Narrator [00:00:02] Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast.
Drew Radford [00:00:06] This podcast is part of a series called Supporting Children Through Drought.
G’day, I’m Drew Radford. In this episode, we focus on looking out for changes in your child’s behaviour, as this can indicate they need support. In times of stress, children can respond in different ways. While most have a natural resilience, a minority of children will find the impacts of drought more difficult to deal with. To explore this in detail, we’ll speak with mental health professionals and importantly, to parents who live in remote locations about their own experiences. One of whom is Amanda. She’s from a station in the North West Pastoral District where they hadn’t had any decent rain for the last five years. But recently, all that changed and so did the behaviour of her children.
Amanda [00:00:59] I guess the last five years they’ve done a lot of water runs. They’ve helped pull bog sheep out of dams. They’re with us every day, so they see it. So it’s sort of a normal thing for them. But the rain we got back in February where we got 70 mil, they were just ecstatic. To them, it was brand new, it was fresh, and they played in the water all day.
Drew Radford [00:01:21] Did you see that translate in a change of behaviour for a while afterwards?
Amanda [00:01:25] Ah totally. We couldn’t get to town till Wednesday because our roads were pretty destroyed. And so until we could get the loader down there to clear out the creek ways, we got the rain Friday night and they didn’t get to school till Wednesday. So those days home, they just spent the whole time playing in the water. The school rang up and said, do you want us to e-mail through homework? And I said, nope, because I haven’t seen them all day. Don’t bother. They’re having fun.
Drew Radford [00:01:48] You’ve got a big smile on his face.
Amanda [00:01:49] Yeah it was good. There’s lots of washing, but we’ve got water now. So that didn’t matter.
Drew Radford [00:01:56] Amanda describes so well that euphoria of seeing rain after years and years of literally being dry adds. But that response, though, is going to be different for all age groups of children right down to infants. To find out more, I’m joined in the Emerging Mind studio by psychologist Dr Andrea Baldwin. Andrea, thank you for your time. I imagine infants and young children respond in different ways. What are some of the things a parent needs to keep a look out for children of those age groups?
Dr Andrea Baldwin [00:02:27] Drew, that a lovely story that Amanda told about her children’s response to the rain. And in the same way, during the drought time before the rain came, young children, they would communicate their emotions through their behaviour. So usually when there’s a stressful event that happens and we’re wondering how are the little ones travelling? How they’re coping with this? We try to notice what might be different about the child’s behaviour before the stressful event. And after, but it’s harder with drought because drought goes on so long, we’re expecting children to change and develop over that time. So the kinds of questions we might ask are do they seem like themselves? Do they seem happy? Are they enjoying activities and interacting with the family? Are they hitting their developmental milestones? So they’re growing up the way we would expect them to for their age. So babies might show distress by fussing over feeding, by being hard to sue those settle. Toddlers or pre-schoolers a little bit older, they might regress, will start to go backwards in skills they’ve previously mastered, like toileting or language. They might start having nightmares or trouble sleeping. As we said, every child is different. So while one might become quieter and more withdrawn or less interactive, you might find another one seems more sensitive or gets upset more easily, they might be teary or wingy. Some children react to stress by becoming anxious, by being tense or maybe expressing worries. But a really common sign of stress in toddlers and pre-schoolers is actually becoming more irritable or angry and having more tantrums. We think that’s about feeling that they can’t control the world and trying to have control over something which is their own behaviour.
[00:04:00] So the problem is stress can also affect our ability as parents to see clearly what the child is telling us through their behaviour and respond in a positive way. Their behaviour might seem unreasonable because it’s about feelings, it’s not about reason. Young children don’t have the ability to control their emotions, to think things through rationally, but they learn those skills over time, with your support. So it’s quite a challenge for us because it can be hard to stay calm and patient. If your child’s behaviour is upsetting, so we might feel angry or have the impulse to seize control in a way that might be harsh or frightening for the child. And then the other risk is if we’re feeling tired or stressed ourselves, we might just kind of give up and let them do what they like. Both of those reactions are understandable, but we don’t want the short-term situation setting up long-term problems. So we often say it takes a village to raise a child. If you’re living remotely, your village might have to be over the phone or online, it might not always be in person. And sometimes for whatever reason, we can’t talk to our own parents or the parents. We know about the challenges of raising young children through difficult times. But there are other people who can be part of the village. So people in health services, early childhood services, there’s help lines, there’s counselling services. There are a lot of people around. Who could help you understand more about what your child is saying through their behaviour and help you respond in positive ways.
Drew Radford [00:05:20] Andrea, some great perspectives in there and thank you for joining me in the Emerging Minds studio.
Drew Radford [00:05:28] As children grow up, behaviours evolve, which generally keeps parents constantly on their toes. It’s something Jane, who is from a station on Eastern Eyre Peninsula, recently spoke with me about you.
Jane [00:05:41] Look, you do. And that’s probably why you always try to ensure that they’re finding something that they can do that makes them happy and relax and not be constantly thinking about the drought. Because you do sometimes say that they’re worried about things more or just sometimes in their behaviour, probably when they are younger, you know, they might have a few more outbursts or something like that, you know, being under that extra pressure, whereas now being that bit older, they can talk things through a lot better. So, yes, certainly I’ve had to be and my husband I’ve had to be aware of those things. And if we see that to communicate and do with it as such and not just break it down, try and get to the bottom of why they’re acting in a way. And sometimes I don’t want it really want to share that. So, I mean, I. And so you do it with whatever way works, you know, a lot with a distraction or if they’re willing to share and talk. It’s often a bit of a trial and error process. I’m afraid that’s part of the fun of parenting, I suppose, no matter where you are.
Drew Radford [00:06:48] Thank you, Jane. The trial and error process, that’s a comment that I think most can relate to. To further discuss looking for changes in behaviour. I’m joined in the Emerging Mind studio by psychologist John Dean. John, this can’t always be an easy thing to do as children grow up and change.
John Dean [00:07:09] Well, I think, first of all, it’s worth saying that for any of us, if if there’s something going on in our family that’s a stress to everybody, including the kids, we can be a bit inclined to let go of things like routines and rules, etcetera. Whereas, in fact, they’re just the times when we need those things. And so we need to make sure there’s routines and the kids are aware of what those routines are. And we need to have boundaries, rules that the kids know about and know what the consequences for going outside of those might be. We need to. And kids on farms grow up with responsibilities, which is great. You know, they’re given chores like collecting the eggs, feeding the dogs, those sorts of things. And they’re all really important things to help kids manage day to day when things perhaps are not going as well as they could be. But change is the key here has Jane has mentioned. Mention change in behaviour can be a sign that things are not going so well. So it starts there, really. And that’s what you might start with. I’ve noticed that just over the last little while you’ve looked more angry, you been sad. And, you know, I’m worried about that. Are you okay? And if you’ve created that nice, safe space for them to have, aren’t you? They’ll let you know that you’re on the wrong track if you are. But you shouldn’t really stop it. The first response dig a bit deeper. Are you really okay? Are you really going? Okay, let them talk about what’s happened and what they’re concerned about. You might have to help them find words for their feelings, perhaps. And then help them decide on ways of solving their problems and, you know, show them support in putting some plans into place, and approaching those problems and be there to talk about how that goes. With older kids, you know, there’s this real difficult thing that we go through as parents, sort of moving from being a parent as such with younger kids to being something a little bit different with their adolescence, older kids. More like a mentor I suppose, and just being there to hear when things go wrong and offering that, ‘well, that might have been a bit of a dumb thing to do at a time. What could you do differently?’ So it’s a different sort of relationship and making that change to that different sort of relationship can be a bit hard to do. And sometimes some parents make that move easier than others, and if their parents in the same household that can be difficult, if one’s working one way and the other’s working a different way. So bringing those things together. So sometimes it might be actually not being afraid to let someone else engage with a young person as having a bit of trouble. They say that a most important person to a young adolescent growing up is their best friend’s mum. So trusting a parent of a close friend of your child might be the one that they might engage with, and might feed back to you some of the issues that might be going on for them.
Drew Radford [00:10:38] Thanks, John. There’s some great advice in there. I particularly like the importance of keeping structure in both good and bad times. And I imagine that helps a lot in terms of spotting changes in normal behaviour. We’re going to hear now from Belinda, who’s from a station in the Flinders Ranges about some of the techniques she uses to get her children to talk when she suspects that things perhaps aren’t going quite so well for them.
Belinda [00:11:04] For us and with our kids, we’ve got three children are raised in the same home and have the same parenting, but obviously none of them are the same. No all have you know, they cope with things differently. We keep an eye out for anything that is out of normal. One will go quiet, the other gets beat grumpy. And and so we try to just distract them or just sit and talk with them. I pride myself on the ability to be able to see and talk. Even, you know, my almost 18-year-old, I feel like we’re pretty open with each other and our communication. So I believe that’s how we built in them from a younger age. So obviously, our youngest daughter being 12, that’s I think now that it’s important to build those skills when they’re young and when they’re little bit more open, I suppose when they’re younger, they’re a bit more open. A good trick for us is a car ride. So if there’s just the two of you in the car, I think that tends to be they kind of feel like we have no choice but to talk to you. They can’t resign themselves to their room or they can’t, even though there might be sort of half focus on their telephone or whatever’s happening on their social channels. I think being cooped up in a car with their parents sometimes enables them to feel like they’re safe enough to talk to you.
Drew Radford [00:12:18] Thanks, Belinda. I really like the car strategy. Obviously, in the car you can’t run away. But I guess it’s also something about not being directly in front of the other person and not having to maintain eye contact. John, I suppose it allows for a different sort of conversation.
John Dean [00:12:35] Yeah, it’s funny isn’t it Drew, how kids seem to talk to you in a car? What it is they don’t feel so set upon, they feel a bit freer to share. I can remember, you know, some of the best chats I had with my dad growing up were actually out doing some fencing because we were focussed on digging a post or something, which didn’t take a whole lot of thought. But you had to focus on and concentrate on and have a conversation while it was going on. I guess Belinda is spot on in that all kids are different. They’re born with different temperaments and they’ll respond in different ways, you know, depending on their ages. But because they have different temperaments, we have different relationships with them. And she’s quite right that over the years your relationship develops and that can have a really big impact on how well you’re able to sort of respond to the issues that might come up with them. But being able to sort of sit and talk with your child is something really special. But it’s something that we struggle with at times. And all kids get upset at times, emotions. You know, we all have emotions and they’re all okay. And sometimes they need to calm down first before they can have a conversation with us, and we need to help them with ways of calming down. No matter what their age is, really, they can show their feelings through anger and anxiety and so forth.
[00:14:04] And sometimes there are larger feelings that are underlying. Things like, you know, your teenager might sort of swear at you and use some pretty colourful language. And that might not be the usual thing. But you might have noticed that over the last few weeks he’s been getting angrier and angrier. That’s an opportunity. That’s a time that you can say, ‘Look mate, I don’t appreciate you swearing at me. But I noticed you’ve been getting angrier and angrier. So maybe you’d like to tell me what is going on, you know, are you okay? And is there something that I can help you with?’ But that’s an important place to to start. And then the thing is to listen, because, you know, we can’t always fix it straight away or at all, for that matter. But at least if we listen, that young person will feel like we’re in there with them and trying to help. And with teenagers could be about peer relationships. It could be about peer pressure to be doing things that they’re not comfortable doing, could be even around sexuality. Yeah, all the sorts of things that teenagers might face up to. But it could also be about a drought, but it may be not about the drought at all. So its best ask and then to listen. And yeah, I really agree that the car is not a bad place to do that some time. Because they tend to talk in those sorts of situations where they don’t have to be necessarily focussing directly on you.
Drew Radford [00:15:39] John, some fantastic insights there. Thank you for those and for your time as we delved into looking out for changes in your child’s behaviour.
[00:15:49] Thank you Drew. It was great to have the opportunity to respond to what Belinda was saying.
Narrator [00:15:59] If this podcast brings up any difficult emotions for you, please reach out to someone you can talk to or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Beyondblue support service on 1300 22 4636 at any time.
Drew Radford [00:16:18] Thank you for joining us for our Supporting Children Through Drought podcast series, this podcast series has been made possible by funding from country South Australia Primary Health Network, ending collaboration with parents from Isolated Children’s Parents Association SA Branch, Remote Isolated Children’s Exercise, Queensland Centre for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health in Children’s Health, Queensland Hospital and Health Service and School Link and Got It Programmes and New South Wales Health Murrumbidgee Local Health District.
Narrator [00:16:58] Brought to you by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, led by Emerging Minds, the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Programme. Visit our website at www.emergingminds.com.au