Effective Discipline

Remembering the 5 Cs of Discipline

While you may bemoan the "disciplinarian" part of your role at camp this summer, it comes with the turf. And it's important as you — in many ways — take over for the children's parents.

In summary, there are essentially five steps you and your co-counselors must take to have an effective disciplinary system in place.

1. Clarify what rules will be put in place — and why they are there.

Rules are important. They provide structure and continuity that help children feel safe in your environment.

The rules you and your co-counselors decide on should be limited in number, constantly reviewed for relevance, and clearly explained to the children. Enforcement of those rules needs to be uniform and consistent. When rules are randomly enforced, people don't take them seriously.

2. Communicate the rules to your campers.

Kids want to know where the boundaries are and, in general, want to earn our approval and trust. It is our duty to make sure that they understand what our expectations for them are.

3. Apply the rules consistently.

Rules applied inconsistently confuse campers and invite problems. It is critical that every counselor "buy in" and agree to a common approach to discipline. If a 10:00 p.m. curfew for one counselor means 10:00 p.m., but another applies a margin of error, say 10:05 p.m., problems — and conflict — will result.

4. Enforce consequences when the rules are broken.

It's a pretty simple conclusion that if campers believe the stated consequences won't be applied, it makes it more likely they will engage in misbehavior.

Finally, when (and if) it comes to punishment, it is important that the punishment, if possible, should be linked to some constructive action the camper can take to make up for the infraction and to restore trust with the counselors.

5. Stress that character does count.

It is critical that you and your co-counselors address discipline within the context of the values upon which your camp operates and the responsibility each member of your community has to one another. Lying erodes trust, and trust is a fundamental building block in all human relationships. Children and teens need help to connect the dots between values, honesty, integrity, and relationships. And, they need to hear loud and clear that character does count.

(The 5 Cs of Discipline were excerpted from Confessions of a Disciplinarian: How Managing Camper Behavior Can Save the Summer by Steven Gray Wallace)

Appropriate Discipline Principles

Remember to follow any behavior management guidelines specific to your program or your director’s preferences, and keep the following in mind:

  • Give the participant one warning; make it clear that the behavior or action was inappropriate and undesirable.
  • Give the participant a chance to explain; he or she may have a good reason for the behavior.
  • Be consistent and impartial.
  • Stay cool and calm; keep strong emotions in check.
  • Avoid lecturing or embarrassing the participant; discipline in private if possible (but remember the rule of three).
  • Stress that the participant's behavior is the problem, not the participant's personality. Help the participant identify acceptable alternatives to the problem behavior.
  • Once the disciplinary time is over, accept the participant as a part of the group again.
  • Follow the program's behavior management policies for continuing discipline problems.

Inappropriate Discipline Techniques

  • Physical force including hitting, striking, punching, pushing, kicking,  pinching, or restraining.
  • Verbal abuse such as name-calling, cursing/profanity, shaming, belittling, harsh language that may frighten, threaten or humiliate, or derogatory remarks about the participant or his/her family.
  • Neglectful behavior such as withholding food, shelter, medical care, or attention.