Don’t Take It Personally

When directors invite me to camp in July, they generally have one thing in mind: Helping staff avoid the fabled “mid-summer slump.”

But instead of teaching the staff crazy songs or preaching to them about the importance of their work, I preserve their stamina by changing the way they think.

This change in thinking is the single most powerful way to avoid the mid-summer slump. Here’s how it works:

Besides poor use of time off (e.g., binge drinking, too little sleep), the biggest cause of staff fatigue is camper misbehavior.

Staff can preserve their stamina this summer by not taking children’s misbehavior personally. Naturally, some misbehaviors are annoying, but when staff start to think, “This kid is driving me crazy!” they have over-personalized the misbehavior.

If staff see their campers’ misbehavior as an intentional strategy, designed to make their lives miserable, then it will make their lives miserable.

However, if staff recognize that most annoying misbehaviors are actually age-appropriate, then it all becomes more tolerable.

If staff also recognize that misbehaviors are evidence of a skills deficit -- evidence that this child has not yet learned how to behave -- then it helps them to be patient.

And finally, if staff see instances of misbehaviors as opportunities to teach, then their stamina is actually preserved.

Consider this sophisticated evolution in thinking about camper misbehavior:

(1) This misbehavior is driving me crazy! I hate this job. I’m ready to quit.

(2) This misbehavior is typical for campers this age. I understand this. I can tolerate this.

(3) This misbehavior is telling me that this child doesn’t know a better way to behave. I can be patient now.

(4) This misbehavior gives me a chance to teach a positive, alternate behavior. I am trained to respond to this misbehavior and it will feel good to see this child behave better tomorrow.

It’s no surprise that the most popular videos on are about behavior management. Staff always want tools to shape compliant behavior.

However, the fastest road to staff burnout is the mistaken belief that non-compliance is a personal attack by the camper on the staff member.

Urge your staff to revise their thinking about camper misbehavior. When they see most misbehaviors as age-appropriate skills deficits, they will look for opportunities to teach rather than to punish.

As a result, they will have as much energy on closing day as they have on opening day.

Even better, they will feel gratified to have helped accelerate a young person’s development.

Best of all, that feeling of gratification will bring them back to camp next summer.

Dr. Christopher Thurber is a board-certified clinical psychologist, father and author of The Summer Camp Handbook, now available online for free at He is the co-creator of, a set of Internet-based-video training modules for camp counselors, nurses and doctors. He can be reached via e-mail at