What All Good Camp Counselors Know About Working with Kids

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Nov 28, 2018

Nov 28, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

Do you enjoy working with children? If so, you might be a great camp counselor. It takes a little more than having a joy for working with kids to do this job. You have to know how to handle them at their best and their worst.

Kids aren't always the perfect angels you think they are. They each have their own unique personalities, attitudes, and interests. You'll have to know how to settle arguments and help shy campers get involved. 

To help you figure it all out, here are 10 tips for camp counselors that anyone going into the field should go by.

1. Get to Know the Campers

Every camper is an individual, and you should treat them as such. It's important that you treat them like the small people they are and not like campers. To get the most out of your campers, you'll have to know their individual interests, quirks, and talents.

Knowing these things will help you plan games and other activities at sleep away camp more effectively and will help your campers connect better to you as a counselor.  

2. Be Able to Get into a Routine

Routines provide structure, and many children find them comfortable because routines are predictable. There aren't any sudden surprises to throw them off guard.

Routines are also very good for you because they allow you to plan ahead and always be on your toes. Keep in mind that transitions are hard for children, so it's a good idea to build them into a routine as well. If you give them a five or 10-minute warning before you move on to a new activity every time, they will get used to it, and the transitions will go more seamlessly. 

3. Don't Give Complicated Directions 

A lot of children have short attention spans, so you don't want to spout out too many directions or make them so complicated that the child is confused. Instead, just give them one task at a time. 

An effective way to handle younger children is to tell them what you want them to do, have them repeat it back to you, and then, when they come back to you, ask them what they did and reward them verbally when they tell you. 

4. Get into the Child's World 

Sometimes when you tell a child to do something, they will ignore you in favor of doing something more fun like reading a book or listening to their music. Your first response is probably frustration, but this is the last thing you want to do. 

Instead of getting frustrated, sit with them and ask them about their book or the music they are listening to. Let yourself get into their world. This will help you build a closer relationship with the child.

This method is also a better motivator than force or aggression. They will move on to the task you want them to do eventually as long as you don't force it. 

5. Stay Away from Don't

If you tell a child not to do something while putting the word don't in front of it, the child will hear the opposite. For example, if you tell a child "Don't run around the water" they will hear "run around the water." To fix this, you have stay away from this negative.

So instead of telling the child "Don't run" just say "walk." This will give the child a clearer description of want you want instead of what you don't want.  

6. Drop the Sarcasm 

There are two reasons why you shouldn't use sarcasm at camp. The first is that children who are younger than their teens won't understand it, and it will just seem mean to them. 

The second reason why you don't want to use it is that children pick things up like a sponge. They will start using it and won't really separate what's mean and what's all in good fun. This could cause them to get into a fight with another camper, or they may even use your own sarcasm back on you. 

7. Less Talking Is More

One of the inevitable facts of being a camp counselor is that a child will eventually sass you. They'll use the famous line, "You're not my mom/dad." You want to be calm and not give them the reaction they want.

After you've taken a moment to calm yourself, you want to flip it around on them and make them right for example. Say, "You're right, I'm not your mom/dad." After that, bring it home by using a "but everyone knows...". So the whole sentence would be "You're right, I'm not your mom/dad, but everyone knows that each camper has to clean up after themselves."

You'll end the conversation after that. Less is more. 

8. Help the Shy Campers

Sometimes it's hard to get shyer or more socially awkward children to participate in camp activities. If you notice that you have a child like that, it's your duty to help them out.  

A good way to do this is by having them pick out a child that they would like to play with. Then introduce the children and do an activity with them, just the three of you. This will help open the child up more because playing with one child is way less overwhelming than playing with multiple at once. 

Tips for up and Coming Camp Counselors Everywhere 

Camp counselors have a very rewarding job, and it can be fun working with the children. But not every child makes this easy. Some children test you and can be a little difficult to deal with. Some children are just too shy to participate in activities.

It's up to you to pick out each of their unique quirks and personalities so you can ensure everyone has a great time. 

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