Transcript for
Keep an open conversation – episode three

Runtime 00:14:40
Released 25/6/20

Narrator [00:00:02] Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast.

Drew Radford [00:00:07] This podcast is part of a series called Supporting Children Through Drought.

G’day, I’m Drew Radford. And in this episode, we’re focussing on keeping an open conversation so your children can come to you at any time, encouraging children to talk about their feelings will help them to understand their experiences. Sometimes children don’t have the words to describe their feelings. However, you can reassure them that their feelings are normal and that they will come and go. To explore this in detail, we’ll speak with mental health professionals and also importantly, parents from remote locations about their own experiences in keeping conversations open, one of whom is Amanda, from a station in the North West Pastoral District of South Australia.

Amanda [00:01:00] Well we are just pretty honest with the girls. Don’t see the point in hiding. It’s life. It has its cycles. We just told them it will rain again, and it did. And we’ll have drought again. I guess it’s a learning thing for us as my husband and I are taking over things, looking at ways to help improve the way we run around the property and yeah, like for girls to see that because, you know, opens their minds and. Yeah.

Drew Radford [00:01:23] Thanks, Amanda. It will rain again is a phrase often used in times of drought. Open conversations though, can be difficult to have with really young children or infants. To find out how to go about it, I’m joined in the Emerging Mind studio by Dr Andrea Balwin, senior psychologist and service development leader at the Queensland Centre for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health. Andrea, thanks for joining us. How do you approach this age group with open conversations?

Dr Andrea Baldwin [00:01:56] Yes Drew, that’s a very common question. A lot of parents will say they don’t know how to talk with their young children about really difficult topics like drought or natural disaster or a loss. It can seem easier to just not talk about it. And we’ll tell ourselves they’re too young to understand anyway or talking will make it worse for them. And just sort of try to sweep it under the carpet. But as we’ve mentioned in a previous podcast, even babies have emotional reactions to things that happen. And it’s worth knowing that young children around about the age of three are prone to what we call magical thinking. So they will see connections or patterns in things that happen that adults wouldn’t consider rational. And at that age, the world revolves around them because they don’t have the big picture understandings of cause and effect that adults have. So they might actually be blaming themselves for the drought or for a family argument or for something sad, like animals dying. And if they’re feeling shame or guilt for something they think that they might have caused, you won’t know that that’s playing on their mind unless they’re chances for it to come out through play or discussion. So it is good to have simple open conversations with young children to help them process or work through what’s going on or what they’re feeling. And so you can gently correct any misconceptions that they might have.

[00:03:11] With babies or young children who don’t have much language. Sometimes you have to interpret well, guess their feelings and also put the feelings into words for them. So watch for subtle cues in their facial expressions and interactions. Toddlers and pre-schoolers have more language, but you’ll still be picking up a lot of what they feel from how they behave, what they draw, how they play, what they want to read books about, what they want to talk about. You can ask them questions during conversational reading. We talk about using age appropriate language. So matching your questions and explanations to their age. So say an animal has died. You might say to your toddler, ‘Oh, poor sheep, I can see you’re feeling sad, I feel really sad about this too’. So you’re being honest about how you’re feeling, but not in a way that puts a burden on them to support you. But, you know, that comes back to self care as we talked about in the first podcast. You will talk to other adults, your partner, GP, counsellor, help you work through your own emotions. For your child you want to validate their feeling. You’re not trying to dismiss that or tell them to be silly or to just forget about it. But you also don’t want to leave the child there in a sad or hopeless place. So you want to offer reassurance, comfort and hope. You’re helping to contain the emotions, to make it manageable for them. So maybe you might after having that conversation, you might suggest doing something nice together to help you both feel better from feeling sad. You might read a positive story together. That’s got some relevance to the situation. And just remember, you don’t have to have answers to all of your child’s questions or problems. You are the answer. Feeling safe and love in their relationship with you is absolutely the most important thing.

Drew Radford [00:04:51] Dr Andrea Baldwin, thank you for joining me in the Emerging Mind studio.

Dr Andrea Baldwin [00:04:55] You’re very welcome Drew.

Drew Radford [00:04:58] Fostering an environment of talking about it rather than ruminating over it, has been something Jane from Eastern Eyre Peninsula has encouraged with their own children.

Jane [00:05:10] Yes, precisely. And I’ve always advocated that to the kids. To definitely speak up. And often a problem shared is a problem solved more easily. And I’ve sort of tried the side of them. If you’re thinking about things, trying to work it out in your own mind. Sure. That’s good to be able to do that. But certainly, you must also know when you need to talk to someone, and you always have that avenue open. That’s pretty important and probably more important at this particular time being in drought.

Drew Radford [00:05:43] Thanks, Jane. To delve into that a little deeper, I’m joined in the Emerging Mind studio by psychologist and former farmer John Dean. John, thanks for your time. How important is it to create an environment where conversations I had with others rather than just with yourself?

John Dean [00:06:01] Jane is spot on, you know. That old ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Yeah still rings true in most situations. But it’s not always easy to get kids to listen. Particularly as they get older. And, you know, adolescence can be very difficult to get to share with you. And really, children need to feel that when they do share their problems, that it’s in a safe place and that they’re being listened to. And sometimes that’s pretty hard to do when you’re flat out trying to feed stock and keep up with things on a farm when things are not going so well and that sort of thing. And you may not be able to turn your mind completely to that at one time. So the best idea, rather than to have do it, is to really negotiate with them that you’ll sit down and you’ll turn your full attention to it at such and such a time when you can do that and make a time and a place so they really believe you and can trust that you’re going to do that. So sometimes it’s best just to start off by noticing that something might not be going so well that might be troubling them. And tell them why you think that. If they’re younger, you might need to be really specific about it and say, ‘look, you look upset about something. I can tell because you look like you’ve been crying or you look angry. Even down to the point of your fists are clenched or your face is looking angry’. With little kids, they have really basic understandings of emotion and you might have to really spell it out for them. It’s also, I think, worthwhile to know that sometimes children keep things inside because they don’t feel like their parents are coping so well. So that again goes back to what we’re talking about, making sure that you’re finding ways of actually looking after yourself. Yeah, we talk about that a lot around grief and loss experiences. And the drought experience really is a grief and loss experience of drought and they’re grieving losing those things. So as adults, yet we really need to be looking after ourselves and showing our children that we’re able to cope as much as possible. And so that they then feel safe in sharing their feelings with us.

Drew Radford [00:08:32] Thanks, John. Some great reflection upon the importance of fostering a safe environment so children can talk. It’s something the Belinda, who is from a station in the Flinders Ranges, also believes is important. But she’s finding that social media is just making it that little bit harder.

Belinda [00:08:51] Obviously, we were lucky to grow up here, you know. And obviously we always sat down as a family when I was a girl and and so did Daniel. He’s from the Goolwa region. He sat down with his family night, you know. But, yeah, we always sit down and eat dinner together. Or if if we’re busy and and we can’t do that, then we’ll make sure we have breakfast one morning that we’re all together having breakfast. But like I said, just keeping them involved in making me feel that they aren’t you know, we don’t talk about it completely behind closed doors because otherwise I think that breeds insecurity in them. And it also sometimes lets their mind wander past what their worries need to be. I think I take taken on board. They’re not silly. They’re pretty pretty well clued up in. And social media allows them to have access to not just our drought story, but drought stories across the whole country. So they’re not blind. You know, they see it. So we just try to make sure that they’re part of it. And we keep them sheltered from things that they don’t need to be privy to. But there isn’t that much of that now that they’re old enough to understand most things. Yeah. Make sure they’re treated like young adults, but also not trying to put the burden on them either. Which is probably where it’s hard to draw the line between openness and burden I guess, maybe.

Drew Radford [00:10:04] John, Belinda covers quite a bit of ground there in that short discussion. But she’s right. You can’t shelter your children from this sort of stuff. You need to be open. You try to shelter as much as you can, but social media helps in terms of ‘I’ve got a shared experience. It’s not just going on outside my door’. But there it also shows that, well, there’s plenty of places where everything’s fine.

John Dean [00:10:29] Yes Drew, you’re right. Belinda does cover a lot of territory. But I think it’s important to note my experience of being on a farm is that in many ways, if you’re thinking about the current situation, particularly around COVID-19 and people being restricted in different ways. Families living on a farm have some advantages in that, you know, they they’re not stuck in their house. They can get out. And they’ve got in some cases, you know, thousands of acres to explore and not be stuck there like many people are in the city. So there is an advantage in a way there. And then there’s some disadvantages because there are lots of practicalities around using social media. When you you’re in remote places, just having data and having access to the Internet, all that sort of thing is a challenge. But if you can do those sorts of things, you know, social media can be a positive thing. We tend to focus a little bit on the dangers around social media, but it does provide connection, particularly for young people to stay in contact with one another. But parents need to be aware that there are some pitfalls and they need to have some rules in place. And there’s some really good information around that. The eSafety Commissioner, there’s a website for the eSafety Commissioner. It has lots of really good tips around maintaining safety online. And I think it’s worth looking at that. It could be just simple strategies like putting the phones in a container before meals that sort of make sure that you’re protecting that bit of space that Belinda was talking about around meal time and so forth. And you can also add software that sort of cuts off the data at particular times. So, you know your kids are off their devices and having some sleep or other activities. And I think one of the really important things is to model good use of social media and phones and surgery itself, because it pretty hard to be asking your kids and your older kids to be using these devices in an appropriate way. If you’re on them all the time yourself and they’re having difficulty sort of distracting you from them. So there’s lots of aspects to how you can make social media really work for the family.

Drew Radford [00:13:04] Psychologist John Dean, thank you for joining me in the Emerging Mind studio to discuss how to keep conversations open and the importance of that for your children.

Narrator [00:13:19] 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 [00:13:37] 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 [00:14:17] 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

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