Guest post by Michael Eisen
When I was nine years old I spent my first summer at camp. It was a huge step for me to be away from home for that long. I remember being very homesick that summer, but one of the things that made it easier for me was having a really kind, caring, and compassionate camp counselor. It’s unfortunate, but when I went to camp, having a really good counselor was by no means a guarantee. Over the next eight summers spent as a camper and one summer spent as a counselor myself, I learned a lot about what it took to be considered a campers favorite counselor, and I want to share some tips on how you can show up in that way for ALL your campers this summer!
Kindness and Compassion
Reflecting back on the handful of favorite counselors that I had throughout my summers as a camper, the most important factor that jumps out at me was their ability to show genuine kindness and compassion no matter what I was experiencing. There wasn’t that harshness when I did something they didn’t approve of, or the teasing that I got enough of from my fellow campers. Instead they always responded with a softness that made me feel safe and comfortable. I was a very sensitive kid, so being away from home and dealing with campers picking on me was a big challenge. But feeling like I always had someone who had my back was my saving grace. It did not require a huge amount of extra energy; simple things like having a one-on-one conversation every so often, encouraging me with positive feedback, and even giving me a hug when I needed some love went a long way in making my summer more enjoyable.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Growing up in a household that had a lot of talk and very little action, I was able to recognize quite easily when someone was just saying something but not following through. I believe youth emulate and respond more to our actions rather than our words. So the days of “do as I say, not as I do” are over . . . if you want to be considered someone’s favorite counselor. What makes a good leader and a good counselor is leading by example and LIVING by the same guidelines that you set out for your campers. If you want them to act a certain way, follow certain rules, take part in certain activities, be kind to each other, etc. then you as a counselor need to show up in that exact same way. My favorite counselors always walked their talk. If you want to get your campers to do what you say, YOU need to do what you say first!
It’s All about Perspective
In my opinion, this principle, if practiced consistently, would abolish most conflict in our relationships. The challenge is we don’t practice it nearly enough. Everybody wants to feel like they are understood and heard — campers and counselors alike. Is it fair to expect to be understood, respected, and listened to without practicing understanding, respecting, and listening to others first? I didn’t think so! It’s a two way street, and perspective allows each party to meet in the middle. My favorite counselors always took the time to listen to what I had to say and understand where I was coming from. If there was an argument or a conflict, my desire to assert myself and be right significantly decreased once I felt understood. Give your campers the understanding and respect that they deserve, and you will find that they will follow suit and do the same back to you.
Take Time for Self-Care
It can be very challenging having to be at your best and providing care for other people, especially kids. It is even more difficult to do so if you are not caring for YOURSELF first. Caring for yourself is not selfish, it is self-full. The more that you care for yourself, the more you will be able to care for others. You cannot expect to be at your best all summer long without taking the time to refill your own tank. My favorite counselors always made me feel like I was important, and it was clear that they treated themselves with just as much kindness and care as they did me. You need to make yourself the most important person in YOUR world, so you can make your campers the most important people in THE world, this summer.
Practice Good Sleep Habits: Getting a good night’s sleep is SO important. Operating on four or five hours of sleep every night is not ideal if you want to show up as your best for your campers every day.
Make Time for FUN: Make sure you are having fun too. Do more with your time off! Engage your creativity, move your body, play, dance, and sing like you are still a camper. When you are having fun, it is contagious. It is clear to your campers when you are not enjoying yourself and it can wear off on them.
Reduce Your Stress: If you find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take five minutes off and find yourself a quiet place. Practice breathing deeply in through your nose and letting out a big sigh through your mouth as you exhale. Do this ten times with your eyes closed and your stress will melt away. Most of the time, when you are stressed out, you are not breathing enough — and without enough oxygen moving through your body, everything tenses up!
The most important thing to remember is just to BE YOU! The more real and genuine you are, the fewer barriers will exist when you are interacting with your campers, and the more fun you will all have!
Michael Eisen is an inspirational speaker, author, and the founder of the Youth Wellness Network, an organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering youth across the globe to live happier and more positive lives. After positively transforming his own life at the age of nineteen, he is now on a life-long crusade to share with other young people the principles, strategies, and practices that gave him the strength to start living a more joyful and healthier life. He contributes a fresh, young, authentic voice to the field of wellness, and is rapidly becoming a youth-wellness expert. Michael's first book, Empowered YOUth: A Father and Son's Journey to Conscious Living, co-authored with his father Jeffrey Eisen, will be released fall of 2012 with Hay House. To learn more about Michael and the Youth Wellness Network, visit www.youthwellnessnetwork.ca, become a fan on Facebook (www.facebook.com/youthwellnessnetwork) and follow him on Twitter: @youthwellnet.