Despite the trials and tribulations of The First: the bedwetters, the runners, the fighters and the pouters, saying goodbye was more emotional than I thought it would be.
Some kids wanted to leave as fast as possible, and got their wish with my blessing! In fact, J, one of my campers, tried to walk home yesterday after a fight during story time; he packed up his bag at around 11pm, and stormed out of the tent. Halfway down the hill he began to ponder the various obstacles that faced a very small seven year old boy in the woods, with our help, of course; bears, coyotes, murderous people in cars he’d hitchhike, oh and hunger, no doughnuts for breakfast! After which he promptly returned to bed without another word as long as I gave him a flashlight!
Others, who I wouldn’t have even thought enjoyed camp were actually tearing up at the prospect of never seeing me or their other counsellor again, which was nice, because it showed us that they were, indeed, still children and not the hardened little demons that they’d been several minutes hitherto as we tried to get them to pack their stuff – never give water guns as prizes, it never ends well!
Reflecting back on the session as a whole during the bus ride into the city has been pretty useful. Firstly, I think there were a lot of things we overreacted about, because at the end of the day, they are just children! In the heat of the moment, we may get really mad at them, which serves to cement that behaviour. One day V, another one of my campers, was doing his usual stroppy run. Seeing this, a friend of mine suggested giving him some space. Now, considering I had six other kids/potential time bombs to look after, passively waiting around for one of them to calm down wasn’t very high on my list of possible options, however, I decided to give it a go, silently sitting on a rock and letting him do his thing. Initially he didn’t really know how to react to the fact that I wasn’t chasing him, but upon seeing my face, he began to flip and throw almost every rock in a 10 metre radius. After exhausting the quarry, he turned to large sticks, and kept at it. Eventually, he actually wandered over back to the spot where I sat, and we had a really good chat about a lot of things. Sadly, due to the insufficient attention span of that age, he was back to throwing rocks in no time.
There were also things we may not have picked up on, that would have been helpful as boundary setters for the later stages of behavioural management. For example, our unit leader, on a particularly bad night where absolutely nothing would quell the random violent outbursts, suggested a points system, as the good kids weren’t getting rewarded, which is what might have lead to the deterioration of behaviour. Unfortunately, by that point, it was too late to properly instigate such a thing, and even if it wasn’t, where was the time to think it through! We did give them little sanctions and rewards, which worked well, even at a later stage, such as the aforementioned water pistols and other things such as a bubble machine. We also noticed they loved eating more bread at the salad bar (with cream cheese and this ‘jelly’ nonsense) so if they weren’t behaving, we used that as an incentive, to good effect, although you need to remember what you gave to which kid as they won’t let it go!
My hopes for the second is that we’ll manage to get on top of behavioural issues from the get-go, allowing more time for us to actually enjoy our job and talk about more important issues that might actually be the cause. I had a few opportunities, often with the naughtiest kids as I took them to the side to talk about the latest scuffle or dispute, hints being slipped into conversation that you attempt to purse open, although mostly they’re closed books, as are most boys of that age and upbringing, as they have real difficulties expressing more complex emotion.
I’d also love to foster an environment where the kids feel safe. On an end-of-session questionnaire, a lot of the kids said that they didn’t feel 100% safe (ticking the ‘fair’ box rather than ‘yes’ or ‘no’). Talking with a lot of them, the dog-eat-dog mentality is king. Yesterday, one of the kids wouldn’t get off the bed and stuff of J. Up he was and within seconds throttled the other kid, who may have done it as a joke. “He was messing with me so I’m going to mess with him”, “do that again and i’ma give you a black eye” and “thats what you get” were some of the quotes of his response, so it’s understandable that the kids don’t feel safe if they’re already always on the defensive. But how do you change something so deeply ingrained, probably as a mechanism of self preservation from their life at home?
It’ll be interesting to see just how everything pans out now I’ve had some exposure to the types of kids that I’m expecting. For now, NYC awaits, hooray for intersession!