Nobody Likes a Bully
Last summer I found an agitated mother at our door one morning. She was talking to one of our teachers, and even in the distance by reading her body language I could tell something was wrong. Some girls were making fun of her son in class. They were calling him ugly. She started explaining the situation to me and soon, she started crying. I can still remember her words: “I can’t stand how sad he is. I don’t know how to protect him from this. Please help me out”. I couldn’t help but cry myself too.
Bullying in summer camps is a problem that we don’t want to come across. We don’t have enough time to actually teach our campers life values, and sometimes we barely know them since they might join our camps for just one week. Should we call a bully’s parents if he/she is at our camp only for five days? How can we address it? Can we actually change something in one week?
Since last July I’ve been trying to do some research, trying to learn and to improve. I have one thing clear: this year every group leader, teacher or person working in our summer camps will be hired one day in advance for a whole induction. Last year we offered a First Aid course and of course camp preparation, but this year we will go further. We are going to introduce two seminars: one regarding bullying and another one to help them with tools to make children actually use the language they are there to learn.
We, as Camp Directors or Coordinators, have to take advantage of our crew. We should hire people with emotional intelligence, because that’s what we need to teach children. Preventing bullying is as simple as passing on emotional intelligence to children. But, how do we do that?
And moreover, how will we address bullying? Some years ago, I took a Master’s Degree in Education. One of the subjects was called “Strategies to Solve Conflicts”. We watched a documentary (“Children Full of Life”) where we could see Professor Kanamori in Japan and his strategies. I can still remember it; I strongly encourage you to watch it - scroll down!
So, where do we start? We should NOT fight bullying; we HAVE TO prevent it.
The good thing about a summer camp is that we get to see children 24/7. In camps like Lacunza Summer Camp, where kids could attend only in the mornings, we might have less time with them but you can make a big impact even in a short space of time.
First of all, we need to look, not watch, but look, carefully. Look with different eyes, look for clues, look for a glitch in a face, look for that silence when we turn our backs, actively look. We have to be on top of things in our camp and classrooms.
As I said, we might not have time to properly dig, we might only have a few hours a day. You could start by trying this technique as demonstrated by a teacher who lets children choose which greeting they want to share with their teacher.
I would suggest that each teacher or group leader creates a handshake chart the first day and delivers the good morning ritual, but from the second day on, it’s one of the students who is in charge. And there you are, looking. Searching for the vibes - who is left apart? Who is mocked? This is a great tool to learn about your group.
But, we still haven’t talked about actual or factual things to do. How can we pass this emotional intelligence to the children? I love what Prof. Kanamori suggests: keep a letter journal. If we plan some activities for the children to develop tools for them to analyse situations, feelings, and understand what they are going through, then we can prevent violent behaviours and even bullying.
There are three stages that we need to work in:
- Regulation of our own emotions.
Even as adults this is a huge task to fulfil. We still use three different adjectives to describe our emotions… think about your language - you are either sad, happy or angry. We struggle to describe our emotions, and consequently we do not teach children to deal with them either.
This is why the first stage should be for them to notice when they are going through something. Then they should be able to understand and put a name to that emotion. Lastly, they should allow themselves to feel that way and be able to regulate it.
If we keep a journal, and we make children take some time in the day to write, we are making them stop and listen to themselves. Stop and realise. Stop and feel. Each camp can find the best time of the day to introduce something like this. It is like a “reflection time” that should help create a community.
Of course it will be difficult at first. Some won’t take it seriously, some won’t even know what to write. But the minute the community starts to break, or we have too many different groups, we have this amazing tool to make them come together. Just take a look at Kanamori’s class.
Depending on the type of camp you have, I would suggest that you find one hour per day to focus on these tasks. We could call it Group Time. For example in our summer camp, children come to learn either Spanish or English, so I would create two journals, one per language. The task should start with something simple, so they get used to writing, and it should “escalate” once they’ve mastered the journal. For example, I would suggest that the first day they share their feelings: who did you find the most welcoming? Who was the funniest? This way they identify other kids and start by talking about their emotions.
In Prof. Kanamori’s class three students read per day. I encourage you to find your own path here. Perhaps counsellors could help those younger ones!
The second stage can only be addressed once you know your campers. You should help them deal with any issues you noticed. Was someone sad? Help them bring it out. You are there with them, you hear the stories, you just have to help them express themselves and understand what’s going on. Make them share it with the rest of the campers.
Of course we don’t want them to cry for hours or days, but we want them to be able to show their feelings - to talk about what they are doing to other students, to talk about difficult subjects, to share.
It is with this community that we are preventing bullying! I encourage all of you to share the little tips you and your group leaders may have. Violent conduct happens more and more and we should help each other so that this doesn’t happen in our summer camps or our schools.
In summary, here is a little recap to help you out this summer, or even all-year round:
- Add a CPD seminar on bullying for your staff prior to the start of the camp.
- Actively look for potential bullying.
- Introduce rituals to bind the community and present opportunities to spot bullying (e.g. handshakes, journaling).
- Lead by example. Why don’t we Camp Leaders and Directors share our experiences? Why don’t we have our own Camp Journals? We should as well create a community and help each other out.