Archive for Counselor Techniques

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 Fine Art of Game Leadership

Games are more than fun: they can be played to accomplish many goals.  Games can help children get acquainted easily and enjoy being together. Games can meet the needs of the whole group and individuals at the same time. For example, games give children a chance to:

• Be active and noisy

• Learn teamwork and fair play

• Learn to win, loose or draw good – naturedly

• Be both a leader and a follower

Games can present new information or skill in an attractive way. Games can help children appreciate diversity. Games help children learn the importance of cooperation.

Basic Rules of Thumb for Good Game Leadership

1. Keep the game snappy and vigorous.

2. ALWAYS end the game BEFORE it goes dead.

3. Select the game with the abilities of the group in mind.

4. Know the game your self before trying to teach it.

5. Make sure that everyone understands the basic rules of the game, however, teach only the minimum essentials.

6. Have all your game equipment ready and be sure the play area is safe and adequate.

7. Get the attention of the group before trying to explain the game. Explain the game with the children near you. Yelling to the outfield or shouting about the noise of a group will only result in confusion and a sore throat.

8. Get the play started as soon as possible. Refine later.

9. Alternate high activity games with quieter games.

10. Stress cooperative games.


Remember, you are teaching individuals…not just a game. Decisions must be fair and rules must be enforced.

You’ve heard it before but it is most important aspect of playing a game: “It’s not who wins or loses that really counts, but how the game was played.”

Plan Ahead

A game period should be well-planned, just like anything else you do in a camp setting. Nothing will kill a game faster than poor planning.

10 Commandments for Good Listening

1. Stop Talking.

Polonius (Hamlet): “Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.”

2. Put the talker at ease.

Help others feel they are free to talk. Create a “permissive environment.”

3. Show that you want to listen.

Look and act interested. Listen and understand rather than to reply.

4. Minimize distractions.

Don’t doodle, tap your fingers, or shuffle papers. Attention is a sign of valuing.

5. Put yourself in the speaker’s place.

Try to hear to understand the speaker’s point of view.

6. Be Patient.

Allow plenty of time. Do not interrupt.

7. Hold your temper.

An angry person often interprets the wrong meaning from words.

8. Go easy on argument and criticism.

This puts the speaker on the defensive. In an argument, even if you win, you loose.

9. Ask questions.

This encourages the speaker and shows you are listening.

10. Stop talking.

This is first and last, because all the others commandments depend on it.

Gaining Cooperation from Your Campers

1. Mention positive rather than negative points. Explain to your campers what he/she is allowed to do, rather than focusing on what he/she is not allowed to do. Role model position behavior.

2. Participate in all activities with your campers. This will show them that it is fun to try all activities. They are less likely to sit on the sidelines if they see their counselor participating.

3. In supervising campers it is important to be able to see what is happening with the entire group. Choose a position at each activity that will allow you to see everyone.

4. The best way to handle a problem with a camper is to prevent it. Be aware of tension and safety all of the time, and usually you will be able to prevent trouble before it gets out of proportion.

5. Every camper is a person. Show that you respect your campers as you respect adults you will encourage the campers to respect you. Blaming, criticizing and labeling are not respectful.

6. One of the goals of camp is cooperation. Comparing one child with another encourages the campers to compete rather than cooperate.

7. Originality and creativity are prized in the camp environment. Asking a child to copy what you have done, or encouraging him/her to duplicate a model inhibits natural creativity.

8. Independence is a goal of the camp experience. Each child should be encouraged to do whatever he/she can with the minimum amount of assistance from adults. Often, however, the child needs help, particularly if a skill or activity is new to him/her.

9. Let your camper make as many choices as possible, but only give them a choice when you intend to let them make the decision.

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.

Having Favorites

I would argue that having a camper, or campers that you get along with better than some others is an inevitable part of being a camp counselor, along with homesickness and yet another squabble over the latest fad, including Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokémon. This is due to what happens in other social situations: sometimes different people gel better than others, and counseling is no different.

Being inevitable, there is nothing wrong with this; you can have a really good summer if a couple of kids in your bunk are on your wavelength. The issue only arises if this is to the detriment of the other campers. The best way to avoid this is probably to be aware of it. If you are conscious of favoritism, this means that you can take steps to avoid it. You could spend time concentrating on the other campers as well, for example. Or do a group activity where everyone can get involved equally.

The other side of this coin, I think is to realize that you can’t be all things to every child: you can’t have that amazing relationship that completely turns a child’s summer around with every child. Some children won’t connect with you as well as others. The thing to bear in mind, is that you can still have fun with them, and still be a part of their summer, even if you don’t feel you <i>are</i> their summer.

Some General Camp Counselor Tips

Here are a couple tips I came up with. Just keep in mind that I worked with 7-year-old boys at a day camp so these may not apply to everyone.

  • Participation is key. The more you participate, the friendlier you become with your kids. Even if it means running around a playground, do it. If they ask you to join in, you should join in. Don’t think about how stupid you’ll look. Do it for the kids, and not for yourself.
  • If you see a kid’s really bad at an activity, encourage them. Don’t make fun of them. I know it may be tempting to do, but don’t do it. Because if you do, you may have a crying kid on your hands, and that’s never fun to deal with.
  • A good rule of thumb is to spend at least 5 minutes with each kid every day. Obviously you’ll be spending more, but be sure you get at least that much time in.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re in a difficult situation, don’t be afraid to ask your senior counselor for advice. They may get annoyed but it’ll benefit both of you. You’ll learn something new and they’ll learn what areas of camp counseling you need to improve on.
  • A very important tip is to make sacrifices, no matter how small. What I mean is, for example, let’s say it’s lunch. There’s one pizza bagel left at your table before you have to go up to get more. You grab it and one of your kids starts whining and says he/she wants it. Give it to him/her. It’s little things like this that will make your kids like you more. If you decide not to give it to him/her, that kid will remember and they’ll hold a grudge (silent treatment, guilt, etc.).
  • If one of your kids is crying or is having a bad day, talk with them. Make them feel better. If the kid is crying because he/she got out in a game or something like that, remind them that it’s just a game and that there will always be another game. Obviously if the kid is crying because he/she is hurt, take them to the nurse. If the kid is having a bad day and isn’t enthusiastic or happy, talk with him/her. Tell them how much fun you’ll be having and that when you’re at camp you’re supposed to have fun and be happy. Make sure your kids are having a good time, all the time.
  • Have patience! These kids aren’t stupid. They know that if they want something, all they have to do is keep annoying you until they get it. Most of the time, the first time you tell a kid to do something, odds are they won’t do it. Don’t get mad at them though. Remember that they’re a lot younger than you. Ask them again.
  • Don’t raise your voice. Only do this in an emergency. This may scare your campers, or if you do this a lot they may just ignore it.
  • Campers hear everything, and I mean everything. So if you want to tell your friend something, first think about if you want a little kid to hear it. The bad part about kids hearing what you say is that they never remember it accurately. They’ll tell their parents and often exaggerate what you said (which usually has a negative effect) .
  • Find a positive trait for each of your campers, and emphasize on that. Don’t emphasize on the negative. If one of your campers is good at kickball, every time you head to kickball, tell that camper how excited you are to see him/her kick the ball really far or run the bases really fast. And be sure to tell the other campers that he/she is good at kickball so everyone will want him/her on their team. This will make that camper feel wanted and part of the group. This works especially well with shy/quiet campers.
  • Leave all negativity at home! If you come in to camp with a bad mood, this will hurt your campers’ days. Even if you had a horrible night, come in with a smile. If you feel you might feel below par, talk to your division head or a superior prior to camp.
  • Take breaks! If your camp offers you breaks, use them. Otherwise you may get worn out.
  • If you notice two campers conflict often, don’t wait until a fist fight breaks out to do something about it. As soon as you notice some questionable behavior, work it out with the campers as well as your superiors. The sooner you work things out, the easier your job will be.
  • Respect your campers and they’ll respect you. They’ll behave better if you respect them. Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you can yell at them and boss them around. If a camper doesn’t want to participate in an activity, don’t force them. Instead, respect their feelings and talk it out. Ask them why they don’t want to participate. Be fair. Some other easy examples of respect include: smiling, greeting your campers when they first see you in the morning, treating everyone fairly, and giving them appropriate pats and touches (such as a pat on the back, or placing your hands on their shoulders when talking to them).
  • Show the kids you have fun with them! Don’t sit out of every activity. Participate with them. Let your inner kid come loose in camp (to an extent). This will show the campers that you really care about them, and this will make them feel better.
  • Let your campers know when they do something good. If a camper doesn’t want to participate in an activity but decides to anyway, tell them when the activity is over that they did really well.
  • Teach your campers good behavior. An good example of this was what our cooking instructor did this past summer. She’d tell the kids that before we could make anything or eat anything that everyone had to wash their hands. She’d tell them to put soap on their hands and scrub while singing Happy Birthday to themselves. Then rinse and dry. When they came back to the table, they’d have to keep their hands in the air and couldn’t touch any parts of their bodies.

The ABC’s of Camp Counseling

A is for Active

You have to be active with your campers in order for them to really like you. If you sit out of every activity, the campers won’t think you care about them.

B is for Bravery

Try not to be too afraid of doing something. If you’re brave, your campers will probably follow you. Show them that what you’re doing is not scary.

C is for Cheerful

Be cheerful. Even if you’re in a bad mood, be sure to keep a smile on your face. A bad day for you is a bad day for your campers. They’ll notice if you’re in a bad mood.

D is for Desire

You have to have the desire to give kids a fun summer. If you don’t have that desire, you might not be the best counselor.

E is for Everyone

Interact with everyone and get everyone involved! If you notice one of the kids in your bunk is shy, be sure to get him/her involved with the other kids even more.

F is for Funny

As a camp counselor, you should be a funny person. Kids don’t want a camp counselor who’s serious all of the time. Make jokes, have a good time.

G is for Guide

It’s your job to guide your campers in the right direction of their life.

H is for Happy

This is a given. You have to be happy. Don’t be angry all of the time.

I is for Independence

Teach your campers to become more independent than they are. If they always ask you to make them a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, teach them how to make it on their own so when the time comes that you aren’t there for them, they’ll know how to make it on their own.

J is for Join in

Don’t sit on the side lines. Participate and have fun with the kids. Even if it means running around a playground or going down a slide. Do it.

K is for Kids

This could have two meanings. The first one means that you have to be good with kids to be a successful camp counselor. The second meaning is to let the kid inside of yourself come out while at camp. You may not be the most active or creative person outside of camp, but inside camp that doesn’t matter. Even if you aren’t the best at drawing, draw anyway. You may not enjoy kickball, but play anyway.

L is for Laugh

You should always laugh. If one of your campers tells you a story or joke that they find funny but you don’t, laugh anyway. Of course, remember to laugh at appropriate times. If a camper trips on a rock and falls, that’s not the time to laugh (even though you may want to). If a camper draws a bad picture, don’t laugh at it.

M is for Make Friends

Make friends with your campers. Obviously this will probably happen, but make sure it does. Never ignore one camper totally. Also, have your campers make friends with each other.

N is for No Yelling

You should never yell at a camper. You might scare them or make a bad situation worse. Or if you yell enough, they might actually get used to it and yelling won’t be a threat to them. Just don’t yell. There’s no need for that in camp.

O is for Options

Give your campers options. They’ll have to learn sometime to choose and make decisions. Why not help them out. Sometimes they might not like the options, but they’ll have to choose. For example, one choice they may have is to either go swimming or get popsicles. They can only choose one. Another time this is useful is if your bunk is given an option of activities to choose from. Don’t decide just amongst the counselors. Give the campers in your bunk a choice of what they want as well. Then go from there.

P is for Patience

Have patience. This is pretty self-explanatory.

Q is for Questions

Instead of punishing two kids for fighting right away, ask questions. Ask why they were fighting, what started it, who started it, was there a better way to solve the problem.

R is for Reasoning

Teach your campers to reason instead of fight. Teach them to reason instead of kick, scream, and cry.

S is for Sanity

Be sure to keep your sanity while working at camp, no matter how stressful times can get. If you ever need help, go to your division head or one of your superiors and talk with them. They’ll listen.

T is for Teach

Teach your campers the ways of life. Teach them to try and become the best person they can be.

U is for Understanding

Camp counselors are understanding people. If a camper is upset, a camp counselor will sit down and talk with them and listen to what they have to say.

V is for Vigilance

As a camp counselor, you are in charge of making sure your campers are safe. This is one of your most important tasks. Don’t let your guard down or assume a camper you don’t see is okay.

W is for Wisdom

In addition to making sure your campers have a fun summer, you can also teach them valuable life lessons. Share your wisdom with your campers and watch them grow as the weeks go on.

X is for eXcellence

You have a limited amount of time to give your campers the best summer they can have. Give it your all 100% of the time and be an excellent counselor.

Y is for Yes I Can

Camp is not only a place for campers to learn new things and explore outside of their comfort zone; counselors can do this too! Why not volunteer for an acting part in the camp play, even if you’ve never acted before? Why not play with the kids in a sport you’re not very good at? Lead by example and show your campers it doesn’t matter how good you are at something; what’s important is that you gave it a good effort and tried your best.

Z is for Zzz

Let’s face it: a well-rested counselor is always better than a groggy counselor! Get the sleep you need, whether you’re at a day camp or overnight camp.

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.