Educating young people about the dangers of violence during conflict

“Be wise, think carefully and act kindly” is the simple but incredibly powerful message the family of coward punch victim Pat Cronin is communicating to young Australians through a newly released trio of books for primary school aged children, writes journalist Emily Campbell.

The Pat Cronin Foundation

On a quiet night out in Melbourne during April 2016, 19-year-old Pat Cronin was coward punched while assisting his friend who was being harassed by a group of strangers.

Pat was taken to hospital with severe head injuries but, tragically, his condition was such that his family made the agonising decision two days later to switch off his life-support system.

Following Pat’s senseless death, his family established the Pat Cronin Foundation to honour Pat’s memory by raising awareness about the coward punch and educating young people about the dangers and potentially deadly consequences of resorting to violence during conflict.

The Cronins are determined that no other family should experience the devastation they have faced since Pat’s death.

Matt Cronin, Pat’s father and founding director of the Pat Cronin Foundation (pictured opposite with Robyn Cronin, Pat’s mother), said it is important that from the earliest possible age, children should be taught and learn to understand that violence and physical aggression are totally unacceptable and they need to always think carefully and act kindly.

“The foundation was formed after Pat died in 2016 and from very early on, our theory has been that to make change you need to educate,” Matt said.

Although the foundation already has an ongoing active secondary school program that informs students about Pat’s story, the storybooks, launched in August 2020, aim to spread their message to younger children.

“One of the foundation’s cornerstones is about education and initially we worked predominantly with secondary schools to convey the ‘be wise, think carefully and act kindly’ message,” Matt said.

“However, early intervention is vital and children learn their behaviour from all their environments, which is why we decided to create these books targeted towards young children and communicate the message to them at home and school.

“These stories are designed to engage primary school students to help them reflect on attitudes and behaviours around anger and aggression, so they can feel empowered to develop their own action plan and be wise by never using violence,” he said.

The series

The three books: The New Playground, The Four-Square Challenge and Footy Fever, feature relatable characters, captivating illustrations and adventurous storylines designed to engage young readers but also to teach them an important message that violence is never acceptable.

When writing the stories, author Maureen Hyland, a family friend of the Cronins who taught at Pat’s primary school, said she took inspiration from Pat in creating the characters and commentary.

“While the stories are fictional, I have drawn on my knowledge of Pat, his personality and his life, and included some features that reflect the young man being honoured in these books,” Maureen said.

“Throughout the series, I have used the name Patch for the main character as this was a nickname of Pat’s.

“Another of Pat’s nicknames, bestowed upon him by his football coach, is ‘Skipper’, which the owl in the story has been named.

“The colours of the school and football uniforms in the illustrations were worn by Pat,” she said.

First in the series is The New Playground, set when Patch is in early primary school. It revolves around children eagerly wanting to try out the new school playground, before one classmate makes a poor choice by pushing another student off the slide because they wanted to go first.

The next story, The Four Square Challenge, revolves around a group of middle-primary school-aged children playing a ball game. It leads to a challenge and some unexpected turns in the final practice game and teaches one girl an important lesson.

The third and final book, Footy Fever, follows an Aussie Rules football match where Patch captains the Year 6 team, which plays against another team.

While everyone on the ground is well-behaved and shows great sportsmanship during the match, one player wants to make a name for himself at all costs and learns a valuable lesson about teamwork as a result.

Early intervention critical

Matt said the storybook narratives and illustrations form a critical part of the Pat Cronin Foundation’s ‘Be Wise’ education program by introducing children to the message of ‘Be wise, think carefully and act kindly.’

“The books were specifically written to help reinforce that we all need to ‘Be Wise’ when interacting with others and we need to think carefully before we act,” Matt said.

“The sooner children learn our ‘Be Wise’ message, the sooner we will achieve our mission to end the coward punch, because cultural change starts at a young age,” he said.

“Although the books don’t specifically mention the coward punch or death,they explore age-appropriate discussions about violence and the harm it causes.

“It starts with a push and then next thing you know it is escalating.

“In the last book, the character gets pushed into the goal post and hurts their shoulder so they’re not dying from their injury, but these behaviours are building blocks to more extreme violence,” he said.

One thing Matt really likes about the books is the way Maureen reinforces that in life there are consequences for negative actions; for example, someone being excluded from an activity as punishment, which may make a child think twice.

“It’s not just a case of punishing the person who has done something wrong, it’s about getting them to learn from it and consider what the outcome of their actions is,” said Matt.

Connecting the story with students

Story books are an excellent way to connect with young children and teach them lessons in ethics and morality, and Matt says that Pat and his other children, Emma and Lucas, grew up surrounded by books.

“We’ve always had books in our house, right from the time the children were born and to this day, we still have a library full of story books we haven’t been able to part with,” Matt said.

“The best part of these books is the children are learning without even thinking about it and enjoying the story, each of which has a message and lesson,” Matt said.

At the end of each book, author Maureen has included some teachers’ notes and activity suggestions so teachers can plan a lesson around the key messages of the story.

“If it’s being read at home by a parent, guardian or grandparent, there are age-appropriate discussion points adults can have with their children to prompt conversation and find out more about what the children are thinking,” Matt said.

Making the message national

Since the Pat Cronin Foundation was established in 2016, more than $1million has been raised, with the proceeds directly funding the foundation’s Be Wise educational programs and the publication of the books.

Distributing the books through their family garage, Matt said the foundation’s goal is to eventually have a set of books in every primary school in Australia.

“This project has been a while in the making and since the book launch on 25 August 2020, we have sold 3000 books, which is brilliant,” he said.

“We always thought the books would be successful, but we still have a long way to go if we want to ensure every primary school in Australia has a set of our books in their library.

“It’s important to spread the word further and further because violence is not just a local issue, it’s a national, even a worldwide issue.

“If we can change behaviours starting in our own backyard and call out our bad behaviour, that goes a long way to making a difference,” Matt said.

To learn more about the Pat Cronin Foundation and purchase the books, visit


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