Rules for Behaviour Modification

You guys, I know you know this, but it’s worth saying again… there are some seriously wonderful, brilliant, and generous camp folks out there.

One of them happens to be my “internet friend” Dave Hennessy.
Dave and I were chatting the other day, checking in with each other on how our goals and future plans are going and he mentioned one of his “DaveRules” during that conversation. I, of course, asked for more information and when he shared his set of rules with me I LOVED the concept and asked him to write something that I could share with you good folks in my little corner of the internet.

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Dave, and offer him a huge thank you for sharing his rules for behaviour modification with us.




“Alexis, what are you doing?” Alexis was 11 years old, but was army-crawling on a day’s worth of dirt carpet after a kindergartener. She looked up and smiled, “I don’t know”.

“How old are you?”

“Elllevveennnn,” she said in a sing-song voice.

“What rule are you breaking?” I said.

“Rule number twwwwoooo.” She sang-song, but more dejected this time.

“Which is?”

“Use common sense.” Eye roll.

“And now?” I stated without emotion.

“Have a seat,” walking over to the couch.

“For?” We had been through this before. “Eleven minutes.”

Alexis wasn’t happy, but she sat without another word and watched the group play. After less than 5 minutes, I have her the thumbs-up, meaning ‘go play’.




“Secure boundaries set by the [caregiver] (not negotiated by the child) reduce anxiety. Rules and routines like meal times, bed times, homework time, and screen time — that are set and monitored by the parent — create predictability in a child’s life. Predictability reduces uncertainty, and that reduces anxiety.

“a child’s brain is not fully developed, and hence shouldn’t be given decision-making power over adults. … Even as we know more about brain development, we seem to have become less attuned to thinking about our children’s unique developmental stage, and what is an appropriate level of choice for them to have.

“For many families, a child’s emotions, needs and desires can run the parent’s whole day rather than the other way around. Narcissism is normal, and is developmentally appropriate in small children.

“In any developmental task from walking to talking to learning to read or drive a car, kids need to struggle. Struggle is how we mature and learn mastery of new things. If children are brought up with the expectation that they will always be “in charge,” they want things to be easy. They also want parents to remove struggle and, fix their disappointments.

“Parents who set boundaries are not trying to make their child happy in the moment (though sometimes they are!). Rather, more importantly, they are trying to have their child develop skills to successfully launch into the world at 18.”

Source: Mind Body Green – Why it’s important to set healthy boundaries with your kids




Children of all ages thrive when they win, and many are so rule-centric that when they lose they immediate blame someone for breaking the rules. In our after school program, the game was easy: behave well and meet your expectations (complete homework, get exercise, have fun, make friends, relax). To varying degrees they need our help; mostly children need a Mentor, a Coach, a Sensei, a Wizard, a Jedi Master that is on their side as they learn and grow. Young people need help developing self-regulation and discipline, and along the way learn passion and persistence (grit).




To win the game at our child care, we made 3 rules. They were broad enough to cover almost any circumstance and apply to children of all ages. I was the Child Care Director, so they were “DaveRules” and easily became “BlairRules” or “GaytonRules” (at Gayton Elementary). The first two rules were always the same:



And the third rule was whatever the group needed to focus on: “Keep your hands to yourself”, “Be responsible”, “Clean up your mess”. (Each rule phrased in the positive.)




One simple consequence meant no thinking and no getting upset with breaking the rules. There was no arguing, simply: “Have a seat.” This allowed for quiet time to calm down (but not a “time out”) that is generally age-appropriate. We had children sit for however many minutes they were old (Alexis was 11, so 11 minutes) however we never truly enforced that. Goodness knows every 6 year old thought they were sitting for 6 minutes, but truly it was always less (but they don’t need to know that). After they sat and calmed down, they got up. The issue was over. No lengthy discussion about what they did wrong. As long as they know what rule they broke and could repeat it, they began to internalize it and define what “common sense” meant to them. Children stopped getting upset because they broke the rules. Staff stopping having their buttons pushed and getting upset with bad behavior.




Every leader has a set of guidelines for their followers. These are the boundaries for what they will accept or suggestions on how to live a good life. If you try to follow my DaveRules, you understand what I value and I can work hard to be the best Sensei or Coach that I can. More than anything else, I hold myself to these standards to ‘practice what I preach’.


Rule #3: BOOST.


Boost your energy level, give it your all. Hustle. Be present. Be passionate. Be all-in. Be enthusiastic. Have passion. Passion is in there twice. And have joie de vivre.

Most people know that the secret to winning is simply “show up”. I say show up, but be MORE than everyone else.




I have three more life rules that I like to share with my mentees. Books and books and books have been written about these ideas and I’ve added a note of explanation where appropriate.

#4: GIVE GENEROUSLY. For each dollar you give, four will come back. You can never run out of compliments.

#5: PRACTICE COURAGE. Courage is forcing yourself to do something scary. Moral courage is required to be a good person.

#6: STAY CURIOUS. Only life-long learners that continue to invest in themselves will be successful in the long run.

Dave's Rules.png




DaveRules are malleable and this most recent list, made up of 6, has only been in place for a few months. I have been developing this system since 2008 and with each new camp, each new situation, the DaveRules changed. Only the first two have stayed the same, when I came up with them on a whim working with kindergarteners: Be Nice, Use Common Sense. As I learn, some things seem to be so foundational and important they’ve garnered a special spot and are now DaveRules. Other rules have been merged into one idea (i.e. “BOOST”). Make it your own. Just KISS.


Davey Hennessey is celebrating his 17th summer leading YMCA camping programs and completed his Master in Camp Administration and Leadership in November 2014. MARF stands for Maintain Always Rigid Flexibility and KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Davey can be reached at for suggestions of books to read.



So what do you think? Isn’t that some great advice?
Do you have any that you’d add to the list for YOUR program?

Tell us about it in the comment section below (or just comment to thank Dave for sharing  with us! 🙂  )

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30 Themed Meeting Ideas

Ok, so a while ago I mentioned having theme meetings at camp in this post and another camp pro Dan Laubach pointed out to me that I’m a big weiner who never followed up with the list of themes I promised (ahem, ok maybe I’m paraphrasing *a little*, Dan was actually much more polite and kind in his request for a list of themes.)

Thanks Dan, for putting this back on my radar, it’s something I wanted to share.

Most of these are pretty ridiculous and came about out of weird things my staff were doing that summer or just sort of happened organically.

Before we get into the list, here are some tips.

1. If you’re going to do a silly or stupid theme meeting, make sure you don’t have to discuss anything too serious.

2. Be aware that if you do a theme, it might take a little longer to get through the meeting, because people are likely to burst into giggles every so often.

3. Most of my meetings used to be in the evening, so a lot of these themes make a lot more sense to do at night.



This one came about because a staff member really wanted to see someone wearing a funny mask, so we demanded that everyone put on a mask as they came in for meeting. No one asked any questions, they just went with it, it was silly and hilarious.

Things TKD would like

Sometimes we like to make it all about us… (TKD is the nickname for the assistant camp director and I) We left it open-ended, staff showed up dressed in a lot of plaid, toques, tie dye, and drinking coffee. All of these things were accurate.

Let’s be honest, there’s nothing funnier than impersonating your boss so the staff got a kick out of it. (Ok, if I’m being reaaaally honest, we were hoping they’d bring us food we liked… maybe next time we need to be more specific hahaha)

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When will you get a “real” job?

Hey guys, before you read any further, did you know you can follow my blog with Bloglovin? Neat!

Ok, back to the topic at hand…

I recently attended a family event, which was great, it’s always nice to see extended family and catch up with them.

We ate, we laughed, we reminisced about embarrassing stories from my childhood… good times were had by all.

But then come the questions… you know, the ones about camp – the “when will you get a “real” job” questions and their variations, I’ve gotten really good at fielding these over the years but these ones were extra funny some how.

Here’s how these hilarious conversations went down…

What do you do the rest of the year?

“Well, it’s a full-time, year round job… so I do camp stuff!
Just like any small business, I create the budget, write reports, hire staff, recruit campers, etc.”


Can’t you get a promotion so that you don’t have to work at camp in the summer anymore? Does’t so-and-so work at your company? Can’t you get a job like his? He doesn’t have to work at camp.
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Back to the Future (camp edition!)

Wednesday October 21st is “Back to the Future Day“.

If you haven’t seen the Back to the Future movies… I’m sorry. You should probably just go and watch them now. It’s ok, I’ll wait. Priorities people!!

Anyway, for anyone who’s been living under a rock or, *ahem* in the woods, for the last 30(ish) years – here’s why Back to the Future Day is important for camp folk.

In Back to the Future II, Marty McFly travels to the future from 1985 to do some stuff and some things in 2015 (and he arrives on, you guessed it, October 21st).

Now aside from the obvious AWESOME theme day potential (if anyone makes a Delorean for their theme, I’d like to see pictures please! And if you don’t know what I’m referring to, well… I told you to go watch the movie. I even waited!)

Anyway, the other really interesting thing about Back to the Future II are the “predictions” the creators made about what life would be like in 2015. (Interestingly enough, according to the movie’s Wikipedia page, Director Robert Zemeckis claims that they weren’t trying to make accurate predictions about the future, but just trying to make it funny.) Some of their predictions came true, like video chat, flat screen wall mounted tv’s, Florida now has a Major League Team (which wasn’t a thing in 1989 when the movie was released) and the Chicago Cubs are evidently doing well and could be headed to the World Series. (?) Go sports.
(There were lots of things that they unfortunately got wrong too… I’m yet to be able to purchase a hoverboard or flying car. COM’ON SCIENCE! Where are your priorities??)

So how is this relevant to camp you may ask?
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Listables – Top 10 things I learned from working at summer camp

I’m celebrating 15 years in camping this summer, I’ve worked in very “rustic” camps, music camps, science camps, day camps and camps for people with disabilities. I’ve learned a lot over the years, here are 10 of my top lessons

1. How to cook some gourmet meals over a campfire

Anne Worner / Foter / CC BY-SA

I’m not much of a cook to begin with to be honest, but I’m actually better at cooking over a campfire than I am over a stove.

2.  It’s ok to be foolish, in fact it’s encouraged camp is about having fun and being silly, nobody takes themselves too seriously and it makes for a really welcoming, comfortable environment. Continue reading

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A Roundup – 10 of the Best Camp Resources

Yesterday I was chatting with a camping colleague over at Summer Camp Secrets and I realized that I should share some of the amazing resources I’ve curated over time (ohhh…. makes me sound so fancy doesn’t it? Fancy Pants Camp Nerd. That’s what they call me. And by they, I mean me… just now.)

Annnyway, here are 10 truly awesome summer camp resources you need to check out now. (and by check out, I mean read every single word and watch every single video, if you’re anything like me. They’re that good.)

In no particular order, (drumroll please) Continue reading

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Listables – It’s a roundup – of books!

I figured it was time to share some of the resources I’ve used over the past few years that (I think) have helped me become a better camp director.
I’m talkin’ bout BOOKS people! Yes, actual, physical, hold em in your hands, smell the pages, circle, underline, highlight, write in the margins, dog- eared, books! ahhhhhh!

I’ve always been a book lover; don’t get me wrong, I also use a ton of online resources for inspiration and education purposes, but that’s a post for another day (actually, it’ll probably be my next listables post) but my first love is a good book.

Here’s a few books I find useful. In no particular order.

IMG_08331. I love Malcolm Gladwell books. Unfortunately I couldn’t find David & Goliath, or The Tipping Point, which is my favourite of his (honestly, it’s one of my favourite books in general) so I couldn’t add them to this photo. But I love his books because they give me a different perspective, and I have all of these great moments where Gladwell can be talking about graffiti in New York’s subway stations or different types of mustard and I’ll have an epiphany about camper care or staff dynamics. Seriously!
He’s a phenomenal storyteller and the way he weaves seemingly unrelated topics together to support his argument inspires me to be more creative in my thinking and problem solving.

I highly recommend all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books (ok David & Goliath wasn’t my favourite, but still, great author)
The Tipping Point
What the Dog Saw
David & Goliath

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Toolkit for New Directors – Listables

Everybody loves a good list! I know I do!! Here’s a list of things that every new camp director should have, and I wish that someone had given me a box of these things when I started – along with the coinciding advice.

Note: If you know a new camp director, give them a box of these items, or a basket, preferably a picnic basket, if they’re a camp director chances are they buy into the idea of eating outside, on the ground… anyway…. this would be a nice gift for someone.

1. Duct tape

Advice – Duct take is like gold at camp, it will be used for everything. You will be forever searching for it because your counsellors will have swiped it, I strongly recommend writing your name or “office” on the inside of it and keeping it in a safe place.

2. A pencil-case containing pens/ highlighters/ sharpies/ post-it notes

Advice – Ok I realize that this is sort of cheating because I’m telling you to get a pencil-case then put a ton of office supplies in it, but all of them are important – and it’s super handy to have them all in one spot!! Again, beware of counsellors “borrowing” your supplies, cause they will, especially pens and sharpies.

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