Studies are suggesting that teaching your children bodily autonomy and consent at an early age is crucial for their confidence and ability to set boundaries into adulthood.
Teaching your child how to navigate the complexities of the outside world is one of the most daunting challenges presented to parents and teaching them healthy boundaries is one of the most crucial lessons to pass on.
Teaching children boundaries for themselves and others is a social and emotional skill that will keep them safe with strangers and their friends. Empowering your children with the tools to assert their autonomy over their bodies and emotions will keep them safe from anyone who might want to exploit their vulnerability.
Often, adults can take advantage of a child’s inexperience and inability to advocate for themselves. In worst-case scenarios, this can lead to belittling, lower self-confidence, and physical and sexual abuse.
All parents understand the basics of boundaries setting. For example, no hitting, no interrupting, no grabbing things from other children without asking and the importance of please and thank you.
Child Mind Psychology says that these things are the basic principles of boundary setting that can be applied to everything. This is because they exist for two reasons; to understand and respect the needs of others and to understand and respect their own needs as individuals.
While the benefits of boundary setting are beneficial for countless reasons, new movements in parenting are beginning to use these principles to teach bodily autonomy.
Why boundaries matter
Christmas, Easter or a family reunion rolls around, and suddenly your child is faced with a crowd of well-meaning relatives they may not see very often who are dying to smother their niece or great-nephew with hugs or kisses. While the temptation to make people happy is present, you might cave and say, ‘Give uncle so-and-so a hug!’ there are several reasons this may be detrimental.
In situations like these, children may feel like their bodies don’t belong to them but rather to the adults in the room and that adults can make decisions about what they should do with their bodies regardless of how they feel.
It is also instilled in children to ignore their intuition and feelings to please others. And while it might feel like we are just trying to teach them social skills and empathy, these things will develop over time, especially once they have a strong sense of self.
Children need to be empowered to foster a sense of trust in their instincts, not taught to ignore them. Educating them to listen to how they feel during these situations will keep them safe in childhood and adulthood.
While it is highly unsettling to consider, 90% of child abuse victims are abused by someone they know, like a family member or a friend. This is why teaching bodily autonomy to children with people they know and are close to is crucial.
In addition to teaching about ok touch and not ok touch, talk about ok secrets and not ok secrets. Ok secrets are birthday surprises, Christmas presents or planning a surprise dinner for Mother’s Day.
Not ok secrets are family members or friends who might use language like ‘this is our special game that’s just our secret,’ or ‘don’t tell anyone about our game or you will get in trouble.’
Make it explicitly clear what ok and not ok secrets are and assure them that there is absolutely no secret they would ever get in trouble for disclosing. Let them know that it is always ok to tell a trusted adult if someone asks them to keep a secret like this. Also, let them know that you will believe them if they share this with you.
Let them know that it is ok to tell another adult even if it is someone they love and trust.
Help your child establish a list of trusted adults that they can speak to, including people who are not family members. This might be a schoolteacher, kindergarten teacher, friend’s parent, or school counsellor. Often, children do not disclose abuse to parents and may feel more comfortable with one of these trusted adults, to begin with.
Teaching children about boundaries, consent, and bodily autonomy not only keeps them safe and secure within themselves but is a crucial aspect of emotional intelligence they will carry into adulthood. And lastly, it is never too late to start implementing these lessons.
Teenagers are visiting emergency departments for intentional self-harm in record numbers since the pandemic, with some as young as primary-school ages.
The stress and pressures that lockdown has had on children and teenagers have seen reports of self-harm increase by 47% in NSW alone. In the year leading up to July 2021, there were 8489 instances of children and teens up to 17 years old presenting to emergency centers in NSW. This number had increased from 6489 in 2020.
Throughout March, June, July, September and September in NSW, VIC, TAS and the ACT, paramedics responded to 22,400 incidents involving suicide attempts or thoughts. The majority of this number was for young girls ranging from ages 15-19.
Statistics have shown that these numbers were already increasing before the pandemic; however, lockdown seems to have driven the numbers even higher.
The chairman for Lifeline Australia, John Brogden, confirmed that the daily average number of calls nationwide peaked at 3100 per day and has remained at this level since the start of the pandemic. Most of these phone calls are from people of all ages struggling with self-harm and suicidal ideation.
Federal Treasurer Josh Fydenberg called the mental health crisis a ‘shadow pandemic,’ caused partly by the impact of ongoing lockdowns and the research seems to suggest it is impacting young people the hardest.
Schools provide children and teens with face-to-face learning, interaction with peers, extracurricular activities, friendship, and social skills building, and, in most cases, access to mental health and resilience programs. However, with school-aged children already going through a crucial and sensitive time in their development, the added pressure of isolation and stress that is inevitable in lockdown has exacerbated the difficulties they already face.
Living through an unpreceded global event can be stressful for adults, and it is a lot for kids to take in as well. Meanwhile, things like school sports, dances, school performances and graduation ceremonies have seen teenagers lose access to many of the outlets that provide them with stress relief and fun.
Yourtown CEO Tracy Adams says, “The upheaval and stress Australian children and young people are experiencing from the pandemic is a cause for concern. Over the past six months, we have identified that 1,610 contacts to Kids Helpline were from young children aged 5-9 years of age up from 1,588 for the first six months of 2020.”
Adams confirms that Kids Helpline answered 1788 more calls for children and young people than ever in the first half of 2021, compared to the first have of 2020 and that, “Children and young people are increasingly experiencing mental health concerns, including suicidal ideation/behaviour and self-harm”
Self-harm is an issue that has been prevalent for decades and is becoming a predominant coping mechanism for young people.
What is self-harm?
Self-harm is the act of injuring oneself by either cutting or burning to achieve a momentary sense of calm or release of tension of emotional pain. Often, people will self-harm to gain a sense of control again or to momentarily be distracted from mental distress by the sensation of physical pain.
While not classified as a mental illness on its own, it is often symptomatic of a range of other mental illnesses or emotional suffering.
The physical signs of self-harm may look like:
cutting, burning, biting, or scratching the skin
picking at wounds or scabs so they don’t heal
pulling out hair, punching or hitting the body
taking harmful substances (such as poisons, or over the counter or prescription medications).
Sometimes children who are self-harming may be fascinated with the topic and spend time online reading about other instances of this. They may attempt to cover their bodies or exhibit a desire to hide their skin such as wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts in warm weather.
Other behaviors might look like mood swings or becoming withdrawn socially and could be potentially triggered by a traumatic event or upsetting circumstances like bullying or difficulties in a peer group.
How to help
If your child or teen approaches you and tells you that they have been self-harming somehow, the most important thing you can do is have a compassionate response. According to Melbourne Child Psychology, the most common misconception about self-harm is that it is a form of ‘attention-seeking or ‘acting out.’
It is crucial to fight the urge to have a shocked or angry reaction and say things like ‘why did you do this?’ or ‘you need to stop this – this is such a stupid thing to do!’
Instead, remain calm and let them know you are here to help by asking open-ended questions that encourage them to talk about why they did it or how they were feeling at the time.
Once they are emotionally assured, ask more open-ended questions such as what they used to harm themselves and where they got it. Be sure to ask if it’s ok to assess their injuries and appropriately dress them or bandage them.
Lastly, seek professional help
As a parent, watching your child self-harm can be heartbreaking, and it is ok to feel that you are out of your depth and need to seek professional help or advice. However, it is essential not to make the mistake of thinking that just because you have addressed the issue with your child, it will go away or get better.
Get in touch with a psychologist and communicate to them what the issue is before an appointment, so they know best how to help.
A child psychologist will provide your child with a safe environment to express themselves and learn effective coping mechanisms and strategies.
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.
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.
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 gonebecause you might be waiting a long time.”
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.
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.
“The theoryis 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
• 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, 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
• Competitive and always feel they must compete for parental attention
• 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:
• 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
• 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”.
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.
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.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, over twelve years ago, strangers would come up to me, pat my baby bump and say, ‘Oh, is it your first? How special!’. They had a misty far-away look in their eyes. No one told me the truth. The truth was that I was about to undergo a monumental change and I wouldn’t ever be the same again.
This transition happens to all mothers — biological, surrogate or adoptive — in a developmental stage is akin to adolescence known as ‘Matrescence’. This process affects biological, social and psychological development and can last for years, or even decades.
The term ‘Matrescence’ was first coined by anthropologist Dana Raphael, PhD, in 1973, but I didn’t hear about it until I chose to specialise in motherhood.
This is a problem because most mothers feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of parenting and uncomfortable with the changes it brings to almost every aspect of life. Not only does the female body undergo physical and hormonal changes which can feel like puberty all over again, but becoming a mother impacts relationships with partners and friends and maintaining a social life or even running errands suddenly becomes a lot more challenging.
Matrescence should not be confused with postnatal depression, but it is a significant emotional shift which many mothers are simply unprepared for. I’m sure all mums remember the endless first weeks of motherhood where you feel completely in love with your newborn and simultaneously completely awed that the world still continues although you’ve just experienced this monumental event.
I vividly remember feeling a huge sense of achievement at getting out the door when my youngest was just six- weeks old.
Timing feeds, nappy changes and making myself look vaguely presentable to be on time for a baby massage session required some next-level planning. The thought of going out for drinks with friends or for a meal with my husband just seemed completely at odds with my new life and how I felt about myself. I just couldn’t rationalise the pre-baby me with this new post-baby me. Me as a mum. Over the years, the pre-baby me just seemed to dissolve as I assumed the identity of ‘mum’. Now, I feel like the ‘real’ me is buried.
Mum of three, Sarah, says, ‘I just completely lost my sense of identity when I had children. I never really got any time to myself to just be ‘me’ anyway, so I didn’t really notice it until my kids started school’. Nicola chose to have children later in life and found the balance between her work-life and home-life almost impossible to reconcile,
‘I was either house-wife and mum, or corporate executive and those two parts of me felt completely disconnected. I do love both of those roles but I’m more than just that. The ‘real’ me just got lost in the noise’.
The truth is, we all evolve as time goes on. Being a mum will always be part of your identity, but it doesn’t have to be all of it. Here’s what to do when you feel lost in motherhood:
1. Schedule time for yourself
And I do mean literally schedule in that time. Put it in your calendar like it’s an appointment or a class for your child. The amount of time and what you choose to do is up to you, but I suggest an hour every week where you can completely disconnect from motherhood. Go out of the house. Read a book, enjoy a coffee, go for a run — just do something entirely for yourself. You’ll feel better afterwards, I promise.
2. Set morning and evening routines
You probably have some sort of morning or bedtime routine for your children, but do you have one for yourself?
Small daily rituals can help you feel more in control of your life and help ease the pressure of a busy schedule. It might seem counterintuitive to ask you to introduce more into a packed lifestyle but a little bit of self-care can go a long way.Ideally, get up before the children are awake. Drink water, enjoy a cup of tea, read or meditate and you will find yourself more capable of tackling the morning rush.
In the evening, do something similar to wind down. Meditation and journaling are proven to be good for mental health and they are great tools to connect back in to ‘you’. Bonus points if you can look over your schedule for the following day and prepare.
3. Date night
Becoming parents inevitably changes the relationship you have with your partner. As children grow it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of being teammates rather than romantic partners. Get in touch with why you fell in love and plan a date for the two of you. The rule is, you are not allowed to talk about the kids! It’s harder than you think. Make an effort, get dressed up (if you like) and date each other again. You don’t even have to go out.
4. Do something you loved before becoming a mum
It’s easy to let hobbies go when you have a small person who’s depending on you. Life gets full and busy quickly and we often forget that we get to choose how we spend our free time. One quick way to remind yourself of who you are is to enjoy an activity or experience you loved before you were a mum. Maybe you adored dancing or painting or going to the movies. Find ways to introduce these into your life. It can be as simple as dancing around the lounge room!
5. Chat to your friends about your hopes and dreams
How often do you talk to your friends about your personal goals? Do you even know what they are?
It’s normal to focus on your children and their desires, but if we forget to think about what we want out of life it’s easy to wake up one day and realise that you don’t have a purpose without your children. That’s way too much pressure to put on them and not fair to the woman you are.
Make it a priority to talk to your friends about this. What do they want out of life? How can you support each other?
The trick is to integrate these activities with your identity as a mother. We aren’t trying to belittle or ignore your role since we all know that being a mum is as amazing as it is difficult. Instead, the aim is to reconnect to yourself and to discover who you are now — and remember that will change over time.
Change is normal during this time of transition, but you get to choose how you respond and what you choose to prioritise. When you choose to prioritise yourself, you’re choosing to prioritise your child’s mum. She’s worth it.
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.”
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.
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.
For kids, the absence of sex education can run deeper than a simple lack of knowledge. With bodily changes occurring much earlier, children midway through primary school who have not had these discussions can be left feeling scared and confused as they enter puberty – yet experts warn this is not the only danger.
Children’s bodies are developing well before their brains, faster than ever recorded. Creating what Psychologist Jane Mendle calls ‘maturational disparity’, a result of both environmental and biological factors. This condition has been observed as having detrimental effects primarily in young girls – although it can affect boys as well.
Mendle says girls who begin puberty early and experience this condition, are “more likely than others to suffer from panic attacks, suicidality, body dissatisfaction, substance abuse, and depression that extends into adulthood”. She also notes these girls are at greater risk of sexual harassment at school.
While maturational disparity significantly impacts the psychological wellbeing of children, having open discussions about sex and sexuality can positively impact children having such experiences and reduce the risks linked with the condition.
There are other dangers associated with leaving ‘the talk’ too late. Children could be missing out on crucial information that influences their wellbeing and safety. In a recent survey of secondary students by Latrobe University, over one quarter (28.4 per cent) of sexually active students had experienced unwanted sex at least once, and one third of students reported engaging in sexting in the last two months.
While schools are working to reduce risk taking behaviours and are educating students about consent – a parent’s role in sexuality education cannot be ignored. According to the Australian Department of Education, parental involvement in sex education “contributes to greater openness about sex and sexuality and improved sexual health among young people”.
While what your child may need to know is heavily dependant on their personal needs and unique development, health experts have outlined basic information your child should engage with based on their age group.
Ages 0 to 5
For those with children under five, professionals say to start small, sharing information that will help create clear, open lines of communication between a parent and child. For under 5’s:
Teach the correct anatomical terms for body parts.
Explain the concepts of public and private.
Ensure your child understands the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching.
Ages 6 to 10
At this stage in your child’s development it is important to prepare them for the changes they are about to experience before they begin puberty. Having this discussion prior to such changes happening will prevent fear and confusion when entering this stage of development.
Teach your child how babies are born, and how they grow inside the womb.
Explain puberty, how their body and mind will change as they get older.
Explain different sexualities and preferences.
Discuss gender stereotyping.
Ages 11 to 12
As many children are entering puberty, it may be helpful to explain exactly why these changes are happening, and how to navigate a world in which technology is such a big part of life.
Teach the names and functions of reproductive organs.
Explain sexual intercourse.
Teach your child how to respect themselves and others.
Teach basic hygiene practices associated with puberty, for example: wearing deodorant.
Instruct your child about responsible use of technology.
Age 13 to 18
During high school teenagers are entering their first relationships, and health professionals say it is better to provide the following information before your teenager is sexually active – rather than waiting until it’s too late.
Educate your child on safe sex practices.
Explain sexually transmitted infections, and how to prevent them.
“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.
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.
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 tocritically 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.
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.
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) andmedical 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.
These assessments should be completed frequently, but usually occur every couple of years. These rating outcomes can be accessed on the ACECQAwebsite 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!).
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.
Kelly has more than eight years’ experience as a coordinator for an Outside School Hours Care Program and has completed hundreds of engaging and educating programs with children based on the National Regulation requirements. So, to help any struggling parents out there, here are her suggestions for easy and fun activities to keep children engaged during Covid restrictions.
With current Covid precautions in Australia and Melbourne’s Stage Four lockdown still in effect, parents may have gone through every option to keep their child engaged. Children are out of routine and forced to learn at home, so trying to come up with new and exciting activities that are educating can be almost impossible.
It can be difficult to convince children to leave the house for some exercise when they have technology to keep themselves entertained, so why not create a town out of spoon people and get the community involved?
Using old spoons from the drawer, dress up your spoon into a person, animal or character. Every time the children go for a walk, they can see if anyone else in their neighbourhood has contributed to ‘Spoonville’ with their own spoons. It brings the excitement of wanting to leave the house for exercise while also engaging the children into creating a new spoon to add to the collection.
Materials: Wooden, metal or plastic spoon, wool for hair, googly eyes, scrap material for clothing, texta or paint for any additional details.
2. Toilet roll characters
Instead of throwing out the toilet rolls, turn them into characters!
There are plenty of websites that provide print out templates of different characters to stick onto a toilet roll. These are easy for kids to follow because all they need to do is cut, colour and paste. Alternatively, parents can print off reference pictures to spark creativity.
This also teaches children the importance of re-using materials around the house instead of throwing them out. Use this opportunity to discuss the environment and what they can do to help.
To further build on this experience, the children can create their own puppet show. This will be sure to keep them entertained for hours, build their confidence and encourage their pretend-play skills.
Slime can be a great tool for sensory development and is also one of the most popular science experiments with children at the moment. The ingredients to create this slime can be found at the supermarket and is easy to create, but it does get messy. So, make sure the floor, table and clothing are protected.
240ml bottle Elmer’s white school glue
1 1/2 – 2 tbs contact saline solution
1 tbs baking soda
To make the slime more exciting, the children can add shaving cream (poofy slime), glitter, beads (crunchy slime) or Styrofoam (foam slime) to the mixture.
Pac-man is a game Kelly played frequently with children at work because it encouraged them to think quickly and increase their general knowledge.
The aim of the game is to stand around the room, the parent will shout out a question and for every question a child gets right, they take a step towards their opposition. Once they’ve answered enough questions and have reached their opposition, they tap them on the shoulder to get them out.
Adjust the questions based on their age and knowledge level, making them easier or harder depending on who is left in the game.
5. DIY masks
Masks are a part of everyday life with Covid-19, so why not make it exciting? This will not only open the conversation about why it’s important to wear masks but will also teach them how to cut fabric to a pattern and sew it together. This could also encourage a conversation about fast fashion and the hard work that goes into creating clothes.
To further this experience, children could sew more patterns such as cushions, toys or pencil cases.
Materials: Needle, thread, three layers of fabric, scissors.
Terrariums are easy to assemble and can be created by things found outdoors. Although it isn’t necessary to build one that grows plants, it can be beneficial for children to learn the importance of a small eco-system and a terrarium is perfect to do so.
Materials: Glass bowl, dirt, sticks, rocks, water, plants (I recommend succulents because they don’t need much water).
7. Veggie patch
Similar to a terrarium, growing plants can be a beneficial lesson to children, but can be done using scraps from last night’s dinner. There are many vegetables/fruits that can grow from scraps. These are:
Lettuce, celery, avocado, potato, sweet potato, ginger, pineapple, garlic, onion, pumpkin, capsicum, tomato, carrot, strawberry, apricot, cherry, and many more.
Just place these vegetables or seeds in water, wait for roots to sprout, and then plant in dirt. Eventually, a new vegetable will sprout and the kids can eat their home-grown food.
Materials: Vegetable scraps, dirt, water.
8. Patty pan craft
Children can unleash their creativity by creating their favourite animal or character using the left-over patty pans sitting in the bottom drawer. Using either a photo for reference or a printed colouring page, children can cut the patty pan to size and paste. This will not only benefit their fine motor skills but will encourage creativity when it comes to alternative materials and repurposing.
Materials: Patty pans, paint or texta, scissors, glue.