Campfire Notes

Happy Campers at Home: 4 Ways to Boost Family Relationships

Happy Campers at Home: 4 Ways to Boost Family Relationships

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, GAC’s Chief Visionary Officer, researches, writes, and speaks about parenting, social skills, and strategies for raising thriving kids at Sunshine Parenting. In her book, Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults, Sunshine shares simple ideas parents can use to create the fun, connection, growth, and happiness of GAC at home. Here are four of Sunshine’s favorite connection tips for families.

If you were to ask me the most important thing parents can provide their children, camp counselors can provide campers, and teachers can provide students, I can sum it up with one word: Connection.
-Audrey “Sunshine” Monke

Building a relationship and connecting with kids—while also helping them learn to connect with each other and form friendships—is the most important experience we can provide our kids to inoculate them against the inevitable setbacks they will face in life.

Here are some simple ideas from GAC for boosting family connections.

One-on-One Check Ins

On our counselor job description, one of their duties is to “check in with each camper, every day.” We call these check-in meetings “One-on-Ones.” Counselors ask campers specific, open-ended questions to elicit how campers are feeling. The counselors ask about their friendships, activities, how much they’re missing home, what’s going well, and if they need help with anything.

These are individual conversations, out of earshot of other kids, that last anywhere from two to five minutes. The campers get accustomed to the check-ins, so they’re not surprised when their counselor starts chatting with them.

As a simple way to deepen your connection with your kids, and know how you can best support them, try having at least one daily one-on-one chat with each of them, modeled after what camp counselors do:

Turn off or put away your phone (and have them put theirs away, too).
Stop doing everything else (cooking, looking at a magazine, etc.).
Give your child your full attention (eye contact, body turned toward them, not thinking about other things).
Ask them a few open-ended questions. “Tell me about the best part of your day” is an easy place to start.

Your one-on-one chats can be anytime. You can make it a daily ritual over an after-school snack, while sharing a hot drink, or while tucking them in at bedtime, but that small, concerted daily investment of time will lead to a closer connection between you and your kids.

If your kids are already teens, know that the best way to have one-on-one chats is to be open to whenever they initiate the talk with you rather than forcing them to be on your schedule. When they talk, drop everything else you’re doing, focus on them, and listen!

Daily Sharing

A highlight of each day at camp is our evening campfire. Gathered around the fire, counselors lead a daily sharing practice. Campers remember these conversations fondly and the evening campfires are many campers’ and staff members’ favorite camp memories.

Find a time each day – dinner or bedtime are often good times to set up a consistent sharing practice – to spend just a few minutes sharing with each other.

The only rules for your daily sharing are that one person speaks at a time and everyone else listens to the person speaking. Your kids may need a few reminders, as listening attentively is a skill most of us need to work on!

Your kids (especially if they are preteens or teenagers) may balk when you bring up the idea of daily sharing and do it for the first time. Stay strong. They will eventually learn to appreciate your daily sharing practice. Even if they continue balking, don’t stop. Even if they don’t show it on the outside, they will eventually come to appreciate a time each day when caring people listen to what they have to say.

Here are a few daily sharing ideas:

“Highs & Lows” or “Roses & Thorns”
This is a simple and well-known sharing practice where each family member shares something good that happened in their day (a high) and something bad (a low). Sharing often leads to stories and discussion about different events — the side track conversations are good, so let those happen! There are also additions you can add. At camp, we often do High, Low, and Hero, where each camper shares their high and low as well as someone who was kind to them or a “hero” that day. Another twist on this activity is called “Rose, Thorn and Leaf.” The rose is the high, the thorn is the low, and the leaf is something you’re looking forward to.

Three Good Things
Each person shares three good things that happened in their day or three things they are grateful for. This gratitude exercise (when journaled) has been proven to reduce depression symptoms. While your sharing conversation won’t be written down (unless you choose to do so), it can still bring a positive focus to your sharing. Ideally, because everyone anticipates the daily sharing, everyone will be more aware of and looking out for the positive things that happen every day.

Kindness
Sunshine loves the idea of sharing something each person did that was kind or something kind someone else did for you. Focusing on kindness is incredibly important in our increasingly unkind-seeming world.

Ask Questions

Questions are a great way to connect with each other and get conversations started.

Here are a few to get you started (from the Questions for Connection GAC counselors use):

Sticky Note Compliment

At GAC, we focus on campers’ strengths and encourage them to think about building upon their strengths. Often as parents we spend a lot of time managing our children or helping them with things they are not good at. A great way to connect and make your child feel great is to leave an encouraging note on your child’s bathroom mirror, on their pillow, or in their lunch box. Tell your child something you really appreciate about them and something that’s an inner quality or strength.

Download Family Connection Tips

Ep. 123: Connection Comes First

How to get Closer to your Kid in 5 Minutes a Day

How to Have a Closer Family in 5 Minutes a Day

Connection Through Questions

Ep.115: Giving Kids Meaningful Compliments

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Be You!

Be You!

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

A horse smiles for the camera at Gold Arrow Camp, a children's summer camp in California

To keep up with our BE YOU theme this summer:

Subscribe to the GAC Podcast

Check your inbox on Monday for our BE YOU weekly email.

Follow GAC on Instagram
(Use hashtag #GACbeyou.)

Follow GAC on Facebook

Be You!

It sounds like such a simple task. After all, aren’t we all just automatically ourselves?

But it’s actually not as simple as it seems. We all feel pressure to fulfill expectations, fit in, go with the flow, look and act a certain way, and do what everyone else is doing. 

Sometimes all of that pressure can lead to feelings that we’re not enough just the way we are. Confidence can be eroded when we feel like we’re falling short.

At GAC we believe in encouraging campers and staff to accept and celebrate our own and others’ strengths and unique traits. “Being You” is one of our core values, and many kids tell us that they feel freer to be themselves at camp than in other places. Campers and staff often report that they feel like they can “be themselves” at camp.

Each year, we pick a theme to help guide us through camp. This summer, even though we won’t be together at camp, we’ll be exploring and sharing about what it means to be our true, authentic selves.

We’ll encourage campers to explore what it means to be their “best selves” with questions like these:

  • What do I like best about myself?
  • What do I really enjoy doing?
  • What are my goals?
  • What do I dream of doing?
  • What are the personality quirks and strengths that make me special?
  • How can I be kinder to myself with my “self talk”?
  • How can I encourage and support my friends in being their authentic selves?
4 girls pose in their costume onesies.

When we spend time talking and thinking about the interests, traits, and strengths that make us who we are, we gain self-awareness, which is an important aspect of emotional intelligence and one that helps us be a better friend to others. Self-awareness also builds our confidence and ability to understand that we don’t need to be an expert or be perfect at everything. No one is!

When we support our friends by pointing out their strengths and the unique, cool things we like about them, we strengthen our friendships, too. 

This summer , not only will we be learning about how to be our best selves, we’ll be learning about how to help our friends be their best selves, too!

Our “Be You” theme for 2020 gives us the opportunity to take advantage of our extra time for reflection (because we’re all stuck at home) and reconnect with what makes us awesome just the way we are.

Check out Monkey and Soy’s formal announcement of our theme (back in January, before we knew we’d be stuck at home this summer), complete with many “b” based puns, enjoy this video:

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