Anxiety, anger and trepidation are all common feelings your children might face when going back to school. Here are some tips to help ease them back into the school routines.
Amidst lockdowns, work from home and isolation requirements the last two school years have been nothing but linear. With a new year emerging from the hopeful end of the tumultuous pandemic brings new precautions, routines and expectations for what school might look like. There are some things you can do to prepare for onsite learning and remember you have been ‘back to school’ before.
Talk to your child about what is happening and set goals
Open conversations will be important, as your children will probably have a lot of questions about the new procedures their school has in place, or why some of their friends or teachers are away. It might be difficult to get your children to like school again after the flexibility of at home learning. Set goals with them they can achieve over the school year, such as packing their bag each day, learning to tie their shoes or to get their pen licence.
Schedule normal family time as something to look forward to for after school. Ask them what they are excited for and what they have missed, whether this is school choir or playing in the playground.
Be ready for a range of emotions
You might need to prepare for school refusal, your child being extremely upset about going back to school and not wanting to attend classes. Every child will be different, so assess the needs of yours individually.
It is normal for your child to come home from their first day back at school feeling overwhelmed, anxious or even disappointed that school feels different. It could be that their best friend hasn’t come back to school, or that their friendship groups have changed over the break. Talk candidly about friendships and how they evolve over time.
Use a planner and establish routines
Learning from home meant children could work at their own pace, so they might face fatigue and stress upon going back to a full school day. Start now by setting up playdates so that your child will be more prepared for a full classroom setting and the noises and sensory overload that comes with a busy playground.
There is no need to rush back into everything, and it may be hard to see great progress immediately. Ease your child back into extracurricular activities or seeing their friends outside of the classroom. Use lunchboxes for daytime meals at home, and go over drop-off and pick-up routines. Rehearse a normal school day in the week before its return to re-establish familiarity. Do the school shopping together and get a new item such as coloured pens to get your children excited about going back to school.
Reassure your child it is safe, and believe this yourself
Where you can, give your child stability in processes that you can control. This may be getting them in great hand-washing, mask and sanitisation routines or teaching them about air purification devices that may be present in the classroom to stop the spread of infectious particles.
Assure your child that decisions will be made if it were unsafe to go back to school, and acknowledge that their range of emotions such as excitement, relief, worry, anger and disappointment are all normal. Reinforce good hygiene practices – consider singing their favourite team song when washing their hands.
Reach out for support when necessary
Communication with teachers will be crucial to understand how your child is coping coming back into the classroom. After a hands-on home-schooling experience, your child might require more 1:1 support moving forward. Talk to your children about what they are learning, and engage with their curriculum to assist when you can. Parental stress might also be an issue, with fears of the changes to school and work life that come with challenging times.
Children tend to be more prone to some illnesses than adults because their bodies are still growing and adapting to their environment. Here are some common illnesses experienced by children in Australia, and their symptoms.
Allergies are experienced when a child’s immune system reacts to its environment; a foreign substance that does not cause a reaction in the rest of the population enters the body which leads to allergy symptoms. Common allergies include a reaction to peanuts, pollen, bee stings and pet hair.
Allergies are sustained because the immune system produces antibodies that mistake a particular substance as harmful even though it isn’t. The reactions can manifest themselves in inflammation of the skin, sinuses, airways and even the digestive system. Allergies range from mild to serious and can be caused byairborne allergens, certain foods or exposure to chemicals or insects.
Medical assessment is available to children to ascertain what they are allergic to and how best to treat symptoms. Antihistaminesare helpful to relieve allergies.
When asthmaoccurs, the muscles in the body’s airways begin to tighten and its lining becomes swollen and inflamed in turn producing mucus. This clogs up the airways causing them to become narrow commonly inhibiting a child’s ability to breathe, and leading to shortness of breath, wheezing and tightness in the chest. This can betriggered by a range of different things such as exercise, the weather, allergy triggers or the common cold.
Asthma is one of the most common diseases for which children visit a doctor – around 1 in every 10Australian children have asthma. While every child’s asthma is different, it can be managed and treated in a way which allows for a normal healthy life.
Children can get colds more often than adults, as often as once a month. A cold is a mild infection and can be managed easily. It is generally a seasonal virus caused by the spread of germs in the air through coughs and sneezes. Colds usually affect the nose and throat – symptomsinclude a runny nose, sore throat, head or muscles aches, coughs and sneezing and even a raised temperature.
Children can have multiple colds per year contracting more colds than adults because they do not yet have the same strength of immunity. There is no cure so management of symptoms in the child provides relief – painkillers, saline drops and maintaining fluids.
Gastro is not dangerous and does not necessitate use of medication, but it is important to manage a child’ssymptoms – keeping fluids up on the regular to avoid dehydration and eating food even if they don’t feel like it.
Lice cannot jump so spread usually occurs when children are in close contact – heads close together, sharing hats or using each other’s hairbrushes.
While lice do not carry any diseases, the itching sensation can be quite intense and bad cases can cause dermatitis, so they need to be removed; anti-lice products to kill the lice or wet-combing treatment to physically pull them out works.
Warts aresmall flesh-coloured growth, usually on the arms, hands and legs. They are just harmless skin growths. They can spreadto other children when there is skin to skin contact. Picking at a wart can cause more to pop up on the same child.
Half of all warts tend to disappear within two years. There is no need to treat them if they are not causing any problems, but there are ways to removethem if this is what is best for the individual child.
Over 45% of parentsfeel the effects of parental burnout. The crippling exhaustion, overwhelming stress, and the feeling that everything is just a bit too hard, is a shared experience with nearly half of all parents. Here is what you need to know about this common phenomenon – and the steps to take to feel like yourself again.
Many parents have come to realise that having children is exhausting… And even more exhausting when a pandemic, working from home and recurring lockdowns are thrown into the mix. The overwhelming feelings of stress and exhaustion associated with trying to juggle both life itself and the lives of their children too, can sometimes feel like a bit too much to handle. If you, as a parent, felt this too, don’t worry – you are definitely not alone.
It’s important to realise that these feelings are completely valid and parental burnout is more than just general tiredness or irritability. If left unmanaged, the all-consuming sensations of burnout can have significant consequences on not only parents’ mental health, but the sense of equilibrium within the family itself.
The first diagnoses of parental burnout dates back to 1983, but more extensive research was carried out in 2017, by Belgium researchers Dr Isabelle Roskam and Dr Moïra Mikolajczak – who really delved into the prevalence of parental burnout, especially in the 21st century.
They found that since previous studies, society has placed more pressure on families to raise high-performing, healthy and stable children – as well as a shift in gender norms – especially during COVID – which has generated an increase in more working mothers, and less who stay-at-home full time. These subtle changes can make the act of parenting more difficult and stressful and thus, emerges the patterns of parental burnout.
Beyond the initial feelings of exhaustion, parental burnout can also manifest in:
If these symptoms are left untreated for too long, the damage to parents’ mental health, hormones and relationships with both partners and children, can be significant. Research has found that parents who experience parental burnout, are likely to be more coercive or neglectful towards their children – despite the initial burnout often resulting from putting too much time and energy into your children and neglecting your own needs.
Other common factors that can lead to the development of parental burnout are:
For parents experiencing this level of burnout – despite how difficult it may seem – there are several ways that this burnout can be alleviated. Here are some common and scientifically proven ways that parental burnout can be reduced:
Establish a routine: by creating a set schedule within the family that allows time for everyone’s respective activities and obligations – as well as carving out time to be together as a family – parents can set boundaries between work and home and lessen the expectation to be doing everything at once.
Communicate your feelings: whether it is with a partner or a friend, telling someone how you are feeling is the first step to treating parental burnout. As this condition is often provoked by bottling up stress and exhaustion, the first way to fix this is to let someone know you need support.
Go to a support group: support groups for parents are a great way to feel like you’re not alone. By talking to other parents who may be sharing the same struggles, feelings of isolation that may be contributing to the burnout can be alleviated.
Exercise: it’s a well-known fact that moving your body releases endorphins and, for many, provides an outlet where you can release pent up stress. This doesn’t have to mean killing your body in the gym six days a week. If you are starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed, even a ten-minute walk or stretch can help release the feel-good hormones to make you feel more relaxed.
Consult a therapist: regardless of if you think you don’t need it – everyone can benefit in some way from talking to someone professional about your everyday problems, or perhaps past trauma that has led to burnout. There is no shame in getting help, and if you feel you need to talk to someone, a psychologist may be able to provide the informed guidance that you need.
The chance of developing parental burnout doesn’t go away as your kids grow up. As parents, it is likely that you will always put their needs above your own at points in time. But it is the acknowledgement that you are struggling, communication that you need help, and the seeking out of support that will help you on your journey to feel like yourself again.
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.
While many parents experience increasing judgement in a digital age, revered parenting expert Maggie Dent assures us that to be a good parent, being perfect is not possible and that mistakes are normal.
Maggie Dent’s newest book, Parental as Anything, an adaption of her popular ABC podcast, is a guide full of anecdotes, practical parenting advice and humour.
Maggie tells us that while there once was a time where parents could not see what everyone else was doing, today’s social media proliferation exacerbates constant comparing, despairing and fixation on the negatives, or what we as parents could be doing better.
Maggie is an author, educator and mother to four boys, but she stresses she was not perfect and “mucked up so many times”.
There will always be days while raising children where mistakes are made, or morale is low.
But Maggie says to “Look at what’s going well at the funny moments, the light moments, the loving moments, rather than focusing the lens on the things we wish we could do better.”
So how can we care for, nurture and still discipline our children in today’s age? Maggie emphasises being “the fun, the firm, the fair,” parent and that children are more likely to agree with parents who are kind and loving. If there is compassion and connection, in moments of discipline, children are increasingly capable of listening.
Maggie tells us that there is a difference between the disciplining of a Lamb and a Rooster.
Lambs have a tendency to be more sensitive or gentle and less likely to push against boundaries, while Roosters are outgoing with the need to be respected and seen as important, eager to argue or push against limits. Power struggles can occur particularly with the Roosters.
Maggie reminds us that patience is important when dealing with heated moments.
A child’s “Number one need is a safe base,” Maggie says.
She outlines that “Tuning in to how they are doing,” is vital. Watching them constantly and recognising their needs in certain situations.
There is a difference between a tantrum as against a meltdown, the former of which springs from an urge to assert a sense of self, and the latter a sensory overload. Tantrums come from outside stimuli (“No you can’t do/have that right now”) while a meltdown occurs when the nervous system has been over-flooded.
“Children are gradually growing in their capacity to manage their world,” Maggie says.
Kids can experience moments of self-struggle, but they will get better with self-regulation and emotional intelligence as they grow up and their pre-frontal lobe matures.
They are not naughty they are just “Not coping with their world right now,” Maggie says, emphasising that compassion and connection are essential.
Maggie addresses when parents wish they had approached certain things differently. She says that parents can always change the ways in which they connect with their children and can always rebuild attachment and love in a new way.
“It is never, ever too late,” she says.
“Every child is a one-off,” she emphasises. There is no exact guide for any one child, but as a parent it is still possible to be the one that knows them the best and aim to help them in their world in any way that they can.
Maggie addresses the dreaded topic of screen time.
She acknowledges that while complete denial is not helpful or realistic, in order to prepare children to live in the digital world; however, it is imperative that online behaviour and technology use are monitored.
“You need to be the pilot of the digital plane,” she says.
She encourages parents to take into account many factors such as:
Hand-held device use
Television viewing and consideration of acceptable advertisements
Rewards systems on video games that can foster gambling traits
Risk taking in real life while behaviour modelling
Video game characteristics entering into the impressionable classroom
Chores still needing to be completed
Outside play with peers in real life
Levels and when to finish
Technology can be used for education, entertainment or even recreational activity. A lot of time and energy will go into raising responsible and respectful digital citizens.
Maggie speaks about sexual education in childhood. She recommends speaking with children about sex and not just in one singular sitting. It should be a continual and constant conversation or ability to ask about this topic.
She underlines topics such as body ownership, permission to touch, basic private anatomy and consent should be discussed at home even before heading off to school. Maggie encourages parents to allow their children to ask questions or come to them if they see something that makes them uncomfortable.
Unwanted online dark or sexual content can be damaging and can set unrealistic standards. Plainly untrue and offensive myths are all over the internet about sex and it is important to be mindful of this as a parent.
“92% of what children learn is based on modelling,” Maggie says.
To finish, Maggie says that nurturing safe respectful and warm relationships at home and between family members is important while nevertheless acknowledging that conflict is normal and communication is key.
Watch the full exclusive interview with Maggie Dent below or on our YouTube channel.
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.
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.”
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 byCambridge 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)
Difficulty in social situations
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.
Michele Fry ofGreatschools.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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Educational consultant and parenting coach,Chrissy Khachane, suggests the following tips for creating positive sibling relationships:
Support cooperative play.
Teach each child to respect the differences between one another.
Talk through poor behaviour with each child to promote understanding in difficult situations.
Teach your children to resolve conflict.
Reinforce boundaries with private conversations.
Give each child individual attention away from his/her sibling.
Modelling healthy relationships by validating each child’s feelings from time to time.
Teach them the difference between tattling and seeking help.
Give each child their own physical space.
Teach your children to recognise and label their own emotions.
Family rituals and traditions are a great way to foster healthy sibling relationships.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.