Meet the Parents: Acing the First Impression

Posted: June 25, 2013

On the first day of camp, your main objective is to make your campers feel comfortable. But it’s also a great opportunity to make parents feel more comfortable about the camp experience, too!

In their absence, you will take on many of the responsibilities of a parent for your campers. So it’s important you present yourself as the warm, informed counselor you were hired to be! Here are some of our favorite tips:

Get yourself in the right mindset.

Most of you aren’t parents, but that doesn’t mean you can’t imagine how it feels to be dropping your child off at camp. In her Camping Magazine article, “Wow Your Campers’ Parents,” Audrey Monke describes an exercise from training expert Michael Brandwein:

Michael Brandwein . . . has an exercise called “A Letter for Learning” (2004). You are asked to pretend you are a parent sending your child to camp for the first time and write about your fears, hopes, and concerns. After discussion, there is a moving letter for you to read that Brandwein has composed. He really sums up how parents feel about sending their child to camp and the mixed emotions that are involved.

If your camp doesn’t do Brandwein’s exercise during training, you can do some of your own empathy training by doing the following:

  • Spend a minute identifying an important child in your life (sibling, cousin, close friend).
  • Think about how you would want him/her treated by his/her counselor.
  • Think about what you would worry about.

Be polite and confident.

Shake the parents’ hands, greet your camper at his or her level, and tell them a little bit about yourself. Maintaining good eye contact and a friendly warmth will put campers and parents at ease. Learn the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the initial greeting (among many other ways to be a great counselor) with ACA’s bestselling “Camp Is for the Camper,” available in both online course and book formats.

Prepare for common questions and concerns.

Authors Karla Henderson, Kelly McFadden, and Deb Bialeschki researched what kinds of questions parents asked of camp counselors. The most common questions fell into five categories: staff qualifications and supervision, camper health and safety, technology and opportunities for communication with children, camper expectations and behaviors, and camp program logistics. Here are some questions to be prepared for:

  • What is the camper-to-staff ratio?
  • What happens if my child gets sick?
  • Will my child have access to e-mail?
  • How do you handle homesickness?
  • How much time do campers spend outside?

(Read more in the Camping Magazine article, “What Parents Want to Know that Camp Counselors Should Know.”)

Remember, you were hired because your skills and personality make you a perfect fit for the job! By being yourself and keeping these tips in mind, you’ll make a great first impression on campers and their parents. Share your tips for making a fantastic first impression with parents below!

Photo courtesy of Tom Sawyer Camps, Altadena, California