The Importance Of Candid Feedback

While the biggest worry for a camp counselor may be coping with a particularly difficult camper, the second-biggest worry is how to tell that camper’s parents—either at the child’s pick-up time after an especially trying day or at the end of a resident session.

Be honest with parents when discussing a child’s challenging behavior at camp. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / goldenKB

Certainly a camp staff’s responsibility includes not only caring for campers, but also providing opportunities for growth. This is best accomplished when parents are drawn into a partnership with a key staff member, which occurs only through honest dialogue.

This, of course, is more easily spoken than accomplished, especially when the situation involves an inexperienced counselor.

After spending a week or two with a challenging boy or girl, too often the counselor takes the position of least resistance and—lacking the confidence necessary to be honest—makes the camper’s experience seem much more positive than will ever do the camper or the parents much good.

The Good News About Bad News

Selfishness, lack of cooperation with a counselor or the group, bullying, anti-social behavior, failure to follow directions, and laziness are among the impediments to a positive and memorable group experience at camp, and virtually all parents send their sons and daughters to camp with the expectation that they will have a good experience.

A camper who struggles to grow independently and interdependently within the group needs to have these struggles reported honestly to the parents for everyone’s benefit, and a counselor need not fear initiating such a conversation.

So what needs to be said to parents, what are likely to be their expectations, and how can a camp counselor-parent conversation best serve the child at the end of a camp experience and in the future?

Six basic principles should guide all post-camp conversations with parents about challenging campers.

1. Begin With The Positive

No matter how difficult a camper might have been during his or her stay, there is always something good to say. It’s helpful to remember that each parent has handed off to the camp their most prized possession, and parents want to know the counselor has seen the good in the camper, no matter what else there might be to report.

2. Be Specific

Next, the leader must understand the importance of specifics in any behavioral report. “Samantha had difficulty fitting in” or “Eddie made a good group experience difficult for others” will not help a parent clearly understand the situation, and will not establish the counselor’s credibility.

The staff member must provide at least one specific example of the behavior which contributed to the problem, for instance, “Eddie too often resorted to picking on some of his quieter cabin mates.” And there should be no “piling on,” which obviously becomes counter-productive.

3. and 4. Show What Was Done And What Worked

Both of these principles show the parent that the counselor was proactive and had as a primary concern the health and welfare of the group. In addition to identifying the camper’s detrimental behavior, the staff member must also explain to the parents what he or she tried to do to help the camper improve in adjusting to the group situation.

It is vital in any conversation with parents that the counselor also is constructive, acknowledging any improvement shown by the camper over the course of the camp stay. Even if efforts to improve did not reach the levels that the counselor and camper hoped for, parents should know their son or daughter made an effort, as long as the counselor can say honestly that that happened.

5. Use A Supportive Tone

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