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Tuesday, 23 April 2019 05:50 pm

Work to be done at grass roots in fight against bullying

Konfident Kidz

PRIDE AND JOY: Konfident Kidz creator Lisa Gembitsky sits on the cushions she made herself inside the Lower Hutt clubhouse. IMAGE: Amanda Carrington

WANTED: A kick-ass, considerate and confident person who is passionate about anti-bullying training. If such a person is not found, Lisa Gembitsky will have to put her dearest passion “in a pretty box” for now, while she goes off to live in Europe.

Ms Gembitsky is excited about Europe but sad to be having to put on hold her programme Konfident Kidz, which has involved 8000 children over eight years.

“I was really hoping the right person would come along and take it,” she says.

Konfident Kidz has worked with children in schools and communities around Wellington to face bullying.

The programme was funded by the government just once in its eight years, through the Ministry of Social Development.

Ms Gembitsky was disappointed at the lack of support for an organisation working hands on with children.

“The New Zealand government likes to try and band aid situations but you can’t band aid this,” she says.

Studies have shown the scale of the problem in New Zealand.

A study published in April 2013 by Victoria University of Wellington found 94% of participants said bullying occurred in their school.

Head of Victoria’s School of Educational Psychology and Pedagogy Dr Vanessa Green and her team of students surveyed 860 teachers and principals in primary and secondary schools.

The study found 67% agreed verbal bullying was a problem, 39% stated that cyberbullying was an issue and 35% agreed physical bullying was a problem.

New Zealand was among the worst worldwide when it comes to bullying in primary schools, according to a 2008 study by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

The TIMSS study found that year five students reported higher levels of bullying than year nine students in New Zealand.

The figures suggest, therefore, that organisations working at grass-roots with children to gain confidence and self-esteem to face bullying are needed in our communities.

Murals cover the outside of the clubhouse in where many Lower Hutt children have become Konfident Kidz.

Inside, the walls are plastered with photos of the children, and stacks of cushions Ms Gembitsky made herself are piled up in the hall. Cute, grinning faces and best-friend hugs fill the frame in each photograph.

“I firmly believe that the kids love doing Konfident Kidz and really retain the information and see the positiveness in it down the track.

“I know for a fact that they wouldn’t still talk to me if they though it was rubbish. There’s no way I would be getting the responses that I get, big cuddles and jumping on me and saying ‘hi’ and telling me all about their lives, if we hadn’t have had that impact on them,” she says.

Ms Gembitsky has a background in martial arts and has always wanted to take the fundamental skills, confidence and leadership of the sport and put it into a programme to help children.

The kids get taught a range of specific skills – knowing their instincts and when to walk away, recognising triggers that they’re being bullied and how their tone of voice can control a situation to stop a bully, she says.

The skills being taught in the programme were put into practice by identical twins, who received national attention after they were snatched at a Lower Hutt mall.

The twins were grocery shopping with Mum at Queensgate mall when they were snatched at while heading towards the toilet.

The male predator described by the New Zealand show Close Up tried twice to get them into the men’s bathroom but the eight-year-olds fought back yelling “get away from us”.

TWO OF A KIND: (From left) Identical twins Holly and Emily Robertson, 14, put the skills they were taught in the Konfident Kidz programme into practice when they were snatched at by a stranger at the age of eight. IMAGE: supplied

TWO OF A KIND: (From left) Identical twins Holly and Emily Robertson, 14, put the skills they were taught in the Konfident Kidz programme into practice when they were snatched at by a stranger at the age of eight. IMAGE: Supplied

Holly says her sister Emily was grabbed by the man but Holly pushed him away and they used their voices.

Emily, the oldest twin by one minute, says she was a little bit frightened that day but because of the confidence course, she’s prepared for anything coming her way.

Lynda Roberston is the mother of Holly and Emily, 14, who took part in the programme when they were seven.

Mrs Robertson was introduced to Konfident Kidz when her daughter Emily saw it in a school newsletter.

She says she was pretty “upset” when she heard about the incident and all she wanted to do was to get the girls home.

She regrets not telling the mall management about the incident at the time.

“They were quite brave. It could have had quite a different outcome,” Mrs Robertson says.

The twins learnt how to defend themselves and how to get out of a dangerous situation at the Konfident Kidz workshops.

Holly and Emily are best friends who hardly ever fight. They’re the youngest of six children and attend Hutt Valley High school.

While speaking to the twins separately, their voices matched each other’s identically. They spoke confidently with a hint of nerves.

“I feel that if we hadn’t have taken the confidence programme we wouldn’t have been as confident to do something like that,” Holly says.

Emily laughed when she said she learnt from the confidence programme to be aware of strangers that seemed to be “dodgy”.

“I have always made sure that I’m around the people I know that don’t look kind of weird, but if they did, I know not to go near them,” Emily says.

Holly suffered from anxiety and panic attacks after the incident but it was something that she could control and they eventually went away.

She says she has helped other people who have dealt with anxiety and has given them tips on how to feel better.

Holly also had the support of her sister Emily who was with her every step of the way. She supported her and told her not to worry about things.

Situations like this can be prevented if programmes like Konfident Kidz were funded.

Ms Gembitsky, who was born in Porirua and grew up in Wainuiomata, sat down with a friend after returning from Europe eight years ago and wrote the fun, relaxed and friendly programme. To get it started she trialled it in six schools for free.

Konfident Kidz is aimed for children aged five to 18 years.

“[Children] should be bought up in a place where they’re completely confident in themselves, have really high levels of self-esteem because that’s what creates good community, proactive people,” Ms Gembitsky says.

Her son Hunter started learning confidence building and self-esteem at the age of two. He is now seven years old and has become “well-equipped”.

When asked about why children bully, Ms Gembitsky says it’s human nature and kids are influenced by what they see online.

Social media has become a part of our lives since it started in 1970 and is the main factor behind the growing problem of cyberbullying.

The older generation don’t understand the younger generation because they weren’t raised with cell phones at the age of seven and were never bought up with the technology, Ms Gembitsky says.

Communication, whether it is in social media or face-to-face, is a critical aspect of Konfident Kidz.

“If you can teach young people how to communicate appropriately, how to read body language, how they feel safe and what those things feel like then they can deal with potential situations that are coming their way, whether it being bullying or attacking,” she says.

Unfortunately, the schools and community groups who took part in the Konfident Kidz workshops over the years have had to pay from their budgets for the children.

One of those schools was Normandale School where Holly and Emily Robertson attended the workshops.

Pukeatua School was lucky enough to receive funding to have Konfident Kidz into its school.

Pukeatua Principal Jenni Adam says Ms Gembitsky supported teachers with an in-class programme focusing on students making good choices through building self-confidence and self-esteem.

“It gave them strategies of how to cope in a situation where they might have to choose between right and wrong,” she says.

The second time they visited was when they ran an after school programme for the whānau, she says.

Ms Adam says children can build confidence and self-esteem by valuing others and also valuing themselves. This will lead them to make good choices and create a positive impact on their lives.

The Ministry of Education believes confidence and self-esteem are important qualities to have because they help people’s ability to handle challenges.

Bullying in primary schools should not be tolerated due to its detrimental effect on children’s health, wellbeing and learning, says Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey.

“Students who are isolated and who have low self-esteem are at a relatively greater risk of being bullied,” she says.

Ms Gembitsky believes that building communities and running hands-on programmes such as Konfident Kidz can create a big impact.

“Imagine what sort of adults you would grow.

“That whole generation of those sorts of people – the undesirable people or the useless parents – would be completely gone and those kids would grow up being amazing and they will change their entire community.

“It would be phenomenal. All it takes is a little investment and a little money,” she says.

Agencies that focus on bullying receive funding.

There are other organisations that receive government funding for working with youths on bullying.

They receive grants, sponsorships and assistance to provide information, counselling and help lines.

One of them is NetSafe which specifically provides help to children dealing with cyberbullying.

NetSafe provides parent presentations, a kit for schools, DVD’s and a contact centre for enquiries related to online issues, NetSafe training and education specialist Lee Chisholm says.

“We believe that if the techniques are followed and the information we provide is used, it’s likely to have a positive outcome,” she says.

Ms Chisholm also says building an understanding of bullying and how it affects people in negative ways should be started at an early age.

Another organisation is What’s Up, a call centre that provides options of practical techniques and guidance for five to 18 year olds.

“We support [the youths] learning self-protective thoughts and behaviours and reflect and build on their own strengths, skills and abilities,” What’s Up supervisor Carolyn Gibbs says.

What’s Up keep an eye on what is happening here and overseas in terms of anti-bullying strategies.

Youthline receives grants to help youth dealing with issues.

Bullying can be emotional, verbal or physical, says Youthline national spokesperson and CEO Stephen Bell.

“We need to create an environment where young people can feel okay about asking for help, where they can be open without fear of being embarrassed about expressing their feelings,” he says.

Youthline believes young people need to be the change to ensure bullying is no longer a part of the community.

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