MT PRITCHARD PUBLIC SCHOOL | Youngsters learn how to say NO to bullying

Last Friday, pupils at Mount Pritchard Public School had a school-wide breakfast in conjunction with the relationship-services organisation Interrelate to mark the National Day of Action Against Bullying & Violence, a national government initiative coordinated by the Safe & Supportive School Communities Working Group.

Along with hundreds of schools across the country, Mount Pritchard Public pupils were involved in Interrelate's Say No To Bullying poster competition, an art activity to help youngsters embrace kindness and inclusion.

The youngsters at Mount Pritchard Public eagerly participated in this competition and they also shot a video.

The school's deputy principal Courtney Knight and Interrelate's chief executive Patricia Occelli canvassed our questions about some of the causes and solutions of bullying and how schools are dealing with it, specifically at Mount Pritchard Public and, more broadly, at schools across the country.

Abuse of power is on everyone's minds at the moment. How important is it to the staff at Mount Pritchard Public to address this with youngsters from a very young age? Can you ever be too young to understand bullying? Students are never too young to learn about bullying, especially in the instance where someone is abusing their power. Often our younger students are at the most risk of this because they don't have the same experiences to know or speak out about what's happening to them. We address this through many of our Personal Development units where students learn at their developmental level about seeking help, child protection, personal space and boundaries.

How do you explain what bullying is to youngsters who've just started kindy? Often young students can mistake unkindness for bullying and it's important to teach the difference. However with young students we tend to work from the positive -- teaching about what makes a good friend, how we support each other and accept each others' differences. Currently our kindergarten students are engaged in a unit of work called This is Me! exploring the different cultures and families that make up their class and learning about what's good about each other.

Bullying is faced by every school. How does Mount Pritchard Public address incidents of bullying? Like all schools, we follow our anti-bullying policy to deal with issues promptly. The most important thing for us to unpack is the cause of the behaviour so we work closely with the school counsellor; and sometimes other outside agencies and families to ensure support is provided to all students involved. Communication between home and school is very important in this process.

An anti-bullying day is a way of highlighting the impact and prevention of bullying. But days fade and life goes on. How does Mount Pritchard Public keep the focus on preventing bullying on a day-to-day basis after anti-bullying days?

‚ÄčAnti-bullying is a message that's addressed every day. We address it in the way we support students to resolve conflicts in the classroom and playground. We address it through our school-wide behaviour expectations of being Safe, Respectful & Responsible learners and we address it through many other learning opportunities, such as analysing the actions of characters in books, discussing the morals in stories. It's important to us that all our students feel valued in our school, especially as we have such a diverse cultural community -- it's important for us to teach our students to value the culture of others.

Why do kids act as bullies? There are many reasons why children bully. Bullying is about exerting power and control. Sometimes this is due to the bully's own experience of negative relationships and this being one way that they can exert power when they've been disempowered themselves. For example, a child might have been bullied or may not have had supportive parenting relationships. Another can be associated with the development of empathy. A lack of empathy can lead to a lack of awareness of the impact our behaviour has on others.

Very often bullying is a symptom of something else causing bother or trouble. How can schools address bullying without shutting down in-roads into finding out what could be the underlying problem? This is where schools can have a significant impact. Understanding the cause of bullying behaviour can help in identifying the solution. Involving a whole-of-community approach to the problem is key. Involving parents in discussing positive parenting relationships that reinforce positive responses is key.

The school can be a controlled environment and subject to processes which can be put in place. But the child's home is beyond the scope. How do you deal with suspected bullying in pupils' homes? What are signs of this? School bullying is a serious problem worldwide. There's now strong evidence to indicate that children who bully at school are at significant risk for a range of antisocial, criminal and poor health results later in life. Importantly, bullying is a behaviour often influenced by family environment. As such, working with families to interrupt the continuity from school bullying to later adverse life outcomes could be viewed as a form of early intervention for preventing crime, as well as a method of promoting health. There's now new evidence for possible protective or intervening factors that may interrupt the developmental sequence of anti-social behaviour and parental involvement in anti-bullying interventions is important.

Bullying by children is a serious problem in Australia and elsewhere. Children who bully tend to have a wide array of conduct problems and show high levels of depressive, aggressive and delinquent behaviour.

Bullying by children is considered a stepping stone for criminal behaviours, increasing the risk of police contact when they become adults by more than half. Children who bully increase their risk of later depression by 30 per cent.

Bullying arises from the complexity of children's relationships with family members, peers and the school community and culture. Families, especially, play an important role in behaviours.

Children who bully require greater support for behaviour change through targeted approaches. Children who chronically bully may also have mental health issues that require specialist intervention.

Importantly, children who bully aren't doomed to bully all their life. Effective and early treatment may interrupt the risk of progressing from school bullying to later adverse life outcomes.

Images in the media can have a profound effect on developing minds -- how do you steer kids away from harmful messages? Parents should be mindful of the information that their children are consuming relative to their age and development. We urge parents to take an active interest in their children's hobbies including games and online information consumption and to discuss these. Parenting in these environments is as important as parenting in other contexts. We don't let them learn about crossing the road by running out into a freeway, likewise our approach to parenting online needs to be proactive. Parents need to say no when children are accessing information that's inappropriate and explain their decision.

Simple question, but profound: how do you get a child to respond with love, compassion, patience and understanding when everything within them wants to shout and scream and hit out because they feel wronged (perhaps justifiably!)? It's important that a child is able to express themselves when they've been wronged but this doesn't have to be through aggression. Learning to emotionally regulate early in life will help us in our future. There are many ways that wrongs can be righted without violence or else if we smacked everyone who ever wronged us we'd all be in a pickle! Letting a child express their anger, enabling children to feel safe by having behaviours addressed and having restorative justice mechanisms can all help. Children deserve to feel safe and heard.

Courtney Knight is deputy principal of Mount Pritchard Public School and Patricia Occelli is chief executive of Interrelate.