Picture this: your child is in the school playground, feeling a bit lost and alone. Where do they go? And, more importantly, with whom do they seek company?
These are the questions a new anti-bullying campaign, entitled You Can Sit With Me, is hoping to answer.
The concept is simple: a child (at school, in a sporting club or other hobby group) wears a bright yellow wristband printed with the words 'You Can Sit With Me', showing that they are a safe and friendly person to go to if someone needs company.
The campaign's founder, Sophie Whitehouse, is an education consultant who has seen her fair share of social and emotional issues in schools. "Even though education is moving forward, we seem to have that same problem where children feel anxious, they worry about going to school, and when they're at school they sometimes feel isolated and that they don't have anyone to sit with or play with," Whitehouse says. "I noticed that problem isn't really moving forward, so I decided I needed to do something about it, and that's how it [the You Can Sit With Me campaign] was born."
"There are so many children who want to help, but they're not recognised out in the playground. The idea of the very visible, yellow wristband is that people who want to be part of it and reach out to be there for someone else can be."
While the idea is framed around helping in situations involving bullying, it's also a great way to help children who are new to the school, or who may be suffering from anxiety or struggles in their life (which could include divorce, death in the family or a problem at home). "A child could be feeling isolated or they might want to make a new friend," says Whitehouse. "The campaign is structured as being anti-bullying but it also helps with anxiety, isolation or loneliness."
The #YouCanSitWithMe campaign aims to provide education to the children who opt to wear the wristbands. Parents, schools or groups who order the bands are provided with a set of guidelines to help them discuss this responsibility with children. "They are to understand that at no time are they to counsel a child who comes and sits next to them," says Whitehouse. "At no time are they to go and sort out the bullying issue in the playground. They are just to simply say hi and ask if they are okay, sit and listen, involve them, or take the child to an adult for help."
Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says that, without having seen this new concept in practice, she thinks it's a good idea particularly for primary school aged children. "It's flagging the safe areas … and the kids who have skills in how to help others, so you're giving clear social cues as to what to do in particular situations," she says.
"Where my interest is, is where does that fit into a whole school anti-bullying policy?" says Brewer, adding that it could be a little more complex than simply giving your child a wristband to wear. "It's a whole school responsibility to create a safe place and that needs to come from the principal who implements that as a playground program. Maybe it would be that you need to do something to get a wristband, such as being on the SRC or being a really good role model."
Overall, though, the idea has a lot of positive merit. "I like that it's peer supported, because that's more natural (than going straight to a teacher)," says Brewer.
And it's certainly a powerful message that can do a lot of good. "It's a simple message that can change lives," says Whitehouse. "It strengthens communities with five simple, lovely words that really change a child's life."
All proceeds from the sale of wristbands are being donated to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, to help strengthen our indigenous and refugee communities.
Individuals and schools can order the wristbands through the website, youcansitwithme.org.