I’m thinking about Sam*.
Sam is nine. She’s fierce and funny and kills it on the netball court as Goal Shooter (girlfriend never misses!). But I happen to know Sam has been in tears today about school today. Her friends (I use that term loosely) have suddenly decided that in 2016 she’s not worthy to hang around them. So her lunch breaks last week were spent alone.
To say Sammy is dreading today is an understatement.
And Sam is not alone. Not by a long shot. Last night thousands of children were in their rooms quietly worrying. They’re worrying about surviving school today.
In the swirl of this month’s back-to-school ads there’s been a lot of cheerful talk about school lunches! New shoes! Backpacks!
It can make us forget that for thousands of kids the sheer idea of walking back through those school gates is an utter nightmare. And tonight – Sunday night – they’re stressing about it.
Maybe they’re new to the school and feel sick with nerves about making new friends. Maybe their stomach is in knots because they know last year’s bullying is about to start all over again. (And maybe the school’s bullying policy isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.) Or maybe due to myriad reasons – a sick family member, divorcing parents, financial struggles at home – school is the very last place they want to be this week.
The reason doesn’t matter. What matters is that for THOUSANDS of kids going back to school today has them feeling anxious.
But here’s what I know. For every child who is feeling isolated or alone there are hundreds of kids at that same school who would befriend them. Stand up for them. Who would say: ‘You can sit with me’ – if they just knew what was going on. I know that for sure. The vast majority of kids in every school are GREAT kids. Kind, fierce, empathetic.
And that’s where a little yellow wristband comes in.
A genius little yellow wristband.
A two-dollar wristband that can change the culture of the schoolyard.
I couldn’t love this initiative harder if I tried.
#YouCanSitWithMe is an anti-bullying initiative, a kindness campaign, devised by Sydney-based educational consultant Sophie Whitehouse. It encourages children in schools to wear a two-dollar bright yellow wristband that says – you guessed it – YOU CAN SIT WITH ME.
Are there five sweeter words in the English language? YOU CAN SIT WITH ME.
And what it means is that the person wearing the wristband is a safe place. A harbour from the storm. A FRIEND. A child who feels lonely or isolated can go up to a fellow student wearing one of these yellow wristbands and know they’ll be included – no questions asked.
“We believe that YOU CAN SIT WITH ME will improve children’s childhoods,” says Whitehouse, who has worked with children from Ethiopia to Hong Kong to Australia. “The wristbands are highly visible and will show children clearly that there are other children willing to include them by offering them a safe place to sit. We believe this will help reduce childhood anxiety, depression and loneliness whilst strengthening communities and allowing children to make new friends of all ages, races and religions.”
Strengthening school communities. HOW GOOD IS THAT?
And for the child wearing the wristband, it gives them a sense of pride and leadership. Forget badges and titles – these wristbands tell the school community you’re a leader; that at your school you’re a force for good.
Even better is that money raised from the sale of the wristbands goes to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, which aims to bring literacy skills to Australia’s most marginalised communities.
So now what? So now we spread the word. We talk to school principals and teachers and guidance counsellors about having them on sale at school and talked about at assembly. We talk to the kids in our life about the wristbands and what they mean and the big responsibility of wearing one at school. (Importantly they don’t have to get involved or solve another child’s problems.
Their role is just to be a friendly face and to alert a teacher if the student is upset. Also we let kids know that if they want to stop wearing the wristband at any time, that’s okay too.)
Watch a powerful anti-bullying ad doing the rounds in the US (post continues after video).
And most importantly we buy them.
Experts will tell you that to stamp out bullying, schools need a multi-pronged approach. Teachers need training to spot and appropriately intervene when bullying is happening in their classrooms. Principals need to be committed to a strong, clear anti-bullying policy and be prepared to implement it.
We need schools to foster and nurture an inclusive culture. And we need more students to feel empowered to hold out a hand and say: “Hey, you can sit with me”.
#youcansitwithme – pass it on.