Duct Tape Really Does Fix Everything

We’ve hit the midpoint of first session now, and with that midpoint comes some changes in the cabin dynamic. As always happens in new groups and new friendships, conflicts do occasionally arise. Some of you might have received letters by this time that detail some of these minor conflicts as they’ve come up. The experience of a group living environment will be new to many kids, and still challenging to those who have already experienced cabin life. Even for kids who have siblings at home, sharing a cabin with peers can be challenging for most campers, no matter what their home life might be.

Just like with everything else here at BT, we try to take these moments of conflict or tension as an opportunity to teach the campers valuable lessons about relationships and life. Wednesday I sat in with Cabin M1 during Duct Tape Time, which is a special time that takes place at 5 pm every Wednesday during Cabin Day, when the cabins can come together to discuss how things are going and address any problems, cabin rules that need to be adjusted, or any other issue that may have arisen in the previous week. In essence, this hour is a time for the cabins to fix anything that needs attention, tweaking, or adjustment—hence the duct tape theme.

Duct Tape Time gives the 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 were working. During this meeting, we went around the circle, giving each camper a turn to speak her mind so that there was only one person talking at a time. In these sessions, cabin counselors are always there to help with the frame work, and to guide their campers as they practice putting feelings into words in a friendly way.

One way that we keep these meetings productive, calm, and focused, is by using “I” versus “you” statements. By implanting a formula of “When you _____ I feel _____, because_______” statements, campers learn to address specific behaviors or situations rather than attack someone personally. We teach the camp community that “you” messages tend to escalate conflicts or make things worse. For example, saying something like “You always forget to ask my permission,” or “you never invite me to come along” might make a child feel attacked or called-out.

“I” messages are a way of diffusing a confrontation. With an “I” message, the speaker identifies the problem needing to be solved instead of attacking the other person. In turn, this makes the listener feel more willing to try to solve the problem as a team instead of feeling the need to get defensive. For instance, a few of the issues that frequently come up in cabin meetings can be easily transformed from argumentative statements to productive ones:

“You never clean up the cabin–you are lazy” becomes “When you don’t clean up the cabin, I feel concerned because we all agreed that it was an important way of showing respect to each other,” or “You never pass me the ball in soccer” can be turned into “I feel bad and left out when you don’t pass me the ball because I like playing with you.”

Part of growing up means learning to gain control over feelings and impulses, even though it can be difficult for many children to manage strong emotions. We teach our campers that conflicts and mistakes are going to happen; our role is to help the kids solve those problems quickly and in healthy ways. These are important life skills that our campers have the benefit of learning here at camp, where it is a safe place for kids to develop conflict resolution skills. We teach our campers that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way, but that what’s important is trying in earnest to learn from those mistakes.

We also talk about choices, meaning that if a camper does something wrong, it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with her, but instead that there is something wrong with her choice. It’s incredibly important for children to learn the difference between a person and their choices, and to always remember that they are in charge of each and every choice they make.

It feels really great to provide our campers with the frame work they need to solve a conflict, and then to see them practice those tools and techniques throughout the summer. If we do our job right, by the end of the summer, campers will be able to resolve conflicts on their own. What we want is for the kids to come home from camp knowing more than when they left. Learning to waterski and shoot an arrow are important skills, but learning how to navigate conflicts and resolve them peacefully are the lessons that will carry Birch Trail campers into healthy, successful lives.

During Duct Tape Time with M1, I was blown away to see how a group of seven and eight year-olds have learned how to share their feelings and resolve conflicts on their own. I watched with a smile on my face while, with minimal assistance from the adults in the room, the M1 campers worked through their collective problems and out of the meeting feeling closer than ever.

2 thoughts on “Duct Tape Really Does Fix Everything”

  1. The duct tape hour is a perfect example of what is so RIGHT about Birch Trail, and how you differ from so many other overnight camps.

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