Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Handling The Reins

Many moons ago I was a first year College man (boy?) at Briercrest. I decided when I came home for the summer to try one week as a camp counselor. Keep in mind that I was a terribly shy and awkward person. So though my boyhood camp was Beaver Creek Bible Camp, I decided to spend the week at Camp Arnes. Why you ask? Basically, I wasn't sure if I could be a camp counselor and I didn't want to screw up badly or embarrass myself on my old stomping grounds. If I was to mess up, I wanted to do it where I was unknown!

My experience at Camp Arnes that week was nothing short of amazing on every level. It was one of the highlights of my life. Someday I will perhaps try to share more about the experience but lets just say God confirmed to me among other things that I could "do" camp ministry! I learned so much that week. One important lesson I learned was about dealing with campers. It's a leadership lesson that transfers over to many other aspects of life including business, parenting, employment, partnerships, etc.

Naomi Green was a member of my youth group and a little older then me. She was a veteran counselor at Arnes and when she found out that I was trying counselling she gave me some advice. "Don't try to be their best friend at first," she said. "Most beginning counselors (I did) make the mistake of doing everything they can to be liked and they are lax in their rules and discipline. Once they realize their mistake they then spend the rest of the week trying to get respect and obedience out of their resistant campers. Don't do that! Start out on the stricter side. Be friendly but firm. When they test you at first, give strong consequences and don't falter. Earn their respect first and then you can loosen the reins later on. It's a lot easier to be strict first and relax the reins later on in the week then it is to start off lax and try to increase your strictness as you move on."

I took her at her word and had a wonderful week with my kids. I laid out my boundaries and when they tested them, they found out I was serious about them. As the week went on I relaxed things. At the end of the week my campers loved and respected me (and I them). We had so much fun! Later when I became a camp director I tried to teach this principle in staff training. I got to see the truth of this principle repeated week after week. When counselors ignored our advice they usually paid the price (burn out, frustrated kids, etc)! I take the principle into leading teams and parenting as well. Better to start off strict and loosen up the reins if you wish as time goes on. I think it's easier on everyone that way. You should put at least as much energy into discipline and earning respect as you do into connecting and building relationship.

Agree or disagree?


Lifelines said...

This is the exact same advice I received when I was in a professional development program to become a teacher. Almost the exact same words. It was good advice.

Moxymama said...

Totally agree....I did that both as a teacher and as a coach and now as a parent. It's easy to loosen the rules later than to try to firm them up.