Unlike other jobs where a poor customer experience may simply end in an individual not returning to the store or a negative review on Facebook, a bad camper experience has the potential to impact that person for the rest of their lives.
Just as we’re writing you to remind you about the realities of bullying in our world and in our camps, we hope you will take this opportunity mid-summer to chat with your staff about this topic as well.Look for it…
As you know, it’s an incredibly fine line between joking/teasing in good fun and bullying, but here are some questions to arm yourself and your staff with to check if it’s a harmless vs. harmful situation:
Is it deliberate/intentional? Are the camper’s actions toward another camper done on purpose and with malicious intent?
Is it repetitive? Is the one camper consistently and repetitively directing his/her actions toward one other specific camper?
Is there an imbalance of power? From an outside perspective, does the actions of the one camper put them in a position of power over the other camper and could that other camper be seen as vulnerable by the bully?Deal with it…
If yes to any of the above, or if the situation just isn’t feeling “right” or positive, take action – and encourage your staff to do the same. Equip them with tools for how to effectively deal with potential or real bullying situations. Remind them that even if it’s not exactly bullying, creating a positive and safe environment for campers is a priority and they should do everything in their power to align their words and actions to that goal. Here are some ideas for your staff to help deal with bullying:
- Prevent bullying by being a rolemodel: use inclusive and positive language and encourage the entire group/cabin unity through actions and words. Playing get-to-know-you games or having a cabin theme/chant/bandanas/bracelets, etc. are some ideas to unite them as a team.
- Let the campers help design the rules. Ask them what rules they think should be in place and then ask if everyone is in agreement. Ensure that everyone has a chance to participate in the rule generation conversation. Write the rules on a piece of paper or poster board and have the kids all sign it. When someone is being disrespectful or when teasing etc. begins, point out the rules that they all made up and signed and ask them to follow it.
- Be intentional and conscious of which campers may appear “vulnerable” to their peers. This could be children who are extra shy, are different in appearance or skill level, have a disability, etc.Counselors, when they’re looking for it, should be able to figure this out fairly quickly and can then be intentional about quickly befriending that camper and including them in the group.
- If a child approaches a staff member and says that they feel bullied, LISTEN. The child is reaching out for help and this should not be dismissed. If they feel like it’s a negative situation, it is the staff’s responsibility to help them and not judge the child. Don’t decide that they are incorrect and it doesn’t need to be dealt with. The camper needs to feel safe at camp so something needs to change.
- If bullying happens, staff need to speak up. Tell them it’s ok to verbally stop the dialogue by telling campers that it’s not ok to speak negatively about another camper at camp. It will get awkward. It’s not comfortable to say something that causes conflict or might be an unpopular opinion, so prepare your staff by telling them that even though their comment may seem abrupt, it is necessary to go through this small amount of discomfort to ensure a safe and positive environment for their campers (the ultimate goal). Also let your staff know that this is what you expect from them.
- When you become aware of bullying, supervise, supervise, supervise.It’s always a bonus when the kids get along and the cabin or group is “easy” to supervise, but when it’s not, even though it’s more difficult, it’s still the staff’s job to watch the campers and ensure they have a good camp experience. Remind them of this and encourage your staff to ask for help in this area. Tell them to approach a program leader, director, or coordinator (whoever would supervise them at your camp) to tell them about the situation and together set up a plan to make sure the children are supervised. This may involve informing other counselors who will also have the responsibility of diffusing bullying situations.
- Mitigate the bullying by keeping the campers separate. This doesn’t have to be obvious (like changing groups or cabins necessarily), but it can be as simple as a counselor sitting between them or ensuring that they sit at opposite ends of the table in the dining hall.
Want more ideas and information? Here are a few articles with more detail: