Prepare Your Kids for Camp By Teaching Them to Handle Teasing

By Dr. Tim Jordan, Columnist for St. Louis Kids Magazine

Since this the time when many parents are making summer camp plans for their children, I thought I'd give parents a few ideas about how to prepare their children for the social challenges of going to camp.

Going away to camp brings the promise of making some new "friends for life" or BFFs (best friends forever).
But it can also bring kids face to face with teasing, bullying and being excluded as campers vie for pecking order rights and status. A potential growing experience can quickly deteriorate into a nightmare.

Following are suggestions about teaching your kids to handle teasing and bullying. These are ideas I've learned and used from working with kids at my own camps (Camp Weloki) for the past 20 years.

Teach kids that they are responsible for their feelings and reactions to teasing. Remember Eleanor Roosevelt's famous quote: "No one has the power to make you feel anything unless you give them permission."

If you get angry and respond back with disrespect, it usually fuels the teaser. Allowing your feelings to get hurt also encourages the tease to keep going. But they didn't "make you feel bad," you allowed it! Teach kids to not give their power away by letting the words hurt or by reacting back.

Teach kids there are no "mean" words. No matter what a bully calls you, you always have a choice to either let it be a "mean" word or let it be what I call a "tomato" word. Let me explain. 

When I ask kids if they would be hurt and upset if I called them a "tomato," they laugh and say of course not. When I ask why, they tell me it's because that's stupid; they know they're not a tomato.  So it's easy to smile, shrug it off and walk away unfazed.

So when a bully starts calling you names, I encourage kids to start talking to themselves inside their heads, with the dialogue sounding something like this:

"Tim, just relax. He's trying to make you upset. It's just a word; I'm not a tomato. You don't have to let it bother you; I'm not a tomato."

Your kids in essence can coach themselves, and therefore, they are fully in charge of their feelings. Thus, there are no mean words unless we let them be mean words.

Teach kids the phrase "You might be right." We tell kids that if a bully teases you, just say "You might be right," smile and then walk away. This shows the bully that the words have no power over you and they usually get bored and stop.

Teach kids peaceful conflict resolution skills. By practicing with sibling conflicts or conflicts with friends that occur in your home, you can teach kids how to ask for what they want and create win-win agreements with their siblings or friends.

Armed with these four suggestions (and hopefully having practiced these skills this spring), kids can go to camp feeling empowered and confident in their ability to take care of themselves socially.

When I ask kids at my camps who has been teased or who has ever teased someone, every hand is raised in answer to both questions.

Kids are kids, and teasing and excluding behaviors happen all the time, in many settings, camps included. So prepare your kids so they don't have to let that kind of mischief ruin their camp experience.


Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician and author of several books including "Keeping Your Family Grounded When You're Flying by the Seat of Your Pants." His counseling practice in Chesterfield is focused primarily on girls in grade school through college. He and his wife, Anne, run personal growth weekend retreats for kids in grade school, middle school and high school, including a new leadership and empowerment weekend retreat for middle school girls. Tim has spoken internationally to parents and professionals for 24 years on parenting and child-related issues. His web site is, or call his office at 636-530-1883.

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