So your child has gone to summer camp for the first time. How do you know if it’s going well for them? Are they getting on with their fellow campers or falling out with them? Is it the right camp for them?
Finding out about conflict
As a parent it’s very normal to have questions like these, as you can’t be at camp with your kids to see how they get on. So it’s always worth asking them each evening how their day at camp went. ‘Fine,’ is a stock response from many kids. But that obviously doesn’t help much! Some camps will provide a daily video that shows exactly what activities the kids have been doing that day – this can be a great starting point for conversations, e.g. ‘I saw that you did lots of things today at camp. Which did you enjoy? Which didn’t you enjoy? Who did you work with? Did you make any new friends?’
Conversations like these can also highlight if your child has got on particularly well with someone else (in which case, great, why not organize a playdate?!) or, conversely, has been involved in conflict with someone at camp. Conflict does happen between kids from time to time – it’s part of growing up and learning boundaries. Indeed, learning to resolve conflict is an important life skill that children need to develop. But, while kids are on this learning journey, there are strategies that can help them navigate these choppy waters.
How do camps deal with conflict?
The first thing to understand is that any conflict that occurred during camp should have been dealt with and resolved at camp. Reputable camps will have procedures for dealing with conflict in camp. Some use ‘restorative’ approaches, in which children learn from these events. One acronym often used with restorative approaches to conflict is TERM:
Tell the story – ask what happened.
Explore the harm – ‘When you did….was it a good or bad choice? How do you think the other person felt?’
Repair the harm – ‘How can you fix this?’
Move forward – ‘How will you learn from this and avoid this situation next time?
Using these approaches, camps try to ensure that conflicts are resolved and that both parties move on without lingering resentment. This is important as conflicts that aren’t adequately dealt with are likely to flare up again at some point in the future.
Helping kids learn to deal with conflict
Knowing that conflict can happen in groups, it can help to have a discussion with your kids before they start camp. You can suggest ways that they can deal with conflict if it arises. Here is one suggested pathway for dealing with conflict:
Calm down – If you’re feeling angry with someone, try to take a deep breath and count to 10 before reacting.
Discuss the problem – Maybe the other person doesn’t know that they’ve upset you. Tell them how their actions made you feel.
Be fair – Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Is it possible that they have a reason to feel upset as well?
Try to find a solution – Talk with the other person about ways to make right any harm and how to get on with each other in future.
If help is needed, ask an adult – If you can’t resolve the problem on your own, ask an adult for help. If the conflict is getting worse, always walk away and seek help from an adult.
How do you know if it’s the right summer camp?
Good camps have well-trained teachers who can help to guide kids through conflict. These caring adults can help children practice communication, empathy and compassion – key elements of maintaining positive relationships. Camps should be enjoyable, enriching experiences that promote independence, self-esteem, and respect for others. Above all, children should feel that camps are a safe space to have fun, make new friends, and learn something new.