by Jenny Lay Posted Oct 9, 2019
Skits, camp names, and counselors jumping upon your arrival… all things that are an integral part of just about any Pine Cove camp experience. Another important experience for youth campers (and children at family camp) is something called a hangtime. In Pine Cove’s staff handbook, a hangtime is defined as “an intentional time with just one of your campers.” It is a time for counselors to listen to their campers and let them ask questions. It is also a time for speaking truth and identity into their lives.
Instead of waiting until next summer for their next hangtime, your camper can have one this week… with you! Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of some of the same tips we give our summer staff, with some added advice from the perspective of a parent.
Tip #1: Have fun.
A hangtime should in no way look like a business meeting. Pick something fun to do together. It could be a simple as baking cookies, throwing the football, or painting toenails. Or you can hop in the car and grab some ice cream or another favorite treat. Doing an activity together can help break the ice and serve as a segue into deeper conversation. As a general rule, girls prefer to bond through face-to-face activities, and boys prefer to bond over side-by-side activities.
At camp, you’ll see counselors engaging in hangtimes sitting on the porch while sharing a snack or out on the lake talking while they canoe. It doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or complicated. You know your child better than anyone else, so pick a fun activity that makes them feel known and loved!
Tip #2: Avoid distractions and avoid looking distracted.
Let me be a little more direct: PUT AWAY YOUR PHONE! We are all guilty of “listening” while we stare at our phones, inserting the periodic “uh-huh” into our conversations. Even if you are a master multi-tasker, your child will feel more valued when they know they have your full attention. Maintain good eye contact with your child, and concentrate on what they are saying. You can let them know you are listening by nodding, using your face to respond to what they are saying, and asking clarifying questions.
Tip #3: Be in prayer before, during, and after your hangtime for wisdom and insight into what questions to ask and how to respond.
In James 1:5, we read that the Lord generously gives wisdom to those who ask! What a relief! We are not on our own in this crazy journey called parenting. Be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and follow His lead on what to say, when to say it, and (maybe most importantly) when to keep your mouth closed. When we lean on our own understanding, we can say things we regret. Trust the Lord to guide your conversation.
Tip #4: Ask open-ended questions instead of “yes/no” questions.
We’ve all had situations like this…
Parent: “Did you have a good day?”
Parent: “Are you hungry?”
Parent: scratches their head and can’t think of anything else to say
Kid: runs off
Try these questions instead…
“What was your favorite part of your day?”
“Did anything disappoint you today?”
“What are you learning at school?”
Once they’ve gotten comfortable and opened up, try some deeper questions:
“Which of your friends encourage you in your relationship with the Lord?”
“When did you feel the most loved during this past week?”
“How can I be praying for you?”
Tip #5: Communicate carefully.
Once they have started sharing from their hearts, tread carefully. What a privilege when a child entrusts us with their thoughts, worries, struggles, and dreams! Show them that you value their trust. Restate what you think they are saying to make sure you understand, remember that it is more important to listen than to “fix” their problems, and avoid reacting strongly. The way you respond to them dictates how willing they will be to share in the future.
At times, you may go into a hangtime with no agenda, allowing your child to guide the conversation. Other times you might have a specific topic you are hoping to discuss—even awkward and uncomfortable ones. That’s okay! Embrace the awkwardness and dive in! Let’s make sure our kids know we aren’t afraid to tackle hard topics. We want them to know we are a safe place to bring any questions.
Tip #6: Continually point them to the Gospel.
As much as we wish we could, we cannot control our children’s relationships with their Heavenly Father. We can’t MAKE them love Him. We can’t MAKE them grow. But we can point them to truth. We can live out our own love for our Savior, and we can give them a window into our own journey of spiritual growth. When you don’t know what to say or what advice to give, Scripture is always the best place to start. Remind them over and over again that the Creator of the world loves them so much that He sent His Son to die for their sins. Reassure them that they are known and loved by you and that, even more so, they are fully known and fully loved by their Heavenly Father.
Tip #7: Follow up.
A hangtime only takes less than an hour out of your day, but hopefully its impact will last far beyond. If nothing else, pray specifically for your child based on your hangtime conversations. Hopefully you have new insight into their lives and can pray over any weaknesses, anxieties, or struggles. When appropriate, follow up with your child in the following week with an encouraging note, a Bible verse, or anything else that shows them you listened, you remember, and you care.
Why don’t you pull out your calendar and schedule a hangtime with your camper right now? You may not be able to bring your kids to camp year-round, but you can bring camp to your kids! Use a hangtime to invest in your child’s life this week!