Monday, April 20, 2009

Camping to Parenting: The Top 10 Things I Have Learned as a Summer Camp Professional That Make Me a Better Parent

Part II

The second edition of the two part series about skills I learned while working as a summer camp youth development professional at Sanborn Western Camps. These top five are, in my mind, some of the most important tools to practice...but they are also some of the hardest parenting, and counseling, skills remember. In the end, if we screw up (which we will), a genuine apology, a good hug, and time spent together in the outdoors will make the challenges and bad feelings evaporate--and give everyone the room they need to breathe. Enjoy!

5. Respect their individuality. Making comparisons between children (siblings, bunk mates) is a terrible mistake. Very few of us deliberately say things like, “I wish you could be MORE like Alice…” but plenty of us are guilty of saying, “Look at how well Alice cleared the table…” with the sibling or the rest of the children filling in the end of the sentence, “…and YOU didn’t.” Appreciate each child’s unique gifts. Know each child’s unique gifts. Celebrate those gifts in a one-on-one setting, don’t put one child on a pedestal in front of any others. Don’t love equally, love uniquely.

4. Never forget: It is the ACTION, not the person, you need to modify through discipline. There are no “bad kids” only “bad choices”. It is hard to emotionally remove yourself from a situation that has you incensed…but you must. That said, it is equally essential to voice your feelings, “We all have been working as a group to stop gossiping about other campers, because it is very hurtful and damaging to our community. The rumor that you started IS hurtful and damaging. You are not a mean girl, you just made a bad choice and I want to understand WHY you made that choice.” Tantrums (pre-school or pre-teen) are an outstanding time to practice empathy, not judgment.

3. Kids need time to simply be themselves. To simply be kids, to simply be playing, to simply be silly, to simply be curious, to simply be grumpy, to simply be happy, to simply be thoughtful, to simply be alone, to simply be playing with others, to simply be outside, to simply be strong, to simply be scared, to simply be human. Never underestimate the power of unstructured free play in the outdoors—kids will learn more about themselves and others in that environment than during a lifetime of soccer games. Boys, mine especially, really love taking long walks outside while singing silly songs, running races, picking up pinecones, inventing games, and actually talking to their momma.

2. The ability to manage and control one’s emotions effectively is a trait that many happy, wise successful adults all have in common. Providing children tools to practice emotional management is vital for creating a healthy, well-balanced society. A parent’s job is to raise a child that she wants to “release” into the world…and to begin that slow release the day the child is born. Beware of enabling behaviors that seem like safe alternatives. Make challenging situations into positive learning experiences. Promising a homesick child she can come home if she “hates camp” before she even arrives strips her of the ability to work through a tough experience and be proud of the resilience she developed on her own is no different than promising candy if you can make it through the grocery store without a fit.

1. 80% of what children hear and learn is what they see. Humans learn through mimicry. Kids will only be as good at these skills as you are…and parents, camp counselors, and camp professionals should never stop trying to do these things at home, at work, with friends, and with family. Because, in the end, children will see all of you faults, and love you anyway.

If you are interested in more tips from the camp world about parenting, preparing your child for camp and for life, as well as some cutting edge conversations about youth development, please continue to visit the Sanborn Western Camps blog--and also check out Bedtime Stories for Parents and parent resources on the ACA website.

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