How to Communicate with your Camper – Part II


When a camper is behaving badly, ask yourself “Who is this behaviour affecting?” if the answer is “the counsellor” or “the whole cabin” then use “I” messages as opposed to reflective listening.  To influence your camper, you must be able to communicate in a manner which makes it likely that your feelings, meanings and intentions are being understood.  An “I” message describes how the child’s behaviour makes you feel.  The message focuses on you, not on the child.  It reports what you feel.  It does not assign blame, for example “When you refuse to do an activity, I get concerned because I worry that you are unhappy.”  “I” messages express what the sender is feeling.  They are specific.  In an “I” message, the nonverbal elements, such as tone of voice are crucial.  “I” messages require a nonjudgmental attitude.  An “I” message delivered in anger conveys hostility.

How to Construct an “I” message:

Tip: Focus on the consequences the behaviour creates for us as parents, rather than on the behaviour itself.

  • Describe the behaviour which is interfering with you.  (Just describe, don’t blame).  For example “When you fight with Julie…”
  • State your feeling about the consequence the behaviour produces for you.  For example “…I worry about how you are feeling and how Julie is feeling…”
  • State the consequence.  For example “…because I don’t know what is bothering you…”

**A more simple formula of stating an “I” message would be to use the following phrases:

  • When (state the behaviour)
  • I feel (state the feeling)
  • Because (state the consequence)

Tip: An “I” message does not always have to contain a statement of feeling.  For example, “I can’t hear the other campers when there is so much noise.”  Or “I can’t continue this activity because I worry that you are unhappy.”  Construction of an “I” message depends upon the situation.  The most important things to remember about “I” messages are that they focus on you; they do not focus on the child and they do not place blame on anyone.

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