Behavior Management

The Alberta Camping Association had the pleasure of attending the CCI-Canada Alberta/BC/Territories Regional Conference at Camp Caroline.  We were able to connect with camp leaders, share information about the ACA and attend a few workshops.  Here is some of the information we would like to share with those camps who were not able to attend.

Behavior Management

General - sad little girl

Whether you run camps for high-risk youth or deal with those handful of challenging campers each summer, behavior is something all camps have to deal with. When we see behavior issues in a camper, we usually are just seeing that camper from the outside. Imagine if you could see what is going on inside and even under.

General - behavior management ice bergAmy from Shiloh Youth Ranch, a camp that caters to at-risk youth, used the ice berg analogy to help us understand what could be going on for a behavior-prone child. There is more to what a child might look like, how they choose to interact or share with others. What is going on below the surface? What is their family life like? Do they have health issues? Disabilities? What are their beliefs and values?

Learning these things, or at least acknowledging that they are there, might help us as camp leaders better understand and support our campers. Engage with them by asking about their story. Then listen. Did you know that most people only listen for 17 seconds before they interrupt? Don’t do that. When you’re listening, do not give them advice or correct them. Emphasis with them and make them feel important. Be curious, show interest, ask questions and give them your attention. Not only will you gain a better understanding of this camper, you will also start building a relationship of trust.

Emotional Management System - The Feeling Rainbow

If you run a camp that serves campers that might come with more behavior issues, consider using the feeling rainbow.  There are four colours:  red, yellow, green and blue. Tell the kids at the beginning of the week what each colour stands for.

Red: I am really upset. I need a break. I have a huge problem and need to go to my safe place.

Yellow: I’m really excited, but it might lead to me becoming really upset. I need to talk to someone. I am worried.

Green: I am happy and ready to learn. I feel good and things are okay. I can solve my problems.

Blue: I need rest. I feel sad. I could ask someone for help. I could be depressed.

As your week of camp goes on, check in on your campers and ask them where they are at. This is especially helpful if it looks like there has been an incident, behavior issue or someone is upset. If they say they are ‘red’ you might need to give them permission to take a break and spend some time in a pre-designated safe place. This practice also help the kids express how they are feeling before a problem escalates.

Escalation Cycle

If there is a problem and/or a camper is starting to exhibit some behavior, consider the escalation cycle. First it is calm, then comes a trigger, that leads to agitation and then acceleration. When the problem peaks you will experience de-escalation and recovery. So when is the best time to intervene? When should you not intervene?

Intervene after you deal with the issue, the camper is safe and anyone else involved is safe. You cannot intervene during escalation, at that point it is too late. If staff were hurt by the incident, you need to debrief those staff. Ask them how they felt through the process and if they are okay. How can you talk about it? Make sure both the camper(s) involved and the staff are given care.

Never go into a situation alone, always go with 1 or 2 other staff members. Be cool, if you get worked up the situation will only get worse. If you feel you are only agitating the camper further, or might be the cause of their behavior, ask another staff member to step in your place.

Strategies for talking a camper through the incident:

  • Reduce stress: take deep breaths and talk slowly.
  • Stay calm: behaviors alter actions, acting calm = feeling calm
  • Stay short: low cognitive, auditory processing, avoid reinforcing behaviors.
  • Interrupt escalation: divert attention to more positive topics or activities
  • Partner by paraphrasing: I head you messages, improve own understanding of problems
  • Open-ended questions: engage left brain with who, what where, when and how. No WHY questions.
  • Nonverbal strategies: Open, calm, caring, avoid threatening postures.
  • Working with your team: How can I earn your cooperation?  How can I help you?

De-escalation and Conflict Resolution

During de-escalation, talk calmly to the camper(s) involved and express your appreciation for their strengths, needs, feelings, preferences and values of each individual. Compromise and find a solution that equally honours the needs and considers preferences of all parties. Empower the individual(s) by identifying specific methods to help them feel in control, cared for and autonomous.

Never use aggressive or authoritarian language to try to control the camper, or make them feel controlled at all. Don’t threaten them with “if you don’t do this then you won’t get that” but use words like “can you please do this for me”. You should also relate it to the activity or situation “You need to wear a helmet if you want to ride a horse. If you don’t want to wear a helmet, you can sit on the bench until the activity is over.”

Unfortunately, sometimes an incident can result in having to send a camper home. Though we want all our campers to have a successful week at camp, individuals that are constantly causing issues will hinder the experience for the majority.

Setting Expectations

Setting clear expectations at the start of camp can help rule out potential incidents or behavioral outbreaks. At the very start of the week, explain the structure of camp to everyone, how things work, when meals are and then what the rules are. If you use a management tool like the feelings rainbow make sure you explain it to the entire group right away so your staff can use and manage that.

In addition to setting expectations at the start of camp, have your cabin and activity leaders prepare their campers for each day. Some kids need to know what they are doing, what to expect and how to prepare for it. Tell them when it’s time to clean the cabin, when they’ll be going to the pool so they can remember to lay out their bathing suit and how much time they need to give themselves to walk down to the dining hall to be on time for meals.

Remember that there is a difference between horsing around and actual bad behaviors. We want our campers to feel free to express themselves and have fun. Learn to determine that difference and have fun with them!

Categories: Behavior, Camp Resources