Bullying is a growing concern among afterschool programs committed to keeping children safe during the late-afternoon hours. Sporadic attendance, program size, and understaffing can make it difficult for program staff to adequately supervise all the children in their care. Drop-in programs make it especially difficult for staff to get to know the children well enough to distinguish between isolated incidents of rough play and ongoing bullying. In addition, many afterschool program settings include break-out rooms, such as media centers or gymnasiums, where children may be unsupervised for periods of time.
In programs that serve a variety of ages, older children may prey on younger, or more vulnerable, peers. Children may also continue bullying relationships that began in school, capitalizing on the relative independence and flexibility afforded by many afterschool programs.
Specific prevention strategies include the following:
- Establish clear rules and expectations for appropriate behavior. Discuss these rules frequently, so that children understand why they are important. Write them up and send copies home for students and parents to sign. Let parents, children, and staff know that you take bullying seriously.
- Enforce program rules consistently. Ensure that staff model the expected behaviors by treating one another and children with care and respect.
- Establish a clear protocol for staff to follow when they encounter a bullying incident, and provide the training they need to intervene effectively.
- Provide opportunities for staff to work with children one on one or in small groups. The better that the staff know the children in their care, the easier it will be for them to detect harmful patterns of behavior. Also, the closer their relationship, the more likely it will be for children to confide their problems and/or ask for help.
- Keep track of the prevalence and content of any bullying going on, including the names of the children involved and where the incidents occur. This will allow you to detect trends and develop more effective prevention strategies. Consider asking children to look at a program floor plan and mark areas where they feel “safe” and “unsafe.” This can alert you to areas that may require additional supervision.
- In programs that include mixed-age groups, establish separate areas that different age groups can call their “own.” These offer safe havens for younger children who may feel vulnerable around older children. In addition, try engaging older youth in mentoring or protecting younger and/or more vulnerable youth.
- Re-define existing power dynamics by creating opportunities for children to connect in new ways and establish different types of relationships. Use these opportunities to help children develop social skills and learn to get along with their peers.
- To prevent cyberbullying, make sure that media centers and/or computer areas are well-supervised. Consider blocking access to social networking sites, such as Facebook or MySpace.
- Foster communication with “feeder” schools to get information about what happened during the school day and ensure continuity of prevention messages.
- Maintain clear communications with parents. Let them know when a bullying incident has occurred, how their child was involved, and how the incident was resolved. And don’t forget to let parents know when their child has stepped forward as a helpful bystander, intervening to prevent a bullying incident or to contact an adult for help.
Helping Everyone Live Peacefully (HELP) Curriculum. Retrieved January 7, 2007, from www.afterschool.org/search/online/
Blank, S. (2005). Hours That Count: Using After-School Programs to Help Prevent Risky Behaviors and Keep Kids Safe. Washington, D.C.: Hamilton Fish Institute. Retrieved January 7, 2007, from www.tascorp.org/content/document/detail/1452/