Bullying and Mental Health - Interview with Daniel from Alannah & Madeline Foundation

Small Talking Kids - Series One, Episode One

Emily, Grace and Eden were happy to talk to Daniel from The Alannah & Madeline Foundation and ask him some questions around mental health and bullying. They spoke about looking out for others, signs of mental health issues, what bullying is, how parents can help and more… Listen with the kids and start your conversations today!

Here’s how the interview unfolded…

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Here’s the transcript…

Emily:       Hi Daniel, I’m Emily, so we’re all really excited to be chatting with you today. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your journey?

Daniel:     I certainly can. Look, I’m a dad, I’ve got all boys, and they’re aged between five years of age and eleven, and I’m currently working with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, which is an organisation that works with children and young people, with a real focus on keeping them safe and well. In my other life, I enjoy running, and I enjoy veggie gardening, and I enjoy playing computer games with my kids, and we have a shared Minecraft server that we get on together. But, across my life and work, it seems that I’ve done a lot of different things. I’ve done jobs from everything from being a professional clown as a young man, through to building research and writing and writing a couple of books about children and young people and how governments work with them. So most of my work seems to be about young people and children and technology, and I do a lot of that through telling stories.

Emily:       Hi, it’s Emily again. We read that 1 in 7 Primary school kid (that’s us) have mental health issues. That's massive. Why is that?

Daniel:     That’s an excellent question, and I think it’s important when we think of questions like that when you’re on the internet, or you’re looking at different research, there are lots of different numbers out there. So the exact extent of the issue around people and their mental health is still something I think we’re trying to understand. So I wanted to be upfront, and while we have different pieces of research, what we don’t really know is the exact numbers. Also, I think for you guys in primary school, and even for us as parents and adults, we shouldn’t get too caught up on the numbers. That’s something we don’t necessarily have to worry about because what we’re most worried about is ourselves. But what I would say to you is that I think it has something to do with the complexity of the world and I learnt this recently of a grandma. I was talking to a grandma, who was telling me about how she’d visited her grandson, who was in a grade two class. She was going to visit and tell them a little bit about what school was like when she was younger. The thing that she was reflecting on was how it just feels like with young people there’s a lot more things for them to expect. She was talking about the fact that when she was a child there weren’t all these phones, we weren’t connected to the internet, and there weren’t all these other things on and she said, “You know what, it just means that we have to look after our mental well being a little bit more”. She says that it’s just as important that rather than focusing on all the problems, that all of us, even if we don’t think we necessarily have an issue, could really benefit from just looking after ourselves. That might be, from the Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s perspective, turning off the screen every now and again, doing something that you like, making sure that you eat the right food, and making sure you have a really good relationship with your mum and dad and your friends.

Grace:      Hi Daniel, this is Grace, and I’m ten. What are the signs, and what do you teach in solutions?

Daniel:     I think it’s really hard sometimes for young people to recognise the signs because we’re all different and sometimes it’s very hard even to recognise if someone’s feeling a bit sadder than usual and sadder in a way that they’re not expected too. So, I think what the solution really is that we actually behave in a certain way all of the time, and what we talk about at the Foundation is the importance of just looking after each other. Some of the solutions are being kind. When you’re at school, you know how there’s different groups of friends and how they organise themselves and all the rest of it, sometimes it’s important not to exclude others and try to include them where you can.

Ultimately, having good relationships and looking out for each other, and if we’re feeling a certain way, being able to talk to our mum and dad about it. Those are the things that are really important, so that what we’re not just going, ‘oh gee, suddenly things have happened and now I’m feeling bad’, but what we should be focusing on is, how do we make sure we look after ourselves all of the time, even when we’re not necessarily in a situation when we’ve got a mental health issue. 

Grace:      Hi, this is Grace again. What about bullying. We're not far off going to secondary school, and we hear of kids being bullied, so what's your advice in high school?

Daniel:     So, the thing that’s important to recognise is that bullying isn’t just a child’s thing, and it isn’t even just a teenager thing in high school, and it’s not even just an adult thing. Bullying can happen all the time, by anyone of any different age, so it’s not just about something that happens in high school. The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, we’re sometimes supporting people who’re in all sorts of situations who are in primary school. But once again, I think that behaving the way you want to be treated is the best thing you can do about it in terms of demonstrating to your school and demonstrating to your friends around you that this is how we treat each other.

But, the most important thing, if you have that feeling where you feel like someone is bullying you, or you’re feeling upset about something, or any of those problems that you have along the way, which we all have, because we’re all human beings and we all experience different things, and sometimes those things feel a bit negative, and we’re worried about them, you being able to talk to an adult person that you can trust is the most important thing. Usually, that’s your mum or your dad, but sometimes at school it could be a teacher or someone else that you know if you’re really involved in sport, or a close family friend, someone who you trust, so you can go to and say, “Hey, this is happening to me,” or “this is something that I’m worried about.” It’s really important that young people and children recognise that being able to talk to adults about those things is the thing that actually helps to solve those problems most of all.

Eden:       Hi Daniel, my name is Eden. What's your advice for parents if they find out that their child is being bullied?

Daniel:     Yeah, you know what Eden, that is a really difficult place for parents to be in. It’s hard because as parents, the thing we want to do most of all is look after our children and protect them. We don’t want anything to go wrong for them, and that’s really hard because every single day there’s the potential of some things, big or small to go wrong. So, my advice for parents is that they respond with love. That they have to take care of their child, and what that means is that they have to control their emotions. To not get too angry and not get really upset, but talk it through reasonably, and then just like children have to talk to their parents or tell someone about it, the parents have to tell someone else about it.

If it’s happening at school, then the parent needs to talk to someone at the school, probably go through the office and talk to a Principal or a Teacher. The parents could also, depending on the kind of relationships they have, may feel comfortable talking to other parents, finding out ways they can actually talk to each other and help not just the children involved, but all the children in that community or that class to try and solve that problem and identify why it’s happening. Because, what we do know is that when those situations are happening, it can be for a whole range of different reasons. And a whole range of different people in that situation, when there’s a bullying situation that will need some kind of support, so we need to remember that as parents.

Sarah:      Can I jump in, it’s Sarah here, and ask a quick question from that. The word bullying is thrown around a lot when, in many cases, it’s probably not really bullying, can we define what bullying is?

Daniel:     I’m so glad you asked that question, Sarah because that’s actually true. The focus on bullying in particular at the Alannah and Madeline Foundation we’ve found that cyber bullying the whole nature of these things taking place online means that suddenly, mean comments or people having arguments are often seen or given the label of ‘bully’. But bullying is actually something that happens over time, so bullying is something that those kind of experiences which means that a person is experiencing not just one or two one-off examples where then a week later you’ve made friends because you’ve had an argument, but it’s that thing where constantly over time one is exerting their power or their influence or being somewhat, from their kids perspective, mean to someone over a period of time and the impact of that is that that impacts on you over a longer period of time, so that relationship is very unhealthy, and would be termed probably abusive can have a really significant impact on someone. So it’s important to recognise the difference there, and that is one of the challenges we face in the world is that definition people are often labelling other behaviours which is still not appropriate behaviours, we still need to work them out, but they’re not actually what we would label ‘bully’.

Sam:        Hi Daniel, it’s Sam here, so therefore, what we’re really looking at, is because children are looking for their place in the world, and sometimes they do this little push-pull on emotions, or whatever else it is to find their place in the world which can then be seen as being bullyish. Would you say that is probably just simply kids being kids or not?

Daniel:     I don’t always say it’s kids being kids, it’s sometimes just humans being humans because adults do it as well. I think what it’s about is the fact that it goes back to what I was saying before, for probably a more adult audience which is we live in very complex times, we communicate much more frequently than we used to through a whole bunch of different mediums, and human relationships are complex so understanding the nuance of those are difficult and hard so I think what we need to be a parents, and we talk about children being more resilient, I sometimes think parents need to be a little bit more resilient and give children the space to try and works some things for themselves. So it’s important for children, when something is going wrong to come to the parent, but the parent has to apply a lens on it to say, ‘ok do I need to intervene here, or do I talk to my child and give them some advice on how they may actually solve the problem?’ I think sometimes we’re very attuned these days to see ourselves as parents as fixing everything that’s going on in children’s lives and yet there is some value in allowing them to take responsibility and manage and work out how things are working in the relationships between themselves as well.

Eden:       Hi Daniel, it’s Eden again. At the end of each interview, we like to ask a question, and the question is, if you could make one change in the world, what would it be and why?

Daniel:     I’m glad that you ask everyone at the end of this question. I think it’s a really good, big blue sky question. A blue sky question is one where you can think of what anything would be. Do you know what my one would be? My answer is that I would like everyone to play more. I’m a very big fan of play, and if we go back to some of your earlier questions, I think one of the challenges is that we don’t play enough. Play is really really good for us, it’s a really important thing to do, and play doesn’t have to be just playing a pretend game, it can be playing a board game that adult play, it can be going into the garden or it can be playing a sport, an organised team sport, or it can be going for a run, but I think if we had a more playful world, it would be a kinder, friendlier, calmer, less stressed world.

Sarah:      For anyone who’s listening to this podcast, and they are experiencing a situation that they don’t quite know how to handle, can they seek help or support through Alannah and Madeline or do they need to go elsewhere. How do they seek out further advice?

Daniel:     Alannah and Madeline doesn’t have specific advice, we work a lot with schools and a lot of the work we do with schools and other organisations that work with children and young people to try and equip them and give them skills. So you can go to the Alannah and Madeline website, www.amf.org.au where we have a whole range of initial documents that can help and support and links that can take you there, but we really do recommend people talking to their school and to those people who are in more day-to-day regular contact with your children. It’s sometimes really hard and difficult to have some of those conversations but the better we become as a society of having those conversations in ways that are respectful and working through them, the better we will be ongoing, at handling the issues that arise and getting better at reducing the frequency.

Sarah:      And is there anything else you’d like to add today?

Daniel:     I want to say to Grace, Emily and Eden, well done for embarking on this process. I think that it’s not only giving you guys some great skills. I think that what it’s also showing is that young people like yourselves, who are even still in primary school have questions to ask and are interested in the world around them. That adults need to think about how we respond effectively and communicate really big ideas in a way that makes sense to you guys and that you can understand.

So I am just a big fan of the whole project and the way you’re going about this, and I think that’s really important. I think in terms of supporting young people’s mental wellbeing, dealing with things like bullying, the more as adults we can respect children and young people in the way that having them do something like set up their own little radio show and ask the questions or whatever that is, the more we do that, I think the better we will actually be at giving them the support they need and providing the environments that they need, so that the world doesn’t have some of these problems that we’ve been talking about today.

All Interviewers: Thank you, Daniel