Transcript for
Support your child’s social connections – episode 5

Runtime 00:18:15
Released 25/6/20

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’ll focus on supporting your child’s social connections with family, friends, school and hobbies. Children need positive time spent with family, friends and doing the activities they enjoy. Most of all, they need time to be kids, which includes regular routines at home and school. To delve into this, we’re going to be speaking with mental health professionals and most importantly, to parents from remote locations about their own experiences. One of whom is Kirstie, who’s from a property in the far north of South Australia, an isolated location that requires a lot of effort when it comes to socialising.

Kirsty [00:00:57] Even though we’re very remote, we’ll go to a Gymkhana or a Bronco branding, come down for a conference or something. And when that happens, because there’s lots people doing the same thing, they don’t just mingle with the child their same age. They’re mingling with children from newborns through to adults pretty well. So there’s not that line between, you know, kids just hanging out with their same year groups. But we go to a lot of events and it’s just making the effort, making the effort to give the opportunities to the kids to actually socialise. And technology’s played a massive part in improving that now. We don’t have huge Internet and data to use, but not very often. But the kids do have the opportunity to face time, a friend and they sit on their changed face and giggle. And it’s all that sort of. So you can actually see the person. But also, with school off the air, it’s all online now. So they often do see the person later on screen. So even through its through a computer. Yeah. They still have a lot of interaction with other kids.

Drew Radford [00:02:06] Thanks, Kirsty. That’s a really good picture of how all the age groups mixing together when they do get those few opportunities to socialise. To discuss this further, I’m joined in the Emerging Mind studio by psychologist Dr Andrea Baldwin. Andrea, thanks for your time. And in terms of those social connections with family and friends, how important is that for infants and really young children?

Dr Andrea Baldwin [00:02:30] Drew it’s really important. Babies and young children learn how to be social beings through socialising with other people from early on. So Kirsty talked about the importance of seizing those opportunities to get together with other people when you can. If you are very isolated, as she said, you can use technology to connect with grandparents, other family, friends, community, school off the air, kindy. Don’t forget, you can also still use snail mail. So young children love making cards, writing actual letters, doing artworks to send to people. And they love getting things in the mail themselves. And sometimes you need to be a bit creative about what does socialisation mean, how do help them socialise? So reading books with them and telling stories with them is another way to broaden their range of social experiences because they get to identify with characters and situations that they might not have experienced themselves. So if you Google Birdie’s Tree Birdie with an ‘I’, there’s a website there with books and games that help support young children and families going through tough times, including drought. And don’t forget, also pets and animals and favourite toys. Children will have tea parties with their toys. All of these are ways that they practise social behaviour and social connections.

Drew Radford [00:03:42] Andrea, what are some ways a parent can include regular routines with children in this age group?

Dr Andrea Baldwin [00:03:49] Well, Drew, young children really benefit from routines, from having some structure in their day and some familiar routines that they can rely on. They’d like to have some sense of what’s going to happen in the day and what’s going to come after. It can actually be really difficult to maintain routines during drought because there can be unexpected demands and changes for the family. So maybe parents are working long hours. Maybe one parent has to work away or relocate with the children. Any of these disruptions can be quite confusing and upsetting for babies and young children who don’t fully understand what’s going on. So, as well as the open conversations that we’ve talked about in previous podcasts, spending time together and tuning into how they’re feeling. One thing that parents can do that really helps them is to maintain some routines that help them feel life has some predictability, that things make sense. They’re not chaotic. So trying to have regular times in the day for meals when nap time, active play, quiet play and bedtime bath time rituals like washing your hands before meals, putting toys away after playing bedtime routines is especially important. They give the parent child some pleasant relax time together. So maybe a song or a story tucking in with the favourite Teddy. The particular words you say each night when you wish them sweet dreams, you could maybe sing the same lullaby that your parents sang to you. These little family jokes and customs and traditions can help children feel a sense of continuity at times might be good or they might be challenging. But the family goes on and can get through things together.

Drew Radford [00:05:24] Dr Andrea Baldwin, thank you for joining me. In the Emerging Mind studio.

Dr Andrea Baldwin [00:05:28] You’re very welcome, Drew.

Drew Radford [00:05:29] Dr Andrea Baldwin, some great perspectives and suggestions there for supporting socialising opportunities for your young children and infants. Thank you for joining me in the Emerging Mind studio.

[00:05:44] [MUSIC]

Drew Radford [00:05:44] Let’s turn our attention to slightly older children now and the more isolated your location. Not only is it more difficult to provide socialising opportunities, it’s also more expensive, however, for a lot of parents like Amy, who’s from a station near Roxby Downs, they don’t let that stop them.

Amy [00:06:01] Finances are a big issue, but I always make a big point of whenever there’s a local event on, we will go to it. Even if it’s up in Oodnadatta, we will travel up now that we are at a property where we can have those weekends and long weekends, days that we can get away. So whenever there’s a school function, we always make the effort to spend the whole time down there. So the kids have got the most chance to spend with their friends because that’s the only chance they get. So we make the sacrifice of going down.

Drew Radford [00:06:32] What’s the payoff? What do you see in the behaviour of the children?

Amy [00:06:36] They are exhausted by the end of the day [LAUGHS]. But no, they love it and they get to spend time with their friends. They get to play, run around and they talk about it for weeks afterwards. And every time we get through our online lessons, that opens up more communication with the kids because they don’t get their everyday socialising in school. So those events, they make up for it.

Drew Radford [00:07:00] Thanks, Amy. That’s a great insight of still needing a physical community connection beyond the virtual online community. To discuss this further, I’m joined in the Emerging Mind studio by psychologist John Dean. Thanks for your time. John, I imagine fostering those social connections is often difficult when money’s tight.

John Dean [00:07:22] Yeah, I found it really interesting listening to Amy because I attended the Youth Drought Summit last year and the young people there were saying that they really valued opportunities to get together face to face. And that didn’t have to happen that often because that then provided a springboard into just maintaining contact through virtual means, like through social media or the phone or whatever. And so I think, you know, Amy’s got the right idea that having some contacts really important, that those relationships can be fostered and maintained through other means. I think it also depends a little bit on the age of the kids and young people. So when children are quite a bit smaller, their key relationship really is with their parents and their siblings. And so it may not be quite so important as perhaps it is for adolescence, where their peer group becomes really important and they learn a lot through their relationships with their peer groups. So Amy’s quite right. The financial sort of resources might be stretched, and you might not be able to do that as often as you’d like to. But I think it’s worth cutting yourself a little bit of slack, particularly when the kids are quite a bit younger because an important relationship really is with their parents at that stage. So prioritising some contact with those children is important. But don’t let that put unreasonable stress on yourselves and others.

Drew Radford [00:09:01] Thanks, John. That’s a really nice, balanced perspective that I’m sure a lot of parents would appreciate. Parents are constantly juggling meeting these needs and complicating it further is what might work for one child doesn’t necessarily work for the other, which is something Jane, who is from a station on Eastern Eyre Peninsula, recently discussed with me.

Jane [00:09:23] It depends on the individual child, too. Like, I’ve got one child that’s social. The other one’s not so social. But so you just work with that as best you can. So for the social one, that’s through social media, which a lot of young people are on. But I think the importance is that face to face contact. So as much as we can, we do encourage and promote that face to face contact and catching up, even if it means I have to drive 200 KS for them to catch up with a mate and go and do something that most other town kids might do. You go that extra step to try and make that happen.

Drew Radford [00:10:01] Thanks for that, Jane. John, that really illustrates well that the social needs of one may not be the same as it is for the other.

John Dean [00:10:09] Yeah, that’s right Drew. And Jane, very correct in saying that. Because kids, even though they come from the same family, do grow up differently and start differently. You can see that in really small children that some are much more social. They’ll go to someone else very easily, whereas others won’t. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just the way they are. And to nurture that and reinforce that with your child can sometimes be quite difficult when there are limitations to what you can do. Again, it fits in very well with what the young people were saying at the drought summit. That they don’t need that much face to face contact, but they really do want a level of face to face contact. And then they’re quite prepared to use social media and other ways of maintaining those relationships. And again, as we’ve discussed before with young people, we need to also monitor that a little bit so we know they’re not getting themselves into difficulties online, which can be a bit of a pitfall.

Drew Radford [00:11:18] You’re right. Rightly point out there though too, John, about the limitations of what you can actually do. And this is a bit of crystal ball gazing. But with COVID-19 some of those social activities which might have been going and staying at a friend’s property for a few days. We don’t know what that’s going to be down the track. So maybe those few social interactions that you talked about, we’re not sure how often they’re going to be in the future.

John Dean [00:11:44] Well, that’s true Drew. But I guess we don’t want to underestimate, I suppose, the creativity and initiative for young people to make the best of what they got. They’re very much better at using, say, social media than what perhaps those of my generation are. And I would suspect that they’ll make a fair fist of maintaining those relationships through what they have that they can use.

Drew Radford [00:12:11] That’s a very astute point, John. Social media by its very name is a socialising opportunity. And it’s really, it’s just another type of community these days. The differences in what a community is and the social opportunities it presents is actually something I recently discussed with Belinda, who is from a property in the Flinders Ranges.

Belinda [00:12:33] I look at some of my friends live further north of me and some that live out past Coober Pedy, out past Oodnadatta. They have different opportunities than us. So in our area there’s not the big, small community gatherings like there is in, say, William Creek, Oodnadatta, where they often have their Gymkhana and their Bronco branding. I think their sense of community is probably different too ours. Because they have to make that effort, otherwise they would see nobody. Whilst we try to socialise, I think small country towns tend to sometimes have different groups of people, and you tend probably not to socialise outside of your small group of friends or your small sporting team or whatever. Whereas when you live in the wider out back, I think everybody becomes part of that community.

Drew Radford [00:13:18] John, it’s a great description from Belinda that even though communities may look different, there’s still communities and that’s what counts.

John Dean [00:13:26] Yeah, well, I think the common denominator there Drew, is that community is important to everybody, no matter what it might look like. And my experience would be that smaller communities in rural and remote locations have actually changed quite a bit over the last couple of decades and often include much more diverse people within those communities. But when I’ve engaged with young people around their experience of drought and living in smaller communities, they talk to me about how safe they feel in those communities. There’s safety in, I suppose, being able to predict what the communities are like, but also safety in just knowing everybody. You know, I’ve had young fellas tell me it’s great that the police officer knows them by their first name. I’m not sure that I thought that was great. But they do. And I can remember one particular girl in a little community that I was in telling us that she really liked that, that she was able to walk down the streets in her PJ’s, after dark and get a pizza and not feel unsafe at all. So there’s lots of positive things about small rural communities that make young people feel safe. And that can be carried over even into virtual communities when you know the people that you’re talking to. You’ve got a private community to talk to. There’s not the danger of others coming in who might not know you. So there’s often great ways of coming together. And it’s been mentioned about sport and other social events, like the fact that there’s still tables and that sort of thing that happened outside of these COVID times. But even there’s some sort of celebration of Anzac Day and with restrictions being lessened a little bit. There’ll be other opportunities to meet, at least in smaller groups. But there is a downside to living in a small community also, and that is that groups are easily formed, but sometimes people are left out because of some difference. It may be to do with culture. It may maybe to do with you might be a gay person or someone who is different in some way, who doesn’t necessarily fit into those smaller groups within smaller communities. And that can be really difficult for those people. So fostering a sense of community for all is really important, I think. And institutions like the local school can be really important to that because kids go to school no matter what their background is.

Drew Radford [00:16:10] It’s also there I guess John about everyone’s experiencing adversity. But that community gives you the opportunity to show compassion and also empathy as well.

John Dean [00:16:19] Yes, certainly that idea that everybody’s going through something together can be really a way of bringing community together and people feeling like they’re working together to deal with a difficult situation.

Drew Radford [00:16:35] Psychologist John Dean, thank you very much for sharing your insights on the importance of supporting your children’s social connections.

John Dean [00:16:43] Drew, I think it’s really important that young people develop socially. So that’s an important topic.

Narrator [00:16:54] 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 [00:17:12] 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 [00:17:53] 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