easy-going and will attempt to talk to campers in a way that doesn’t show anger or condemnation, but helps to reason through their behavior with them. After this event, I had a long talk with my Unit Leader, as I felt very guilty and upset about how I had handled it, but now I don’t believe there was another way, because of what could have happened.

The Growing Camper

Understanding the typical developmental traits of children
by Sandy Cameron
(taken from my camp’s staff manual)

The Elementary Years
Five-to-seven-year-old campers are curious and excited. They are learning to share and play cooperatively in small groups. They see the world as a place to be explored. Other typical behavioral traits include:

  • A strong attachment to their home and family
  • A short interest span
  • An awareness mainly of themselves and their own desires
  • A preference for imaginative, make-believe play
  • Curiosity, a desire to explore their expanding world
  • A desire for repetition of enjoyable experiences
  • Being easily upset by changes in routine or environment
  • Boys and girls playing together readily
  • Depending on adults to meeting physical and emotional needs
  • A need for patient understanding and close supervision

Beginning Independence
Seven-to-ten-year-old campers are beginning to socialize with children their own age. They want friendships and enjoy playing together. They also:

  • Are ready for a live-away experience
  • Have a longer attention span
  • Are aware of others and are willing to share
  • Desire acceptance from their peers
  • Need close friendships with playmates
  • Are able to express themselves freely in art forms and play
  • Desire better skills performance are interested in group games and activities
  • Want everyone to obey stated rules and regulations
  • Strongly identify with own sex and age group

The "Tween" Years
Not quite children and not quite teenagers, camper’s ages ten to twelve are beginning to gain more awareness of themselves and their skills. Making friends and being accepted by their peers is a growing concern. Campers in this age group also:

  • Have a strong desire for a live-away experience
  • Want to be together in groups and teams
  • Have the patience to work toward short-term goals
  • Form cliques and friendships with own sex and age group
  • Seek status through excellence in skills and knowledge of grown-up things
  • Are fairly competitive in teams and individual activities
  • Have a growing concern with their physical size and appearance
  • Boys and girls can work and socialize in programs where they share planning responsibilities
  • Like to make, do, and collect things
  • Enjoy being mischievous and daring

Seeking Independence
Camper’s ages twelve to fifteen are becoming more independent, growing away from family ties and influences. However, they still want adult supervision and adult attention to their daily needs. Other traits include:

  • A strong drive for conformity with own age group
  • Intense feelings and emotions
  • Being greatly influenced by popular adults and teenage idols
  • Rapidly changing interests and ambitions
  • A long interest span and increasing capacity for self-discipline
  • A preference for competition with outside groups over competition with friends
  • Idealism about the world at large
  • Concern with their personal appearance, self-consciousness and inhibition
  • The state of puberty; girls begin to menstruate, boys’ sex glands begin to function actively
  • Boys and girls can work together on projects better than they can socialize

Impatient to Grow Up
Campers ages fifteen to seventeen are eager to grow up. They want independence and responsibility. At the same time, they are beginning to think about their future and possible career plans. Campers in this age group also:

  • Want to earn money for independence and freedom
  • Desire increased responsibility
  • Need to be treated as young adults
  • Occasionally revert to childish behavior
  • Are very critical of self
  • Seek prestige and belonging to the power group
  • Are able to concentrate and specialize in selected skills and interests
  • Expansive and changing ambitions
  • Are encountering a conflict between idealism and materialism
  • Develop crushes with depth of feeling
  • Tend to cover own weaknesses with similar weaknesses of the group

In addition to these characteristics, all children and teens want to know what they are respected, loved, and valued for who they are. Show campers that you care, and they will show you respect.

Information in this article is from Camper Guidance: A Basic Handbook by J.W. Bloom and A.C. Ballentine, et al. A related book is Camp is for the Camper.

Originally published in the 1999 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.

Recognizing Someone’s Escalating Behavior

Recognizing Someone’s Escalating Behavior:

Tips and Techniques to Use to Help Stop an Out of Control Person

We can recognize someone’s escalating behaviour and try to stop it:

Two stages can be identified:

1. The individual becomes anxious.

We can recognize anxiety in an individual by noticing a change in their typical behaviour, (pacing, staring, finger drumming, fidgety, fast talking etc.)

Staff should:Be supportive, use empathy and be non-judgmental. Talkto the person to try to figure out what is bothering them.

2. The individual becomes defensive.

They can show defensiveness by being argumentative and challenging.Staff should:Set limits and/or give choices and consequences.

When we notice an individual is anxious or argumentative, it is important to keep in mind Non Verbal Behaviours.

1. Personal Space:

Usually 1 to 1.5 feet surrounding us. People see this space as an extension of themselves. Some factors involved are:

i. Relationship to the person

ii. Their culture

iii. A person’s hygiene

iv. Their body language

v. Their emotional state

vi. Their gender

vii. Personal history

– It is important to understand that almost anything can be a factor in determining Personal Space.

– Not allowing a person to have their Personal Space can elevate their levels of anxiety, and escalate the situation.

2. Body Language:

– The non-verbal aspects of communication transmitted through body posture and motion.

– You can read someone’s body language be watching their eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, posture, and movements.

Another aspect of communication is Paraverbal Communication.

– This is the vocal part of speech, other than the actual words, (how we say, what we say). Some elements involved:

Tone of voice

Volume (loud or soft)

Rate and rhythm of speech

*55-80% of what people are trying to communicate is through Non Verbal communication*

When we are talking to an individual, we want to keep in mind the way we (as staff) are standing. We should be at a relaxed posture, with our hands to our sides and palms open, off to one side at about a 45-degree angle, paying close attention to personal space. If the person is much shorter than yourself or in a wheel chair you may want to lower yourself to their level.

When a person is being defensive (being argumentative and challenging), it is a god idea to allow this person to vent. Try to remove them from the group or move the group away from the person who is being defensive. This will allow the person to “blow off steam”.

If at this point, staff need to set limits, because the person is being argumentative and challenging (defensive), this person may start to ask questions. There are two types of questions that may be asked.

1. Information seeking question. Staff should answer this question if they are able to.

2.Challenging question. Staff should ignore this question and re-direct the individual back to the topic and hand, or set limits.

Keys to setting limits:

They should be







-Age appropriate

-Immediate (if possible)

Verbal intervention tips and techniques:

Staff should:

-Remain calm

-Pay attention to what is being said

-Assertive (without being bossy)

-Be non-judgmental

Staff should not:

-Be threatening







Empathic Listening:

Trying to figure out what someone is trying to communicate.

Staff should:

-Give undivided attention

-Use paraphrasing/ restatement to clarify conversation

-Use silence for refection

-Listen for feelings and intent, not just facts and content

-Be non-judgmental

Precipitating Factors:

Precipitating Factors are internal or external causes of acting out behaviour.

Possible factors:


-Need to maintain self-esteem

-Current events

-Family life

It’s important to understand that almost anything can be a Precipitating Factor for someone.

Important Terms:

Rational Detachment:

Our ability as staff to maintain professionalism and not take the acting out behaviour personally.

Integrated Experience:

The idea or concept that staff attitude and behaviour will affect client (camper) attitude and behaviour and vice versa.

This is more of an outline of a presentation from my camp’s training session. We are able to get a lot more out of it by talking about it as a group and using examples.

Can’t Get Your Campers to Line Up? Here’s a Solution

If you have trouble getting your campers to line up when getting ready to leave an activity, here’s one solution. (This works best with younger kids.) I was taught this during a pre-camp seminar by an “expert” in camp counseling.

What you do is you tell the kids what’s going to happen and what they should do. Tell them that when you say “All eagles to the flock” (the example he gave us), or something similar, they should all line up behind you. You’re going to turn your back to them, count to 10, and give them time to line up. They’ll all come running to line up before you get to 10. When you count to ten. You turn to the right and left, pretending to look for your campers (knowing they’re all lined up behind you). You keep saying that you can’t find them and you’re wondering where they are. They’ll probably start laughing. When they do, turn around fully so you’re facing them. Then act surprised to see them all lined up.

I’ve never tested this method, but it sounds like a good one that might work. I’m going to try this next summer.

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.

A Good Way to Keep Your Campers in Line

If your campers are constantly misbehaving, here’s a good way to get them to behave better. On the first day of camp, have the kids make the rules! Have each of them make up one rule. (Be sure to tell them they have to be rules that a counselor would make up, not a stupid rule.) Then tell them that they have to make sure no one breaks their rule. And if someone does break their rule, to tell a counselor. The kids love to make sure everyone’s following their rule, so odds are pretty good they’ll tell you if someone’s breaking their rule.