Robyn Richardson Bullying a Primary 'Back to School' Concern Interview

Robyn Richardson Bullying a Primary 'Back to School' Concern Interview

Robyn Richardson Bullying a Primary 'Back to School' Concern Interview

Life Education, the largest non-government provider of health education in schools, says bullying is a key concern among parents and carers as they prepare for the start of a new school year.

The charity, which worked with 610,000 children across 3200 primary and secondary schools last year, said bullying - including the more recent issue of cyber bullying - continues to be a challenge for parents. This was recently voiced on the charity's Facebook page - which is fronted by popular mascot Healthy Harold - when it asked parents to name their major health and safety concerns for children for the 2012 school year.

Responses from parents included: 'Bullying is horrid and more so with girls! The psychological torture that girls inflict upon each other in the name of being the popular one needs to be stopped...' And, 'As a beginning teacher, I have real concerns about bullying, particularly the increased cyber-bullying epidemic. It is happening at any age and that can have detrimental effects in all areas of health...'

According to recent research commissioned by the Federal Government, one in four students in Australian schools is affected by bullying, and Life Education Australia CEO, David Ballhausen says parents can help;
'Life Education encourages children (whether the victim or a bystander) to report all incidents of bullying and urges parents to reassure their child that reporting these events to a trusted adult is the right thing to do.'

Another area of concern for parents is nutrition and hydration including, the challenges of encouraging children to drink fresh water as opposed to sugary drinks that don't hydrate during this hottest time of the year. Other concerns include the harmful effects of poor nutrition and child obesity, which continues to rise.

According to alarming figures from the National Health Survey in 2007-2008, 25 percent (approximately 600,000) of all Australian children aged 5-17 years, were overweight or obese, up four percent from 1995 (21 percent). 'A balanced diet with plenty of fresh water is essential. Every lunch box should include a water bottle that can be refilled throughout the day,' says Life Education's CEO, David Ballhausen.

Road safety was also disclosed as a main parental concern among some of the 126,360 Healthy Harold Facebook followers, ranging from concerns about child abduction to bike helmets.

With just a couple of weeks until schools start, Life Education offers its top tips for parents to minimise the impact of these major issues on their children:
1.Reassure your child that reporting all instances of bullying to a trusted adult is the right thing to do.
2.Provide opportunities for your child to discuss their day's happenings with you.
3.Use open ended questions to encourage dialogue including, how did you feel? How did the situation resolve? What could you have done differently?

Nutrition & Hydration:
1.Model a healthy diet - your child will acquire healthy attitudes towards eating if you are a good role model.
2.Encourage your child to consider the nutritional value of foods before deciding what to eat.
3.Involve your child in lunch box preparations - they may be more likely to eat food that they've helped prepare.

Road Safety:
Revisit your route to and from school with your child and create a safety awareness checklist around:
1.Recognising and understanding road signs and crossings
2.Safe drop off and pick up behaviours including checking for other vehicles and pedestrians
3.Safety benefits and requirements of seat belt use in cars and helmets on bikes.

Interview with Robyn Richardson

Robyn Richardson National Manager Program Development at Life Education

Question: Can you talk about what the major issue you found was, in schools, last year?

Robyn Richardson: Life Education (Life Ed) works in over 3,200 schools across Australia and those schools choose to have Life Ed visit their school as Life Ed is a not-for-profit organisation.

Life Ed works in so many schools and we can see that the major issue for schools is that they need support in their health and wellbeing programs in all aspects concerning nutritional, physical activity, smoking, affective communications, bullying, sun safety, road safety and all the topics our Life Ed program covers.

Question: Do you believe that bullying is becoming a bigger issue, every single year?

Robyn Richardson: Life Ed is not a research organisation so we have no research to support that but what we can say is that we can see a heightened awareness of bullying and more importantly we see schools really taking a preventative approach to bullying. At Life Ed we can see the triggers that prompt schools to revisit their approach to bullying such as a reaction to the latest bullying report in the media or something that has happened at school or close to home. Life Ed has always helped schools take a pro-active stance towards bullying and schools continue to ask us for these elements of the program.

Question: What does Life Education encourage children to do when they see or are a victim of bullying?

Robyn Richardson: We try and keep it quite simple. Life Ed says in all instances of bullying whether you are being bullied or you are a bystander that you go and tell a trusted adult; that can be a teacher, a parent, a coach or any trust adult who is around. The other thing that we say to the children that we work with is that it's not okay and don't ignore it because it won't just go away.

If you are being bullied we suggest that the victim walks away, not respond or retaliate physically and uses a positive body language. In some instances if a response is needed, the victim can use a neutral response such as 'is that so' or 'you may think that' as that possibly may deflect the affects of bullying.

The bystander needs to be viewed as equally important, Life Ed says to bystanders that 'you have to support and report'; this means that if you know there is bullying occurring whether it is online or in person the bystander needs to physically stand beside that person, speak out and report it. The bystander cannot just think it's going to go away and ignore it.

Question: Is bullying including cyber bullying an issue Life Education deals with more now than they have in the past?

Robyn Richardson: For 30 years the Life Ed program has always included a preventative approach to bullying and now that does encompass cyber bullying and we are working daily in schools to prevent bullying with communication skills, developing self-confidence and exploring relationship and friendship issues.

One thing the Life Ed programs really encourage is helping children to respect differences and appreciate that what they say and do affects other people and how those people feel about themselves. Often that is one of the key issues with bullying; the bully doesn't have empathy and doesn't understand the outcomes of their behaviour.

Life Ed is not doing more in regards to bullying because we have always done it; we have been more explicit in our communications with schools on how we deal with bullying in our programs.

Question: What do you suggest parents do to protect their child once they have reporting they are a victim of bullying?

Robyn Richardson: One thing that we need to be clear about is the definition of bullying. Life Education defines bullying as when a person or group, who has more power over someone, repeatedly and intentionally causes hurt and harm. We are not talking about single acts of rejection or mutual arguments between two people, we don't believe that is bullying.

Suggestions for parents include:
Don't ignore it, listen to your children and establish if it is a real case of bullying.
Always, not only in regards to bullying, keep your lines of communication open so they are comfortable to talk with you. In our Life Ed program we always use open questions to encourage conversation including asking 'How did you/he/she feel?', 'What could have been done differently?' or 'How could this issue be resolved?'
Reassure your children that bullying is definitely not okay in any instance and it is okay to feel hurt by it, as that is a normal reaction.
Be empathetic and understand because by doing this you are a great role model for your kids.
Help children to appreciate that what they say and do affects other people.
Be aware of your own communication behaviour including online and face-to-face.
Help your children to develop skills in terms of interacting respectively and safely with people.
Parents should also provide and encourage a range of friendships through various activities (not always expensive or heavy on time activities).
Encourage family and face-to-face time.
Encourage your children to respect themselves and their property including how they use their mobile phone, laptop and how they share their technology around including protecting passwords.

Life Ed wants parents to be a great role model in all areas of health and wellbeing whether it is how they communicate with people, nutrition, sun safety as modeling is very important.

Question: What other issues are a concern for parents and children?

Robyn Richardson: Recently parents voiced concerns on our Life Education Facebook Page regarding nutrition, hydration (especially when they go back to school during the summer time) and road safety.

Question: Do you have any health and nutrition tips to share with parents?

Robyn Richardson: Once again it is important for parents to model a healthy diet and promote healthy attitudes to eating. Often children will have the same attitudes their parents do in regards to eating which is why parents need to try and model a good diet with lots of variety.

In Life Ed we encourage children to consider the nutritional value of a food before deciding what to eat; the food can taste great but it can also be very good for you and high in nutrition.

Parents should also encourage kids to participate in preparing a healthy lunchbox or dinner as they are more likely to eat a variety of foods they helped prepare. Kids should also be aware of the five food groups (grains, fruit and vegetables, cereals, dairy and meat) including meat alternatives because Healthy Harold loves a really good lentil burger.

In terms of hydration, parents need to encourage children to drink plenty of water at each meal time and in between meal times as well and a way they can do that is to always have a bottle that can be refilled. Kids can also get hydrated by eating food with a high water content including watermelon, celery and cucumber as all those foods actually hydrate us, as well.

Question: Do you have any road safety tips to share with parents?

Robyn Richardson: In regards to back to school road safety tips parents should take their young children and revisit their route to and from school prior to returning to school.
Parents can also create a safety awareness check list to ensure young children recognise roads signs and what they're for and why they're there.
It is a great idea to also talk and show children about safe drop off and pick up locations around school.
Teach children to check for other vehicles and pedestrians.
If your child is catching a bus, go over safe behaviours for getting on and off buses and crossing roads, if they need to do that.
It is also important to go over the basics including the importance of using seatbelts and wearing helmets.

Question: Do you have anything else you'd like to add?

Robyn Richardson: Yes, Life Ed's best tip is that we believe that the best preventative health education and we are talking a broad range of things here comes from a whole community partnership with parents and schools. We want to encourage parents to have Life Ed and Harold visit their school, this year.
Visit Life Education at:

Interview by Brooke Hunter