As summer approaches, I am filled with anticipation and excitement about the few months approaching. I think about the campers filling the air with a unique and genuine spirit that is not found in many places on earth. I think about the campfires, the campouts, the lake and the all-camp games.
Along with this excitement, I have also been preparing myself to be the best counselor I am capable of. I think about the need to be patient, silly, responsible, open-minded, caring and helpful.
I try to solve various situations that may arise. For example, what will I do to help a cabin that cannot seem to bond? What will I do to keep canoeing class safe, fun and filled with knowledge?
And, what will I do if a camper feels excluded because he or she is not as athletic as the other kids in his or her cabin?
This situation is fairly complicated but may happen often, thus it is important to know how to resolve this. So here are my tips on how to handle this specific situation…
The First Step
In my experience, what usually happens is a camper will leave or sit out of an activity that he or she feels they are incapable of doing.
This may be because they feel too heavy or too slow to run in a camp relay. So first, it's important to read a camper's feelings as soon as possible.
The longer a child has to think about his or her inability, the stronger the child's feelings will grow. With this being true in most cases, it is important to notice campers sitting on the sidelines during a game of lighting basketball or during an all-camp game (like Capture the Flag).
My usual approach is to talk to the camper and make him or her feel special. I would first ask what is the matter. Then I would try to rectify the problem.
If the camper says, "I suck at basketball," try and point out a good thing the camper just did on the court. Try to explain to the child that we are all different and have many different skills and abilities.
Ask the child what skills he or she possesses. If the camper does not come up with any, be sure to name a few good qualities that he or she has.
For example, a camper may say, "I can't run fast. I suck at Capture the Flag." A counselor might then reply, "I don't know if that's so true. Look at what a good jail keeper you are! You stopped at least five people from getting out of jail. That was awesome!"
Try to point out the positive abilities that the camper has. Although he or she may not be the fastest runner, the camper may be a great team leader or can solve the clues to a game faster or always encourages the cabin. Note that these skills are just as important to a cabin, team or camp as the ability to run fast.
One Step Ahead
Once you have helped the camper's self-esteem, encourage him or her to come back into the game or group. Help them to remember that practice helps.
You might even give the camper an example from your own life. Explain to the camper that you were not very good at soccer, but with practice you got much better. Determination is always a good lesson.
Finally, be sure to compliment all your campers (especially those with lower self-esteem) when they do something commendable. This will help bolster campers' feelings about themselves, especially when coming from the counselor, because it's someone they look up to and respect.
Best of luck to you this summer… I hope you enjoy it as much as I will!
Christie Enders worked at Camp Al-Gon-Quian this past summer in Burt Lake, Mich., and at Camp Pendalouan in the summer of 2000. She studies community relations at Michigan State University.