“I want to change schools... in fact, I want to move to England”, said my seven-year-old daughter  when I picked her up from school a little while ago.

I know from experience that this means all is not well at school, so we had a conversation and it appeared that she was experiencing some difficult behaviour from another child. One quick e-mail to the school and the situation was dealt with and my daughter was happy to go to school again.

It is so important for the emotional and physical wellbeing of our children, to have this protective structure in situ in all schools. 

My focus here is not bullying at school but in summer holiday camps... where groups of children who may not know each other are thrown together in a new environment with adults they don’t know and where those that are perceived to be smaller, weaker or different could easily endure some bullying behaviour.

For many children the opportunity to be part of a summer camp programme, where they can learn new skills or enjoy the more relaxed camp atmosphere is exciting, but for others, the idea of participating in a new venture can be stressful and feel overwhelming. 

As parents, we all want our children to be happy and safe in their holiday camp, but how can we ensure that their experience will be as positive as possible?

Deciding on a Camp

  • Choose camps that will stimulate your child but also help them to feel confident about themselves.  It may be that they would like to try a new skill that you had never considered before but there is no point in sending a child that struggles with sports to a football camp, as they will be an easy target for derision and teasing. We want our children to be challenged so that perhaps they can find new skills and interests but the summer camp environment may not be the best one for this.
  • Taking a friend along can make a huge difference to the experience, as there will always be someone who can look out for you.
  • Decide on the appropriate environment for your child. Some will be using public transport or necessitate them being very organized (can be very stressful for some children), some will be outside and more active, others inside and perhaps more educational or certainly less active. You will know what will suit your child best.
  • Before registering your child for a camp, ask if they have a policy on bullying?  What they do if a child is being bullied? What is the adult to child ratio?
    Bullying behaviours tend to be less when children are supervised properly and there is an adult presence.
    Do they have a buddy system? Do they make explicit to the children what the guidelines are for acceptable behaviour and the consequences if they do not adhere to them?
  • Research the qualifications of the Camp Counsellors. Are they First Aid and CPR trained (Health and Safety policy)?
    Are they actually qualified to ‘teach’ the children?  What is their level of experience with children? Do they have any experience or training in behaviour management? 
    Children need an environment they feel safe in with adults they can trust to listen and take care of them.

Overcoming fears

  • Talk to your child with enthusiasm about the camp.  Children are very astute and will pick up on your reservations or concerns.
  • It might be helpful for some children, if you can visit the location of the camp prior to the official start of the camp.
  • Reinforce that most children will be attending for the first time and will also be nervous.
  • Make sure your child is prepared with the necessary resources that will make them feel comfortable.
  • Speak to your child daily about their camp experience. Ask specifics and watch out for any unusual behaviour. Children can’t always put into words what they are feeling, so will act out bad feelings by being extra demanding, nasty to a sibling or more reclusive.
  • With older children cliques often develop. We know that being left out is a major form of bullying which is why it is so important that camp counsellors are trained to keep an eye on what is going on with exclusion being clearly against camp guidelines.
  • Give children the steps/skills need to stand up to a bully (www.kidpower.org)

As parents it is normal to want to protect our children from harm. But if we monitor their lives too closely so that they never fail, and never get hurt or sad, then we would be depriving our children of having the room to grow and to deal with the world in which we all live.

Susan Rickards is deputy head of Primary, Warwick Academy. Fiona Dill is parenting facilitator, childbirth educator and Doula.