BT Idol

Over the last few days, we’ve been deeply and seriously immersed in a rousing round of BT Idol. Though our version of the famed talent competition might be a little sillier and a lot less glamorous than the original TV show, I like to think that what we do is pretty awesome. We have a similar activity during first session, called “Puttin’ on the Hits.” Both of these evening programs involve dancing and lip-synching, where each cabin group chooses a song to which they will perform in front of the rest of the camp. Besides being a ton of fun, these two programs are designed with an important life lesson in mind.

When campers must come together as a group in order to make a decision about song choice, choreography, and costumes, they must do so through effective communication. Minor conflicts might arise during the planning and practicing processes; arranging the details of a musical performance takes a lot of time and practice. But through some special guidance from counselors and a healthy dose of goofiness, we find that by the time the final performance is finished each cabin emerges a more tightly-knit group than they were before.

Of course we want the campers to work through conflicts and come out the other side having learned something,but we also want them to know that conflict resolution can take place calmly and effectively; conflict is very often a necessary component of relationships and need not be feared. Problems don’t go away if you ignore them–in fact usually they get worse. It’s a good idea to face problems and get them sorted out as soon as you can. Learning how to deal with all those problems that crop up is a big part of growing up and an essential life skill. The key point is that not only must your child learn how to solve problems, but do so in a peaceful, calm way so that all the kids involved feel like they’ve won.

Birch Trail campers are taught that the emotions that come with the territory when working through a disagreement are normal and healthy. Sometimes we all get pretty angry.We may feel that something is unfair, something has been taken or broken that we value, someone is being mean, we’re not getting a fair share, etc.So what do we do?Well, we could throw a huge tantrum, get really upset, or be mean to everybody, but would any of these things solve the problem? I don’t think so! Staff members at BT are trained to help resolve conflicts both large and small by following several important steps. First, everyone involved needs to understand what the conflict or argument is about. To do this, everyone needs to say what they feel about it (without interruptions), listen to what other people have to say about their feelings (without interrupting them), and try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and try to understand their point of view.

Because mean-girl behavior is not tolerated at Birch Trail, this means that there are a few important rules that must be followed during cabin meetings or duct-tape time (a special hour devoted to giving kids an opportunity to talk about their feelings, and address any lingering issues in the cabin, as well as checking in and seeing how well their cabin rules are working). Of course, screaming and shouting are not allowed; there are to be no mean, nasty remarks that will hurt people’s feelings–no personal remarks about a person’s looks, their ‘secrets’ or things that have happened in the past.

In an effort to encourage people to work together, we teach campers the difference between and “I” statement or a “you” statement. You never clean up the cabin is a “you” statement. “You “ statements tend to escalate or make conflicts worse. When you don’t clean up the cabin , I feel sad because we all agreed that we would clean the cabin together” is an “I” statement. “I” statements identify a problem to be solved rather than attacking the other person. We find that our campers have greater success in resolving a conflict when they all feel heard and no one is placing blame. When our campers begin to learn to say what they feel without blaming the other person, conflict resolution becomes much easier.

Another important element of healthy communication that we strongly encourage is active listening. To practice this, campers are instructed to look at the person who is speaking, and suspend other things they are doing. They should listen not merely to the words, but the feeling content, and also be sincerely interested in what the other person is talking about. It can be helpful to then restate what the person said. Also, campers learn to effectively ask clarification questions when needed. All the while, we help the kids to be aware of their own feelings and strong opinions. And when it is time to state their views, we encourage them to voice those opinions only after the other person has finished speaking.

Conflict resolution is not easy. It takes everyone involved to work together willingly and to accept and carry out what has been decided. With only one more week left of camp, I’m delighted to say that our campers seem to be taking these lessons in stride and the result is a whole lot of truly healthy friendships, not to mention some pretty amazing song-and-dance routines far more entertaining than anything that could be found on some silly TV show.

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