Ep 60: Deliberate Parenting for Happy Campers

Episode Summary

Audrey Monke, author of Happy Campers, shares the wealth of knowledge she’s gained from mentoring kids and camp counselors for the past 30 years. It’s incredible just how many tricks from counseling campers can be applied in the home!

Show NotesParenting ScriptsWorkbook ExercisesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

Every parent has an idea in their head about how their family is going to go. It’s hard not to have hopes and dreams about just how perfect everything will go and how you won’t turn into your parents…but then kids become teens.

And it seems like all of our expectations for a functional family go out the window. It can feel like we’re barely managing to tread water.

This week I spoke with Audrey Monke, author of Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults about getting deliberate in parenting. After serving as a camp director for over 30 years – not to mention being a mother of five – Audrey knows a thing or two about deliberate practices that work!

Being deliberate and intentional in your parenting practice may sound simple, but taking action isn’t always easy.

Luckily Audrey and I discussed in depth specific practices you can implement with your teen and even exactly what you can say to your teen to shift into a more deliberate and positive practice. In addition, to Audrey’s go-tos for creating a positive mindful family environment you will discover:

  • How to turn “labels” into solutions
  • The subtle language shift that makes all the difference
  • The link between homesickness and a parent’s confidence in their kid
  • How to identify “hot spots” and “prime times” to optimize the good times and puzzle out the stress
  • A different way to “nag” to your teen that lets you off the hook

So excited to be sharing  Audrey’s wealth of knowledge on creating a deliberate parenting practice and dealing with teens!!

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. When your teen is nervous about trying something new:

“Oh my gosh this sounds really, really rough, and I have a lot of confidence in you that you can make it through this. I know the beginning is going to be hard – it was hard for me – and I’m here to support you. I know you can do this.”

-Audrey Monke

2.  Preserve your teen’s autonomy while also giving an order:

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3.  Pair a behavior change with a privilege rather than a punishment:

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4.  Get solution focused with your critiques:

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5.  Show your gratitude while also setting the bar high for next time:

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Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1. A Subtle Shift to Make a Big Difference:

One thing that stood out to me in my interview with Audrey Monke was how subtle shifts in language can have a huge impact on how words are received. Audrey explicitly discussed shifting from punishment focused to privilege focused. Instead of “if you don’t do the dishes after dinner, then you won’t get a slice of cake” switch to “once you finish those dishes, you can have a slice of cake!” Think of your typical family rules and consequences. Write down three that you can then rephrase to make them more privilege-focused. Try to implement this subtle shift next time you’re reminding your teen about a rule and its consequences.

2.  Turn Your Labels into Solutions:

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3.  Use a “Wow” to Mindfully Acknowledge Your Teen:

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4.  Spread Some Inspiration:

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5.  Sticky-Note Your Nag:

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6.  Find the “Hot Spots” to Smooth Out Tension

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Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: So sort of a nonstandard person. We talked to a lot of scientists on here and parenting experts who come from kind of the research side. So I had a blast reading this book, which is really different and really refreshing, but also still does tie in a lot of science and a lot of positive psychology in the concepts that you talk about in this book. But it’s filled with great stories from kind of your times at camp and kids that you’ve had and also counselors and kind of things that you’ve learned about how to train your counselors so that they can be more effective with the campers. And there’s so much stuff I want to talk about, but I’m really interested for a little bit of your story and how you kind of came to running a summer camp and then writing this book about it.

Audrey: Well, I think like most young adults, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was younger, but I did always like working with kids. And so during college, I decided to work at a summer camp just to get some more experience working with kids. I had always thought kind of in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a teacher, but it was a very uncool profession, especially where I went to school. I was at Stanford University in the 1980s, and everybody was wanting to work for Oracle and Coca Cola and kind of like real jobs.

Andy: [inaudible 00:00:01:28]. Yeah, yeah.

Audrey: And yes. Yeah. So I really didn’t know. I started working at camp the summer of 1986. And wow. Just the whole experience completely changed my life’s direction because once I experienced that community and culture that was at camp and the opportunity to interact and teach kids in a way that was very unlike other settings, very much more relational, more like I often tell people that if it had been a profession being like a teenager’s life coach would have been maybe the one that the job that I would have liked because I loved… Yeah. I love just sitting around campfires. I love talking to the kids about what they cared about, what they were worried about. I love teaching them. I taught water skiing and I loved teaching them a skill that was really hard to learn and then watching them get so excited after trying so many times finally getting up.

Audrey: So all around, it was just a very different experience for me being at camp. And pretty much from that first summer, I was like, how can I do this as my job? And it really just was sort of, I always say just divine intervention. The timing was just so… The camp was for sale during my entire college time working there because the founder of the camp had passed away and his elderly wife was running it with kind of a key leadership team and really was looking to sell it.

Audrey: So throughout my summers as a counselor, we would always be talking about the different people who were coming through, looking at the camp and possibly buying it. And it really just worked out that I had expressed an interest to the owner and I was kind of going to be partners with her assistant director who was a guy that had been at camp for a long time and was 20 years older than I was. So he was experienced. And so he was kind of part of the deal.

Audrey: But it apparently sold to someone else at the end of the summer of ’88. So I left camp and kind of knew that that was the end of that chapter. And I moved on. I started teaching school in Northern California on an emergency credential. And then right after Christmas 1988, Jeanie, the widow of the founder, called me and said that the sale had fallen through and was I still interested? And so that kind of started this whole odyssey back in 1989. I was 22 years old when we closed escrow on this business and has been such a crazy and awesome experience just learning so much.

Andy: And so then at some point you decided, hey, all of these stories that are happening at camp, all of these characters I’m meeting and all this stuff that I’m learning is stuff that would benefit parents too. And you decided to write this book, Happy Campers.

Audrey: Well, it actually started way before the book. I did start thinking about how many things that we train our counselors in at camp that parents would benefit from so much. I also heard from a lot of past counselors, once they became teachers or parents, how many of the skills they learned at camp they were using with kids out in the world. And so I actually started a blog way back when. I don’t even know what year it was. I started this really like blog, Blogger or blog something. I don’t know. So I think it was somewhere in the early 2000s whenever blogs were starting, I started just a blog. I called it Sunshine Parenting and rarely ever posted, but occasionally would get an inspiration and post something.

Audrey: And then I think it was around 2013, I committed to writing a new post every single week. So sharing some kind of tip or information. And just that I think that kind of consistency and regularity really, I just kind of gathered this small, but loyal following mostly of my own camp’s parents, but also of other camp professionals and some teachers who just liked my way of sort of simplifying topics and synthesizing information. I’m a big reader. So I read like you. I know you read all these books about parenting and personal development, everything. I am a huge reader and a lot of what I was doing was just reading something and then passing along something I learned from that, or I’d go to a conference and hear a speaker and get some more insights from that. And then also just as we prepared things for training, our counselors, much of that is just, I mean, you can right away just turn it right over to parenting. It’s exact same things, how to communicate with kids, positive behavior management, what kids need.

Audrey: And so really I did that for many years before I even thought about writing the book. I also started a podcast. Like you, I have a podcast. It’s called Sunshine Parenting, same as my website. And I interview all kinds of different parenting authors and experts. And I’ve learned even more through that. So I think all of this just kind of came together and I’ve always loved reading. I was like, well, I think I can write a book too.

Andy: It really struck me that a lot of the stuff that you talk about in this book that you teach your counselors and that you do at camp is just perfect stuff to be used in the house that parents could be latching onto. I’ve just took notes on a ton of stuff as I was reading. One of the first things that I really liked was that counselors do a nightly tuck in with their cabin.

Audrey: Well, actually that was something that my friend Sarah at her camp, Yosemite Sierra summer camp does. And you’ll notice in the book, it’s not really just about my camp and my story, but I’ve included stories from other camps because at traditional, well-run established summer camps, there’s a lot of practices that are pretty consistent that you would find. But that was talking about just I think sometimes as parents, we forget just the importance of daily one-on-one time with our kids and just really giving them our full attention, even if it’s just for a few minutes. And at camp, we’re really intentional about that because the counselors are trying to form these relationships with their kids. They have a large group of kids. Maybe like at art camp it’s eight to 10 kids to get to know. And so part of our daily practice is some kind of daily check-in.

Audrey: So at the one that Sarah talked about is a nightly check-in. At our camp, it’s more of a just a conversation, a one-on-one chat with kids. And it really can happen anytime throughout the day. It can be while walking from one activity to another or sitting next to them at the meal. And basically it’s just kind of an open-ended time to just ask the kids, “Hey, how are things going? Is there anything I can help you with? Who are you really connecting with? Who are your good friends? What can I do to help make camp more fun for you?” So just different depending on the counselor and the age of their kids. It doesn’t have to be a specific kind of script, but it is important that they are giving that child their full attention for even just two minutes every single day.

Audrey: And so that’s something that’s a common practice at camps. And like Sarah talks about at her camp, it’s when the counselors are tucking the kids in. I think we do a hug or high five for kids at tuck in, but not necessarily like a specific conversation. So all our kids get kind of tucked in, but it’s not necessarily an affirmation. Sarah, what she talked about and what I shared in the book is they actually share something that they noticed in the child that day, like an affirmation or compliment. So that’s pretty cool too. There’s so many different ways to do it. Parents just need to pick their own style, but just not forget that you don’t want to have all your conversations with your kids. Especially with teenagers, especially with teenagers, you don’t want to only be talking to them about their homework or what they need to bring to school or what the schedule is. You want to have some just kind of like chats about whatever they want to talk about.

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Andy: So another thing that I found really interesting was this idea that counselors are basically on the clock, 24/7. They got this cabin full of kids that are under your control and you always have responsibility. And so I thought it was cool that another thing you guys are intentional about is kind of finding time and finding ways for counselors to take a break and to get some time off. So how do you do that? How does that work and then how does that apply to parenting?

Audrey: Well, I mean, fortunately for us, our cabin groups all have almost all of them have at least three counselors in there. The younger kids sometimes even more. So while there might be a group of eight to 10 kids, there are multiple adults who are in the group and they know both. There’s their scheduled breaks, but there’s also just this understanding. We have a real conversation with them about learning to tap each other out. So if you notice a counselor just kind of not being as patient or responding in a way that doesn’t seem characteristic of them, just to tap them and say, “Hey, let me watch the kids for a little while. Why don’t you go take a little walk or something if you want a break?” Or just really even better acknowledging it in yourself, realizing when you’re feeling triggered and you really might say or do something you’re going to later regret just taking a moment and figuring out how you can regroup or just get a little moment away.

Audrey: And really, unless your kids are at the age where they could stick their finger in a plug, you can take a moment and just even say to your kids, “I’m feeling really like I’m going to lose it or am I’m going to flip my lid,” we call it at camp. “So I’m going to take a few minutes to regroup. I’m going to go over here and just sit in this chair with my book for just five or 10 minutes. So I can kind of get recentered and be able to talk to you better.” I’m a huge believer in just being honest with kids. Parents are not perfect nor are camp counselors. And when we do say or do something, it’s important to circle back and say, “Hey, you know what, I’m really sorry that I snapped at you back there. I think I’m feeling hungry right now, or I don’t think I got enough sleep.” Or being more real with them.

Audrey: Because if we try to, first of all, say that everything is the kid’s fault, which is unfair because they’re kids and they’re meant to be impulsive and they are all about triggering adults who they were with. So we really need to be the ones to start communicating and recognizing when we need that break. And for camp counselors, I mean, the standard is much higher than it is for parents when you think about it. I mean, here we have these 19, 20, 21 year old kids, most of them are college students and they can’t yell at their kids or do things that parents sometimes do. That would not be okay. And so we have to give them the tools and the structure and the support to make sure that they can maintain just this level of communication and style with the kids that’s positive and good.

Audrey: And so it’s really, yes, a lot of those same skills parents really need. Because obviously in our own homes, yeah, we’re going to yell sometimes at our kids. We’re going to get upset. We’re not going to always be patient. We’re going to ignore them sometimes. There’s all these different things that will happen. But we have them all year. Counselors usually only have kids for a week or two. So if they yell at their kids, that might be the only thing they remember about that counselor.

Andy: Another thing I thought was really cool was you teach counselors to focus on privileges instead of punishments and kind of to frame things in a positive way instead of a negative way, like what you’re going to lose if you don’t do something but more framing it in terms of what you’re going to get if you do do something. Can you walk me through how that works and how parents could use that?

Audrey: Definitely. I think this is true of both kids and adults. We would rather be told that we get to do something because we’ve done something else. So when you think about it in the workplace, say in a business, you say, “Hey, if we reach our sales goals by Thursday at five, we’re going to have a fun Friday and go bowling on the afternoon.” You know what I mean? You can do it for adults. It works for adults too. So it’s instead of “If you don’t wash the dishes, we’re not going out to the movie tonight.” Instead it’s “As soon as the dishes are done, we get to go out to the movie.” So it’s like, everything you say, you’re saying the same thing. It’s not being a pushover and it’s not giving your kids a bunch of extra privilege.

Andy: Right, right, right. Exactly.

Audrey: It’s just about the way you think about and phrase things. And then I think also another thing that I think some parents have lost sight of is that almost a lot of things are privileges that parents and kids aren’t treating as such in this era. So obviously all children need love and food and shelter and nurturing and all that good stuff. But they do not like watching TV or having a phone or using a phone or having dessert every night. I mean, all these things that they’re privileges that parents get to decide what they’re for when they can use them. And so I think parents can reframe whatever it is that’s really bothering them or what they’re trying to get accomplished.

Audrey: So an example would be like, say, a child is kind of slow at getting their homework done. You just can word it like, “Hey, as soon as your homework is done and everything’s checked off this list, then let’s go out to the park or we’ll ride our bikes.” You can say it in a way that’s positive, and people receive things better when they’re worded more positively. So I’d rather hear someone to say to me, “Yes. You know what? We can definitely go do that fun thing as soon as you finish this.” Sounds so much better than “No, you can’t do that.”

Andy: You can’t ride your bikes and you can’t go to the park until you finish your homework is basically the negative version. It’s the exact same thing. But it just sounds so much better the way you said it.

Audrey: Right. Well, it’s like, how do you feel when someone says no to you? Your whole body physically responds. If you say, “Do you want to go out on a date with me?” And someone says no, you’re just deflated. But if someone says, “Yes, as soon as… I’m not available today, but how about next week?” You know what I mean? Or something like-

Andy: I’d love to and thank you so much for inviting me. I’m busy. I don’t have time.

Audrey: Yes.

Andy: [crosstalk 00:19:00] at some other.

Audrey: Yes.

Andy: Totally.

Audrey: Yeah. But here’s the problem with it. Most of us were not raised this way, nor are we used to it. So it had doesn’t come off our tongues, just naturally. So if you come up with something, I think these are things that parents who are trying to be more positive in their communication actually need to think through. And if you have a parenting partner together come up with the phrase you’re going to use. So if you have a teenager and maybe it’s about car use, I don’t know, you could have something like, “As soon as all your work is turned in and your grades are all B or above, you can have access to the car on the weekends.” Whatever it is, but you have to write it down. Write it. Figure out what it is that you want to communicate the privilege that you want to be linked to a behavior and make it appropriate and not too punitive. You know what I mean? Something that hopefully is a new privilege or something that they will recognize as a privilege, like you get to borrow-

Andy: You can eat three meals a day.

Audrey: Yeah. Not the basic needs.

Andy: Yeah, yeah. Right. Something that really is a privilege. That’s not a basic, right. Yeah. We will smile at you. No, that’s cool. I really liked that. And I think that’s so powerful.

Andy: The second thing that I had marked in here is just that we tend to kind of put negative labels on things. Someone’s being grouchy instead of talking about what the exact behavior is that they’re doing, which is their tone of voice or something more specific. It’s hard to just stop being grouchy. But if it’s more specific, A, you can’t argue with it, and B, then you know what to change. So I was just wondering is this something that you guys train your counselors to do? And if so, how do you do that? Or if not, as a parent, how could you get better at kind of getting to the root issue instead of just complaining with the label?

Audrey: Well, actually, this came from our management training. In addition to our counselors, we have a whole team of supervisors who are the support and motivators and trainers and supervisors of the counselor. So these are usually older staff. And this whole concept actually came from a leadership training that we did… Well, we do it every year, but we started it in the late 90s.

Audrey: And in any kind of situation, if you label someone or accuse them of something that’s like an adjective, first of all, it makes the person feel very defensive and they can dispute that because I might think something is grouchy that you don’t think is grouchy. So if I say you were being grouchy this morning, they can say, “No, I wasn’t.” Or, “What do you mean?” And it can become a weird conversation-

Andy: I was just tired.

Audrey: Because… Yeah. And so the subjectivity of those labels is all, and it also makes you feel attacked when someone labels you like that. But if you can think about it in any conversation, and this works, honestly, with coworkers, people you supervise, your kids, your spouse, instead of approaching, if there’s some kind of issue or thing that you need to discuss, thinking about yourself being in one circle, the other person in another, and both of you pointing down talking about the issue. So it takes some time often when… This comes up a lot when supervisors need to talk to their counselors or counselors need to talk to the kids. Usually you have to kind of run it by someone else first when you’re first learning to do this.

Audrey: The supervisor might come to us and say, “This counselor is just really slow at getting up in the morning and kind of grouchy to the kids and grumbly and something like that.” So we would brainstorm. Well, what is an issue that we can talk about? The issue could be that the kids aren’t getting to breakfast on time, or the kids are not enjoying the morning. They’re reporting that the mornings aren’t fun in the cabin. So you think of an issue that you can go to the person and say, “Hey, you know what? Your campers are saying that it’s just not that fun in the morning in your cabin. Can I help you come up with a plan of making the cabin more fun in the morning?”

Audrey: So you turn around the conversation where it’s not about you are doing this. You’re labeling. Instead of, “Hey, here’s this issue. Let’s work on it together.” So with kids, it could be something like, “When I walk by your room, there’s a really bad smell emanating from it. Do you have a plan? What’s your plan for kind of working on this smell because the smell is impacting the rest of us in the house?” You know what I mean? So whatever. You can think of an issue that’s not “You are a slob. Your room is so gross.” Instead-

Andy: You never clean up after yourself.

Audrey: Yeah.

Andy: We taught you better manners than that. What is going on?

Audrey: Uh-huh (affirmative). Yeah.

Andy: It’s so easy to go there.

Audrey: Oh my gosh, it comes right… Again, that’s what comes naturally because that’s what we were raised with. And so it’s really a switch in how you think about approaching these things and it’s especially just approaching the problem areas or things that you want to change. I would say also that as a parent and as a camp counselor, really pick your battles. I saw that you had Catherine Pearlman on. I’ve had her on my podcast too. I love her book, Ignore It. And it was really meaningful for me, especially I remember thinking about after reading her book that when my 14 year old son is doing the dishes, but is kind of grouchy as he does them, ignore it. Do you know what I mean? I used to want my kids to be cheerful as they did chores.

Andy: Right. And have a smile on your face.

Audrey: Yeah. So you kind of have to pick your battle. That’s an issue not worth even discussing. And that’s also important because you can become such a nag if you’re like, “Do the dishes and smile while you’re doing them. We do the dishes all the time for you.” You know what I mean? You can go down this whole road of just on and on and on nagging, nagging, nagging. And I think the bottom line is, first of all, pick your battles. If there’s an issue or concern that’s really worth addressing, then figure out how to address it in a way that’s going to be a productive conversation where your kid is not going to get defensive or feel like they’re being attacked.

Andy: Yep. I think that’s so cool. It’s just probably eyeopening to look back if you could record your conversation somehow and notice how many times we label other people or we just without thinking give them some complaint about because how we see them or the way we think they are instead of addressing the behavior. And so I think it’s something we can all get better at.

Audrey: I agree. And I think teenagers are awesome. The kids I get to work with at camp are such outstanding young people. And I think just even in general, when you start putting these blanket labels just on teenagers or whatever iGen or millennials or whatever generation you’re talking about, that’s just also just kind of disrespectful and not very kind to these kids who are each very different to have different personalities and strengths. And that’s another one of my big messages for counselors and for parents and teachers is instead of focusing on just the areas that your child is not good at or areas of weakness, why not just spend a lot more time talking to them and thinking about and complimenting them on their strengths. Because if a kid is feeling confident and good about themselves, all the kind of lower things will lift themselves up naturally. But if you focus all your time talking about what’s going wrong, what they’re not doing well, they’re going to be deflated. And even the things they’re good at, they won’t be as good at anymore.

About Audrey Monke

Audrey Monke has been a Camp Director and owner for over 30 years for Gold Arrow Camp. She started he blog Sunshine Parenting in 2012, when she realized that the training and techniques they used at camp to communicate with massive amounts of kids could just as easily be applied in the home. Audrey wrote Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults after the success of her blog and has since started a podcast of her own called Sunshine Parenting. She’s a proud wife, mother, and water-skier.

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