A Healthy Lead

Photo courtesy © Can Stock Photo Inc. / rmarmion

Photo courtesy © Can Stock Photo Inc. / rmarmion

else that hurts their bodies or others should be summarily dropped from your list. But most interviewees are savvy enough to discuss only healthy strategies in your presence. This means that the discriminative validity of these resilience questions might take a hit—unless you listen for the “two arms” of the wellness picture.

The “arms” you should be paying attention to are the outstretched arms of social connection. Prospective staff members who recognize their own limitations and have the foresight and courage to reach out to others for support are staff members who will last the longest and demonstrate the most equanimity at camp. They also end up supporting their co-counselors and fellow staff through the summer’s toughest challenges. Realize that when interviewees mention social support in their coping repertoire, it’s an asset.

Reticence Predicts Weakness

Prospective hires who cannot articulate projects of which they are proud, decisions they wrestled with, and challenges they overcame are not ready to care for other people’s children. The interviewees may have athletic, artistic, or academic strengths, but they are unlikely to have the necessary combination of fortitude, gratitude, insight, judgment, and resilience. A perfect tennis serve won’t mitigate homesickness, promote good sportsmanship, or blend two cliques into a unified group of friends.

I’ve never known a staff member to be fired mid-season because of a lack of talent in basketball or finger painting, but I’ve known many to be fired for boundary-crossing, rule-breaking, and unhealthy interpersonal forays. My advice to directors is always to hire the person, not the resume. Of course, that requires thoroughly checking three references and solid behavior-based interviewing—time well spent if the quality of the staff-camper relationship is a top priority.

Fortified, Not Anesthetized

A journalist recently asked me what factors diminish the intensity of homesickness in college freshmen. She was a college student herself, so when I began talking about the foundations of wellness, she slowly realized that sleep deprivation, a diet of potato chips and beer, and a routine of sitting in class followed by sitting in front of a screen was a recipe for poor health. She ended the interview with her own insightful conclusion: “So, a healthy lifestyle can diminish the intensity of homesickness by shielding you from stress.”

“Yes and no,” I replied. “Wellness is more like a sponge than a shield. It absorbs some of the stress, but you’ll always feel something.” She thought for a moment. “Well, you’d want that, I suppose. No one wants to feel numb.” Not if they’re going to work with children, I mused.

Dr. Christopher Thurber enjoys learning from his own two children and from the students at PhillipsExeterAcademy, where he serves as the psychologist. He is the co-founder of ExpertOnlineTraining.com, a web-based training platform for youth-development professionals. Visit his website at CampSpirit.com.

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