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  • Nick M. Teich, PhD, LCSW

Communication during camp: Getting parents & guardians on the same page as camps

Updated: Apr 19

Camp teaches so many of the important skills that kids don’t get a chance to practice in the increasingly digital-heavy world, such as: socializing solely face-to-face, starting and continuing conversations, working through conflict, being proud of succeeding outside their comfort zone, feeling physical exhaustion after playing all day outside, and much more. You already know that. Now, your campers’ parents/guardians have bought into camp. They’ve signed up. But are they ready? Let’s get them to work together with camp directors and staff in supporting the care of their children.

 

Jon Haidt, author of the new book The Anxious Generation, writes a lot about parental expectations and over-involvement. “Well-intentioned parents who try to raise their children in a bubble of satisfaction - protected from frustration, consequences, and negative emotions - may be harming their children,” he says. “They may be blocking the development of competence, self-control, frustration tolerance, and emotional self-management.”

 

This is where camps come in, and where they do their best work. So many parents* wish they could stop hovering. They aren’t necessarily proud of their overprotection. They want permission to let go a little. But they don’t know how else to exist in a world that is full of anxieties. Directors can remind parents that camp is that gift that allows them to “let go” for the day, the week, or the entire summer. Tell them when you’ll be checking in and when you won’t. What can they expect from you, and what can’t they expect? Every camp is going to be different.


We have all had the camper parents that we laugh with and are a pleasure speaking to, and we’ve all had the camper parents that make us want to run and hide when we find out they’re on the phone. How do you get as many of them as possible to behave like the “model parents” that you always love to talk to? Like anything else, you have to start by setting expectations.

 

Many directors, including Wendy Siegel at Timber Lake West, are seeing that before choosing a camp, parents are spending more time asking detailed questions and trying to find the right camp for their child. That interest and level of detail may only increase once they register for camp.

 

Jason Samuel, director of The Nature Place Day Camp, has seen a shift in parent expectations as millennials start to send their children to camp. Mark Lipoff, director of Camp Micah, noted that a lot of parent communication issues have been mitigated by being direct about communication between camp and parents. “Putting out a communication guide really helped,” he said. Director Dana Kite of Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods Camps agrees. "Meeting and exceeding parent expectations is a target that feels like it's constantly moving," she said. “It’s all about managing expectations. Everyone knows what to pack from the packing list, so similarly, it's really important to spell out [communication policies] for parents.”

 

Sheryl Kirschenbaum, director of Surprise Lake Camp, underlined the need to discuss these expectations. “Once a month we do new family orientation, we’re doing more meetings, we’re talking about what to expect.” Certainly, a combination of setting these expectations and then going over them in real time is going to have more impact than just one of those modes alone.

 

Frank Silberlicht, director of Camp Young Judaea-Texas, said: “Some parents want photos every day, they’re anxious, and want communication in as real-time as possible. We set the expectations and, that was better.” He added, “You almost need a training for first-year parents of campers.”


Some parents are coming from daycares or schools where multiple daily photos are sent. They may be used to texting their children at any given time. When that is not available at camp, some parents cannot help but want to check in as often as possible. They should be able to do so, and will usually get some relief after the first few check-ins, but, they need to follow the channels of communication set forth by the camp, and they have to understand that their updates may not be instantaneous.


This is not just about the parents who are "extra anxious" or want to pull directors away from camp all the time. Most parents are thinking more about what their child is doing, how they're doing, and hoping for updates more often than in decades past. It is just the world we live in. So how can camps meet them in the middle, or find what's comfortable for both parties? Some of that must be communicated to would-be parents before they ever register a child, and the rest should be set out as clear expectations.


Even with those expectations, sometimes it's not enough just to have a manual or guide that parents should read. Because often, they don't read it (I'm guilty of this myself as a busy parent of two young kids). When you make the document easily digestible and somewhat short, then make them sign off on it, it is much easier to later have a conversation with the parent that holds them accountable for following the policies and guidelines that the camp has set forth regarding communication.

 

Camp is coming up quickly. If you have an updated parent communication manual, you're ready to go! If you don't, I can make one for your camp with minimal involvement from you. Click here to schedule a short conversation so we can start the process and help get your campers’ families to understand that camp means independence and growth.



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