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Anxious Mums author, Dr Jodi Richardson, offers advice for mothers and children experiencing anxiety.

One in four people will experience anxiety within their lifetime, making it the most prevalent mental health condition in Australia. Statistics determine it is twice as common in women, with one in three, compared with one in five men, diagnosed on average.

Having lived and studied anxiety, Dr Jodi Richardson  is an expert in her field, with more than 25 years of practice. In addition to her professional background, it was ultimately her personal experiences and journey in becoming a mother that shaped the work she is passionate about. 

Jodi’s books, Anxious Kids; How Children Can Turn Their Anxiety Into Resilience,  co-written with Michael Grose (2019), and her latest release, Anxious Mums; How Mums Can Turn Their Anxiety Into Strength (2020), offer parents, in particular mothers, advice on how to manage and minimalise anxiety, so they can maximise their potential, elevate their health and maintain their wellbeing.

The more I learned about anxiety, the more important it was to share what I was learning.”

Jodi’s first-hand experiences have inspired her work today, stating, “The more I learned about anxiety, the more important it was to share what I was learning.”

Jodi’s first signs of experiencing anxiety appeared at the early age of four. Her first symptoms began in prep, experiencing an upset stomach each day. Her class of 52 students, managed by two teachers, was stressful enough, on top of her everyday battles. Jodi recalls, “There was a lot of yelling and it wasn’t a very relaxing or peaceful environment, it obviously triggered anxiety in me, I have a genetic predisposition towards it, as it runs in my family.”

Twenty years later, the death of a family member triggered a major clinical depression for Jodi. She began seeking treatment however, it was in finding an amazing psychologist, that helped her to identify she was battling an underlying anxiety disorder. Jodi discloses, “It was recognised that I had undiagnosed anxiety. I didn’t really know that what I had experienced all my life up until that point had been any sort of disorder, that was just my temperament and personality.” 

After many years of seeing her psychologist, Jodi eventually weaned off her medication and managed her anxiety with exercise and meditation. Offering advice on finding the right psychologist Jodi states, “For me it was my third that was the right fit. I really encourage anyone if the psychologist you were referred to doesn’t feel like the right fit, then they’re not and it’s time to go back to your GP. Having the right professional that you’re talking to and having a good relationship with is really important for the therapeutic relationship.”

Jodi highlights the importance of prioritising mental wellbeing, affirming, “The more we can open up and talk about our journeys, the more we encourage other people to do the same and normalise the experience.”

Anxious Mums came into fruition after a mum in the audience of one of Jodi’s speaking engagements emailed Jodi’s publisher stating, “Jodi has to write a book, all mums have to hear what she has to say.”

Everyday efforts new mothers face, consign extra pressure on wellbeing and showcase the need to counteract anxiety before it subordinates everyday lifestyles. While Jodi’s children are now early adolescents, she reflects upon the early stages of new motherhood, “Ultimately when I became a mum with all the extra uncertainty and responsibility, as well as lack of sleep, my mental health really declined to a point where I ended up deciding to take medication, which was ultimately life changing.”

When I became a mum with all the extra uncertainty and responsibility, as well as lack of sleep, my mental health really declined to a point where I ended up deciding to take medication, which was ultimately life changing.”

New mothers experience heightened anxiety as they approach multiple challenges of parenthood; from conceiving, through the journey of pregnancy, birth and perpetually, thereafter. Becoming a mother provided Jodi with insight into new challenges, in particular struggles with breastfeeding and lack of sleep. She shares, “It’s something that we don’t have much control over, particularly as new parents. We just kind of get used to operating on a lot less sleep and it doesn’t serve us well in terms of our mental health, particularly if there have been challenges in the past or a pre-existing disorder.

Research suggests women’s brains process stress differently to men, with testosterone also said to be somewhat protective against anxiety. This, along with different coping mechanisms of women, highlight statistic disparity between gender. For early mothers in particular, it is a time of immense change, as their everyday lives are turned upside down. New schedules, accountability and hormonal changes increase the likelihood of anxiety and depression, which are also commonly triggered in the postpartum period.

Jodi elaborates on important hormonal timeframes that shift women’s mental wellbeing stating, “Anxiety is heightened during times of hormonal changes as well as in the key points in our reproductive lives. Through having children and menopause and alike. It’s more disabling in that it impacts our lives in different ways to men, particularly I think, because we’re usually the main carers. There are stay at home dads, but predominantly that’s what women tend to do.”

Normal anxiety is infrequent and settles down, but when someone suffers a disorder, they can have incessant worry and avoidance. This can include anxiety around not wanting to participate, attend a function, for example, try something new or step up in a work role. Anxiety disorders can be crippling, leaving sufferers feeling as though they are unable to live their best life.

There’s no harm in going and asking the question because the gap between the first symptoms of anxiety and seeking help is still eight years in Australia.”

There are many telling physical signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Some indicative signs to look out for include a racing heart, trembling, sick stomach, frequent perspiration and dizziness that accompanies shortness of breath. Jodi says, “If you think that your anxiety might be a problem, that’s absolutely the time to go and make an appointment to see your GP. There’s no harm in going and asking the question because the gap between the first symptoms of anxiety and seeking help is still eight years in Australia.”

“Half of all mental illness comes on by around the ages of fourteen. Most adults who have anxiety can track it back to when they were teenagers or children.”

Just as anxiety is common for mothers, it’s also important to observe and be aware of in children. Jodi reveals, “For parents it’s important to know that half of all mental illness comes on by around the age of fourteen. Most adults who have anxiety can track it back to when they were teenagers or children. 75 percent of all mental illness comes on by about the age of 25, with one in seven children [4-17 years old] being diagnosed with a mental illness, and half of those have anxiety.”

“75 percent of all mental illness comes on by about the age of 25, with one in seven children [4-17 years old] being diagnosed with a mental illness, and half of those have anxiety

These pre-covid statistics highlight significant numbers of anxiety in adolescents. However, with the current climate prevalent of immense loss of control, many are facing new heightened emotions and increased numbers of anxiety. Early research coming out of Monash University is showcasing significant growth of adults with depression and anxiety, including statistics of children in the early ages of one to five experiencing symptoms.

Similar research has given light to evidence portraying children mirroring stress responses of their parents. Jodi further explains, “They can pick up the changes in our own heart rate, in our stress response — we are told that as new mums aren’t we, that our babies can pick up on how we are feeling but the science proves that to be true as well.” Parenting is a consequential way in which children receive cognitive biases and behaviours, “Just the tone of our voice, the expressions on our face, the way that we speak, what we say, certainly can be picked up on by kids and mirrored back.”

Noticing these early signs in your children is essential to alleviating anxiety before it progresses, Jodi lists some signs to be aware of, “Avoidance is a hallmark sign of anxiety — I don’t want to go, I don’t want to participate, I don’t want to deliver that oral presentation in class, I don’t want to go to camp and so watching out for that sort of thing. Other signs and symptoms to look out for include big emotions. If your children seem more teary or angry than usual, are feeling worried or avoidant, can’t concentrate, having trouble remembering or difficulty sleeping.” It’s important to be aware and help counteract anxiety when you see it. 

Jodi offers parents, who are struggling coping with their children’s anxiety some advice stating, “It’s an age old question, how much do we push and when do we hold back; I think as parents we are constantly answering that question. We don’t always get it right, but the thing about avoidance is it only makes anxiety worse. So for the child who is anxious about going to school, the more they stay home, the harder it will be to front up on another day. Sometimes, we need to nudge them forward in small steps and that’s a technique called step-laddering. It’s about making a step in that direction.”

Jodi encourages parents to observe their children’s symptoms and to never feel ashamed to go see a GP.  She urges, “Sometimes we get that reassurance from a GP, it might just be developmental, but the sooner kids are getting the help they need, the better, and it’s the same for us as mums.”

There are simple everyday steps we can take to combat anxiety. When someone is anxious a threat has been detected within the brain, this part of the brain is called the amygdala, one of the most powerful strategies for managing this stress detection is regulant meditation. 

Jodi explains, “What meditation does is it brings our attention to the present, so we are paying attention to what’s happening in the moment.” Meditation recognises deliberate breathing with a focus equally on exhalation as inhalation, proven to be calming to the anxious brain, using the relaxation response. 

Commending the importance of the practice and its effect on functioning, Jodi describes, “Meditation is more that sort of seated and formal practice of focusing the breath. What we know this will do over time, is it reduces the size and sensitivity of the amygdala, so it’s less sensitive to threat which reduces long-term anxiety. For the average person, our minds wander around 50 percent of the time, when we can bring our attention back to the present we are much more likely to be able to settle our anxiety, and feel happier as well.”

Another everyday strategy for combatting anxiety is exercise. Jodi shares her experience and routine stating, “Exercise is something I’ve used my whole life to calm my anxiety. Even now, I do cross-fit, karate and walks every week. I think naturally I was managing my health and wellbeing without really understanding why, I just knew that it made me feel good.”

The fight or flight response tied to anxiety powers us up to fight physically to save our lives or to flee. So often, when someone is anxious, they are powered up in this way, but not doing anything about it. Jodi shares, “When we move, it’s the natural end to the fight or flight response. Not only that, when we exercise we release serotonin, which is a feel good neural transmitter, among with gamma aminobutyric acid, a neural transmitter that puts the breaks on our anxiety response helping to calm us down.” 

Jodi’s practice in physiology, working with clients using exercise to help them with their mental and physical health has led her to her understandings, “One of the things I can 100 percent tell you is that it’s best not to wait until you feel motivated — the motivation will come once you get into the routine of it.

Dr Jodi Richardson, anxiety & wellbeing speaker, bestselling author & consultant

I’d just like to say, anxiety isn’t something we need to get rid of to really be able to thrive, to do what we need to do and accomplish what’s important to us. But I really encourage to anyone, that there are lots of ways to dial it back. I think it’s very easy for us to wait until we feel 100 percent to do something, but doing anything meaningful is hard.

So don’t wait until your anxiety is gone because you might be waiting a long time.”

 

 

 

 

Anxious Kids Penguin Books Australia, Author: Michael Grose, Dr Jodi Richardson RRP: $34.99 Anxious Mums Penguin Books Australia , Author: Dr Jodi Richardson  RRP: $34.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help now, call triple zero (000)

Lifeline:  Provides 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14, text on 0477 13 11 14 (12pm to midnight AEST) or chat online.

Beyond Blue: Aims to increase awareness of depression and anxiety and reduce stigma. Call 1300 22 4636, 24 hours/7 days a week, chat online or email.

Kids Helpline: : Is Australia’s only free 24/7 confidential and private counselling service specifically for children and young people aged 5 – 25. Call 1800 55 1800

To learn more about Dr Jodi Richardson’s work, watch the full interview below or on our YouTube channel.

 

 

Birth order expert and parenting educator, Michael Grose, discusses the role a child’s position in the family has on personality traits and life experiences, in the newest edition of Why First-Borns Rule the World and Later -Borns Want to Change it.

 

First-borns are the ‘family conservatives,’ according to Grose. They tend to be the spokesperson for the family, commonly following in the footsteps of their parents, and hold a regal-like position.

In a family of three or more siblings, second-borns are the charismatic ones, says Grose, as they position themselves within rules set out by first-borns makes them easy-going. While, the youngest tend to challenge the rules and are the risk-takers out of the three types.

First published in 2003 by Penguin Random House, and now 18 years later, Grose’s updated edition of his book incorporates a change in family structure.

The theory is still the same but the context is quite different,” he says.

Grose is an expert in his field and helps counsel families through the lens of birth order. His book delves into the human psychology of the theory, analysing and explaining how and why it affects the way children, and consequently adults, behave.

Families are now more consistently having two siblings, rather than three or more, causing second-borns to have characteristics of last-borns.

This change in number of children per family, according to Grose, is known as a “micro-family”.

Gender, special needs or disability, the time spaced between births, twins or a death in the family can have an influence on the traits produced by birth order. As Grose states, these challenges or differences create “family constellations” rather than a numbered sequence which determines their characteristics.

Although “micro-families” are more consistent to today’s type of household, Grose’s definitions of birth order traits are the same as they were in 2003 and are mostly separated into three main categories: first-borns, second or middle-borns and last-borns.

First-borns tend to have traits such as:

• Goal/achievement orientated
• Conscientious
• Detail orientated
• Easier to raise/like to please/play by the rules
• Get things done
• Low risk-taker (stick to the things they are good at)
• Tendency for perfectionism
• Anxious/ tendency for neuroticism
• Rule makers/rule keepers/like routines
• Black and white in their thinking

Only children have personalities resembling first-borns, Grose adds.

Only children, but especially girls, can be extremely verbal but struggle with conflict resolution and conflict in general, he continues. Make sure they spend lots of time around kids their age and raise pets, as they need way to learn to get along with others, Grose clarifies.

Second-borns/middle children tend to have traits such as:

Conflict resolution skills
• People Pleaser
• Resilient
• Competitive and always feel they must compete for parental attention
• Peacemaker/Mediators/Negotiators
• Most likely to upset/aggravate other siblings
• Flexible/ fitting in with the rules set by the first born still whilst exhibiting abilities different to the first-borns
• Sometimes get lost or forgotten by parents resulting in them feeling forgotten or left out

Last-borns tend to have traits such as:

Street-smart
• Low conflict resolution skills, expects others to make decisions or take responsibility
• Charming and outgoing
• Can be quicker developing to catch up with older siblings
• Manipulative to get what they want
• Feels inferior, others seem superior
Entrepreneurs
• Can be even more successful but also different from the older siblings
• Do not mind taking risks

If there are only two siblings in a family, i.e. “micro families,” middle-borns and last-borns merge traits becoming later-borns, with characteristics from the two types combined.

Gross couples “micro-families” and the blended later-borns with what he calls the “Prince Harry effect”.

Using the example of the United Kingdom’s Princes, William and Harry. William as the first born, is a “real-keeper,” he says.

Gross continues to define Prince William as someone who follows first-born characteristics such as being conservative and respecting the rules and marrying the “right person.”

In contrast, “Harry is the spare,” Gross says. Prince Harry has last-born characteristics as well as some second born ones. He challenges the rules and expresses his independence, Gross shares.

Although first-borns have leadership traits and are responsible, these traits should not be taken out of their context by saying all first-borns become leaders, Grose says.

Later-borns can be leaders too, but the way they lead, he argues, changes depending on their birth order. Examples of leaders and their order of birth:
First born: Joe Biden
Second-born/Later-borns: Scott Morrison and Jacinta Ardern
Last-born: Donald Trump

Grose recommends pulling back pressure on first-borns and to push more on last-born children.

He asserts that first-borns have a higher risk of mental health issues than later-borns, due to being high achievers, which is a common first-born personality trait.

However, Grose does warn that not everything follows trends, there are always external factors to take into consideration for different behaviours. Nevertheless, understanding birth order helps parents’ parent their children.

In adult relationships, Grose says “opposites attract”, with the best combinations being first-borns and last-borns. He also suggests that parents tend to parent in relation to their own personal sibling position.

For example, later-borns or last-borns, as parents, are inclined to be more relaxed and less about rules, whereas first born parents take the role very seriously.

Grose, father of three and a last-born, began his career as a primary teacher, with 15 years of teaching experience he moved into parenting education by completing a Master of Educational Studies at Monash University.

He is now one of Australia’s leading speakers and educators, as well as a best-selling author, including his latest edition on birth-order theory.

He advocates the importance for teachers and parents to learn their students’ or child’s behaviour through the eyes of birth order, to establish better understanding of the individual and their needs.

To learn more about Michael Grose’s work on birth order, watch our exclusive interview with him below or on our YouTube channel.

While many parents experience increasing judgement in a digital age, revered parenting expert Maggie Dent assures us that to be a good parent, being perfect is not possible and that mistakes are normal.

Kids outside runningMaggie Dent’s newest book, Parental as Anything, an adaption of her popular ABC podcast, is a guide full of anecdotes, practical parenting advice and humour.

Maggie tells us that while there once was a time where parents could not see what everyone else was doing, today’s social media proliferation exacerbates constant comparing, despairing and fixation on the negatives, or what we as parents could be doing better.

Maggie is an author, educator and mother to four boys, but she stresses she was not perfect and “mucked up so many times”.

There will always be days while raising children where mistakes are made, or morale is low.

But Maggie says to “Look at what’s going well at the funny moments, the light moments, the loving moments, rather than focusing the lens on the things we wish we could do better.” Maggie Dent

So how can we care for, nurture and still discipline our children in today’s age? Maggie emphasises being “the fun, the firm, the fair,” parent and that children are more likely to agree with parents who are kind and loving. If there is compassion and connection, in moments of discipline, children are increasingly capable of listening.

Maggie tells us that there is a difference between the disciplining of a Lamb and a Rooster.

Lambs have a tendency to be more sensitive or gentle and less likely to push against boundaries, while Roosters are outgoing with the need to be respected and seen as important, eager to argue or push against limits. Power struggles can occur particularly with the Roosters.

Maggie reminds us that patience is important when dealing with heated moments.

A child’s “Number one need is a safe base,” Maggie says.

She outlines that “Tuning in to how they are doing,” is vital. Watching them constantly and recognising their needs in certain situations.

There is a difference between a tantrum as against a meltdown, the former of which springs from an urge to assert a sense of self, and the latter a sensory overload. Tantrums come from outside stimuli (“No you can’t do/have that right now”) while a meltdown occurs when the nervous system has been over-flooded.

“Children are gradually growing in their capacity to manage their world,” Maggie says. 

Kids can experience moments of self-struggle, but they will get better with self-regulation and emotional intelligence as they grow up and their pre-frontal lobe matures.

They are not naughty they are just “Not coping with their world right now,” Maggie says, emphasising that compassion and connection are essential.

Maggie addresses when parents wish they had approached certain things differently. She says that parents can always change the ways in which they connect with their children and can always rebuild attachment and love in a new way.

“It is never, ever too late,” she says.

“Every child is a one-off,” she emphasises. There is no exact guide for any one child, but as a parent it is still possible to be the one that knows them the best and aim to help them in their world in any way that they can.

Maggie addresses the dreaded topic of screen time.

She acknowledges that while complete denial is not helpful or realistic, in order to prepare children to live in the digital world; however, it is imperative that online behaviour and technology use are monitored. Girl on computer

“You need to be the pilot of the digital plane,” she says.

She encourages parents to take into account many factors such as:

  • Hand-held device use
  • Television viewing and consideration of acceptable advertisements
  • Rewards systems on video games that can foster gambling traits
  • Risk taking in real life while behaviour modelling
  • Video game characteristics entering into the impressionable classroom
  • Chores still needing to be completed
  • Outside play with peers in real life
  • Levels and when to finish
  • Harmful content

Technology can be used for education, entertainment or even recreational activity. A lot of time and energy will go into raising responsible and respectful digital citizens.

Maggie speaks about sexual education in childhood. She recommends speaking with children about sex and not just in one singular sitting. It should be a continual and constant conversation or ability to ask about this topic.

She underlines topics such as body ownership, permission to touch, basic private anatomy and consent should be discussed at home even before heading off to school. Maggie encourages parents to allow their children to ask questions or come to them if they see something that makes them uncomfortable.

Unwanted online dark or sexual content can be damaging and can set unrealistic standards. Plainly untrue and offensive myths are all over the internet about sex and it is important to be mindful of this as a parent.

Kids on playground

“92% of what children learn is based on modelling,” Maggie says.

To finish, Maggie says that nurturing safe respectful and warm relationships at home and between family members is important while nevertheless acknowledging that conflict is normal and communication is key.

Parental as Anything

Watch the full exclusive interview with Maggie Dent below or on our YouTube channel.

Olympic gold medallists such as Emma McKeon in the pool and Logan Martin in the BMX event have wowed the nation with their achievements. However, there is more we can learn from our Olympians and Paralympians beyond their pursuit of gold.

This Olympic game for Australia has been our most successful gold medal, Olympic Games since Athens, 2004. Over August, Australians have come to love watching the world compete as well as learning about the lives of athletes outside of competition. Below are 10 inspiring lessons today’s youth can learn from our Australian Olympians and Paralympians about success, regardless of their future career.

1. Your character is just as important as your achievements.

Name:  Emma McKeon

Age: 27

Sport: Swimming

Emma McKeon has become Australia’s most successful Olympian in history, with 11 gold medals to her name. Her accomplishments surpass Olympic legends such as Ian Thorpe! Emma’s humbling attitude towards her achievements sets the precedence for all young aspiring athletes that your character is as important as success. 

2. Just because something has not been done before doesn’t mean you can’t make it happen.

Name: Shae Graham

Age: 34

Sport: Wheelchair Rugby

Credit: Paralympics Australia

Shae Graham was the first female athlete to represent Australia in wheelchair rugby! After being in a car accident in her late teen years, her journey with wheelchair rugby began after losing a bet to her brother. Shae debuted five years later internationally as a wheelchair rugby player in the USA, representing Australia.

Through Shae’s experience, she shows all young women that they too have the power to be the next ‘first’ for women in sport.

With her sights set on gold in Tokyo, as the first female Paralympic Wheelchair rugby player for Australia, she is sure to continue paving the way for young female athletes.

3. Women can be in healthy competition and still support each other.

Name: Ariarne Titmus

Age: 20

Sport: Swimming

Credit: Swimming Australia and Delly Carr
Her healthy rivalry and positive relationship with the USA’s legendary swimmer, Katie Ledecky, has been unwavering.

Ariarne is an excellent demonstration of how women can push each other to be better without resorting to toxic behaviour. Her healthy rivalry and positive relationship with the USA’s legendary swimmer, Katie Ledecky, has been unwavering, despite the media’s interference and speculation. Both Katie and Ariarne always speak highly of one another, modelling how women should treat one another on and off the clock, wherever life may take them.

4. Success is not a solo achievement.

Name: Cedric Dubler

Age: 26

Sport: Athletics, Decathlon

Credit: Cedric Dubler (pictured left)
Not only has Cedric become the pinnacle of sportsmanship, but he teaches us that success is even better when shared.

Cedric Dubler has sent the press into a frenzy, and it is not because he won gold. Rather, Cedric encouraged his teammate, Ash Moloney, in the final leg of the decathlon to push ahead and secure himself and our country a medal! Cedric could have kept running and finished his race but instead used his energy to lift Maloney when he needed it the most. While Cedric didn’t receive a medal, he teaches us that success is a team effort – even in a singles event like the decathlon. Not only has Cedric become the pinnacle of sportsmanship, but he teaches us that success is even better when shared.

5. You should never let a setback stop you from achieving your goals. 

Name: Liz Clay

Age: 26

Sport: Athletics, 100m Hurdles

Credit: @thewolfferine courtesy of Liz Clay

Liz Clay is the epitome of perseverance, constantly bouncing back from injuries and setbacks on her road to Tokyo. Driven by passion and determination, Liz qualified as a debutante in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team as the second-fastest Australian in history and broke two personal bests in her 100m hurdle event.

She never lets her setbacks define her worth.

While Liz did not leave Tokyo with a medal, she never lets her setbacks define her worth or ability to succeed as a person and athlete. We can learn so much from her attitude towards success and setbacks. She will definitely be one to watch for in Paris 2024!

6. It is important to pursue your passions.

Name: Deon Kenzie

Age: 25

Sport: Para-athletics

Credit: Deon Kenzie

As a child, Deon accidentally discovered his passion for running after he began running to support his AFL training. He has been representing Australia, internationally for eight years, and Tokyo 2020 will be his second Olympic games. Deon is a world record holder and has an Olympic silver medal to his name. While running is his life, Deon also owns his own Kombucha brand. How cool is that!? Deon is a stellar example of how passion fuels success. We also learn from him that once you discover your passion, you should take it and run with it – quite literally in Deon’s case!

7. Hard work pays off.

Name: Christie Dawes

Age: 41

Sport: Para-athletics

Credit: Paralympics Australia

Christie has represented Australia in six consecutive Paralympic Games, which calculates to over 24 years of training and competition. Not only does she have two world titles and three medals to her name, but she is also a mother, wife and has a career in teaching as well! There is no doubt that Christie Dawes’ long career as an athlete is founded upon a hardworking, dedicated attitude to para-athletics.

8. Resilience is key.

Name: Alistair Donohoe

Age: 26

Sport: Para-cycling

Credit: Paralympics Australia

Alistair, since childhood, always had a tunnel vision goal of becoming an elite athlete, even after an incident at age 15 that could have stopped his pursuit of this dream altogether. Instead, after falling into para-cycling, Alistair put in the work, making it to Rio to compete in the 2016 Olympic games.

There is more we can learn from our Olympians and Paralympians beyond their pursuit of gold. 

Unfortunately, a collision on the course wiped him out of medal contention. Fast-forward 4 years, he is back at peak form to compete in the Tokyo games as a contender for gold AND as a reigning champion in two of his events. What a comeback!

9. It is never too late to follow your dreams.

Name: Zac Incerti

Age: 25

Sport: Swimming

Credit: Swimming Australia and Delly Carr

Zac Incerti is inspiring for two reasons. Firstly, Zac did not begin competitively swimming until he was 18 years old! He challenges the notion that all Olympians began training in childhood. More so, Zac uses his Instagram platform to openly speak of his mental health journey, namely his battle with anxiety. We can learn from Zac that there is no right timeframe to achieve our goals. He also teaches us the importance of both physical and mental health, contributing to normalising the conversation around mental health for men.

10. There is more than one way to reach your goals.

Name: Logan Martin

Age: 27

Sport: BMX Freestyle

Credit: Con Chronis, courtesy of AusCycling

Logan Martin is the protagonist in the epic story of a man who builds an Olympic sized BMX training park in his backyard to secure himself a gold medal in Tokyo. Martin had two options to remain competitive in his sport. He either had to move abroad for international competition or find a way to increase his training from home among the COVID-19 lockdown.

Logan’s story teaches us that there is always another way, and it is important to be resilient against our obstacles.

Yet, Martin found another way. He created a training facility in his backyard. Logan’s story teaches us that there is always another way, and it is important to be resilient against our obstacles. Logan could have quit or moved abroad, away from his family, but instead, he has left Tokyo with a shiny gold medal!

 

The adoption process is not easy, but for some parents adoption it is their last chance at a family.

After 10 years of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatments, plus two and a half years of waiting in the adoption program, hairdresser Pina and her husband John were finally able to have that chance.

The Melbourne couple, are one of the lucky sets of parents who were able to adopt a baby boy 20 years ago. Both had wanted children since their mid to late-twenties and after exhausting all their options to have their own biological child, they turned to adoption.

The 10 years of IVF treatments had taken their toll on Pina physically and mentally, seeing her future continuously taken away from her, made her feel like the adoption process would be just another form of torture and in some respects it was.

Still, she felt she had nothing to lose and if IVF had taught her anything, it was that she was willing to risk it. Thankfully, luck was on her side and after 13 years of waiting, Pina and John welcomed a baby boy into their family.

Pina explains how the IVF treatments hurt her. “We kept making beautiful embryos, through IVF,” Pina shares.

“For whatever reason, they never stuck to me. However, I think there is a reason in life, why things happen – I was meant to have Damien.”

IVF is an intrusive procedure that has a success rate per fresh embryo transfer of 38.8% for live birth and 44.9% for clinical pregnancy (ages 18-34) and 32.2% (live birth), 41.7% (clinical pregnancy) for ages 35-38, ages greater than 38 it drops even further.

“They kept saying to me that there is absolutely nothing wrong, my husband had the low sperm count that’s the reason we went on it. As the woman, I had to go through a lot,” Pina recalls.

I was at the point where I thought, I’m not meant to have kids and that’s it, end of story.” It was then, Pina’s husband, John mentioned adoption.

Although adoption seems like a great back-up plan for a family, in reality, it’s a very complex system with the average wait time being between five and seven, if one passes the qualifying stages. Between 2018-2019 there was a total of 310 adoptions Australia wide, 82% were Australian born children and 67% of the 310 adoptions were from their foster parents.

With the increase in women’s rights and family planning and the resulting drop of children in the adoption system, means there are more parents waiting to adopt than there are children needing to be adopted.

Australia’s adoption policies differ depending on the States. In Victoria there are three kinds of adoption systems: local adoption, inter-country adoption and permanent care.

There are also only 13 partner countries with Australia for adopting children, each having independent rules and regulations which can restrict options. Factors such as being married, single, male or female, in a de-facto relationship, one’s age, gender orientation and sexuality can all affect one’s chances of adoption.

The local adoption requirements are less strict, for example a persons’ orientation or relationship status does not matter but there is a demanding application process which examines a person’s life in minute detail.

The biological parents learn everything about the adopting parents as well has gaining many rights, one of which is the right to visitation.

Even though we would be adopting their children, they still get to see them,” Pina says.

Pina didn’t have a problem with this requirement because she believes it’s important for a child, any person for that matter, to know their heritage to better understand oneself.

To be qualified and placed in the adoption program would take two years for Pina and John. As Pina says, “They wanted to get to know us better than we knew ourselves.”

Answering endless questions fuelled a gruelling and extensive qualification process. It was also yet another period of trying not to get their hopes up in fear of disappointment.

The final step, after 2.5 years of the application process, was an intimidating interview with a panel of lawyers, doctors, psychologists and Department of Human Services (DHS) staff.

Pina says she thought they were successful because of her view of it not mattering to her who or where the child was from, to her a child was a child and if she could supply the home then she would gladly do it.

Two months later, they got the call that they were to be the parents of a 4.5-month-old baby boy, whom they named Damien.

The first time I lay eyes on him, I just thought he was the most beautiful little baby ever,” Pina recalls.

However, their adoption story did not end there, it has always been in the background through Damien’s childhood, adolescence and even into adulthood.

Damien has known he was adopted from an early age. Pina took the approach to start filling him in as soon as he could understand.

Pina strongly wanted Damien never to question where he belonged, she made sure he knew he was a part of this family and nothing could change it.

I told him little bits and pieces and as he got older,” Pina says.

“He knows that he has biological siblings, and yes that was a bit hard, I did not know how he would take it. I suppose growing up he knew nothing other than us; we are his parents- this is his family. He never really questioned it and had no interest in meeting her (his biological mother) or his siblings.”

Although Damien never questioned who he was and where he belonged it was still difficult to understand why his biological mother gave him up, especially when she had children already.

Even though Damien’s biological mother hardly used the visitation rights, as she wanted a clean break, she has been in contact with Damien over the past 20 years.

In some ways it was more detrimental than good for Damien. Each time would raise his expectations, to have some sort of relationship and understanding, only to be rejected all over again.

Damien does not know who his biological father is, although he knows it is where he gets his aboriginal heritage. While having no information on the biological father has been challenging in having real access to the Australian Indigenous community for Damien, both Pina and John made sure he was in touch with his cultural heritage.

“Adoption is a gamble. Any child is a gamble. Whether you adopt or whether you have one biologically. They can grow up to be the best, they can grow up to be the worst they can grow up to be anything,” Pina explains.

It has nothing to do with whether you gave birth or not. In the end it’s all the same.”

Adoption and its process are not for the feint hearted but if fate is on side it’s the best chance at having a family.

Children who have an engaged father are 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and 33% less likely to repeat a grade.

In a series of studies in the 1980s on the effects of paternal involvement on child development, researchers discovered that children with highly involved fathers expressed increased cognitive competence, more internal locus of control, increased empathy and fewer sex-stereotyped beliefs.

These studies found that having two highly involved parents increases cognitive competence due to their interaction with different behavioural styles. Paternal involvement allows both parents to pursue rewarding and fulfilling personal interests and have a close relationship with their children, thus creating a family context in which both parents are satisfied.

Also, parents who adopt fewer sex-stereotyped roles result in their children having fewer sex-stereotyped attitudes – as they do not place an expectation on each gender.

Traditionally, the father has been regarded as the breadwinner and secondary parent within the family. Today, the role of the father in the upbringing of their children is more recognised and appreciated. Fathers play a significantly different role to mothers, as they offer new techniques and values, providing a male perspective and contributing to childhood experiences.

What is An Engaged Father?

An engaged and involved father is present in his child’s life, demonstrated through meaningful interction and spending quality time together, such as attending sports events or helping out with homework. This engagement has also been found to improve the psychological wellbeing of fathers, through a sense of generativity

Involvement can be measured by:

  1. Time spent with the child
  2. Warmth
  3. Monitoring and control (rules about activities, food, homework)
  4. Responsibility (tasks including changing nappies, buying clothes, disciplining children, playing)

A secure, supportive and sensitive relationship between an engaged parent and their child has benefits for all members of the family.

The Direct and Indirect Effect of the Father

Direct

Fathers have a direct effect on their children through the behaviour, attitudes and messages that they exhibit.

Fathers tend to spend less time with their children (due to work commitments, etc.) and are not as familiar with the language competencies of their children. Therefore, they are more likely to challenge their child’s pragmatic and linguistic abilities, by using more complex forms of speech. 

Indirect 

Fathers also have an indirect effect on their children in the following ways:

  • Financial support – Financial contributions to the family have been found to improve the psychological well-being of fathers, including improved self-esteem and self-efficacy with increase financial contributions. 
  • Emotional support – Providing support to the mother, who is also involved in the care of the children, can improve the quality of the relationship between mother and child.
  • Marital conflict – An unsupportive parental relationship can be damaging for children exposed to physical or emotional conflict.
  • Housework – Participating in housework eases the mother’s workload and demonstrates behaviour that can be emulated by children.

Dads and daughters

Daughters will model their future relationships based upon their dad’s character and their relationship with him. 

The father-daughter relationship will influence the expectations she places on men – the daughter will seek the same qualities from a man as her father exhibited.

Absent fathers have a negative impact on their daughters, affecting her ability to trust, appreciate and relate to men.

Daughters from father-absent homes are also prone to being either reluctant or sexually aggressive towards men due to their inability to form a meaningful relationship with their father.

Further, a lack of security and attention from the father negatively influences the daughter’s future sexual activity in the following ways, as she will:

  • Take more sexual risks
  • Participate in unrestricted sexual behaviour
  • Be four times more likely to fall pregnant as a teen
  • Partake in casual unprotected sex
  • Have riskier casual flings

There is some evidence on the effect of paternal nurturance on the daughter’s intellectual growth. It appears that strictness and emotional distance between father and daughter stimulates intellectual functioning. Moreover, it is proven that daughters raised by fathers who are challenging and have abrasive interaction are more independent and intrinsically motivated. These characteristics arise from fathers who are firm and demand mature behaviour yet reward independence and achievement.

A 1997 study found that daughters from father-absent homes either under- or over-achieved at college. The tendency to attain a high level of education was part of an effort to receive acceptance from their fathers, whereas the difficulties faced by underachievers were intensified by seperation anxiety, denial, feelings of loss and perceived vulnerability issues.

Dads and sons

The bond between father and son tends to be stronger than that with daughters because sons identify with and model their behaviour based on their father.

Contact between father and son stimulates intellectual development and cognitive growth in children.

A Journal of Genetic Psychology study on the impact of fathers on the social competence of their 5-month-old son found that they were:

  • Friendlier to strangers
  • Vocalised more
  • Show a greater readiness to be picked up
  • Enjoyed play more

Another study from the Journal of Social Issues on the effect of a high degree of paternal involvement on boys found that they:

  • Display fewer behavioural problems
  • Are better socially adjusted
  • Have stronger peer relationships
  • Have a higher degree of self-esteem
  • Are more mature and independent
But why is this the case?

The preference for a son exists before birth, with 3-4 times as many men preferring sons to daughters. This preference is evident in the early years – fathers more frequently communicate with and respond to their son’s vocalisations, play with their newborn sons for longer than their daughters, and are more willing to persist with overcoming challenging behaviour in sons than with daughters.

The reason for this could be that fathers see themselves in their sons and identify with them – viewing their achievements and failures as their own.

So how can I be a good dad?

From conception, fathers need to be making healthy decisions. The negative health outcomes of babies are often blamed on the mother. But the environmental exposure of the father also needs to be considered.

Habits such as binge drinking, poor dietary choices and stress can all have adverse effects on a baby’s health.

Throughout pregnancy, being a supportive and coaching partner helps to develop a bond at an early stage. Although infants may never remember interaction at such an early age, playtime with the child will strengthen that bond.

The difference between mothers and fathers

The difference in parenting style between mothers and fathers is evident in the different interaction style between parent and child.

Fathers are more physical in their interactions with children, as they tend to play rougher and engage in more exciting activities. Conversely, mothers are more verbal in their interactions and have a slow-paced parenting style. The approach from each parent complements and contrasts the other, meaning the child benefits from the diversity.

Other ways in which mothers and fathers differ include:

  • Fathers emphasise conceptual communication, which assists children in expanding their vocabulary and intellectual capacities.
  • Mothers express more sympathy and compassion towards their children, providing constant care to deal with their children’s needs.
  • Fathers tend to encourage risk-taking from their children and provide a broader range of experiences, whereas mothers have a higher focus on their child’s safety and wellbeing.
  • The strength, size and aggressive presence of fathers enable them to protect their children from negative influences and peers. This confrontational quality leads fathers to enforce discipline and encourage positive behaviour.

Warmth, nurturance and closeness are associated with positive outcomes in child development. The behaviour patterns acquired in childhood are caused by observing patterns demonstrated in parents and adopting similar behaviour. Fathers are crucial to the positive growth and development of children, and we should welcome the input and contribution that fathers make.

Perth Weekend Guide

We’ve found some fantastic fun and engaging things for the kids to do in Perth year-round, all you have to do is choose where to go first!

KEEP THEM ACTIVE

Are your kids bubbling with energy? These activities are sure to keep them entertained all day.

Zone Bowling Joondalup

Looking for a place with it all? With bowling, laser tag, an arcade and yummy food, Zone Bowling will keep them busy for hours. Visit: https://www.zonebowling.com/venues/wa/zone-bowling-joondalup

 

LatitudeAir Joondalup

Take the kids to LatitudeAir Joondalup to climb, bounce and fly. With over 3,000sqm of aerial entertainment, including trampolines and climbing walls, get the kids ready for a day packed full of activity. For more information, head to their website: https://latitudeair.com/?_ga=2.60282477.1790865332.1605578656-66651972.1605578656

The Climb Zone

At Kerem Adventure Park, the Climb Zone is a fun adventure packed experience – with high ropes, low ropes and rock climbing in a safe and fun family environment. Go to: https://www.theclimbzone.com.au

Adventure World

A favourite for the whole family, Adventure World is now open with awesome rides for everyone. If you’re a thrill-seeker, check out the big scary Abyss or the Kraken. Or if you’re looking for something a bit tamer, go see the Hawaiian resort-themed Kahuna Falls. There’s even something for the little ones in the Dragons Kingdom. Visit: https://adventureworld.net.au

Island Aqua Park

Located in Hillarys, this floating aqua park features climbing walls and slides, and is suitable for children 6 years and over. Just make sure to book 48 hours in advance. Go to: https://islandaquapark.com.au

Trees Adventure

Just one hour out of Perth, this action-packed treetop and zipline adventure is suitable for kids 4 years and older, and offers a great range of courses and challenges for the whole family to enjoy. Hopefully you’re not afraid of heights! Go to: https://treesadventure.com.au/park/lane-poole-park/

Bibra Lake Regional Playground

This playground has something for children of all ages, with everything from water squirting bulrushes to educational giant rocks telling local Nyungar stories. Located near Bibra Lake on Progress Drive, this playground has plenty of activities including a double flying fox, rope obstacle courses and climbing frames, and plenty of shade, so you can even bring a picnic. For more visit: https://www.cockburn.wa.gov.au/Recreation-and-Attractions/Parks-and-Playgrounds/Bibra-Lake-Regional-Playground

VR-Arrival

For the older kids, this fun and new Virtual Reality experience is suitable for children 11 years and older. Much more than just gaming, VR-ARRIVAL delivers extraordinary experiences, transporting you, your friends and family into immersive virtual worlds. Boasting the best in professional VR headset (HTC Vive Pro) and room-scale motion-tracking technology, VR-ARRIVAL lets you experience virtual reality at its very best, with unmatched immersion and realism. Walk freely inside virtual worlds and literally step INTO the experience. Visit: vr-arrival.com.au 

LEARN WHILE YOU PLAY

Keep them learning and growing on the weekends, by making their time off fun but educational.

AQWA

A family favourite located on Hillarys Boat Harbour, the Aquarium of Western Australia is the place to see and learn all about the underwater creatures of our coast as you go on a journey to learn and gain respect for our sea life. There is plenty to see and do, including diving or snorkelling with the sharks. For more info, go to: https://www.aqwa.com.au/

Fremantle Prison

Fremantle Prison has some fantastic experiences such as an Escape Tour, for children aged 5-12; and their making a mark art workshop! With tours for children aged 8-12, the prison is an excellent and exciting place to learn while you play, getting a glimpse into the life of a prisoner at Fremantle prison.  https://fremantleprison.com.au/visit-us/

Boola Bardip Museum

Located in the heart of Perth, the new and improved Perth Museum has finally reopened its doors and has a multitude of fun programs and activities to get up to. From their “Blast off! Stop Motion Animation” program about meteorites and our solar system, to their “Virtual Vortals program” about virtual reality and interactive digital adventures, plus many more. See: https://visit.museum.wa.gov.au/boolabardip/tours-programs-events

WA Maritime Museum

This weekend, head on down to the Maritime Museum in Fremantle to learn all about the fascinating world of the Vikings, with activities such as a Vikings themed game show, a choose-your-own-adventure story, or just relax and enjoy a fun-filled adventure of sailing, raiding and exploring. Go to: http://museum.wa.gov.au/museums/maritime

 

Gravity Discovery Centre and Observatory

Located only an hour north of Perth, become a rocket scientist for a day with their rocket making activities, and on Thursdays get the chance to become a space explorer with their school holiday program. Visit: Gravity Discovery Centre

SEE THE WILDLIFE

Are you an animal-loving family? There’s plenty of activities to get out and see some furry (or not so furry) friends.

Perth Zoo

A family favourite for wildlife is the Perth Zoo. There is plenty to do, from kids and youth programs to watching live streams of the animals and Zoocoustics where you can see some of the best emerging Australian musicians with your loved ones. Set in the lush gardens of the Zoo, these unique live acoustic music sessions will have hearts fluttering. There will be food trucks for those looking for a bite to eat, or pack a picnic and bring your own food with responsible BYO drinks. General tickets are $30. Perth Zoo members receive a discounted ticket price of $25 (A valid Perth Zoo membership card must be present upon entry).  For more information check out the website:  https://perthzoo.wa.gov.au/programs

Caversham Wildlife Park

Located inside of Whiteman Park, get the chance to meet a wombat, feed a kangaroo, meet the koalas or feed some penguins. Visit: https://www.cavershamwildlife.com.au/daily-attractions/

Yanchep National Park

Have a little explorer on your hands? There are more than 400 caves reported at Yanchep Park, each offering contrasting experiences. Not only this but there are koalas to visit, kangaroos to see, golf to play and the opportunity tolearn about the rich culture and history of the Noongar people of Australia’s South West. For more, go to: https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/yanchep

Cohunu Koala Park

Have a chat with over 30 talking parrots, see dingoes, kangaroos, emus, deer and koalas, just to name a few of the animals that live at this park. Take a ride on the Cohunu Park Railway for $4, it zig-zags its way throughout the park most weekends & public holidays (subject to weather conditions). Visit: http://cohunu.com.au/pioneer-steam-museum/

 

Penguin Island

Just a five-minute ferry ride away, the beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters is an island known for its wildlife. Join them for a cruise to see some dolphins, rare Australian sea lions, as well as the world’s smallest penguins. Plus the chance to swim, snorkel, picnic and explore, Penguin Island is a dream for animal lovers. Go to: https://www.penguinisland.com.au/#welcome-1

Swan Valley Cuddly Animal Farm

Are cuddly farmyard animals more your style? With entry including free tractor/train rides, a free merry go round ride, free bottle and bucket feeding, and free tea and coffee for the grown-ups, this is a lovely day out for the family. Visit: https://www.cuddlyanimalfarm.com.au

Toodyay Fairy-Tale Farm

Located in the Avon Valley town of Toodyay, this family built and owned farm has a range of indoor and outdoor displays of all your favourite nursery rhymes and fairy tales, friendly farm animals for the kiddies to interact with, and even a vintage toy museum. Go to: https://www.fairytalefarm.com.au

“There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. It puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.” – Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist.

Gen Z were the first generation to grow up amidst social media, with the first notable site, Six Degrees, being created in 1997. Rapidly, social media has proliferated out of control, gaining popularity across the well known sites we know today. 

But what effects has this had on generations starting with Gen Z and that of which followed?

A popular documentary released on Netflix called ‘The Social Dilemma’ examines this and the damaging effect that this has had on children’s social skills. Teenagers in particular have been the primary focus and their ability to create new relationships.

“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person whose paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context with the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.” – Jaron Lainer, founding father of Virtual Reality Computer Scientist

In America, a short survey was conducted to discuss this by The Teen Advisory Board (TAB), and they discovered:

– 75% of teens said social media negatively affected their romantic relationship

– 77% chose texting as one of the popular ways to start a relationship

– 82% said texting is one of the two ways to end a relationship.

As children engage in face-to-face communication, they are developing social skills through vocal and visual cues which brings context to the situation. These communication cues can be portrayed through eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions and space between individuals (Knapp & Hall, 2010).

But if children are communicating solely through social media, they aren’t learning these non-verbal communication skills that are necessary to succeed in life.

It has become trendy across all social media platforms for Gen Z to joke about their social incompetencies with comments such as needing their parents to book doctor’s appointments for them because they’re afraid to talk over the phone, but to what extent is this going to affect how society will function in the future? 

“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.” – Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of Centre for Humane Technologies

Perhaps social media isn’t the future, but something that needs to be changed or consumed in extreme moderation.

An OSHC coordinator shares what she wishes parents knew about the educators and programs their children attend.

Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) programs can often be overlooked by the community as a babysitting service, but it’s more advanced than that. Educators of an OSHC program are required to do a number of things based on the National Quality Standards and National Regulations set out by the Department of Education

During my eight years as a coordinator and running a large service of 60+ kids, here’s a few things that I wish the parents knew and feel they would have benefitted from. 

Child portfolios

Every service dedicates a portfolio to each child. In these portfolios, they will have the child’s development using My Time, Our Place. Alternative to school-based education, educators will observe the children in a social setting, paying attention to their ability to learn adequate life skills. These skills can be in making friends, solving tense situations, being environmentally conscious, considering their community, interacting with others in a respectful way, being resilient, and many more. 

Portfolios often have photos and examples of what they’ve done within the service, accompanied by a written learning story/observation.

These are used for the educators to document the child’s development and ensure that they’re developing specific to their needs. The educators focus on one key area of development, determined by the parent or the educator’s observations, and then work on developing that skill.

Parents can gain access to this by asking the educators, but this should also leave with the child at the end of their journey at the OSHC program.

Daily reflection journal and program

Most OSHC services will have a reflection journal near the sign out desk. The intention of the journal is for the educators, children and parents to critically reflect on the program for the week. This is also used to document experiences within the program such as evacuation drills, community participation, and any major changes. 

OSHC can get loud and busy so it’s important for parents to read the reflection journal or planner so they are aware of what’s happening within the service. Parents can also use the journal to make comments about the program, whether that’s positive or simply a suggestion of improvement.

Parents are always encouraged to provide their feedback and get involved.

Complaints

More commonly, services are run by large companies (Camp Australia, OSHClub, Team Kids, Big Childcare, and more). It can be easier for a parent to address any complaints directly to the company and avoid confrontation, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to communicate with the service educators.

Most educators take pride in their work and working with children can often lead to miscommunications or misinterpretations. Each child and family are different, and unfortunately, educators aren’t perfect.

With an industry that is incredibly personal and high intensity, I wish parents would communicate directly to the educators with any concerns.

Communicate clearly and build that relationship. If it doesn’t improve, then take it further. 

Documentation

There are expectations set by the Department of Education and National Regulations about specific documentation that is required from the parents for their child to attend. It is stressful for the coordinator because if it’s not perfect, this can leave the service non-compliant and unsafe under the Regulations. 

This type of documentation commonly includes enrolment forms (filled out correctly and fully) and medical management plans with their corresponding risk minimisation and authorisation to give medication (medication provided should be in the prescription packaging including full name of child and dosage labelled).

The government sets high standards for the safety of the children and if the service doesn’t comply, they can risk being shut down. If parents don’t provide this, they have to then confront the parent and have a difficult conversation about excluding their child until compliant. It’s unfortunately not as simple as “letting them come” anymore. There are laws and regulations to follow, so I hope that parents have this in mind when working with their educators.

Assessment and Rating

Every service goes through a process with the Department of Education called Assessment and Rating where they will attend and assess the service based off of the seven National Quality Areas. These areas include: 

  1. Educational program and practice
  2. Children’s health and safety
  3. Physical environment
  4. Staffing arrangements
  5. Relationships with children
  6. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
  7. Leadership and service management

These assessments should be completed frequently, but usually occur every couple of years. These rating outcomes can be accessed on the ACECQA website and is a good indication of where the service is at for quality of care. 

I highly recommend that parents get involved in this process and ask where they can assist in improving the quality of care as having the community and families involved is a huge part of this. A service that has a rating of Meeting, Exceeding Themes or Excellent is doing well. If a service has received Working Towards, it usually means that they weren’t compliant when the department visited (back to that documentation!).

Food provided

Each service has a licence to serve specific food through the local council and must abide by the level of that licence. This means that some services can’t provide food that requires refrigeration. 

Educators understand that children might want butter on their toast and real milk with their cereal, but unfortunately the licence doesn’t allow this. And no, families can’t provide these items to be consumed by their child. If any of these foods are found by the council, the service could receive a fine and be closed for breaking their licence agreements. 

Please, be understanding with this. Most educators at the service can’t control this or change it. The same goes for nut products. Most schools do ban nuts, but being in a space that has a large variety of children attending, it isn’t worth a child’s life so another can eat a Nutella sandwich.

Educators buying supplies using their own money

Most companies have a clause in the employee’s agreement that they’re not to buy anything for the children using their own money, but most educators don’t comply. Throughout my eight years in the industry, I bought many things like craft supplies, storage solutions, candy canes, Halloween and Christmas decorations, books, costumes, Easter eggs, speakers, movies, games, sporting equipment and many more. 

There’s a budget for each service and it’s usually never enough to decorate the room and provide enough supplies to entertain the children. It means the world when parents recognise the hard work educators put into not only the presentation of the service, but also the activities provided. There is a lot that goes on outside of those couple of minutes parents’ step into the service, so recognition is always appreciated.

With all of this in mind, I just ask that parents take the time to appreciate their educators more.

I understand that this isn’t applicable for all educators (I know more than anyone that there can be a few awful educators out there), but for the majority, they work really hard. They go above and beyond for the children in their service to ensure that they feel at home while their parents are working late. 

Parents can get busy, but taking the time to stop every once in a while, and having a conversation with the educators, read what they write in the journal, asking to see their child’s portfolio or even complimenting how the room looks can completely change an educator’s day. 

Building those trusting and respectful relationships can be incredibly important not just to the children, but also the adults involved. 

As a child who fought more with her two imaginary friends than laughed, I reflect on how real it was for those around me.

Amelia today as she remembers her childhood companions.

“Alright, that’s it!

Tom and Ellie get out of the car now, you’re not coming back home,” I remember my mum yelling.

It was a casual afternoon in mid-2001, I was two-and-a-half years old and the back seat of our forest green Subaru was filled with three children fighting over the last Twistie. I kicked and screamed, not happy with the designated chip outcome, begging the other children to give it to me.

However, I was the only physical child in the back seat. Tom and Ellie were “invisible” fragments of my imagination. Invisible fragments that I fought with so much, I forced Mum to throw them away.

This day was the tip of the iceberg for my mum, feeling like she was the mother to triplets instead of just me. Throwing these “friends” out of the car seemed like the only way to keep the peace and her sanity intact. She was beyond patient with my constant demands. Making sure these unseen beings were properly bathed, dressed, fed and securely buckled into the car before leaving home.

“It was really draining,” says Mum, when asked to reminisce on this stage of my childhood.

“I would have to give everyone a bath each night and when told I didn’t dry them properly, the process had to start all over again.

“As a mum, I knew it was my responsibility to remove a problem that was so obviously agitating my daughter, so ultimately that is what made me stop the car that day.”

Fast forward to the present and I cannot tell you what Tom and Ellie looked like, but when I was a child, they were so vivid within my imagination. They kept me company, forcing me to explore social situations at such an early age. There were plenty of times the three of us were the best of friends, but unfortunately, the fighting outweighed the calm. I knew the playmates I was bickering with over toys, food and personal space were fictional characters within this chapter of my life, however, they were still emotionally and intellectually alive.

My make-believe friends were most likely born out of boredom or the fundamental desire for company, as Tom and Ellie emerged into my life before my little sister was born. Even though we all drove mum crazy, these beings allowed my parents to gain an insight into the creations of my inner world. They noticed what made me shriek with both laughter and anger, my likes, dislikes and inventiveness.

Mum worried I had psychological problems or was meant to be a triplet and had separation anxiety. However, with copious research, she discovered having imaginary friends was a normal part of growing up and developing.

Studies show that imaginary friends are an extremely natural and healthy part of a child’s development. Up to two-thirds of children create make-believe playmates, usually between the ages of three and eight. Dr Psych Mum says these friends are more common amongst firstborn or only children, as they satisfy the need for friendship and companionship, notions in which many only children crave.

The stigma surrounding imaginary friends used to be harsh. Up until the 1990s, people believed they were a psychological red flag, being a sign of loneliness within the child or a reluctance to accept reality. Others also thought these invisible companions were a sign of an evil demonic possession or early signs of mental illness.

However, developmental psychologist Marjorie Taylor said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, that children who manifest these beings grow up to be creative adults, with further links to higher developed social and verbal skills.

Psychologists from all around the world agree children with imaginary confidants – whether that be friends or personified objects – tend to engage more with their peers as they grow up. They also found that these children are more advanced in knowing how to react with imagining how someone else might think and behave in certain situations.

The inclusion of pretend friends within a child’s life fulfils three fundamental psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy. Competence is met by the child assuming a leadership role towards the imaginary friend, an established invisible hierarchy. Relatedness is accomplished by teaching a child ways to connect socially with real-life human beings as they grow older. Autonomy is satisfied by a child gaining a sense of control over their parents, by demanding they complete tasks for their companion.

Imaginary friends inspire children to explore their curiosity in a make-believe world they constructed within their own minds. They provide a sense of comfort, freedom for life lessons and learning curves in the real world.

Looking back and laughing with Mum over these crazy antics with my treasured friends, I am grateful my two-year-old self could invent such precious company. They fulfilled my needs for companionship then, and maybe they fulfil my needs for creativity today.