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As children are entering puberty earlier than ever before, sex education has never been more important.

 

‘The talk’ is a phrase that strikes fear into parents, eliciting reactions like cringing, nervous laughter and hope that the conversation is a long way off – but how soon is too soon?

Modern day biological and environmental changes are causing children to enter puberty earlier than ever before. Medical writer, Dr Randi Epstein, says girls are entering puberty at 10-11 years of age, while boys are starting a little later, at 11-12 years of age. These findings, combined with the vast amount of technology and knowledge at children’s fingertips, has health professionals and parents re-evaluating sexuality education.

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.

boy dad sad depressed

  • Educate your child on safe sex practices.
  • Explain sexually transmitted infections, and how to prevent them.
  • Teach the meaning of consent.
  • Educate your child on healthy relationships.

 

 

 

It took all of 30 seconds to go from, “You can’t play with me,” to the older sister belting her younger brother on his back with her Barbie doll. There were many tears, a Timeout, and a forced apology, as well as a ban on all play dates for the rest of the week.

Sibling conflict and rivalry is all too familiar to many families. With arguments ending in violent outbursts, crying and an effort to separate the sparring kids, parents often wonder if their children will ever get along. While the cliches in popular culture frequently portray negative relationships between siblings, being aware of the long-term effects of this kind of behaviour is important for parents.

Recent paediatrics studies published in the United States National Library of Medicine reveals being bullied by a sibling can be just as damaging to a child’s mental and emotional health as being bullied by another child in the playground or at school. The home is meant to be a safe space for each individual member of a family. When bullying occurs there, children will feel helpless, anxious and extremely unhappy, which can manifest into more serious issues of depression and other mental illnesses as they grow older.

It is important to note that there is a difference between bullying and rivalry – bullying is more infrequent than rivalry. Sibling bullying has an element of aggression verbally and physically that rivalry does not. Violent words, manner of speech, as well as physical actions and intent are all signs of bullying. Rivalry lacks this ongoing element of aggression and nastiness and, according to Sherri Gordon of Verywell Family,

“This bullying…stays with the victim for years to come.”Sad young girl

Sibling relationships are shaped by a multitude of forces. While family dynamics and composition play a role, as do extramarital factors, every child is unique. Research indicates that siblings can be as different to one another as two completely unrelated children.

A study by Cambridge University conducted on a group of children over five years investigated the nature of sibling rivalry. It discovered siblings have an overall positive impact on each other, even if their relationship isn’t completely happy.

According to the study, mild rivalry between siblings can be beneficial to both children and will not often have long term impacts. It is when this behaviour is sustained and occurs over a lengthy period of both siblings’ childhoods that issues can arise. These negative impacts can result in long term problems such as:

  • Difficulty with relationship-building later in life (romantic and non-romantic)
  • Behavioural problems
  • Difficulty in social situations
  • Extreme competitiveness
  • Difficulty accepting criticism and being a “sore loser”

A healthy amount of rivalry can boost a number of positive elements in the younger sibling’s early development. Older children expose their younger brothers or sisters to emotionally rich language particularly when engaged in an argument or competition with the younger sibling. The Cambridge study found, that by the age of six, younger siblings could converse with their older siblings about emotions on equal footing rather than at the level of other six-year-old children.

Two children playing together

It is in the space of sibling relationships that children learn the most about conflict resolution and prevention, as well as testing their social skills both before and during their primary school years.

Michele Fry of Greatschools.org states, “It’s where children learn to cooperate and compromise – skills they carry into adulthood.” With a sibling, the boundaries and limits of social interaction which are modelled by parents can be tested and experimented. Fry explains, unlike with a school-yard friend, a sibling won’t leave their brother or sister if they get called a name or teased by their sibling. In this way, siblings continually learn from each other about how to interact with their peers.

What is important to note is that this testing of social interaction between siblings needs to be monitored by their parent – what can be seen initially as pushing the boundaries can quickly escalate into abuse if the behaviour continues. In this situation the parent should intervene to reinforce positive behaviours and mediate conflict if the children can’t do so between themselves.

 

The role of the parents

Parents have one of the biggest influences over the relationship between their children. Dr Sylvia Rimm, psychologist and director of the Family Achievement Clinic, outlines what is important for parents to know about rivalry between their children.

  1. Labelling

Referring to your children as the “sporty” child, or the “creative” or the “academic” child can cause significant problems for both children. While this may initially seem like a good way to encourage and guide children into areas they may show a natural propensity for, it can have adverse effects.

Dr Rimm states, labels reinforce differences between siblings and can encourage competitiveness for certain titles, commenting;

“When children are labelled best in a domain, they often do their best to prevent another sibling from encroaching on their domain.”

Michele Fry also highlights the negative impact on self-development that labels can cause. Children who are labelled early will often live up to these labels and be disinclined to venture into other areas. It limits their capacity for developing an identity separate to the one they have had reinforced constantly by their parents and siblings because of the label they were given at an early age.

  1. Gender, age and family dynamics

Gender, age and family dynamics are also important to consider as parents when assessing the level of sibling rivalry and encouraging positive sibling relationships. Rivalry is generally harmless and something that most siblings grow out of by the time they have reached their late teen years. Dr Rimm outlines the following instances where rivalry can escalate or cause prolonged problems for both siblings:

  • Two close-aged children of the same gender e.g. two sisters 18 months apart
  • The younger sibling following directly after a very talented oldest child
  • The “baby” of the family

Two young sisters in grass

It’s also important to remember that siblings spend more time together than they do with their peers. Growing up, living in the same household, going through shared family experiences, all contribute to siblings knowing one another in a way that peers do not. While this can be positive for relationship building into the future, it can also have a negative impact for rivalry and bullying. A sibling will know their brother or sister’s weak spots and sensitivities more than schoolyard friends might.

Professor of Applied Family Studies, Laurie Kramer, states,

“Children can take advantage of vulnerabilities and make the other one feel bad with a word.”

This kind of emotional rivalry or bullying is harder for parents to monitor but can be extremely damaging long term on self-esteem and development particularly if it occurs frequently during teenage years.

 

What are the long-term impacts?

According to Mike Bundrant, psychotherapist and co-founder of the Neuro-Linguistic Program, sibling rivalry and aggression can have the same long term as bullying by a peer. In the teenage and young adult years, it can result in a deterioration of self-esteem and sense of personal identity. This usually arises in cases where sibling rivalry takes the form of frequent humiliation or a desire to embarrass one sibling in a public setting.

Sibling rivalry can continue into adulthood and be a feature of a family relationship that never goes away. As adults, there can be competition surrounding financial and employment success, marital and familial situation, and on the successes of the sibling’s own children.

Siblings are usually the closest and most long-lasting family relationship in anyone’s life. Siblings will grow old together in a way that a parent child relationship doesn’t usually provide. If this relationship can be nurtured from a young age, siblings may have a better chance of maintaining a supportive and healthy relationship into adulthood as they create their own lives away from the family home.

Family gathering

Educational consultant and parenting coach, Chrissy Khachane, suggests the following tips for creating positive sibling relationships:

  1. Support cooperative play.
  2. Teach each child to respect the differences between one another.
  3. Talk through poor behaviour with each child to promote understanding in difficult situations.
  4. Teach your children to resolve conflict.
  5. Reinforce boundaries with private conversations.
  6. Give each child individual attention away from his/her sibling.
  7. Modelling healthy relationships by validating each child’s feelings from time to time.
  8. Teach them the difference between tattling and seeking help.
  9. Give each child their own physical space.
  10. Teach your children to recognise and label their own emotions.
  11. Family rituals and traditions are a great way to foster healthy sibling relationships.

Parents walking with children

 

The top parenting podcasts to listen to right now.

 

The Early Parenting Podcast

Australian mum of two and early parenting consultant, Jen Butler, offers quick tips for early parenthood in her brief, practical and upbeat episodes. Focusing on ages 0 to 4, Jen discusses topics like new-born sleep, breastfeeding, family health and toddler behaviour.

Offering up her expertise as a parent and midwife, Jen also includes self-care for mums, answering questions like ‘how do I know if I’m ready to have another baby?’.

In one episode, Jen talks about dummies, discussing the pros and cons. She says that the dummy can be used as a tool to help others to soothe your baby and warns against introducing the dummy too early. Jen also provides advice for weaning your child off the dummy as they age.

Episodes are very short, considering those parents with little time on their hands, each hitting under 10 minutes.

girl headphones podcast

 

Spot Family Podcast

A deeply informative weekly podcast about children’s development, health and learning. Australian host Heidi Begg, a speech pathologist and founder of Spot (an online speech therapy service), provides advice for parents.

Every episode includes advice from Heidi, interviews with doctors and health professionals, and science-based tools to help children reach their fullest potential.

This relatively new podcast, answers questions such as ‘is my child a late talker?’ and topics such as ‘how language impacts behaviour’ from the perspective of professionals.

Heidi talks about how to fix lisps and other speech issues, discussing the causes and psychological impacts of speech impediments. She explains the different kinds of lisps and the risks associated with leaving the condition untreated. Heidi highlights the impact of having a childhood lisp on educational development – saying that it can cause problems when learning to speak and read in school.

All advice provided is well grounded in research and professional experience, and episodes range from 30 to 60 minutes.

 

Baby Steps

Baby Steps follows parents (and YouTube sensations) Ned and Ariel Fulmer, as they prepare for their second child. In their mid thirties, Ned and Ariel live in LA with their dog and two year old son. In the podcast you join them through the ups and downs of Ariels second pregnancy and beyond.

They discuss the joys, fears, and messy parts of parenthood – reviewing new products, sharing personal stories, and offering advice.

In one episode about sex after pregnancy, the couple talk about the awkward moments and the challenging ones. These intimate stories are often humorous, and touch on taboo subjects. The couple recount their arguments about whether to have sex with the baby in the room and discuss the importance of maintaining an intimate relationship postpartum.

Episodes run for 30 to 60 minutes and focus on different aspects of parenthood and pregnancy. While Ned and Ariel claim they are not experts on parenting, the podcast is candid and entertaining.

kid music headphones child

 

The One in a Million Baby

In this podcast, host Tessa Pebble interviews parents of children with disabilities from New Zealand and all over the world. Every week, Tessa sits down with a new guest to discuss their unique experiences.

Each episode of The One in a Million Baby offers insight into the lives of families who experience the challenges and triumphs of parenting a child with special needs.

Many guests on the podcast are parents, advocates and educators for children with disabilities – and offer advice and personal stories. In her third episode Tessa explores the challenges Beth Armstrong faced when trying to find suitable education for her disabled daughter. Beth’s child Molly, has ADHD, Autism and is partially blind. In an engaging and heartfelt conversation, Beth explains her struggles against an education system not suited to disabled children.

Having lost her first child to Charge Syndrome (a rare genetic disorder that causes life threatening birth defects) at only 10 months of age, Tessa explores parenting children with disabilities through a unique perspective. Understanding and empathising with guests as they share their own stories. Episodes run for 30 to 60 minutes.

 

Spawned

Joint founders of CoolMomPicks.com, Liz Gumbinner and Kristen Chase are parents and writers. In their podcast Spawned, the two women sit down and discuss challenges affecting today’s parents. Each episode focuses on a new topic – such as parenting culture, general tips and tricks, and interviews with celebrity guests.

The podcast features a wide variety of guests, and examines challenges such as raising unplugged kids, and discipline.

One of the guests, psychologist Mike Brooks, discusses how to effectively reduce screen time for children. The hosts and Brooks examine the issue together, while Brooks provides practical advice for listeners.

The hosts provide entertaining and comedic stories and discussions, usually ranging from 30 to 60 minutes. Liz, Kristen and their guests work together to decipher modern parenting issues– providing different perspectives on today’s biggest parenting concerns.

 

 

“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.

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.

1. ‘Spoonville’

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.

Materials: Toilet rolls, paper, textas, scissors, glue sticks.

3. Gooey slime

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.

 

Slime recipe:

240ml bottle Elmer’s white school glue

1 1/2 – 2 tbs contact saline solution

1 tbs baking soda

Food colouring

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.

Materials: Glue, saline solution, baking soda, food colouring.

4. Pac-man (2 or more people)

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.

Materials: None.

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.

6. Terrarium

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.

 

Precautions taken by medical staff left new mum, Jess Bowen, feeling traumatised, “diseased” and excluded during her first birthing experience.

 “I felt like I was diseased. The doctor would whisper to the nurse that I should have my mask on like I had the Corona Virus. It felt awful.”

Credit: Jess Bowen

Melbourne mum and hairdresser, Jess Bowen, gave birth to her first baby on the 28th of March this year, when the pandemic was beginning.

“My pregnancy was wonderful. I didn’t have any complications and I was excited to give birth,” shares Jess.

At Jess’s final appointment with her midwife, protein was found in the urine indicating pre-eclampsia, whereupon she was admitted into the hospital and immediately induced.

Jess laughs about not having enough time to gather her things, pack a bag or worst of all, “put on fake tan”.

Being a new mum is stressful without the added pressures of a global crisis. Jess describes her experience at the hospital as “traumatic”. She says the nurses were cold and “on edge with Covid happening. This made them short and abrupt.”

Once admitted, Jess was induced using a Foley Bulb induction, commonly known as the “Balloon Method”, where a Foley catheter is inserted into the cervix and is inflated, with sterilised water or air, over a period of time to help the cervix dilate for birth.

The nurses monitored her during the process by checking her dilation using their fingers. “It felt awful,” Jess recalls. “There’d be no warning. Just enter the room, stick their fingers in and would be disappointed because I wasn’t dilating fast enough. They weren’t reassuring me so it would just make me feel anxious.”

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

Eventually, the doctor arrived to examine her.

“He was really quite abrupt and rude. He basically told me that I had a disease (referencing her pre-eclampsia). I’m a new mum and it’s not really something that I want to hear. He just said I have a disease and we have to get this baby out.”

Jess says at one point she coughed to clear her throat, and the doctor immediately pulled the nurse aside and whispered, “she should have a mask on”.

“It was horrible to hear that. I felt so excluded and was already feeling disgusting from when the doctor called me diseased earlier.”

Jess can’t help but think how her experience may have differed if she wasn’t giving birth during these unprecedented times.

Jess rarely saw the doctor after this. Any interactions from the medical staff were limited until she was ready to deliver. After a day of the Balloon, she had only dilated one centimetre and needed to try another method.

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

 

Jess speaks highly of her head midwife, Jenny, throughout this process saying, “She was out of this world amazing, overall an experience from having that doctor, she made it so much better.”

She was then induced through the use of Oxytocin, which is a synthetic hormone that is administered through a drip in the arm to start the contractions.

Jess describes these contractions to be the most painful thing she’s ever experienced before.

 

“Immediately I felt anxious. I felt really depressed. They basically said to me that I needed to try, because at this point, I was feeling deflated and wanted to have a C-section.”

A few hours after starting the Oxytocin, Jess felt a sharp pain to the right of her stomach and had the urge to go to the toilet. The head midwife checked her and told her that she was three centimetres dilated. Jess immediately asked for an epidural, which was a 15-minute wait. During that time, Jess says she dilated 10 centimetres and was ready to deliver.

Jess went into shock and was crying through “the worst pain of her life”.

“Throughout the pushing process, I didn’t opt for any gas or pain relief because I was in such shock. It was a traumatic experience for me with everything that was going on and the treatment of the staff with Covid-19. It was frightening.”

Jess finally gave birth to her beautiful girl, Isla. Fortunately, she had her partner with her through this process.

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

“No one else was allowed to visit me in the hospital and my partner was only allowed during a small time-frame in the day, so during the inducing process and after giving birth, I didn’t have support from my family to get me through this. I just wanted my mum there.”

Hours after Jess gave birth, the nurses continued to monitor her bleeding through a weighing process to ensure there weren’t any further complications. Jess explains being “on a high with adrenaline” throughout this and wasn’t paying attention to the rising concern from the nurses as she surpassed a litre of blood.

After 20 minutes from her last check-up, Jess had sat up and explained the sensation of her “water breaking”. Jess lost 1.8 litres of blood and the head midwife called the surgeon. She recalled nurses accidentally dropping blood on the ground and described her room to be a “murder scene”.

During emergency surgery, Jess says they put a plastic box over her head. “It made me feel really small. The surgeon felt bad about it and was trying to reassure me that it was just protocol with Covid-19.”

After this, Jess was relatively okay. She had spent the last remaining hours after surgery with her partner and her new baby girl, but at 5 AM, her partner was told to leave.

“My partner was annoyed but I was still running on adrenaline, so I was less upset. I was happy and messaging my family about the good news and it was just one of those situations where ‘it is what it is’.”

Credit: Jess Bowen

When Jess was finally able to go home, Victoria’s first round of lockdown’s was in full effect and she spent her first weeks as a mother trapped in her home alone with her partner. Jess was suffering from the baby blues and wasn’t able to lean on her family for help.

“It felt like everything I was doing was wrong. I was barely sleeping, could barely walk because of the blood loss. I just didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t a single day during the six-week lockdown where I didn’t cry.”

Jess speaks about the importance of seeking help. The moment lockdown ended, she went to her psychiatrist and was put on anti-depressant medication.

“No one ever warns you about the way you feel after you give birth. I felt like it was unusual to be experiencing this level of sadness and anxiety when I have the most perfectly healthy baby girl who was gaining weight. Everyone else seemed so happy after their birth that it was hard not to compare myself to them.”

Isla is now five months old and Jess is feeling tremendously better. The lockdown had lifted so that gave her time to introduce her new baby to her family and friends.

“The medication is really helping. I’m starting to feel like myself again and my partner is seeing the improvements too.”

Even though Melbourne has gone back into lockdown again, she’s sad that her family don’t get to see Isla during some significant milestones, she feels much more prepared and stable to tackle what comes next.

Gender reveal videos are the latest social media craze for expectant parents looking for a fun way to disclose the gender of their baby-to-be. However, an increasing number of couples, including many celebrities, are opting to forgo this trend in order to raise their children gender neutrally.

In 2019, the leading children’s entertainment company, <a href=”https://news.mattel.com/news/mattel-launches-gender-inclusive-doll-line-inviting-all-kids-to-play”>Mattel</a>, launched ‘The Creative World’ doll range, enabling children to choose from a range of skin tones, hairstyles, clothes and styling options.

“Toys are a reflection of culture and as the world continues to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity, we felt it was time to create a doll line free of labels,” says <a href=”http://www.barbiemedia.com/bios/executive.html”>Kim Culmone, Senior Vice President of Mattel Fashion Doll Design.</a>

Is now the time to embrace the progressive initiative of gender-neutral parenting?

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>So, what does ‘gender-neutral’ actually mean?</em></strong></span>

The term ‘gender neutral’ relates to avoiding the assignment of roles and expectations based on someone’s gender.

The goal is to move away from stereotypical assumptions and encourage increased creativity and freedom for individuals to choose who they want to be.

Many feel growing up in a gender-neutral environment increases one’s tolerance of others.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>Why should we encourage gender-neutral parenting?</em></strong></span>

Encouraging boys to only play with trucks when they really want to play with dolls, for example, conveys a message that their true desires are not valid. Growing up in an environment where a child feels they need to hide their true self could lead to problems later in life as the child faces an ongoing internal emotional battle.

Many feel growing up in a gender-neutral environment increases one’s tolerance of others.An understanding that people can choose how to dress and which sports they enjoy, regardless of gender, can mean they meet  with acceptance rather than judgement.

Some argue that a lack of diversity in the workplace begins in childhood when gender is often assigned to certain hobbies and interests – girls dressing up as nurses and a boy dressing up as a builder, for example – conveying a message these jobs are gender specific. Increased exposure to the possibility of male nurses and female builders could enhance a child’s freedom when choosing a career.

The way in which we respond to our children when they are scared or upset can reinforce gender stereotypes<em>. </em>When boys cry, some parents feel they need to show less compassion to encourage resilience, whereas girls are often shown more affection. Perhaps if we removed these gender specific responses, we may encourage our sons to grow up unafraid of expressing emotions.

Supporting children to express themselves authentically and make choices based on what feels good to them could help nurture increased creativity and strong self esteem.

Some argue that a lack of diversity in the workplace begins in childhood when gender is often assigned to certain hobbies and interests.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>How can we create a gender-neutral environment?</em></strong></span>

For many, creating a gender-neutral environment means no longer buying blue for boys and pink for girls and choosing colours and images that do not enforce a particular gender stereotype.

It may mean ensuring household chores are gender-neutral, encouraging children to learn it is not just their mother who cooks the meals and it is not just their father who takes the rubbish out.

We could encourage children to play with all kinds of toys, have various hobbies, play a variety of sports and read an assortment of books. Enabling children to see that girls also play football, boys can practice ballet, girls play with trucks and boys play with dolls, for example, helps children develop a mixture of interests and skills.

For some, raising children in a gender neutral environment can take a more extreme approach. In 2010, a Swedish couple opted to keep the sex of their baby, ‘Pop,’ a secret to discourage stereotypes being placed on their child. Many are following this example and choosing to not use the pronouns ‘him’ or ‘her’ at home, opting for ‘they’, which is deemed more gender inclusive.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>Could gender-neutral parenting cause harm?</em></strong></span>

<a href=”http://lindablair.co.uk/?LMCL=uvrFql”>Clinical Psychologist, Linda Blair</a>, feels parents may be doing a disservice to their children. Linda argues that ‘between the ages of three and seven, children are searching for their identity, a part of which, is their gender.’ Children want to feel a sense of belonging and ‘fitting in’. Avoiding the assignment of a gender may make a child feel confused about who they are and where they fit in a society where gender roles remain prominent.

There is a concern that once a child starts school, their gender-neutrality may open them up to ridicule and bullying. Most children grow up in traditional households where gender is assigned at birth, which could make school years incredibly difficult for those who do not identify with a specific gender.

Many worry that children will grow up without a strong sense of their own identity and will never truly feel they belong. This may impact on their emotional wellbeing as they grow into adulthood.

The way in which we respond to our children when they are scared or upset can reinforce gender stereotypes.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>What does the future hold?</em></strong><em> </em></span>

Many feel it will not be long before gender-neutral education systems are introduced. A preschool in <a href=”https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14038419″>Sweden</a> has taken the lead on this, being the first of its kind to create a gender neutral environment, offering a variety of gender inclusive books, toys and sports; the use of pronouns that assign gender is also not allowed, opting instead for the term ‘friends’, ‘they’ or the genderless pronoun ‘hen.’

While some feel raising children in a gender-neutral environment will support their emotional wellbeing, others still worry it will create a childhood of confusion. When one of the largest doll making companies in the world introduces a more inclusive doll range, it is reflective of our ever evolving society in which gender identities are becoming more fluid.

Castelmaine Steiner School is located in Muckleford, VIC and offers education from kindergarten to class 8 and is growing fast.

Commencing as a Kindergarten in 1988 in the home of one of its students, The Castlemaine Steiner School & Kindergarten is now a thriving school of approximately 230 students. In 1995, the school moved to its current location, which at the time was 18 acres of flattened sheep grazing land. Today the site is a stunning sanctuary of indigenous flora and fauna, featuring a bush tucker island, beautiful walking tracks and is home to diverse birdlife. Situated approximately 7 mins drive from Castlemaine, the school has transformed itself with biodynamic practices and permaculture design.

“Steiner education is recognised internationally as a valuable approach to helping young people develop flexible, agile thinking, alongside an ability to collaborate and thrive in a 21st Century world,” said Principal, Brian Dodd.

The school offers programs from Playgroup to Class 8, following which, students can then transfer to the local Steiner Stream at Castlemaine Secondary College for Years 9 & 10. Many families begin learning about Steiner education and philosophy by joining the Playgroup program. It is a much-loved weekly 2-hour session for children aged birth to 4 years. It includes activities such as scone baking, outdoor & indoor play, crafts, and circle time for singing & storytelling.

The Early Childhood program continues into Kindergarten & Prep, where foundations are laid for later learning and healthy development, including life-long physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth. They believe an atmosphere of loving warmth and guidance provides the optimal environment for healthy development, and that educators have a vital role in modelling and scaffolding a child’s natural urge to explore and experiment. Young children are given time to play, enjoy childhood and build strong foundations skills before formal academic learning begins.

Acknowledging the Traditional Owners of this country, the school has strong connections to the local Dja Dja Wurrung people. Their culture and story is meaningfully woven throughout the curriculum and Outdoor Education program. The Outdoor Education program is designed to develop the student’s understanding of their place in the natural world, through immersion in it. As children develop their sense of adventure confidence develops, connectedness with the environment and a sense of stewardship toward the natural world.

Music is incorporated through all levels of the school, with formal tuition commencing with a stringed instrument in Class 3. Music tuition is compulsory and continues through to Class 8, with students encouraged by opportunities to play in ensemble groups and learn multiple instruments. The benefits of music are well documented and the school utilises music as further way to develop social learning, fine and gross motor skills, and build on maths concepts.

A new Scholarships program provides a limited number of partly or fully subsidised places for students who meet eligibility criteria, and is open to entry at any year level.  The school is committed to creating a socially inclusive and diverse community and via this new Scholarship program, is pleased to continue promoting and encouraging the benefits of Steiner Education across the region. Principal Brian Dodd says “We want to ensure that that the benefits of this schooling option are more broadly available to children in our regional community. This year we also introduced a 25% fee discount for families with a Health Care Card, and have for many years offered sibling discounts, fee assistance and bursaries to reduce financial barriers to enrolling in the school.”

The school welcomes visitors each week for tours with the Principal and offers free trial sessions within its Playgroup program to anyone interested in witnessing the benefits of Steiner education. Contact the Enrolments Officer, Tracey Robertson on 5479 2000 or Traceyr@cssk.vic.edu.au for further information.

“Those that teach Reading for Sure are rewarded everyday with smiles from students as these students learn that reading and writing well is possible for them.”

Literacy is a fundamental skill that everyone needs in order to access education, work and the community. With modern digital devices being able to read and write is now even more vital, not less as was once thought when computers first arrived.

Literacy is not an intuitive action, unlike walking and talking; it is a human construct that requires the building of new connections in the brain.

There are a variety of reasons why someone does not develop good literacy skills. The most commonly recognised cause of delayed or poor literacy skills is Dyslexia. Other learning difficulties also impact, and these include dysgraphia, dyspraxia, hearing issues, ADHD, Autism, Global Learning delay, short, and long term, memory problems etc.

A lack of good early play and language experiences impact on a child’s ability to cope with literacy, concentrate, sit at a desk and to write.

How a person is taught to read is slowly being recognised as significantly impacting on a person’s literacy development or lack thereof. Like all learning one size does not fit all.

Scientific studies tell us that the best literacy programs will develop a student’s ability to sound out and sound blend a word, ensure the student understands the meaning of all the individual words and derive meaning and information from the sentences formed from these words.

Learning to spell, read and understand words allows us all to communicate with others and to enjoy the wonderful stories and information available in books and other forms of text.

Learning to read and write English does not come easily for everybody as it involves many complex interactions in the brain. When foundation skills are missed it can cause significant difficulties later.

Students struggling with reading become anxious and can turn away from literacy and education as a result.  A student who struggles with literacy often begins to feel that they are dumb because they can’t read. Nothing is further from the truth. Many people with exceptional IQs have struggled with literacy. Unfortunately, without correct instruction to help their brain develop the pathways needed to work with the written word these individuals may not develop their true potential.

With an understanding of how the brain develops and learns to decipher the written word the Reading For Sure program was developed to quickly help the learner build the foundation skills and brain pathways needed for literacy. The Reading for Sure program uses unique teaching tools to continue to develop these skills so that the learner can achieve in all areas of English Literacy.

Our recent study of 180 students, with a broad range of difficulties impacting their literacy acquisition, showed excellent improvement for every hour of tuition. The 180 students included students that were not learning via standard teaching methods, dyslexia, English as a second language etc. and started tuition at ages ranging from 5 to 20 years old. The students were taught by one of four Reading For Sure teachers.

The data showed that not only did every child improve their literacy, but that on average for every hour spent with one of our teachers, the students improved 1.6 months in their reading age. The data for the spelling was not complete for all the 180 students but, using the data available, the average gain in spelling was 0.4 of a month improvement for each hour of tuition.

Within just a few lessons parents and students see the difference. The student’s confidence blossoms, and they begin to enjoy the reading and learning process once more. This reading gain also quickly equates to better outcomes in their education environment. Literacy is the core skill needed for all subjects and students enjoy school so much more when they are not struggling with their literacy.

“Finding the Reading for sure method was a relief. To discover a method that works and makes sense to my dyslexic daughter, has not only greatly improved her reading, it has given her confidence and a sense achievement” says Mrs. Clements.

With the correct program and teaching methods no person young or old needs to struggle with literacy.

Those that teach Reading for Sure are rewarded everyday with smiles from students as these students learn that reading and writing well is possible for them.

Visit the Reading for Sure website and see our new blog series about how parents can help their young children develop the pre literacy skills they need to be able to learn all the literacy skills when they go to school. This free blog series will give parents hints and ideas about the activities that help the brain and body develop ready for literacy and learning and what to look out for if things may not be developing as they should.

Reading For Sure is an Australian program with its office in Perth. www.readingforsure.com.au

Parents start to become anxious if their children do not conform to social norms because parents instinctively know that a child’s social survival is very important.

We might be ‘buying’ security for a child by getting the latest and trendiest object available, from designer labels to smartphones, in order to keep them within their social grouping. Then we start to abide by trends — we’re taught, and have it impressed upon us, that our children must have enough exercise, they must not watch too much TV, we must spend time with them, we must not let them eat the wrong thing, we must not let them watch the wrong thing, we must watch for health alerts and so on. Some of these demands are real in certain measure, but are they the real goals of parenting a child or are they just small stops on the way to something much bigger?

My conclusion is that they are secondary goals and that we are not paying enough attention to the primary goals of childhood. The outcome is that parents are very anxious about getting their child the ‘right thing’ rather than attending to the ‘right state of mind’. Are you the kind of parent who gets everything for your child and yet feels dismayed when they still do not appear to be happy? What truly makes children feel secure from the inside out? Once you have that information you can decide for yourself where you think your parenting might need to develop or where you might need to get help if necessary. You will, of course, continue to help your child conform to social norms and trends, but you will do this from a more secure position knowing that you have attended to the real priorities. You will have more choice about the other things and so will your children.

Psychological security

 

The thing that children want to feel most in life is that their parents feel secure and safe when they are with them and that this feeling then transfers to them. This is called a ‘felt sense’ and is also known as psychological security. With a felt sense of security, a child will have a pervasive feeling that their world is going to be held together and managed, in a fashion that keeps them safe and well, and that they can get on with the task of exploring life and relationships. This is what your children really want from you. So many of the children I have met in mental health services are mildly to moderately troubled because they feel they have had no psychological anchor onto which they can hold during their episode of difficulty.

The psychological capabilities of children who live with a felt sense of security might include the following:

They will feel that the world is a good enough place to be

 

Children show us that they feel safe when they can explore their environment and get on with learning. This overriding sense that it’s good to be alive is the richest of human resources, and it is a great achievement if we can raise children who wake each morning with the felt sense that today will be a great day because there are people on whom they can rely.

Children show us that they feel safe when they can explore their environment and get on with learning.

They will be able to distinguish positive from negative

 

Children who have a felt sense of security will feel safe enough to comment on their world and evaluate it in a realistic way. They will be able to evaluate their parents’ state of mind as well as comment on their own, and will be able to say things like ‘My dad’s not very good at mending the car so he couldn’t fix it and we were late for school’, and express frustration and disappointment about this. At the same time, the same child would be able to look at what their father gets right — ‘He helps me with my homework.’ They will be able to comment, ‘Mum is a bit upset today; that makes me feel sad too, but she says she will feel better soon.’

This kind of emotional literacy relating to good and bad gives a child a way to describe their experience and help others understand them. The child feels that their conversation is worthy of attention and they will bother to make a narrative about life because life is full of good and bad things that are interesting.

Children being emotional is to be expected and respected.

They will label and express emotions

 

Essentially, our emotions help us to understand where we are inside ourselves and there are plenty of reasons why we should not ignore these communications. Children being emotional is to be expected and respected, and is worthy of our attention. A child being emotional is as natural as a puppy biting your hand, because that is instinctive — the puppy is not being naughty, it is just behaving instinctively.

They will feel accepted

 

A sense of acceptance is big currency in life. A sense of acceptance and belonging in our primary family of care (or adopted or substitute family or care group) is the deepest gift on offer in this lifetime and nothing can replace the sense of wellbeing or contentment that this will give to children.

They will have a coherent self

 

Coherence is an important word when we are thinking about the care of children. You don’t have to be perfect as a parent, but you do have to try to be as coherent and as organised, functional and meaningful in your behaviours as you can be. The more children have the sense that their small emerging mind and self has the support and attention they need, the more they will enjoy being alive with an inherent sense that all chaos can be restored.

They will be alert to information about relationships

 

Secure children feel a sense of conviction that it matters to notice others and what they might be thinking, and, like anything to which we give our attention, the more we give our focus to it the more we are likely to become an expert at it. The more adept we are at reading social cues through reading people’s faces and body language, the more we are likely to get social cues correct and respond in the right way.

They will be angry and frustrated at times but will be able to manage this and rely on you

 

If you are available to deal with your child’s issues as they arise, it is highly likely that by the time they are adults they will have absorbed the tendency to deal with issues more effectively, having received all of your help.

They will be angry and frustrated at times.

In conclusion

 

Children are primed and programmed to demand more and more from us and you might need help to identify the organic needs of the child that must be met if they are to feel secure from the inside. It is safe to say no to a child if they ask for the latest thing that they feel they need, but it is not safe to take your eye off their need for you to protect them and prioritise their care. As we have seen, secure kids express emotions, talk about negative as well as positive experiences and feel they have the right to comment on their lives. They will have problems and they will bring you those problems if they are secure. There is no way out of having problems in life when you are a child. Your real hope lies in a thoughtful parent who is sensitive to what is worrying you, who takes your issues seriously and realises that what you really need is them and their mind working for you.

Finally

 

» What your child really needs is you and your attention. There is nothing on this planet you can buy that will replace that.

» Emotions are beautiful aspects of our humanity that keep us informed about the state of our children and ourselves.

» If you put effort into anything, put it into helping your child feel loved, safe and accepted.

» Help your child resolve negative emotions. It is a fantastic way to care for their mental health and make them feel secure. It could be said to be the first building block of good mental health.

» Take note of how important the quality of the relationship is with your child. This is demonstrated by being there for them to deal with the small issues they face on a daily basis.