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Parenting Tips Blog Posts

Some Easy Ways to Help Your Teen Practice Gratitude

Camp Kupugani is our multicultural overnight summer camp where campers from across the country and the world come together to learn from one another and work together.  We’re less than two hours from the bustling cities of Chicago and Madison (two progressive, Midwest towns).

Camp Kupugani is thankful for our families and friends who helped us navigate towards our 13th summer fostering world changers.  Part of that is facilitating ways to practice gratitude. We provide our 14- and 15-year-olds chances to give back by visiting nursing home residents and helping out on a local farm. If your teen isn’t seeming as grateful as s/he could be, a recent Washington Post article elucidates some prompts on how to help them maximize that. You can check out the full piece here and/or our bulleted takes on it below.

“Teens cannot be forced to open up. If we try to compel them, they simply won’t say anything. However, by remembering a few things, you can coax them out and connect with them.”

  • Keep it simple.
    • Don’t put too much weight into a single conversation.
    • Longer conversations don’t always equate to depth.
  • Don’t try and force openness.
    • Try and connect on a regular basis.
    • Talk about the easy things often and the hard topics will flow from those.
  • Tell them you want to ask some questions.
    • Remove yourself from any of the answers to reduce pressure.
    • Ask questions that help you understand their point of view.
      • Express genuine interest.
        • Put the phone down
        • Give them undivided time (no chores)
        • Look them in the eyes
        • Respond when needed
  • Provide them with first-hand experiences in giving to other less fortunate. (Read our blog on helping our children be less materialistic here.)
    • Find a task/group that meets your child’s interests.
      • No one activity will work for every kid.
    • Join in on the activity with your child.
  • Model gratitude in your daily lives.
    • Use “thank you” liberally and specifically.

Below are some questions suggested by the article to ask your child to help them think about gratitude without a lecture. This is not an exhaustive list, so if you can think of something ask away!

  • Who is the most important person in your life that I know?
  • Who is the most important person in your life that I don’t know?
  • Tell me why your favorite person is your favorite person.
  • What person has had the biggest influence on you thus far?
  • What person trusts you the most?
  • What person do you trust the most?
  • What person knows you the very best?
  • Of all the people who know you well, who do you think is closest to liking you as you are today — giving you unconditional love?
  • What peer do you admire most? Why?
  • What adult in your life do you admire most? Why?
  • Have you ever told those people how important they are to you? Do you think they have any idea?
  • What activity has had the biggest influence on you so far?
  • If we moved tomorrow, whom would you miss most (make it clear you are not moving!)?
  • If we moved tomorrow, what activity would you miss most?
  • Phone aside, what appliance /modern invention would you miss the most if we lost electricity?
  • What’s your favorite song? Can you help me understand what you like about?
  • What’s your favorite movie of all time? What do you like about it?
  • What show do you like to binge watch? Why?
  • What book have you read that you liked most?
  • What brings you the most joy in life?
  • What experience are you really glad you had?
  • What experience are you glad is over?
  • What experience are you really glad you had that you are glad is over?
  • What is something you didn’t like but you are glad happened?
  • If you had to list five things, what would you be most grateful for?

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9 Helpful Things We Can Learn About Our Sons

Camp Kupugani is our overnight summer camp in Northwest Illinois in the Midwest about two hours away from both Chicago and Madison. We offer a 2-week boys only session and a 2 week blended (intentionally coed) session where we focus on the way boys can become their best selves. A recent article from Deep Roots at Home has some good tips on what we can learn about our sons.  Bullets below, with the full article here.

  • Ours sons’ brains work differently.
    • Boys learn with movement
    • Give brain breaks
    • Boys tend to think more sequentially
  • They need to move.
    • Boys use movement to keep themselves alert
      • Leg bouncing
      • Fidgeting
      • Tapping a pencil
    • Go for a walk as you talk with your son
  • Our sons need us to believe in them.
    • Boys need reminders that they can do it
    • Use positive words toward your son and his accomplishments
  • Boys have different nutritional needs.
    • Diet affects more than just body weight
  • They benefit from mentors.
    • Boys learn from their parents and positive role models
    • Having an external source who backs up the parents can be so helpful
  • Our sons will talk if we know how to listen.
    • Start the conversation when doing something else
    • Put the idea of feelings in practical terms
  • They want us to connect with them.
    • The relationship between parent and son is paramount
    • Spend time doing things he likes
    • Ask questions about interests
  • They need us to respect them.
    • Boys like men desire respect
    • Competitive spirit allows them to grow
  • Our sons learn best from natural consequences.
    • Boys connect consequences that are most directly related to the situation
    • A scrape or broken bone will heal

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5 Reasons Why Kids are Impatient, Bored, Friendless, and Entitled…and 5 Solutions!

At Camp Kupugani, our overnight summer camp in beautiful small town Illinois (near Chicago and Madison), we’ve had to evolve how we engage our campers over the years. From its beginnings twelve summers ago, for sure in the last several years, we have comparatively spent more time on facilitating and developing social skills, and making kids comfortable with having to be “busy” all the time.  A recent article by Deep Roots at Home speaks to this observation; check out the full article here, with our summary below.

Kids get everything they want when they want it.

    • We have evolved into an instant gratification society.

Children (and adults) have increasingly limited real world interaction.

    • Digital interaction has taken the place of in-person connections. (Read our blog about the book iGen here.)
    • Digital media has replaced outdoor time.

Many parents focus on kids’ having endless fun.

    • Kids are not allowed to be bored, thus restricting exercise of their “creative muscles.”
    • Children help less with household chores.

There is too much reliance on electronic technology.

    • Technology is often used as a babysitter.
    • Everyday life seems “boring” compared to children’s digital lives in videos or video games.

Kids rule their families’ worlds.

    • Children are dictating choices over parents.
    • Giving children what they want all the time is not good for them.
    • “Need to do” has become a thing of the past.

So, how do we help today’s children overcome these struggles to prepare them for adulthood?

Set appropriate limits; kids need limits to grow and be properly supported.

    • Set a schedule for your child.
      • Include sufficient sleep time
      • Include sufficient time for schoolwork
      • Can allow limited time for technology
    • Do “what is good for them” instead of “what they want”
    • Send your kid outside!

Limit technology, and connect (or reconnect) emotionally with your children.

    • Parental emotional availability is the main nutrient for child’s brain (not technology).
    • Do activities and spend time as a family.
    • Write encouraging notes to your children, and pt them in their lunchbox or backpack.

Train your children to delay gratification.

    • Delayed gratification means resilience and better stress-coping mechanisms.
    • Create times where they need to be “bored.”
    • Increase the intervals between “I want” and “I get.”

Teach your child to do “monotonous” work early; that can be a foundation for future “workability.”

    • Have your child help with chores that are age-appropriate.
      • Add/adjust tasks as your children get older.
    • Help your child learn that even the most “boring” tasks can be made fun; the brain will make the connection.

Teach and model social skills.

    • Teach them to take turns.
    • Say “please” and “thank you.”

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Reasons to Be Wary of the “Boys Will Be Boys” Mentality

At Camp Kupugani, our Midwest summer camp near Chicago and Madison, we empower each child to feel welcome and to live their best life.  We do not subscribe to the “Boys will be boys” mentality. A recent article from Psychology Today elucidates why that mantra is non-positive; see below for bullets, with the full article here.

  • It prompts children to construct gender stereotypes (read our FAQ about blended camp to see how we feel about gender stereotypes).
    • Children should be seen as people first.
    • There is no one way to be a boy.
    • “Boys will be boys” contributes to a culture of “toxic masculinity.”
  • It is misinformed thinking and oversimplifies the problem.
    • It tries to explain away aggressive behavior
      • Places the blame on natural impulses without a deeper understanding of the behavior
    • Can be used to justify bullying
  • It limits the full expression of children.
    • States certain traits are only for boys or men
    • Studies have shown that males and females are very similar
  • Gender stereotypes allow unconscious biases to form and proliferate.
    • Unconscious or implicit bias is something we try to understand at camp.
    • Gender stereotypes enforce a limiting, binary view.

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10 Tips for Raising Non-Materialistic Children

At Camp Kupugani, our Midwest summer camp near both Chicago and Madison, we’re all about partnering with parents to give resources to help raise amazing world changers.  Check out this article by Penny Pinchin’ Mom and our bulleted take on how to raise non-materialistic children. 

  • Spend time with your kids
    • Gifts can never replace your attention
  • Don’t go overboard with presents at celebrations
    • Make celebrations more about the memories
      • Do breakfast in bed
      • Dessert for breakfast
      • Fill their room with balloons
  • Lead by example
    • Children learn by action
  • Expose children to those in need
    • Take them to a place where they can volunteer
      • Visit nursing homes or soup kitchens
      • Ring the bell for the Salvation Army
  • Teach them about money
    • If they get an allowance or earn money…
      • Have them place some into a savings account
      • Have them give some of it to charity
  • Limit exposure to advertisers
    • Limiting exposure helps control the message of “want” over “need”
    • Can also help limit screen time (which we all know is needed)
  • Reward with experiences–not toys
    • Allow them to pick where you go on an outing
    • Take them to their favorite restaurant
  • Start young
    • Children thrive with positive adult attention
    • Read and play more than use technology
  • Encourage them to help others
    • Have your children pick items to give to a shelter
  • Keep the conversation going


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10 Truths Middle Schoolers Should Know

At Camp Kupugani, our Midwest overnight summer camp near Chicago and Madison, we help kids become the best version of themselves through empowerment and play-based education. Away from camp, middle school can be a struggle for even the best-prepared child (and family).  We came across an article recently with some helpful tips on how to navigate those challenging middle school years. Bullets below, with the full article from Kari Kampakis here.

  • Today’s most awkward moments will be tomorrow’s funniest memories. Keep a sense of humor whenever possible.
    • A sense of humor puts all things into perspective.
    • Confidence in one’s self comes with time; don’t rush it.
    • Remind yourself that your current failure can be your future success.
  • You don’t want to peak in middle school!
    • What makes you cool in middle school most likely won’t make you cool in college (or life).
    • Success–like wine–gets better with time.
    • If you aren’t popular now, that might be a good sign for the future.
  • Technology makes it easy to ruin relationships and reputations.
    • Think before you post or comment online; even though posts can be “deleted”, that doesn’t mean they can be unseen.
    • Online conversation can easily be taken out of context; nuance is hard to convey in a text, e-mail, post, or online comment.
  • Surrounding yourself with good real-life company is imperative.
    • Who you hang out with is a part of who you are.
    • Good friends lift you up; bad friends tear you down.
  • What makes you different is what makes you great.
    • Why blend in when you can stand out?
    • You can’t change the way someone sees you by conforming to them.
  • It’s okay (and often a good sign) to not have your life totally planned out. It can take time to discover your “thing.”
    • Many great people didn’t start out in their field of ultimate success.
    • It often takes failures in the “wrong” thing to find your “right” thing.
    • You can always teach an old dog new tricks.
  • Your uniform is not your identity.
    • Don’t let other people negatively define you.
    • Sports and club can eventually fade.
  • Applause can be misleading. You can make a huge mistake and still get cheered on wildly.
    • Focus on applauding yourself.
    • “Likes” and comments on social media are fleeting and misleading.
  • There’s a difference between helpful advice and criticism that holds you back. Be careful where you heed your feedback.
    • Not everyone wants you to succeed; don’t give everyone the same voice.
    • Run every person through your own mental filter”
      • Do they have my best intentions in mind?
      • Do they support me when I struggle?
      • Do they celebrate when I succeed?
  • You’re AWESOME!
    • Be you no matter what the world says!



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Help Teens Develop a Healthy Understanding of Sex

At Camp Kupugani, our Midwest overnight summer camp near Chicago and Madison, we strive to empower our campers by having them get reliable life information from good sources.  As a recent Washington Post article (at this link) posited: “In a culture where abstinence-only programs have taken the place of real sex education, and where many teens lack the resources to prevent pregnancies or STIs, let alone the ability to deal with these situations if they occur, it is common for teens to feel shame, fear and anxiety about sexuality. And many feel like they cannot turn to adults for help when they need it.”    

At camp, we have an optional sex and sexuality forum to help them learn about sex and consent from a reputable source. In our parent handbook, we provide our parents a list of questions to help both pre- and post-camp to help parents foster a productive dialogue about what is sometimes a difficult subject for families to broach.  The Post article discusses the importance of teens developing a healthy understanding of sex. Bullets below.

  • Support comprehensive sex education in your community.
    • Attend school board meetings and speak up about the importance of sexual education.
    • Speak with your children’s principal.
  • Support healthy teen relationships.
    • Connect with your child’s “partner”.
    • If you have concerns about the relationship, share them.
  • Teach them to communicate.
    • Help them know and express their limits with their partner.
    • Sex should be mutually positive.
  • Create an environment in which your children can talk to you.
    • No topic should be off limits.
    • Awkward or not, it will help your child.
  • Help teens access reproductive health care.
    • Find places where they can receive information from health professionals.
    • Help them set up reproductive health appointments.

Original article source: Washington Post


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Help Kids Understand Consent & Prevent Sexual Assault

Camp Director Kevin Gordon recently read Chessy Prout’s I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, documenting her title story.  It raised for Kevin the issue of the importance of people of ages learning about and respecting the issue of consent.

Indeed, at Camp Kupugani, our overnight summer camp about two hours west of Chicago and 90 minutes south of Madison, a top priority is the safety of our campers.  Safety relates to physical and emotional safety, and the autonomy and respect of one’s own body and the bodies of others. A recent Washington Post article emphasized: “While sexual assault has many complex causes, one clear factor is young people’s comprehension of — or confusion about — what constitutes appropriate, consensual sex.”  It elucidated some ways parents can address consent and how to minimize the occurrence of sexual abuse. Bullets below, with the full article here.

  • Clearly define assault and provide concrete examples.
    • Assault is an action without the consent of the other person.
    • Provide examples based on your child’s age and maturity.
    • Ask your child for their definition of assault, following up by correcting any misunderstanding.
    • Check in to confirm the retention of the information.
  • Talk about — and keep talking about — consent.
    • Consent is verbal and affirmative.
    • Start young, by asking for permission to hug, or touch someone.
    • Give your child control over their body.
      • Don’t force them to hug or kiss grandma if they don’t want to.
      • Provide alternatives with which your child may be more comfortable.
      • Give younger kids language they understand (Green, yellow, red light).
  • Give boys permission to talk about strong emotions.
    • Feelings of helplessness can result in unwanted physical or sexual contact.
    • Remind your children that all emotions have a purpose.
    • Use examples from TV shows or films that can elicit conversation.
  • Encourage young people to be allies and upstanders.
    • Empower your child with the “see something, say something” attitude.
    • Ask what they “would do” vs. “should do”.
    • Brainstorm strategies on how to support a peer who has been or is involved in a abusive relationship.
  • Share the stories of survivors.
    • Real life experiences are powerful.
    • These stories can help increase empathy and understanding of consent.
    • Help your child brainstorm people to whom they can speak.

Original source: The Washington Post


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11 Ways To Be an Even More Amazing Parent

At Camp Kupugani, our Midwest summer camp nestled in the woods about two hours west of Chicago and ninety minutes south of Madison, we appreciate the parents who value our camp experience enough to send their child to camp summer after summer!  Given that our camp parents are already AMAZING and FANTASTIC, we culled some articles for a few ways that we can step up our parental game to become even more amazing and/or fantastic! Bullets below, with the full articles from the folks at Barking Up the Wrong Tree here and here.

  • Connect!
    • Be aware of the mood/timing.
      • If someone is in the “reactive phase,” they are not ready to be receptive.
    • Communicate Comfort
      • Help your children know you are a safe person to whom they can express themselves.
    • Validate
      • Remind your child that all emotions are good (but not necessarily all actions).
    • Listen
      • We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
    • Reflect
      • Repeat what they said and how they said they feel.
  • Reduce Words
    • Who likes a lecture? (NOT ME!)
    • Help your child express their feelings in a safe way.
  • Embrace Emotions
    • Allow your child to express any/all emotions.
    • Remind that emotions don’t have consequences. (Although actions can…)
  • Describe, don’t preach.
    • Bring attention to the action/emotion without giving answers.
    • Ask open-ended questions rather than giving answers.
  • Involve your child in any needed redirections.
    • You guessed it…use open-ended questions!
      • How could they have handled the situation differently?
        • Gets them to think internally about their actions.
      • How did this behavior impact others?
        • This question helps to build empathy
      • The solution has to be realistic.
        • Needs to be something the child can do
      • The solution needs to be mutually satisfactory.
        • All parties should leave feeling heard.
    • It should be a conversation, not a judgment.
      • This helps the child feel heard and involved in the process
  • Reframe a “No” Into a Conditional “Yes”.
    • “You can do “x” after homework” rather than “no more TV ‘til homework is done.”
  • Emphasize the Positive.
    • Focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want.
    • Recognize success.
  • Creatively Approach the Situation
    • Laughter can diffuse even the greatest conflict.
    • This helps not only your child’s response but yours as well.
  • Teach Mindfulness.
    • Helps your child experience, observe, and learn from her/his emotions.
    • Mindfulness can help diffuse behaviors by drawing your child’s attention inward.
  • If there’s an issue, assume your child is lacking skills not being intentionally defiant.
    • Identify what led up to the undesirable behavior.
      • Patterns emerge if you pay close enough attention.
      • Solving the underlying issue helps prevent future negative behavior.
  • But I’m The Parent! (This rarely works long term!)
    • Imposing your will upon your child teaches nothing (except that might makes right).
    • How you handle something may not work for your child.
    • Be a teacher, not an enforcer.

Adapted from original source: Barking Up The Wrong Tree


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3 Ways to Raise a Generous Kid

When children attend Camp Kupugani, our Midwest summer camp 90 minutes south of Madison, we want them to grow at camp and at home, so that they become the best versions of themselves.  Please see below for some bullets from a recent Washington Post article on how to raise a generous kid. You can check out the full article here.  

  • Model It!
    • Children learn by what they see.
    • Pay for coffee for the person behind you. 
    • Be kind to the waitstaff.
    • Say “please” and “thank you.”
  • Be Intentional!
    • Give to charities.
    • Take your child to a food kitchen to help serve food. Raising a generous child
    • Make giving an everyday thing.
      • Hold the door open for someone.
      • Help a neighbor shovel the walkway.
      • Make a meal for a friend who is not well.
      • Spend time with someone who is grieving.
    • Remind your child for what they should be thankful.
  • Start Young!
    • Talk with your child about being kind.
      • Generosity flows from a caring heart.
    • Have your child give to a toy drive annually.
    • Remind your child generosity is not just giving tangible things to others.

Original Source: Washington Post


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Kupugani touches on all the core values and enrichment that we hope to instill in our [child]. My husband and I absolutely love Camp Kupugani. Our [child] gained immensely from camp.

Lisa G.

Everyone…was just so, so personable, kind, and the kind of person I want
my [child] looking up to and spending time with.

Laura V.

[My daughter’s] face lights up when she speaks about camp, it’s a priceless experience.

Kenya P.

I have never come in contact with such a wonderful group of people at a camp before. Everyone did an outstanding job, the camp was so organized, it was unbelievable.

Joe M.

She absolutely loves the camp, the staff, and all the friends she makes there. I consider Kupugani to be a big influence in helping her grow and expand her mind each summer.

Luci A.


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