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Camp Complaints: Good Parenting with Dr. Debbie

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My school-age children are at a summer camp that includes van trips to a nearby pool. Yesterday at pickup time I overheard a counselor threaten to take away a child’s pool time the next day because she wasn’t helping to clean up.

Can you give me some talking points to bring up to the counselor, or maybe to the director, about how inappropriate this is?

By the way I asked my 9-year-old about it and she said the counselor acts mean sometimes but that no one ever stays behind on pool days.

Camp is our Summer Childcare

Dear CSC,

It appears the counselor is using an empty threat to manage behavior. That’s unfortunate. Fortunately, children learn pretty quickly that it’s just a signal that the counselor is miffed, so they figure out what to do to calm her down. In other words, if I start cleaning up, the counselor’s not upset with me anymore. In all likelihood the child knows this has nothing to do with losing pool time.

Discipline Protocols

If you have been given anything from the camp about protocols for discipline, it would be a good idea to refer to these in your conversation with the counselor or director. Your approach would be to clarify that what you overheard (and whatever else your child reported to you) is a routine procedure when a camper isn’t contributing to cleaning up. I doubt that it is.

Harsh discipline isn’t usually necessary at a day camp when there are enjoyable activities, friends, and counselors who enjoy being with children. Everyone is there to have some fun. If this is not what’s going on, the director should be informed so that changes can be made.

An Explanation

Considering that the World Health Organization says we’re still in a global health emergency – due to the continuing threat of Covid-19 – it’s no wonder counselors, and maybe some campers, are on edge.

We all can get grumpy sometimes. Your children are likely aware of people who have had positive tests, quarantines, and mild to severe temporary to lingering symptoms. They are probably aware that people have died, whether or not this includes anyone they know. The prevalence of this ongoing threat can explain why a camp counselor – a job that requires patience and expertise in managing children’s behavior – could lose her cool and make an empty threat.

The high humidity of the past couple of weeks is something else to add to the discussion with the staff. This both explains why a child may be lacking in motivation to clean up, and why the counselor is grasping at an unfeasible consequence. Extreme heat and humidity add to the importance of keeping to the schedule of getting in the pool, for everyone.


To prevent future resistance to clean-up time, if the staff person is open to it, you could offer some suggestions.

  1. Make cleaning up easier with bins and shelves that are clearly labeled.
  2. Plan the harder-to-clean-up activities for earlier in the day. Limit end of the day activities to those that have little to no cleaning up, such as group singing.
  3. Or ask for parent volunteers, yourself included, to join in with the clean up at pick-up time. This is a nice way for parents to share part of the camp experience with their children.

An immediate consequence for the reluctant cleaner-upper is for the counselor to give her a very easy, very sedentary activity such as re-capping the markers. This could even be a partner task, to be carried out with a more enthusiastic fellow camper. This is an example of matching a job to the child’s abilities. This way she can be proud of being successful with it, and of being a contributing member of the group.

Before you start looking for an alternative to this particular camp for your childcare until school resumes, see if you can support the situation your children are already in.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  

The museum is open with online reservations or call: 410-990-1993.

CCM and community partners are presenting a FREE event this Saturday, August 6, 4:30-8:30 pm. An Act of Kindness will have live music and a DJ, veggie burgers and other healthy foods (donated by Wegmans), and plenty of children’s activities. Meet your Annapolis neighbors and elected representatives at The People’s Park, 44 Calvert Street.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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