Tips for Calming Down Overwhelmed Camp Counselors

July 24, 2017
Tim Huchton

“It’s hot.” “I’m tired.” “My campers are crazy.” “My co-counselor is not pulling his/her own weight.” “I am just not sure I have enough left in my tank to finish the summer.”

All of these are excuses or complaints that I and many other directors have heard over the summers from camp staff. And truth be told, many of them are very legitimate complaints. We hired what we thought was the best staff ever. We trained them, guided them, and watched them impact the lives of campers all summer long.

But sometimes, the constant motion of camp can become overwhelming to staff, and they may need a little assistance to regain their composure.

Here are a few of my tested tips to help get staff centered and focused on what is left to accomplish.

Find or identify the source of anxiety

Staff get so worked up on the situation they often can’t identify what the root of the problem really is. Help them try to identify the source of anxiety or frustration. Then, guide them to a solution that remedies it — or at least makes it manageable again. Guiding them to this realization instead of just telling them allows them to work on this skill and become more independent and need less help next time.

Be their cheerleader

Sometimes, all it takes is you giving them some needed encouragement or coaching to set them back on the right path. A little encouragement, praise, or reminder that they're doing a great job can go a long way.

Focus on what matters

When we start staff training each summer, staff are excited and ready to take on every challenge we hand them. Midway or even later in the season they may not have that same level of enthusiasm. Help them refocus on what the goals are. Revisit some of the great work that was done earlier in the season. Help them reconnect to the mission and goals that they were so eager to accomplish during staff training. Help them realize that at the end of the day what really matter is the experience the campers have and that they are key to making that happen.

Take a break

Remember when you told staff during training to use their time off wisely? How many of them listened and did just that? It is never too late to start using time off wisely. Teach them to recognize how using their time off to rest and regroup will help them finish the summer strong.

Act rather than react

When we run around putting out fires all day, we tend to lose focus on what we could do to prevent those fires in the first place. Give your staff tools and directions to allow them to act instead of just react. When staff is tired or overwhelmed, the reaction may be worse that when they plan ahead and create a plan to act in the first place.  

Tag out if necessary

We have all had situations where we just could not make progress with a stubborn camper, staffer, or situation and just needed to tag out and let someone else give it a shot. Sometimes we just need to step back, let go, and let someone offer an assist!

Take a deep breath

Last but not least — take a breath! Sometimes, we just need to take a deep breath and gather our thoughts in calming manner. When I saw a staff member who just seemed like they needed a quick 5-minute break, I would do a golf cart chat. Just pulling them aside for a few minutes can make a huge difference towards the rest of the day.

As your season winds down, I hope you also get to take a break and refocus on what important work you have accomplished over the season. You should also take time to reflect on all of the successes that your program had, even if that break is only a few quick minutes. 

Tim Huchton is a member and customer specialist for ACA. He has been working in the camp industry for nearly twenty-five years. He is passionate about the camp experience and his time as a past summer camp director. 

Photo courtesy of Brooks School Day Camp, North Andover, MA 

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