There is a saying that advises, “Before you speak — think.”
T = Is it true?
H = Is it helpful?
I = Is it inspiring?
N = Is it necessary?
K = Is it kind?
My advice to you this year is to follow these words. A counselor is in the most influential job at camp. You hold the lives and delicate spirits of each young person in the palm of your hand. That truth comes with both challenge and tremendous opportunity.
Everything you say or do is absorbed by your campers. Don’t fill them with toxic material. Give them truth, help them, inspire them, only say what is necessary, and above all, be kind.
Be prepared to run into “mindsets.” Even kids hold established assumptions or ways of thinking that can impact their ability to fairly analyze and make decisions.
In Daniel Siegel’s Brainstorm: The Power and the Purpose of the Teenage Brain, he assures us the mind is plastic and changeable through new experiences. Instead of mindsets, we can practice mindsight. As the counselor, you can facilitate this growth and awareness.
A good cabin discussion might be sharing with one another those things that cause us to “react.” What are those things that trigger negative behaviors or thoughts? Dr. Siegel suggests that we name those negative thoughts or opinions that influence negative “reactions” low road. It is a way to recognize the beginnings of these feelings in yourself and to tell others that you are in need of “time out.” You can minimize disruption later if you give your campers the opportunity to talk about these feelings and find an alternate way to accommodate them.
When one of your campers begins to feel a negative reaction because of his mindset, he can use his new mindsight and simply say, “low road.” Most young people know when they are getting mad or troubled — they can feel it before they can articulate the cause. Using an understood phrase allows you as the counselor and/or another camper to help the camper find some space and time to calm down, reflect, get insight into that mindset, and make a different choice. This practice will allow your campers to change and grow into adults. It is a practice, a simple tool, that might minimize anxiety and afford maturity. It is a way to exercise the brain to make it a stronger muscle.
It is a method you and your campers can use that will help all of you think before you speak. Kindness rules.
Siegal, D. (2014). Brainstorm: The power and purpose of the teenage brain. New York, NY: Tarcher/Penguin.
Originally published in the 2014 May/June Camping Magazine