Understanding Bullying Within The Camp Setting - Tips for Parents

What is Bullying?

Bullying is aggressive behavior by a child or a group of children who take advantage of the power they have to hurt or intimidate others.

Bullying can take many forms:

  • Verbal abuse including taunting, gossiping, mocking, name calling, dirty looks
  • Physical abuse including hitting, pushing, shoving, kicking
  • Organized social rejection including exclusion from activities or groups
  • Public humiliation
  • Threatening racist, religious, or sexist remarks
  • Frightening acts

What are the Harmful Effects of Bullying?

Bullying is not a normal part of growing up. Simply put, bullying hurts and children can experience both short and long-term emotional consequences when they are victims of bullying. Camp staff is trained to recognize both the overt and subtle signs that a child may have experienced bullying. Parents may also be the first to notice these shifts in behavior.

Warning signs may include:

  • Feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, anxiety, and fear
  • Sense of insecurity, both physical and psychological
  • Withdrawal from friends and caring adults
  • Reluctance to join in activities and fun
  • Physical complaints including stomach aches, nightmares, loss of appetite

Bullying in the Camp Setting

Camp is similar to school and other settings in that bullying does occur. Children engaging in new activities, meeting new friends, establishing varying social groups at camp, and sharing living quarters with other campers present challenges to even the most well-adjusted child. The good news is that camps are well equipped to address bullying and help the bully deal with counterproductive behavior, too. Proven supervisory practices, activities geared to the developmental level of individual children, and the promotion of a spirit of inclusivity and caring help children to exert higher degrees of cooperation and self-control.

How Can Parents Find Out about Camp Policies on Bullying?

Informed parents are best prepared to select a camp that meets their standards for staff, programs, and safety.

Ask challenging questions of the camp director:

  • What is his or her understanding of bullying?
  • What procedures are in place to address bullying situations?
  • Will parents be informed if a bullying incident occurs?
  • How are staff members trained to recognize and intervene in bullying situations?
  • How are campers instructed to recognize and deal with bullying?
  • How are campers supervised between activities?
  • Will the camp provide names of other parents prior to camp to ask about their child’s experiences with bullying at camp and the responsiveness of staff?
  • Is your child’s camp ACA accredited?

A Special Word about Accreditation
American Camp Association accreditation assures parents that a camp has committed time, resources, and training to meet up to 300 research-based standards ranging from health and wellness to physical safety. Camper/counselor ratios also meet the recommended staffing levels for particular age groups. Good camps support and promote an inclusive, caring experience for all children, one that is heightened by careful attention to children’s well-being and security.

How Can I Help My Child Deal with Bullying?

Before Camp Begins:

  • Discuss bullying with your child—what it is, why it is unacceptable, what your child’s response to bullying should be.
  • Tell your child that you expect them to help a child who is being bullied or excluded.
  • Encourage your child to talk to camp staff—children need support from responsible adults to address bullying.
  • Establish clear expectations about respecting others and gaining respect.
  • Follow-through with a consistent set of rules and consequences.
  • Spend time with children in enjoyable activities.

Once Camp Begins:

  • Listen and communicate regularly once your child is at camp.
  • Reinforce positive behavior with specific praise such as “Your counselor told me you controlled your temper when another child pushed you. That really helped the other campers not to get in a fight.”

What Can I Do if My Child is Bullied?

  • Support your child—bullying is not the fault of the child being bullied.
  • Gather information about the incident—who, what, when, where, how?
  • Praise your child for the attempts they have likely made for resolving the situation.
  • Talk with the camp director about consequences for the child being bullied and help for your child with increased support from other campers and staff.
  • Help your child understand that real friends are not mean to each other.

What If My Child Bullies?

  • Try to get a full understanding of what happened.
  • Ask yourself if there have been any recent changes or negative events in your child’s life.
  • Discuss consequences of bullying with the camp director regarding specific episodes and the response from camp staff.
  • Reinforce your rule that bullying must stop.
  • Help your child understand how bullying affects others.
  • Cooperate with camp director and staff to reinforce positive behaviors in your child.