Do You Want A Spanking?

Ask open-ended questions, not yes-or-no questions. For example, “Tell me the best part about your day today” instead of “Did you have a good day?” Ask, “What did you like best about sailing?” not “Did you like sailing?” Specific questions show you’re really interested. For example, “What’s the next piece you’re aiming to finish for your crafts project?” and “Tell me what’s going to happen to this basket when you bring it home” instead of “Is your project almost done?”

Set a good example of informative communication by sharing parts of your own day. Some leaders like to play “High-Low” in which each person states the high point and the low point of their day. For example, “Well, the high point of my day was passing from Fish to Flying Fish. The low point was getting cut from the 12-and-under baseball team.”

Be a good listener. Lying just beneath the surface of that empty one-word answer to a question is a facial expression and a tone of voice that say a lot about what a child is thinking and feeling. Sometimes it’s helpful to share your observations. For example, “You said the baseball game was ‘fine,’ but you sound pretty down. What’s on your mind?”

Ask for clarification and elaboration. Many one-word answers from children are really tests for adults. If the one-word answer satisfies you, campers sense you’re not really interested. Surprise them by saying, “Tell me more about what happened” or “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘nothing.’ Do you mean ‘nothing you liked’ or ‘nothing I’d understand’?”

Inject humor but avoid sarcasm. “You think your counselor is a dork? Did you hear about the counselor who was showing a boy in her class how to zip up his coat? ‘The secret,’ she said, ‘is to get the piece of the zipper to fit in the other side before you try to zip it up.’ The boy looked at the counselor quizzically and asked, ‘Why does it have to be a secret’?” OK, you can think of something funnier.

Pause for a moment before speaking, especially when you’re angry. Few people are at their most eloquent when enraged. Campers probably know how to push your buttons (what kid doesn’t?), but don’t take the bait. It’s fine to say, “I need a minute before I can think clearly enough to answer that” or “Hmm. That stings. Where did that remark come from?”

Paraphrase what campers have said, so they know you understand. For example, “You feel like all the cereals we have here at camp are too boring, and that Super Sugar Bombs would make breakfast more fun.” Remember, empathy is not agreement. You may hate Super Sugar Bombs, but that’s irrelevant to form a connection with campers.

Offer explanations for decisions. This not only models mature thinking, but helps children accept your decisions more easily. Instead of responding “Because I said so!” you might say, “Super Sugar Bombs are tasty, but they’re more like a sugary dessert. Breakfast needs to taste good and be good for your body. That’s why I suggested you have some yogurt or oatmeal.”

Involve young people in decision-making and problem-solving when appropriate. For example, “You want the afternoon activity period to be more physical and exciting, but I won’t take you out on the lake during a thunderstorm. Let’s think about what other activities are offered during rainy days. If we work together, I bet we can come up with some really cool activity options that are safe and fun.”

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