How to Communicate Effectively with your Camper

There are two common strategies used in communication; one which helps children express their feelings and one which helps counsellors and other staff express theirs.  Before we can figure out what strategy to use when communicating with campers, we have to figure out who owns the problem; meaning, who does the child’s behaviour affect- you or the child?  If the child’s behaviour affects only him or her, then reflective listening is the best strategy.  However if the child’s behaviour affects you as well as your other campers, then “I messages” is the best strategy.

Reflective listening allows children to feel comfortable in coming to us with problems and gets them to open up more and express their feelings.  The following are the three steps to reflective listening…


To encourage your campers to be aware of and trust their own feelings and to express their feelings constructively, we recommend using reflective listening.  With reflective listening you reflect, like a mirror, the feelings the child is expressing.  Reflecting their feelings first helps a child feel they are understood and then helps them learn the language of feelings and to express their feelings more clearly.  Reflective listening is both an attitude and a skill.  As an attitude, it means valuing what your camper is feeling and what they have to say.  It means being open to the meaning behind the child’s words and body language.  It means wanting to understand.

  • Establish eye contact.  Let your body position show that you are listening.  If your camper’s eye level is at your knee or your waist, this may mean bending down or picking up the child, or you can both sit down.  Stop other tasks and give the child your whole attention.
  • Hear and define the feeling.  Hear the child’s words and see their body language.  After listening with full attention, ask yourself, what are they feeling?  Then think of a word that defines the feeing.
  • State the feeling.  Now use the feeling word in a sentence.  For example: “You feel mad because John called you a name.” “You feel tired because you played soccer for a long time.” Or less structured “you’re mad that John called you a name.”  “All that playing really tired you out!”

Scenario Example:

After a fun morning, it’s time to go swimming.  Your 6 year old camper stamps her foot and says “I won’t go swimming!”  You are tempted to say, “Oh yes you will!”  Instead you use reflective listening and say “You’re upset that arts and crafts are over and now you have to go swimming.  You were having so much fun.”

Next month’s article will explore part II of communicating with your camper.  If after asking “Whose problem is it?” the answer is “the counsellor’s” or “the whole cabins” then use “I” messages as opposed to reflective listening.  Stay tuned….

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