It’s been a rough few years for kids as their world has been turned upside down due to the pandemic. As things begin to return to normal, or at least a new kind of normal, more and more participants will be filling up your camps. With this you may experience many of them taking out their frustration caused by the changes brought on by the pandemic and exerting their pent up energies in unproductive ways. In general, they may lack appropriate behavior and social skills and simply refuse to listen to correction.
As a camp professional, you understand that your participants handle their emotions in different ways, and you need to be delicate when it comes to appropriately guiding them in the right direction to build positive behaviors. Sure, sometimes it can be incredibly frustrating, and you’re at your wit’s end, but through positive behavior reinforcement you can see a world of difference in your participants and how they conduct themselves. Read on to learn some positive reinforcement tips that can help save your sanity.
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but when you’re in the moment, it can easily be forgotten, especially when you are so focused on negative behavior. When you see a participant doing something positive, big or small, give them praise. Tell them that you like seeing them working on a project so diligently, let them know that you’re enjoying their work or even give them a high five. If they’re pre-school age, narrate what they’ve done in an excited way. Build their confidence and make those around aware of how great they’re doing. If no one’s around while you’re giving praise, make sure that when another adult is around, the child hears you praising their positive behaviors.
Usually when kids present negative behaviors, they’re seeking attention. Instead of giving them the attention they crave while they’re not behaving, give them positive attention when they are—and lots of it. Remember: Praise behavior and effort instead of ability.
2. Tangible Results
If you find yourself with a camp full of participants who are behaving negatively and refusing to listen, it might be time to go back to the basics and reward positive behavior with tangible results. This strategy may seem a bit rudimentary and feel like you’re bribing participants, but kids love rewards in the form of prizes. Think about when kids visit the dentist; every child gets a prize for going, but they get an additional prize for having no cavities, which reinforces the positive behavior of brushing and flossing regularly. This is a similar concept. So when you see participants demonstrating positive behaviors, give them a prize (a sticker, a trinket, a special responsibility) and make everyone in earshot aware of what’s happening.
3. Token Reinforcement
This involves a little less instant gratification but gives participants something to work toward. Instead of giving a prize, have your participants work toward a prize by giving points for good behavior. You can give points Hogwarts-style by awarding them to participants or groups (and have a visual with jars that fill with marbles or bouncy balls), or give reward coupons/behavior bucks to participants that they can accumulate over time to exchange at the end of camp for a prize.
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