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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

 

 

 

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!

 

Lockdown can be a difficult time for many. Ordering out may be a quick and easy option to keep the children content. However, this zucchini slice may be what’s needed to keep the kids healthy and happy.

Toddlers Ariana and Sophia love any chance to make the kitchen dirty. Their mum decided to help them achieve this goal by having them assist her in cooking a healthy snack.

This zucchini slice has become a much-loved family meal and allows the girls to have plenty to do during lockdown.

Instead of causing trouble in other areas of the house, Ariana and Sophia are given the opportunity to be distracted in the kitchen.

“It’s a good distraction for them and me during lockdown. It gives us plenty to do and often keeps them quiet and happy,” their mother Natalie Fittock says.

Ariana loves cracking each egg into the bowl whilst her sister Sophia mixes the ingredients on the floor, the clean floor that is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both girls love assisting their mum in the cooking process and in return are treated to a “yummy” snack.

“Yummy,” three-year-old Ariana says. “Love zucchini slice!”

“Mmmmm,” one-year-old Sophia says.

Once the girls smell the delicious slice heating in the oven, they camp themselves in front of its warmth to watch the cooking process.

“It’s a nice bonding experience for both of the girls,” Natalie says.

The recipe, originally taken from Women’s Weekly has been modified to suit this young family’s needs, adding a carrot to the recipe and replacing normal self-raising flour with wholegrain self-raising flour.

“I use it (wholegrain flour) because it has more fibre in it and it’s less processed,” Natalie says. “It makes sense. It’s not just a nice snack for the immediate family, but great for the whole extended family.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 375 grams of finely grated zucchini
  • 1 finely grated carrot
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 3 finely chopped bacon rashers
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 1 cup whole grain self-raising flour
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 5 eggs
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees (160 fan forced)
  2. Combine zucchini, carrot, onion, bacon, cheese, sifted flour, oil and lightly beaten eggs and season with salt and pepper
  3. Pour into a well-greased pan
  4. Bake for 30-40 minutes
  5. Cut into squares and serve to hungry children

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.

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.

Choices in Names change, shifting in and out of fashion and some stay constant.

There is a new movement for gender neutral names as parents see the benefits of naming their child without the gender attached.

Only 6% of names are gender neutral and according to names.org, who put the parameters to what makes a name gender neutral, when they dip below 95% of the social bureau’s data/statistics then it becomes gender neutral.

For instance, the name Leslie in 2016 dropped to 94.6% for the females it was given t and was thus consider gender neutral because it was below 95%.

2021 Gender-neutral baby names:

  1. Indigo
  2. Ash
  3. Darcy
    • Irish Origin, meaning dark
  4. Avalon
    • Celtic origin, meaning island of apples
  5. Echo
    • Greek origin, meaning reverberating sound
  • Billie
    • English origin, meaning resolute protection
  • Zephyr
  • Quinn
    • Celtic origin, meaning chief leader/intelligence
  • Kai
    • Welsh/German origin, meaning of the sea/keeper of the keys
  • Blake
    • English origin, meaning dark and attractive

Over the past 100 years the boy’s name, ‘James’ was given to over 4.5 million boys, whilst the girl’s name ‘Mary’ has been given to almost 3.5 million girls. Although they are staples in our supply for names their popularity has changed over the years.

Names from television and popular culture impact parents’ choices. Khaleesi or Arya were very popular names form the tremendously successful TV series Game of Thrones; 241 baby girls were named Khaleesi in 2012-2013 (when the series was at its peak) but is now ranked number 733 in the US.

2021 popular girl names:

  1. Charlotte
  2. Amelia
    • Latin origin, meaning work
  3. Olivia
  4. Isla
    • Scottish origin, meaning island
  5. Mia
    • Scandinavian origin, meaning beloved
  6. Ava
    • Hebrew origin, meanings life/serpent/bird
  7. Grace
    • Latin origin, meaning grace of God/charm
  8. Chloe
    • Greek origin, meaning young green shoot
  9. Willow
  10. Matilda
    • German origin, meaning battle mighty

Things to remember when choosing:

There will most likely be push back if parents float the name around family and friends. But this generally changes after the baby comes along with its new wonderful name.

Most name associations fade. If you love the name stick with it, don’t let who you know or pop-culture changing its connotations be bothersome.

2021 popular boy names:

  1. Oliver
  2. Noah
    • Hebrew origin, meaning rest, comfort and repose
  3. William
  4. Jack
    • English origin, meaning God is gracious (can be considered gender neutral)
  5. Leo
  6. Henry
    • German origin, meaning ruler of the home
  7. Charlie
    • German origin, meaning free man
  8. Thomas
    • Hebrew origin, meaning twin (biblical connections)
  9. Lucas
    • Latin origin, meaning bringer of light
  10. Elijah

 

Helpful hints of choosing a baby name:

Avoid passing trends; consider whether the future child could be teased for their name, and if the name will still sound great in ten years time.

Look into the family tree for inspiration.

There’s something special about a name in the family being used as if it respects and holds significance for the family.

Look up meanings: does this name inspire and not mean something that could be taken in the wrong way?

 

 

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.

It’s 7.00 am in 2013. I am living in the suburbs of New York City. Papa is annoyed. I know this because Scottish pipes and drums are blasting from the Bose speakers in the kitchen – this means we are late to breakfast.

Different styles of music marked different stages of our day growing up. For example, on a normal week day, we played classical music at breakfast. As a result, from a young age, we were familiar with Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 and Mozart’s Requiem, K. 626. These composers and their pieces marked the beginning of every day. At lunch time, we listened to Neil Diamond in the 70s and Stan Getz’s Girl from Impanema. Dinner, however, was exclusively American and Italian jazz.  Frank is a big family favourite—always kicking off Saturday night appetisers with New York, New York.

For as long as I can remember, I have woken to classical and fallen asleep to jazz.

Graffiti of jazz musicians.

With my days structured in musical genres, I was able to use my spare time for exploring my own musical tastes. From rap, to country, to Pitbull – my Spotify playlists never seem to make much sense. Indeed, growing up listening to different types of music meant I could not only explore a myriad of musical epochs, but also developed an interest in their history, because of the important social and political role some musicians played.

The way my parents used music to break up our days and structure them according to meal times, meant to this day, I associate music with community, to a time for conversation, and a time to enjoy my food.

I credit my solid relationship with food with the benefits of music.

A young family sharing a meal together.

As I grow older, I am increasingly aware of the manner in which family dynamics around food and meals can shape and affect our children’s eating habits. The benefits of listening to music at home in a structured, but enjoyable way, meant, growing up, the time for eating was always a shared event. Music brought my family together around a small kitchen island for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

A happy family having a picnic.

Not only has the correlation between food and music positively affected the quality of our time spent eating, but as well as that of our conversation. If anything, music inspires taste and mood, which is reflected in the way people communicate.

Research on the association between music and its intellectual benefits for kids is common. The assumption is, however, that there is causation involved between listening to music and children earning higher marks. This didn’t play out for me because I was never patient enough to learn a musical instrument and always preferred kicking the soccer ball. However, alternative explanations could explain why children who grow up listening to music or playing a musical instrument achieve success. For instance, a child taking the time to learn to play the guitar might learn the skill of perseverance, which helps when tackling challenging homework.

Toddler playing the guitar at home.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) show that music has physical and emotional benefits. Music activates the emotional reward system of our brains and causes the release of dopamine. This is one of the main signaling molecules in our brains. It is often used to describe a small, pleasurable thrill. Music creates ‘peak emotional arousal’ following for instance, the anticipation of a beat drop or a particularly enjoyable passage.

This creates a similar feeling in our bodies as that of other ‘euphoria-inducing stimuli’ such as food, drugs and sex.

A model of the human brain.

When combined with other euphoric aspects of our lives – i.e. food and a happy family environment, music has incredible social and personal benefits. The natural benefits of music on the body explain why music is a universal concept among humans.

Young children often put non-food items in their mouths, such as grass or toys, because they’re curious about the world around them. However, children with Pica take this a step further and actually eat them.

A boy playing in the dirt

What is Pica?

Pica is an eating disorder characterised by the compulsive eating of non-food items. A person with Pica may eat relatively harmless substances, such as ice, but many crave potentially dangerous ones, including hair, dirt or faeces. This can lead to serious complications and occasionally death. The name is derived from the word ‘pica’, meaning magpie, based on the idea that magpies will eat almost anything.

Pica is diagnosed when:

  • A patient persistently eats non-food items for greater than a month
  • This consumption is developmentally and culturally inappropriate.

If the behaviour occurs in a patient with another disorder, such as autism, it must be persistent enough to warrant a separate diagnosis.

Who develops Pica?

Anyone can develop Pica, however it is most common in young children, pregnant women and people with developmental disabilities. It is unclear how many people are affected, but it is believed to be more prevalent in developing countries due to higher levels of malnutrition and food insecurity.

Pica can also be found in other animals, such as dogs or cats.

Causes

There is no clear cause of Pica, but doctors have found that it is more common in individuals who experience:

 

  • Malnutrition
    A boy playing on the beach
  • Iron deficiency
  • Autism
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • OCD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Trichotillomania
  • Excoriation disorder (also known as dermatillomania)
  • Emotional trauma
  • Parental neglect
  • Maternal deprivation
  • Family issues
  • Pregnancy

Pica and pregnancy

Pica in pregnant women is thought to be caused by iron deficiency anaemia. It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to crave strange combinations of food, however, to be diagnosed with Pica the woman must be craving and ingesting non-food items such as soil, ice, or laundry detergent.

Worldwide, Pica is thought to occur in 25% of pregnant women. The reasons for this are often attributed to the geographic region and the associated risk of malnutrition and anaemia.

Pica in children

Children with dirty hands

Young children often put non-food items in their mouths, such as grass or toys, because they’re curious about the world around them. However, children with Pica take this a step further, and actually consume them.

Small children make up 25 to 33 percent of all Pica cases. The minimum age for diagnosis is two years, as children under two often eat non-food items due to lack of understanding.

Pica in adults

In adults, Pica is usually a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as iron deficiency anaemia. If not, it is often caused by psychiatric conditions or developmental disabilities.

It is difficult to determine the prevalence of Pica in adults, as many may not want to admit to craving and eating non-food items. In institutionalised adults, the prevalence is 21 to 26 percent.

In order for an adult to be diagnosed with Pica, the eating behaviour must be culturally inappropriate. In certain cultures, a non-food item may be considered appropriate for consumption. For example, eating dirt and clay is considered a custom in some parts of rural Mississippi.

Pica in animals

brown tabby cat in blue ceramic vase
A cat sitting beside a succulent

Many animals, such as cats and dogs, chew on non-food objects, but a much smaller percentage actually consume them. Pica behaviours are often caused by behavioural problems, such as anxiety, boredom, or compulsive behaviour. It is also seen in dogs who are teething.

Dangers

Eating non-food, non-digestible and potentially toxic materials can have numerous consequences, including:

  • Malnutrition
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Dental issues
  • Choking
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Internal bleeding
  • Damage to internal organs
  • Lead poisoning
  • Brain damage

Treatment

Treatments for Pica vary depending on the underlying cause. For example, if symptoms are due to iron deficiency, supplements and dietary changes may alleviate symptoms without other treatment methods.

Behavioural modification techniques are often used, assisting sufferers to unlearn Pica behaviours. These techniques include:

  • Aversion therapy, where the individual faces a negative consequence for eating non-food items. For example, a child may have his or her toys confiscated, and a dog may be sprayed with water.
  • Positive reinforcement, where the individual is rewarded for eating nutritious food, or for not engaging in Pica behaviours.
  • Overcorrection, where Pica behaviours result in the individual, usually a child, being required to dispose of non-edible objects, wash themselves, and participate in chore-based punishment when they engage in Pica behaviours.

Treatment may also include dealing with complications, such as surgery for intestinal obstruction.

boy holding ice cream with cone
A child eating an ice cream cone

Does Pica go away?

In young children and pregnant women, Pica often resolves on its own within a few months, or after childbirth. Similarly, if Pica behaviours are due to a nutritional deficiency, treatment and supplements should alleviate symptoms.

However, Pica doesn’t always go away. In those with mental illness or developmental disabilities, Pica may continue into adulthood. In these cases, ongoing treatment and support may be required, including counselling and behavioural modification techniques.

Children and adolescents’ reactions to traumatic experiences can differ from the reactions of adults. During the healing process, it is important they are shown love, support and understanding.

A child looking sad

More than two thirds of children will experience a traumatic event by the age of 16 and, afterwards, distress is almost inevitable. Most need time to calm down and, depending on the child and type of trauma, this could take days, weeks, or months. During this process, it is important that everyone affected is shown love, support and understanding.

A traumatic event could include:

  • Abuse
  • Bullying
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Community or school violence
  • Natural disasters
  • National disasters, such as terrorist attacks
  • Loss of a loved one
  • War
  • Car accidents
  • Serious or life-threatening illness

Children and adolescents’ reactions to traumatic experiences can differ from the reactions of adults. This can be influenced by age, development level, previous traumatic experiences and access to a support network.

Children aged 0 to 2

Infants can sense your emotions and will react and behave accordingly. If you are relaxed, your baby will feel calm and secure. If you’re anxious, agitated or overwhelmed, your baby may have trouble sleeping, sleep irregularly, be difficult to soothe or may refuse to eat.

How you can help

  • Though going through a traumatic event can be difficult for everyone affected, try your hardest to remain calm.
  • Help keep your baby’s emotions balanced by showing physical affection, smiling, speaking soothingly and making eye contact.
  • Respond consistently to your baby’s needs.
  • Maintain a routine.

A mother holding her baby

Children aged 3 to 5

After experiencing a traumatic event, preschool and kindergarten-aged children may demonstrate regressive mannerisms or return to behaviours they’ve outgrown, such as bed wetting, tantrums, thumb-sucking or separation anxiety. They may demonstrate uncharacteristic behaviour, such as acting ‘babyish’ or withdrawn.

How you can help

  • Assure your child that the event is over and that they are safe.
  • Acknowledge and listen to your child’s fears.
  • When your child is upset, try to distract them. For example, play a game, read them a book or play with a pet.
  • Help the child to name their feelings, for example “you felt scared when the storm came.”
  • Protect the child from further exposure to the event. This may include footage or pictures of a natural disaster, news programmes, or conversations between other family members.
  • Make allowances for regressive behaviours, such as bedwetting or toileting accidents.
  • Try to maintain a regular bedtime routine.
  • If your child is experiencing nightmares, don’t ignore them. Instead, comfort them until they’re calm enough to go back to sleep.
  • If your child is experiencing separation anxiety, assure them that you are safe. It may be helpful to talk to your child’s preschool teacher, babysitter or other carers about their anxieties.

Children aged 6 to 11

School-aged children react to trauma differently depending on their age and stage of development. Younger school children may not have the appropriate skills to effectively communicate their emotions to those around them. On the other hand, upper primary school children are usually able to articulate their thoughts and communicate distress.

School aged children may become withdrawn or anxious and may fear another traumatic event. They may become angry, moody and irritable, which can lead to fighting with family members and peers. They may also experience stress-related physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches and exhaustion.

Two girls playing

How you can help

  • Reassure your child that they are safe, and that the people around them are safe.
  • Try to maintain a routine. This creates a sense of control and normality.
  • Keep your child busy. Organise playdates with friends, take them on outings, or play outside with them. If normal activities have been interrupted, provide alternate distractions, such as playing with toys or reading books.
  • When it comes to incidences of widespread trauma, such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack, pay attention to any rumours being spread at school. Assure your child that not everything they hear is true and correct any misinformation.
  • Limit a child’s exposure to news covering the event.
  • Avoid exposure to graphic images or footage, as this may magnify the trauma.
  • Talk to your child about the experience and encourage them to ask questions. Children often feel empowered by knowledge.
  • Answer questions honestly. If you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Talk to your child about your own feelings. For example, “I miss grandma too” or “I was very scared when that happened, how about you?” However, don’t give details about your own fears, as this can be harmful and increase a child’s anxiety.
  • Acknowledge any physical complaints and assure your child that they are completely normal. Encourage them to rest, eat properly and stay hydrated. If these symptoms don’t go away, it is a good idea to check with your doctor.
  • Assure your child that they won’t feel like this forever.
  • If your child experiences feelings of guilt or shame, let them know that it’s normal to feel that way. Assure them that they didn’t cause the event and that nobody thinks it is their fault.

Children aged 12-18

A sad teenage boy

Teenagers may deal with their emotions by isolating from friends and family. They may become more aggressive, fight more with their family and peers, begin taking risks or turn to drugs and alcohol.

How you can help

  • Assure your teen they are safe to express their feelings.
  • Encourage discussion. Often teenagers don’t want to show their emotions. It might be helpful to start a discussion when you’re doing something together, for example, going on a walk, so that the discussion doesn’t feel too confrontational.
  • Help them take action. For example, encourage them to volunteer at a charity or homeless shelter. This may help them regain a sense of control and purpose.
  • Some teens may become involved in risky behaviour such as drinking. Talk to your teen about the dangers of this, and discuss alternative ways of coping, such as going on walks or talking to someone.
  • If your child is having problems at school, talk to their teachers or school counsellor about what has happened. They may be willing to give your child extra time to complete assignments, or extra help if they’re struggling to keep up in class.
  • Suggest healthy ways your teen can get their emotions out. For example, if they’re angry, they might feel letter after going for a run.
  • Like younger children, teenagers may exhibit regressive behaviours such as sleeping with a stuffed toy. Assure them that this is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
  • If your teen has experienced interpersonal violence, such as an assault, assure them that it wasn’t their fault, and that they aren’t to blame.

Helping children after the death of a loved one

Ages 3 to 5

  • Talk to your child about what the death means. For example, explain that they can’t see them anymore, but can still remember them and look at pictures.
  • Get your child to write them a letter. This is especially helpful if the death was sudden or unexpected, as it
    may help them say goodbye.
  • Stay calm when your child asks questions. Questions are how young children process information.
  • It may be helpful to talk to them about the idea of an afterlife. If your family isn’t religious, you can talk to them about how the person lives on in your memories.
  • Do something to commemorate the loved one. For example, plant a tree or draw a picture.

Ages 6 to 11

  • Share your feelings with your child. This will encourage them to open up.
  • Your child may feel angry, sad, or alone. Let them know that these emotions are normal and let them know you’re there for them.
  • Talk to your child about what impact the death may have on their daily life and routine. For example, ‘I
    have to work more now that daddy isn’t here.’

    A sad little girl
  • Be understanding if the child experiences problems at school after the death. Assure them that this is normal.
  • Understand that their academic performance may be affected.
  • Avoid using vague answers, such as ‘grandma is in a better place’. Most school-aged children have at least a small understanding of what death means, so these phrases may confuse them.
  • Encourage your child to celebrate the loved one’s memory. For example, planting a tree or making a scrapbook.

Ages 12 to 18

Teenagers may have difficulty expressing emotions about death. They may fear showing vulnerability and ignore and deny what has happened. It’s important to:

  • Share your own emotions with them and encourage them to share theirs.
  • Be patient.
  • Be understanding if the death affects their academic performance and assure them that their wellbeing is more important.
  • Celebrate the person’s memory. Your teen may find it helpful to pray for them, look through photo albums or plant a tree in their memory.

A man holding flowers in a graveyard

If these feelings don’t go away

Often people recover from a traumatic experience in the weeks and months that follow. However, some experience long lasting, distressing or worsening symptoms, which may signal the need for professional help.

People who have been through a traumatic experience may develop post-traumatic stress Disorder (PTSD). Those with PTSD experience unwanted thoughts or memories of the event, nightmares, flashbacks and heightened levels of fear and anxiety. They may avoid people, places or activities that remind them of the event.

Symptoms of PTSD may develop immediately after a traumatic event or may not surface until later. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm and substance abuse.

Resources

Kid’s Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Lifeline: 13 11 14

National centre for childhood grief

Phoenix Australia

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