Thursday, 20 December 2012

End of year reflections!

I don't know if it is the terrible slaying of school children in Newtown, Connecticut, the end of the year or advancing age, but I've been in a reflective mood for the last few days.

  • The death of a child always seems worse than the death of an adult, and to have so many children, together with their teachers, killed in one incident is tragic.  It has raised the issue of greater control over the kind of weapons available in the US and I hope it is possible to get some limitation on this.  It is not for Australians to give advice on this, though the talk back lines and other media have run hot, but we should be grateful that guns are not such an important part of the culture here.  We should not overlook though, the continued violence to be found in our homes, which scars young lives and which, often fuelled by alcohol and drugs, is particularly prevalent at this time of year.  As adults who care about children we must set a better example, work to stop bullying and to practise and teach peaceful dispute resolution.
  • The recent death of Dame Elizabeth Murdoch at the grand old age of103, has drawn attention to the wonderful role she paid in supporting the Royal Children's Hospital, the arts and many other charities.  While she was obviously a very wealthy woman, thanks to her husband and son's business acumen, she was public about much of her giving, not to gain personal glory but to set an example for us all to follow.  In your gift and food buying this Christmas have you put aside extra for those in need?
  • In an obituary for Tony Charlton, a well known event and sports commentator, much was made of his sporting knowledge, but also of the fact that he volunteered 5 days a week at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.  Such voluntary work is another worthy example to follow.
  • I'm very much a beginner in the blogging world, but note that this is the forty second that I have posted since March.  It has been a learning experience, and sometimes I find it hard to think of topics, and sometimes the words just don't come.  I have been amazed to see that I seem to have readers in such a variety of countries, and while I have been disappointed not to have generated more comments I hope that some of you may linger long enough to start some sort of discussion.  I would really enjoy the feedback.
  • Looking at past posts I have noted that the most popular posts have been those relating to the work of nannies, particularly saying goodbye to families; nurturing a love of nature and the dance of parenthood.  I'm not sure if that represents a desire to see more on these subjects, or if they have been sufficiently covered....Let me know, please!
  • I must thank my young models and their parents for allowing their photos to be used to illustrate these blogs.  Sienna, Hazel, Fraser, Jeanie, Logan and Ally your participation is much appreciated, and I hope Santa has something lovely in his sack for you to enjoy.
This is the last post for 2013: Christmas and summer holidays are just around the corner.  Look for more from SusanSays in January!

The office of Susan Rogan Family Care will be closed from Monday, 24th December and will reopen on Wednesday, 2nd January. 

From me, Susan, and everyone at Susan Rogan Family Care have a happy and safe Christmas and a wonderful holiday.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Safe Summer: a refresher course

It's December and with it have come a few 30°C days and already there are reports of children being locked in cars, bush and grass fires have started in various parts of the state and soon we'll have warnings about water safety on TV.  Each year it seems as if summer catches us unaware, and the things we knew last year have to be refreshed.  While we support the ideas of Free Range Kids and other advocates for children not being cocooned, this freedom should have some limits as far as basic safety is concerned.

So let's have a refresher on summer safety:

  • Never leave children unattended in a car.  This morning's Age had a report saying that in the 12 months to August, Ambulance Victoria received reports of more than 900 children locked in cars.  their tests show that even on 29°C days temperatures inside a car can reach 44°C in 10 minutes and 60° within 20 minutes.
More information on leaving children in cars from the NRMA
  • Dehydration affects babies and young children very quickly.  Feed babies more often, offer water to children before they play outside and then about every 20 minutes, and even when children are playing inside ensure water is always available.  Sugary drinks are not a replacement for water as they can often dehydrate. If the children are outside, try to alternate very energetic activities with some quieter play.
For more information on dehydration and children in hot weather see this page from the Better Health Channel
  • Australia has very high rates of skin cancer, and the problems can start in childhood.  Remember the old: Slip on a t-shirt, Slop on the suncream (a broad spectrum, water-resistant SPF 30+,at least 20 minutes before exposure to the sun) and Slap on a hat (with a broad brim, not a cap).  Limit the amount of time children are exposed to direct sun, especially in the middle of the day, as suncream only reduces the risk of sunburn it does not prevent it. 
For further information on sun safety see the leaflet about Outdoor Play the Sunsmart Way, published by Sunsmart
  • Water safety is essential, as children aged 0-4 have the highest rate of drowning of any age group in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  The figure suggest though that few of these children die while swimming, paddling or wading, but rather as a result of falling or wandering into water.  The difference seems to be attributed to the fact that children of this age are generally not allowed to swim or paddle without adult supervision.  Backyard pools and inland waterways are high danger areas and children of this age are not able to reliably obey rules like 'don't go near the water'.  Often drownings in these circumstances are the result of confusion about who is meant to be supervising the child, so be sure to make this clear.  Older children are not appropriate as supervisors for their younger siblings as they can get involved in their own games.  Most public swimming pools now have signs about the minimum age required for those supervising little children.
For more information on water safety see the Child Safety Handbook published by the Royal Children's Hospital and Safe Fun with Water on the Raising Children network site.
  • Supervision of children around barbecues, and camp fires, is essential.  Burns can be very painful and can scar for life.  Charcoal barbecues can be easily tipped over by children, or knocked over when they run past, and all retain enough heat to cause a burn for some time after they are extinguished.  Campfires are fun, but need to be properly extinguished and children kept away from the site until the ashes are cold. It should go without saying to obey the laws relating to Total Fire Ban days but this is just a refresher!  Given the weather on these days, it is also wise not to venture into bushland for a picnic.
For more information on children and barbecues I found a great page on
  • Insect bites can be a problem in summer.  Use the various repellents if children will be outdoors, especially in the late afternoon and early evening. Snakes can be a problem in some suburban areas, especially near lakes and creeks.  Teach older children to keep well away from snakes and keep a look out if younger children are outside in areas where snakes are prevalent, especially at dawn and dusk.
For more information on bites, stings etc see the Child Safety Handbook .

Summer in Australia is a wonderful time for holidays and outdoor living, which with a few sensible precautions can be a safe experience for people of all ages. Enjoy it, have fun and be careful when the weather is extreme.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Chri... the word I've been avoiding!

I've been avoiding it, but now December has started I really can't pretend Christmas is not upon us, though perhaps not, if the predictions of Doomsday on 21 December come to pass.  I have however lived through many such predictions so I think I just have to face reality and the growth of pre-Christmas hysteria: 

Shop 'til you drop... parties... baking... ideas for home-made decorations and gifts... food, food and more food... the odd drop of drink... trees to trim... arrangements for family get-togethers... Carols by Candlelight, all combined with end of year concerts... school break ups and speech nights and complicated by the weather, which in Melbourne at least can be 39 one day and 17 the next. Yes. it's December and we're creeping towards the Christmas climax.

Every year we wonder why we put ourselves through it and promise that it will be simpler, that we will be better organised, all presents will be bought by the end of November...yet somehow the fever strikes again.  

So why do we do it all?

Religious reasons.  For Christians it's the celebration of the birth of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us and is thus the basis for their celebrations, for carol singing, nativity scenes and plays and church services.

Cultural reasons. There is also the cultural overlay of Santa Claus/Father Christmas and a mighty commercial push to give bigger, better, more expensive gifts, to gather friends and families together to eat at tables groaning with food and to drink copiously, again the subject to much advertising.  Christmas has become a celebration of family, or of an ideal we have of family, often not matched by the reality of feuds and undercurrents!

Unavoidable reality. We can't avoid the fact that in Australia Christmas coincides with summer, the end of the school year and the long holidays so there will be a range of school/kinder/child care year activities combined with Christmas ones and younger children in particular will tend to be suffering from end of school tiredness and associated behaviours!

Tradition.  We've always done it this way.  Thus there are the historical images of bush huts sweltering in the heat with women over wood ovens turning out rich roast dinners and hot steamed puddings.  Fortunately over recent years, more and more people are turning to more weather appropriate meals: seafood, cold meats, salads, berries, ice cream puddings, but often each of these changes has been greeted with some mutterings about how 'Mum wouldn't have done it like that.'  And then there are the difficulties when couples marry. Where to go for Christmas: lunch at one and dinner at the other? Christmas Eve at one, Christmas Day at the other?  And still more complicated when there are different cultural and religious traditions in the two families!  And let's not forget all those songs and images of white Christmases!  Still we see Santa arriving on surfboards and fire trucks, by plane in outback communities, by Six White Boomers according to Rolf Harris.  And occasionally we might even sing an Australian Christmas Carol like 'The north wind is tossing the leaves' or the 'Carol of the Birds' to give a taste of reality amongst all that northern hemisphere snow!

Newspapers, magazines and blogs since about September have been full of advice about:
  • stress free approaches to it all;
  • the need in our wealthy world to adopt a simpler approach;
  • the value of taking time to enjoy the excitement, especially of children;
  • the fact that many people will go without, so we should give time and money to enable them to share in the seasonal festivities;
  • the perennial debate about whether schools, preschools and child care centres should sing Christmas carols or have nativity plays, or even celebrate the season at all out of deference to those of other or no religions
Unfortunately for many in our community, this is a difficult time of the year.
  • Those who have lost much loved members of their family during the year face the fist celebration without them.  In our house, we always toast 'absent friends' which brings to mind these family members, and those who are also separated by distance interstate or overseas.
  • Alcohol and drugs and the road toll will spoil the season for many families, bringing death, injury, violence and unpleasantness and each year the joy will be tinged with the sadness of remembrance of these events.
  • The lonely, mentally ill and the homeless members of our society feel excluded from the spirit of family and togetherness and sentimentality that pervade our celebrations and media.  Many wonderful people give time and effort to including these marginalised members of society in various charity meals, but this cannot completely erase the pain and rates of hospital admissions and suicides soar at this time of year.
Whatever approach you take to Christmas, give generously, receive graciously, enjoy the season and keep safe.

At Susan Rogan Family Care, we wish all our families and their nannies, and all our readers a joyful Christmas season and a happy new year.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sex and sexism!

At present, every newspaper, current affairs program and talk back radio show seems to be full of sex, sexism or both.

We have had:
  • The appalling stories of child sexual abuse both within the Catholic church and more broadly in the community, which have led to the announcement of a federal government Royal Commission.  While this is not before time, it will be a massive undertaking and will be in the media for a long time to come.  It is be hoped that raising the community's awareness of the issue will ultimately lead to solutions being found that both reduce the incidence and help the victims recover and also punish the perpetrators and those who have covered up their crimes.
  • The apparently sexually motivated murders of 2 young women in a short period of time which have resulted in marches to end the violence against women, and to 'Reclaim the night' so that women can go out at night safely. Along with this, there was the annual celebration (if that is the right word) of White Ribbon Day last week to raise awareness of broader issues of violence against women.
  • The Prime Minister's now famous 'misogyny' speech aimed at the Leader of the Opposition but which has also led to a heightened awareness of sexism and how it affects attitudes to women and their role in society. 
  • In reflecting on young men and 'date rape', sexual assaults and general hooligan behaviour I heard someone suggesting that adolescent males needed to learn about proper behaviour towards young women.  I thought of a story I heard recently when a 4 year old  told his very sensitive 'new age' father that he was boss of his wife, the boy's mother, probably an idea he had picked up from daycare as it was never an idea even considered in the home.  I think the attitude towards women starts in community attitudes that children pick up long before adolescence and despite recent efforts to educate men and the community in general we have a long way to go. It is probably a case of how people treat each other that is the issue, as violence between men is not appropriate either.
  • Yesterday the Minister for Defence and the Chief of the Armed Forces issued a statement apologising for sexual abuse within the armed Forces and promising to redress the issues.
  • This has been followed by the release today of figures showing the lack of women in senior management positions in Australian companies.  Men hold 2148 line management positions in the top 500 ASX companies compared to 141 women, according to Adele Ferguson in this morning's Age.  In discussing this she raises the issue of women leaving the workforce at least temporarily, to have children and calls for governments to consider the impact their decisions have on working women, including the need for a complete overhaul of the childcare system.  While obviously some employers are more family friendly than others, there is a need for more flexible working arrangements for women and for a range of flexible childcare responses. As a nanny agency we can tailor our services to meet the needs of working families, but we often find we need couples to consider staggering their working hours so that their nannies don't have to 12 or more hours.  Nannies are people with their own lives too, and will quickly burn out if expected to work 60 hour weeks!
Yes, sex and sexism has been in the news and it raises hard issues.  It would be easy to throw up our hands and say 'it is all too hard', or 'that the Government must do something' but it also begins with us. 

As parents, nannies, child care workers we need to:
  • encourage mutual respect between children, and model in our dealings with each other and with children, ways of respectfully behaving.   
  • to practise and teach assertiveness and the recognition of our rights and the rights of others.  
  • be aware of the subtle ways that sexism permeates our attitudes and guard against its influence.  In our picture the boy says 'Mum, I'm wearing the blue dress cos I'm a boy'
It is up to us to create the world we want for our children.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Australians, a wonderful cultural mix

 I am of English/Irish heritage, from Nineteenth Century immigration.  I like to 'wear the green' on St Patrick's Day but apart from that pay little attention to my cultural background.  This is probably because when I was born i was the dominant culture.  During my primary schooling I sat in classes of 50 or 60, filled with the children of the immediate post World War 2 migration boom.  Apart from the fact that they had different food in their lunch boxes and didn't all speak English, I didn't take much notice of them, I was too busy getting on with my own life.

It became part of our growing up that Greek and Italian families, in particular, were moving into the inner suburbs, buying up houses, digging vegetable gardens and growing vines.  Their children started to go to university, some fulfilling their parents' dreams by becoming doctors and lawyers.  We noticed the growth of the restaurants in Lygon Street, and Brunswick, and gradually our tea drinking was supplemented by coffee drinking and our eating tastes broadened.

New waves of migration brought Turks, Lebanese and South Americans, then as the Vietnam war and White Australia policy ended, first came the Vietnamese and more recently Chinese and Indians, followed by migrants from many parts of Africa.  Gradually the old Anglo-Irish monoculture has been replaced by a multiracial, multicultural society.  It is amazing to think that this transformation has taken place in less that 70 years and while there have been, and continue to be, tensions and difficulties, it has been a generally smooth transition.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Alice Pung, the young Australian born writer and lawyer of Cambodian-Chinese heritage.  She spoke very movingly about her father, and his life as a survivor of the killing fields and refugee in Australia.  These stories are contained in her book My Father's Daughter.  Since then I have been reading a book she has edited where many people have shared their experiences of growing up as Asian children in Australia.  Yes, as the first newcomers to look non-European they experienced teasing and racism, but they were also encouraged by their parents to work hard and to succeed.

The enrichment of our culture by the introduction of foods from so many parts of the world is often cited as one of the chief benefits of migration, but the culture has been enriched in many other ways.  Education has opened the way  for the professions and businesses to be filled by the children of the first generation of migrants, friendships formed at school and university cross cultural backgrounds and there are an increasing number of intercultural relationships.

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) promotes the value of 'Cultural Competence', saying:

Cultural competence is much more than awareness
of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand,
communicate with, and effectively interact with
people across cultures.
(p. 16)

That this should happen in Child Care Centres and pre-schools across the country is an important part of the process of understanding, acceptance and tolerance of difference and appreciation of our shared humanity.  At Susan Rogan Family Care, we require that nannies are sensitive to family values and that they work within the EYLF.  For some nannies this has required educating themselves about particular communities, and following dietary and other cultural practices.  For the last 2 years nannies have also been invited to donate books at Christmas to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in West Melbourne. 

There are many political questions about migration which are regularly debated and on which people hold strong views.  The first time I saw a woman in a burqa, it was quite confronting but it is more common now although the debate continues about whether it should be allowed.  The fact that we can debate these questions and hold different views is a healthy sign. 

And the fact that our monocultural society has changed forever is also healthy and in our food tastes, festivals and living together we need to celebrate it.

Links you might like:

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Rhymes, Rhythm and Music

A friend said her Maternal and Child Health Nurse commented that she had never heard a 6 month old vocalising as much as her daughter.  Perhaps it would be mean to say, 'like mother, like daughter', but this is probably true. Babies have been regularly engaged in 'conversations' with their parents are much more likely to be early and engaged talkers themselves.  This means active engagement with eye contact and facial expressions as part of the interaction, not just hearing a lot of background talk.

It is also about having fun with sounds.  Responding in pleasure to their noises, imitating back the sounds and describing what you are doing eg 'I'm changing your nappy now.  Yuck what a mess!'

But it also includes the baby rhymes and actions:
Nursery rhymes are great fun, although the range of rhymes we tend to say these days seems to have diminished.  What has happened to
Part of the pleasure of these rhymes is the rhythms that go with the words.  Learning the rhythm of speech is an important part of language learning eg statements are flat, questions go up, instructions are given in a different tone from statements.

Rhythm also invokes actions: clapping, stamping, drum beats, rhythm sticks, rattles and we're starting to get into music, tunes, and more and more complicated rhythms.

If I were asked what I would miss most if I were deaf, obviously the answer would be the voices of my family and friends, but coming in close behind would be music.  Music in all its forms: classical, rock, folk, jazz, opera and the many different traditions that come under the heading of world music.  Making and listening to music is, I think, as old as humankind.  It has been used for recreation, telling stories, religious rituals and as a background to work.  It has the power to soothe when we are tense and stressed, to rouse to action against tyranny and injustice and to lift the spirits when we are sad.  In its different forms it expresses the whole range of human emotions.

While there is a specific genre of children's music with simple, repetitive sounds, even babies will respond to a variety of 'adult' music, and it seems a pity to feed them a constant diet of Wiggles and Hi-5 when this can be varied with so many other sounds, enriching your day and theirs.

How do you use music with children?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Musings about memory and memories

A couple of weeks on holiday and a death in the family, and I have had time to muse about how the memory and the legacy of memories we leave.

The division of memory into short term and long term is commonly accepted, and these days as one approaches 'a certain age' one can become very sensitive to lapses in short term memory, forgetting someone's name; going into a room to fetch something and forgetting what you wanted...the fear of Alzheimer's and related disease is very real.  Our long term memory also tends to fade so memories of our childhood recede, though often when reminiscing with contemporaries or looking at photos, we find we are able to access images and scenes we thought were long gone.

Smell is a sense strongly linked with memory, and especially with those that carry strong emotions.  Remember the smell of the air after rain on a hot day, the aromas of coffee and baking bread that estate agents once used to make buyers more susceptible to a house's charms, Dad's aftershave, Grandma's scent.

There are also memories of physical skills that become so entrenched that we can perform them automatically without consciously recalling each part of the process.  Riding a bicycle is a common example of this, as is driving a manual car without 'bunny hopping'.

As parents, grandparents, nannies, child care professionals we are responsible for moulding the character and behaviours of the children we have in our care, both by our actions and by the role modelling we do. It is amazing to nurse a new born baby and then to watch as that baby grows and develops, both creating memories for us and itself accumulating its own store of memories.

We all know it is no use encouraging children to be kind to other people and in their presence being unkind to someone.  Or having a 'no swearing' policy and then abusing the motorist that cuts us off.  In both these instances, it is not unusual to have a child point out our inconsistency!

When someone dies, many memories are stimulated as people reflect on the person who has died.  This happens even with miscarriages and perinatal births, as once a child is conceived we have a variety of reactions, hopes and fears which centre on the child and the circumstances of its conception and death.  As I have previously written, the death of a child is generally traumatic for all concerned, but all deaths, even peacefully in old age, have an impact on those who have known the person, hence the period of grieving that lingers far beyond the funeral.

I think most of us would want to be remembered as people who are kind, generous, loving, and any of the other attributes we value.  If we achieve great things with our lives for example as scientists, humanitarians, sporting figures we would want these to be remembered.  If our achievements are somewhat more measured we would want to be remembered as people of integrity, living as well as we can.

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare tells us that "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones".  It is terrible to think that this is true of our everyday lives, that all the little things we have done wrong are the things that people remember most about us. I think rather that these misdoings are quite different from those of men like Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and Idi Amin.

I read a line in a novel, the title long since forgotten, that lovely old people don't get that way overnight but as the product of their life long way of living.  If that is so, how we are remembered has already started, and the result is in our hands.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

When kids are sick...

No, this is not a medical column, and the following are general comments not medical advice. And it is not talking about children who suffer from life threatening conditions, just every day sorts of sickness like colds and tummy upsets.

When I was young, as all great stories start, parents were generally unsophisticated in their medical knowledge.  There was no internet, some families possessed books like an 'encyclopedia of family health' but many people relied on home remedies, old wives' tales and common sense.  Many children suffered severe illnesses like cancer and heart disease but the medical and pharmaceutical knowledge of the time meant that their lives were often shortened and they lived as invalids.  So in many ways, they were the bad old days.

Today with improved knowledge and communication we seem to have become much more health aware.

As parents, nannies and childcare workers we do all in our power to foster children's health by


When our children our sick, often our common sense flies out the window.
  • Baby has a sniffle
  • Littlie has diarrhoea  or vomits
  • Munchkin has a temperature
Off to the doctor we go, expecting the magic potion, the instant miracle.

Now there can be many factors behind this:

  • we don't want our little one to suffer or to be out of sorts
  •  we are also fearful this might be the start of something worse
  • we are frustrated because a sick child means someone may have to stay home from work to care for the child, or emergency care arrangements made
  • we may feel guilty that somehow we haven't taken good enough care of our child
  • we are still learning what is normal for children.
I am not saying "don't go to the doctor", nor am I saying to ignore a child who is unwell or has injured him/her self.

What I am saying is to keep a sense of perspective.  We are comfortable to put a sticking plaster on a child with a scrape on the knee, give a kiss and say 'all better now', yet will get medical attention if there is a lot of bleeding or it hurts a child to move a limb.  The number of parents who now attend paediatric first aid courses is partly responsible for this commonsense approach.  In the same way we need to learn to distinguish between minor illnesses that need a quiet time on the sofa in front of TV and those that are serious.  That may require using your doctor and maternal and child health nurses to help you gain confidence in your judgement.  I would also recommed reading and perhaps copying for reference this excellent article by Professor Frank Oberklaid and Doctor Leah Kaminsky.

Over the top reactions to children who feel unwell may result in children learning to use illness as an attention seeking device.  This can mean that attendance at kindergarten or school is disrupted unnecessarily, and the development of unhealthy attitudes to sickness.  We all have times when we are unwell and need a little extra care and comfort, but some people have learnt to manipulate others through their sickness. When children are unwell stay calm, reassure the child and provide  toys, books and games to help pass the time.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Adults in children's play

In  a previous post  I spoke of the importance of play as a means for children to learn about their world, about relationships and about values.

But do you play with children, or supervise children while they play?

What is the difference?

Playing with children means entering their world, engaging with them as they play, as a companion and fellow playmate.

Supervising children as they play means staying on the outer, observing and intervening when necessary so that participants have turns, resources are shared and safety is ensured.

I often hear parents say that their children have lots of toys but they rarely play with them.

There might be a number of reasons for this.

The toys:
  • may not be appropriate for their age
  • may require two or more participants to be used meaningfully
  • may take too much time and effort to be put together to be played with.
The children:
  •  may not have learnt how to play, to relax and use their levels of skill and imagination for pleasure
  • may need adult attention and interaction to guide them.
 On the other hand, perhaps parents, nannies and carers can expect too much of children, expecting them to play quietly and independently for long periods, which some times can be rephrased as 'keeping themselves occupied'.

Some children are much better at independent play than others, and will lose themselves either alone or with a companion, in their own world of imagination or role play, with cars or blocks or dolls' houses, in the sand pit, in their bedrooms or all over the lounge.  These children do not need adult involvement in their play, but simply supervision if the play suddenly becomes rough, or unfair, often signs that it has lost its appeal.  And of course, adults may need to remind the participants about tidying up afterwards.  After the play period, it can be useful to ask the child(ren) about the activity and to talk about how they played and what they might want to do next time, as well as an appreciative comment on the way that they played eg thoughtfully, imaginatively, quietly or whatever is appropriate.

Other children are more sociable and like to engage another person, child or adult, in their play.  For these children in particular, it is necessary for adults to learn how to participate, engaging in both the play and also ensuring that turns are taken, resources are shared and all are kept safe.  This is a case of simultaneously acting like a child and an adult, and is a valuable skill to learn.

In this type of play, as a participant the adult can often draw out from the child(ren) responses that will increase the learning value of the play: counting the number of pieces, commenting on their colours, sizes and shapes, but not to the detriment of the child(ren) having fun.  Again at the end of the play period, it is useful to make appreciative comments on the way they played.

Some facts for adults to learn about play include:
  • Play with out some mess and untidiness not real play. Tidy up before starting a new activity.
  • Children only have relatively short attention spans.  Watch for signs of restlessness and move on to another activity.
  • Play is a preparation for life.  The child does not always have to win, nor does the biggest always have to get his or her own way.
  • Play has to be fun and enjoyable.  If it's not fun, it's not play.
We often post play activities, and links to websites with play as their focus on our Facebook page.  Follow these links and you will be enriched in your play with children, and your supervision of children's play.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Helping and dirty words?

As a society we seem to have mixed views of helping and caring.  We admire those who care for their elderly parents or disabled children, yet we also label as 'do gooders' or even 'busybodies' people who take on these and other, broader, roles in the community.  We urge our children to help each other, and yet the traditional helping professions like nursing, child care (and nannies) and social work tend to be seen as low status, poorly paid and traditionally, the domain of women.  In fact, men in these professions frequently are found in management rather than directly involved 'at the coal face.'

Recent moves to have those working in child care re-defined as 'early childhood educators and carers', while justified as better describing their role, seems to me to be undervaluing their role as carers. Perhaps being educators will improve their status, though probably not their wages and conditions.

What concerns me is that 'helping' and 'caring' seem to have become dirty words.  We have the expression 'nanny state' that denigrates both nannies and governments that legislate to try to protect people from their own folly eg the current move of some cyclists to abandon wearing crash helmets.  I have heard of young people applying to do social work courses being told that wanting to help people is not an adequate motivation.  Personally,  I can't think of a more important reason.

As a community, we depend on volunteers, helpers and cares, in many areas. The Australian Bureau of Statistics gives a breakdown of the role volunteers play in our society.  We value the work of bodies like the Country Fire Authority, SES, lifesavers and sporting clubs. Often these are now finding it necessary to have paid workers to supplement their volunteers.  Other areas which have depended on volunteers in the past are now experiencing chronic shortages when it comes to areas like foster care, Interchange (respite for children with disabilities), Big Brothers Big Sisters (mentoring for young people).  

I suspect too, that we tend to be prepared to help someone who falls in the street, but not if there is a whiff of alcohol, or they look unkempt or we suspect drugs might be involved; we might buy the Big Issue, because the sellers are helping themselves but bypass the homeless person who begs in the street.  We are reluctant to get involved if people are shouting or appear to be mentally disturbed, not even ringing for assistance.  I was interested when I came to the aid of a young man having a fit at the station, that most people just watched what was happening.  While there are occasional reports of heroes assisting in such circumstances, sometimes being hurt and even killed themselves, most people will just watch or go on about their own business, not even ringing the police.

Certainly, there are times when helping and caring can smother people, devalue their own efforts, and increase their dependency.  This is why we encourage parents to let children face situations that are a little difficult for them to manage easily, to teach children how to solve problems they face, to gradually take responsibility for themselves as they develop skills and maturity.  At the same time, however, we also need to acknowledge times when they simply need help or care:  when they are unwell, when they become so tired or frustrated that they lose their usual ability to think or act for themselves, and when they are in immediate danger.  

We encourage our children to help us in tasks around the house, in clearing up after play, in bringing a nappy to change the baby,  we are teaching them that helping is important, that there are tasks that need to be done for the good of all, that there is always something we can do. We also need to continue to foster in our children a sense of care for each other, not just the older for the younger, but the stronger for the weaker, the more able for the less able.  We need to teach the value of sharing, of including others in our play and in our world, and as they age, the importance of sharing what we have with those who have little or nothing.

Perhaps it is time to stop and think what we really value as a country and to give a higher status to those whose role it is to help other people, and to care for each other.  In this way we can all contribute to the well being of our community, our country and our world.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Safe Pedestrians: parents, nannies and their children

Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but there are times when it can be a parent's or nanny's nightmare.

The odd expletive or a frank, unflattering comment is repeated; a gesture used; a behaviour copied....these are embarrassing, or cute, but sometimes, the behaviours in particular can have nasty consequences.

Who watched as you dashed across the road to post a letter, or dodged between cars on your way to the supermarket, or didn't stop at the red light  or didn't wear your seatbelt because it was only a short trip or talked on the mobile phone while driving?

What did these impulsive behaviours of yours teach an impressionable child?
  • to take risks when crossing the road or in the car
  • to disobey the law.
YOU are your child's role model as a pedestrian, as a passenger and as a driver.

YOU are old enough to know safe practices and to follow them carefully.

Last week we looked at safe procedures in the car, but pedestrian safety is also important.

How then do you teach a child to be safe as a pedestrian?
Many authorities believe that is not until children are aged 10 to 12 that they have the understanding, skills and experience to cope with traffic, including this Monash University study.

  • Insist that your toddler and young child holds your hand at all times when walking in the streets.  The only safe alternative to holding hands is to use a stroller.
  • Practise stopping at driveways and cross streets to check if cars are coming, especially emphasising that cars can be reversing and so often the driver cannot see them.
  • Choose safe places to cross the road, ie where you have a good view of the traffic in all directions.  It is often easier to get a good view mid-block rater than at a corner where you may have to look behind as well as ahead and sideways, because of turning traffic.
  • Cross the road at marked crossings where available eg school crossings (with the flags out), pedestrian crossings and at traffic lights.  Where pedestrian signals are available, only cross when the light is green.  Even at these regulated crossings, don't cross while there are moving vehicles.  As children get older, encourage them to participate in the decision making.
  • Teach the fourfold process: STOP, LOOK LISTEN and THINK. and go out often with your child(ren) to practise these skills.
  • When getting children in and out of the car, always use the kerbside door.
  • In car parks, there is often no kerbside door, but continue to use the same passenger door. By using safety locks in your car, do not allow the child(ren) to leave the car until you are there to open the door for them.  Remove and place in a stroller any infants, then the older child(ren) can get out.  Once out, check, with the children, for moving vehicles from all directions.  The recent tragic death of a young boy, chasing a football into a car park underlined the dangers there, as he had checked for cars on the way to pick the ball up, but ran straight under a car on the way back.
The other area to consider is ensuring that toddlers and young children cannot 'escape' from the house unsupervised.  Check gates and front doors are locked or secured with childproof locks to contain the wandering toddler and to give older children a moment to collect their thoughts before they go off.

It is probably not possible to prevent all road accidents involving children, but by setting a good example, by teaching children safe practices, and by limiting their unsupervised exposure as pedestrians until they are 10 to 12 years old, it is possible to minimise the risk.

Useful links:

Factors associated with ability to cross roads safely, Monsh University Study

A Child's World of Traffic , a VicRoads Video.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Children, nannies and cars

As a parent, grandparent and as the  director of a nanny agency, the safety of children in cars and using the streets is especially important.

My particular concern is that nannies are frequently required to transport children as part of their role: to and from school, to play activities, to appointments etc.

As an agency, we have strict requirements about nannies driving, and the agency must be notified if transport of children is required before commencement of care.

It is the client's responsibility to ensure that the nanny has a driver's licence and that any car used has the necessary child restraints fitted, and is in a condition suitable for the transport of children.  If the nanny has any doubts about these areas, we recommend that they raise their concerns with the client families, and if this does not make any difference, with the agency, and that they should not drive until the issues are resolved.

In Victoria, the law requires all adults, driver, front and back seat passengers to use a seat belt.  As at February, 2012, all children must be properly restrained according to the following requirements:
  • Children under 6 months to be in a properly fastened and adjusted rear facing approved restraint , generally a reclined baby car seat;
  • Children 6 months to under 4 years to be in a properly fastened rear OR front facing approved restraint with inbuilt harness;
  • Children aged 4 years to under 7 years to be in a properly fastened and adjusted forward facing approved child restraint with in built harness OR  or a properly fastened and adjusted lap-sash belt or child safety harness;
  • Children aged 7 to under 16 years to be in an approved booster seat with a properly adjusted lap-sash belt or child safety harness OR a properly fastened and adjuted seatbelt. An adult lap-sash belt is designed for a minimum height of 145cm., a height most children reach between 10 and 12 years.
  • If a car has 2 or more rows of seats, children under 4 must not travel in the front seat;
  • If all rear seats are used by children under 7, children aged 4 years and under 7 may travel in the front seat, provided they use an approved booster seat.
  • Any child too heay or too tall for the restraint recommended for their age should use a restraint in the next age category.
Note that  the emphasis is not only on the appropriate type of restraint, but also on proper fastening and adjustment.  For this reason, it is recommended that restarints be fitted at an approved fitting station, and that you check regularly that the restraint is still the right size for the child, and that all the connecting straps are done up firmly.

All this information, and advice on approved restraints and the location of fitting stations is available from Vicroads and in brochures available from the Victorian Government bookshop.

Beyond these formal requirements, we expect that nannies use good safety procedures. These include:
  • Always put children in and out of the car by the kerbside door;
  • Put the older child(ren) in the car, then transfer the baby from its pram/stroller, then put shopping etc in the car;
  • When leaving the car, get out and assemble the pram/stroller then get the baby out, followed by the older child(ren);
  • Do not allow the older child(ren) to open the door or to leave the car until you are at the exit door; this is easily avoided if you use the childproof door locks provided by most manufacturers;
  • Have the windows closed with lock on, or if necessary in hot weather, only have the windows open for 4-5 cms at the top;
  • Insist on quiet behaviour in the car, and if there is any squabbling etc, stop the car until the behaviour stops.  On long drives, use distractions like familiar songs and stories on CD/DVD or if necessary videos, but preferably looking out the window spotting things, playing I Spy.  The purpose of all this is to reduce distractions for the driver;
  • NEVER leave children unattended in a car.
Road safety is a huge area, and in another blog we'll look at pedestrain safety and teaching children good practices.


Monday, 3 September 2012

5 tips for managing your expectations of motherhood

This week's guest blogger is Dr. Melanie Strang, a Melbourne doctor and mother with an interest in antenatal education and in emotional well being during and after pregnancy.

She runs a program called Well Mum Well Baby with the aim of providing "Emotional, Psychological and Relationship Preparation for New or Expectant First Time Parents."

Melanie's work in preparing parents for the life-changing event of the birth of their first child, is aimed at helping understand what is happening and thus help maintain emotional health during this happy but stressful time.

Here are her 5 tips for managing expectations of pregnancy:

Be flexible: It is common for mums to struggle with coming to terms with what they planned versus what reality serves up. For example you may have planned to return to work by 3 months yet circumstances change when bub arrives.

Don’t believe the hype: The media portrays a romanticized version of motherhood: Understand that life with a young baby does not look like a Huggies ad! There are amazing moments of joy and bonding yet this is mixed with plenty of dirty nappies, hard work and acclimatising to this massive transition.

Love takes time: Bonding with your baby may not happen immediately: It is normal for bonding to occur over a period of weeks to months. If a baby has a medical illness bonding may take longer- this may not be in line with your expectations but it’s ok.

It ok to be sad: There are many losses associated with motherhood: Having a baby is a time of wonderment and joy but acknowledging the losses will help you move forward-you are now a different version of yourself.

There are no rights and wrongs: No one bit of advice or parenting book will have all the magic answers- you and your baby are a unique pair to be understood in your own right.

 Useful links:

 Well, Mum, Well Baby

Maternal and Child Health Service in Victoria, reference for the free, univerally available service in Victoria, Australia

PANDA, for support with postnatal depression

Breastfeeding Australia for support with breastfeeding

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Raising healthy boys!

I love little boys, but I can understand that some mothers recoil in horror when they find that there lovely baby boy:
  • is fixated on cars and all forms of wheeled transport
  • takes great joy in loud burps and farts, often repeated for extra effect
  • runs and climbs and kicks and throws balls
  • is unable to sit quietly without starting to wriggle, wrestle with siblings and create a commotion
  • plays superheroes and has mock fights at every opportunity
It's not that little girls don't do these things, but somehow, some little boys do them all and with such gusto.
And it's not as if every little boy is like this.  Some are gentle, sensitive souls who are creative, studious and caring.
But some little boys are right out there, almost as a caricature of all that is masculine.

Parents of children like this should not despair, even as these youngsters challenge their rules and push the boundaries.

These little boys are healthy.
  • They are often physically assured and so challenge what we regard as safe behaviour.  A tree is there, so climb it.  A fence is there, so balance on it.  They are confident in their own abilities and consequently take risks so they end up bruised, scratched and sometimes with broken limbs.
  • Their personalities tend to be irrepressible and they take little notice of warnings, especially from those they regard as having inferior prowess (ie their mothers).  
  • They tend to be cheerful, not brooding; they are given to hero worship of those bigger and stronger.  
  • And they are often very affectionate when they are not being thoroughly obnoxious.

Raising healthy young boys, however, does require that they have good male role models.  This is especially true when they live in all female households, or where their fathers are present but frequently absent because of work, or are emotionally absent.

They need male figures in their life who can match their energy and help to channel this into safe and fun activities.

They need to learn from these figures:
  • that people who don't share their enthusiasms are different but still worth having as friends.
  • that there is a time and a place for their more boisterous behaviour, but there are also times when it is sensible to be quieter
  • that there are limits which need to be observed for the safety of others, if not themselves
  • that their behaviours do have consequences.

It is important to have rules about:
  • respecting other people eg no bullying, good manners
  • the difference between indoor play and outdoor play eg no jumping on the furniture or running inside
  • the difference between inside and outside voices eg quieter voices inside

But the quiet, sensitive boys also need good male role models who can show how these qualities can be expressed without leaving the boy open to mocking or bullying.
They need to know that it is ok for boys to be artistic and creative, that not every boy is a future footballer.
While their more boisterous brothers are climbing trees and leaping from rock to rock it is fine for them to be collecting flowers to draw, or watching the clouds blow and making up stories about the images they can see or playing 'Pooh sticks' (floating sticks from one side of a bridge to another in the style of Winnie the Pooh.)

And boys need male role models to show them how to be decent adult men, respectful of women, respectful of property, and respectful of themselves so they don't drink themselves to oblivion, use drugs or drive dangerously.

Boys are fun, but they need lots of help to grow up healthy.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Nanny power!

It is an honor to present our first guest blogger, Tracey McDermott. Tracey is a very experienced nanny who has received much publicity recently for her efforts to promote the status of nannies: a wonderful example of a movement by nannies for nannies.

Here's her story.

I have always loved babies and children. One of my hobbies as a child was collecting pictures of babies and books about babies, so it is no surprise that when I decided to pursue a career that would bring me joy rather than just a pay check, childcare was my first choice. I started out in long day care centres. When the opportunity to relocate to London and become a nanny presented itself, I grasped it with both hands. My time in London convinced me that being a nanny was the perfect career for me and I have continued to work as a nanny since my return to Australia.

Nannies are a more socially accepted form of childcare in England than they are in Australia and I have found that the work of nanny is largely misunderstood here. I often have to explain to curious people that I do have a qualification; I don’t clean the houses I work in, nor do I cook the parents' dinner or do various other household chores. 

 Most of the nannies I know have an early childhood qualification and provide excellent quality care for the children they are employed with.  They take the children on outings, provide educational activities at home and have play dates with other nannies and children. They care for the children when they are sick, patch them up when they have a fall, read bedtime stories, repair holes in much loved teddies, climb into pig pens to rescue toy giraffes (yes, I actually did that!), and do things like cook dinosaur shaped pasta to make dinnertime fun! 

                                                           A morning at the park.

The benefits of the close relationship that develops between a nanny and the children should not be underestimated either. I am proud of being a nanny. I think what we do is invaluable and important not only for the lives of the children in our care, but for the parents we work for as well.                  
When an article ( appeared in The Australian newspaper earlier this year claiming that extending the childcare rebate to nannies would put children in the care of unqualified babysitters, place them at risk and see them well behind their peers, I was infuriated. The article went on to claim that nannies have no childcare qualifications, or are only trained to babysit, unlike childcare centres where staff members are university educated. As often happens, nannies were categorised as unskilled ‘babysitters’ rather than professionals with qualifications.

I wrote to the journalist to set her straight and defend the many great nannies working in Australia, asking her to write another article addressing the false claims about nannies and she agreed. 
The feeling that nannies were misunderstood and undervalued here was now something more real and I wanted to do something about it. With a few other women from the industry who were equally upset by the article we started the Australian Nanny Association. The troops were rallied and we now have almost 190 interested people waiting for the opportunity to join up as members.

I see one of the roles of the association in the future (and the one I am most passionate about), as being one of educating the public in an effort to change the perception of nannies as unqualified babysitters and cleaners for the privileged. I hope that one day Australian society will understand and value the work we do, as much as we do. It’s a big dream, but I’ve never been one to dream small.

Another important role I hope the association will play is to connect nannies from across Australia in one place for building friendships, sharing information and supporting each other.

The Australian Nanny Association can be found at
And we hope to be taking memberships by the end of August.


                                          Making dinosaur footprints at home.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Back to books and reading!

After several blogs on weightier matters, I feel like some light relief, and what better way of getting some relief but by turning to a book.

The key to all this enjoyment is of course the  wonderful skill of reading.

We use reading in so many areas of our lives: for directions, filling in forms, for following any form of written communication, including the use of the internet.

I read fiction and non-fiction, but I'm a light reader, rarely undertaking the classics, or heavier themes. When I think about it, I think the reading I most enjoy is story telling, whether factual, in the form of biographies and travel writing or as fiction.

Like most people, I read for many purposes:

  • to escape when I like crime novels ( writers like Ruth Rendell, Ian Rebus, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo), or perhaps a family saga, often multigenerational.
  • for enjoyment when I like what is called literary fiction (John Lanchester, Anna Funder, Nam Le), and especially what I'd call 'world' themes often written in translation, of life in many different countries.
  • for education, and information when I use the dictionary, consult reference books and travel guides, and read well written but 'light' history.

I love the newspaper, and while I'll check stories on-line, nothing, for me can replace the spreading of a newspaer on the table at breakfast time and combing through it for news and opinion.

I use an e-reader when I'm travelling and occasionally at other times, and it certainly beats carrying 5 books in the luggage, but nothing can replace the smell, feel, and weight of a proper paper book, hard back or paperback.

It is hard for me to imagine not being able to read.  It feels as if my whole world would collapse.  I know one of the things an elderly friend regrets with her failing sight is the effect that has had on her reading: talking books are just not the same.  As I watched someone reading braille last night, I though what a wonderful physical act to enter the world of reading, such sensitivity of touch must be required.

When I had contact with adult migrants learning English I became aware of how many, because of poverty, war and lack of opportunity had never developed the ability to read their native language so while they might develop verbal communication skills in English, they would probably not be literate in either language.

Earlier this year, I noticed billboards about indgenous illiteracy in Australia, and wondered they were about.  Following up, I found the website of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation where I found some of the problems in communities particularly in remote areas where many issues combine to reduce the ability of children to learn even the most basic literacy skills. Like all such groups they are dependent on funding, much coming from a percentage of sales in some bookshops, and from publishers, on Indigenous Literacy Day( 5 September, 2012), and the rest from the community.  Save your book purcases until then and go to one of the listed booksellers for a painless way to help. What better gift could we give these young people than the gift of books and reading during this Australian Year of Reading?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The dance of parenthood

What is parenting?

At its most simple, it is raising a child to adulthood.
In more complex definitions there is an attempt to distinguish between the basics of rearing a child, and parenting which is about socialising a child to fit in with their culture and about outcomes like providing the care and nurture needed to produce happy, healthy adults who are able to fulfill their potential.

One of the images I have of parenting is that it is like a dance where the parent and the child, over time, learn to move well together, growing to understand each other, with complimentary roles, and gradually learning to be independent of each other and able to dance separately and in their own style.  This is an image of parenting as a process which changes and develops with time and experience. As I often say, new parents all wear L plates and need time to find what works for them and their children.

There are different styles of parenting and these reflect different cultural practices and personalities (or adherence to different parenting gurus!), but most of us would see extremes of style eg very punitive, smothering, 'helicopter' or complete lack of limits as unlikely to produce an adult who is able to act with maturity.

I was reminded during the week of a quotation circulating on Facebook "the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice",  attributed to Peggy O'Mara, but very much a summary of one of the tenets of Transactional Analysis in the 80's and numerous other psychological theorists.  Think of all those sayings that lurk around our memories and guide our habits, our actions, or our rebellions. It was a matter of pride (when I reported to my mother) that when I had clothing cut off me following an accident that I had been wearing a new shirt and bra! Not all those circulating messages are that trivial, and many can cause great emotional pain because we don't realise that as adults we don't have to believe them or act on them, but can choose for ourselves.

I am inclined to believe that it is the children who have suffered from the extremes of parenting who are those who are most likely to be bullies, or to be the targets of bullies.  Children who learn in the parenting dance that they are responsible for their own actions are those who I think are less likely to bully and are more resilient when others try to bully them.

I think the very punitive, the smothering and the helicopter styles of parenting are all different aspects of control.  Whether from fear, from learned behaviour, or even from the best of intentions, these parents are not able to let go and dance with their children, instead they try the steps but don't hear the music.  Right from the start the needs, beliefs and practices of the parents are imposed on their children and often many of the everyday concerns of life become battlegrounds: feeding, sleeping, toilet training, clothing, play activities, friendships, school performance....

For all parents it is hard to stand by and see their children make mistakes, to try and fail, to fall, have cuts and scratches and sometimes, unfortunately worse injuries, to be dirty.  But as parents we need:
  •  to teach children to face challenges and encourage them when they don't achieve what they (not we) want;
  • to patch up the wounds and reassure them that there are other things they can do;
  • to help them set goals that they have the ability to reach;
  • to teach them that substance and authenticity are more important than appearance;
  • to help them to understand that even when their behaviour or lack of success may disappoint us, we still love them. 
For some children, this control by parents never seems to end: choice of career, life partner, how everyday life is managed is all subject to parental control.  Surely one of the parts of being an adult is making decisions for oneself, seeking advice if necessary, but think of the number of adults you hear who would never dream of making a decision without asking their parents, or who ring their parents, especially their mothers, several times a day.  These adult children are not to blame: they have never been taught to act as an adult, nor encouraged to be independent.  They have not learnt to dance, and unless that changes, they are unlikely to be able to be effective participants in the parenting dance when their turn comes.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Nurturing a love of nature

When I was little, the side of my metal money box from the State Savings Bank of Victoria (defunct now, taken over by the Commonwealth Bank) used to say "Great oaks from little acorns grow."  We'd put in our pennies, and sometimes threepences and take them to the bank where the teller would unlock the box, count the coins and enter the result in our passbook, and the total of our savings would gradually grow, just like the great oaks that grew in the Botanical gardens and along many memorial drives in country towns.

Wattle Day was celebrated on the first day of spring, when people were encouraged to wear a sprig of wattle, or buy a badge, with the proceeds going to charity.  I even have a vague memory of stalls in Swanston Street selling goods in aid of children's charities on Wattle Day.  More recently it has been celebrated as a way to mark those who have brought "GOLD" to Australia that year so last year Cadel Evans was hailed for his victory in the Tour de France and Melbourne turned out in gold to welcome him.

Do your children recognise an oak tree of a wattle?

Do they know the perfume of brown boronia or yellow jonquils?

Do they roll down hills, and kick piles of leaves?

Have they 'listened to the waves' by holding shells up to their ears, or watched the clouds moving in the sky, making shapes, blowing along?

In short, are they in touch with the natural world around them?

It's not necessary to become a tree hugging greenie to be aware of the changes that happen through the seasons in our natural world, but simple observation can enrich our lives.  It is for this reason, I think that the expression 'grounded' is used to describe those who are emotionally stable and aware of what is really important in life.

As more and more children live in high density housing, it becomes more important to make a conscious effort to give them an awareness of our natural environment.  And by using their natural curiosity and powers of observation, children are developing skills and attitudes that can be transferred to other more formal areas of learning. See Play Australia

This is not a case of saying "put on your hats and come outside, we are going to look at the flowers and learn their botanical names", or " now it is time to go for a walk and find three different trees"!  It is rather a case of having fun, looking at things carefully, talking about them in age appropriate terms, perhaps finding out more about what you have seen by looking at books or the computer.  But to be able to do this, adults need to open their own senses to nature.  It's not boring old stuff that fills the gap between the fence and house, or between the footpath and road, it's an exciting world for children to explore, to use all their senses and to respond to creatively.

Sunday 29th July is National Tree Day: what better place to start than to plant a tree, or if you don't have room, plant some seeds, or even start to grow carrot tops on damp cotton wool.

Planet Ark have a number of activities for children, as do the following delightful blogs:
Sun Hats and Wellie Boots, Let the Children Play, A Little Learning for Two
The Age  also makes some suggections on how to make the garden a fun place for kids.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

When nannies say 'Goodbye' to a family

It is hard to say  'goodbye'.

The ending of a relationship, the death of a friend or relative, leaving a place of work, school or an old home: these are all cases of having to say 'goodbye'.

All involve both us and the person or object we won't see again, or will see in a different way, which means we usually have some sort of ritual to mark the end, and sometimes to signal a new beginning.

When a relationship ends, we might remove a ring, take down pictures, have a drink or meal with friends to cheer us up.

With a death there is usually a funeral, or some celebration of a life.  We might give flowers or send a card, we often look at photos of the person who has died and face some of the memories, lovely and sad, associated with the person.

When we leave a job, school, college or University there is usually a party, swapping of phone numbers, email addresses, promises (often broken) to keep in touch, plans for a re-union .

When we leave a home there is often a need for a final walk around, not just to check for the things we have forgotten, but to briefly call to mind memories associated with particular rooms, or perhaps a last look at a garden where we planted vegetables or particular flowers.

Often these goodbyes might have an overtone of relief, or a tinge of excitement because we are moving on to something new, but sometimes there is just loss.

So what happens when a nanny decides to move on, to go to another family, or to a new phase in her life?

First there is the initial decision that it is time to finish.  This might be because:
  •  the position has changed in its requirements,
  •  the nanny is no longer enjoying working with the particular children or family,
  •  the nanny wants to study, travel or move to a new life stage, perhaps marriage or pregnancy.
Whatever the reason,the nanny needs to make time to talk to the parents of the family and to give them a letter with a clearly stated date of finishing.  It is not OK just to write in a communications book a quick note like "finishing up nest Tuesday" or to leave a letter on the mantelpiece when you go home.  It is fair to give a reasonable period of notice, usually between 2 and 4 weeks.  If the nanny works through an agency, the agency should also be informed.

The children then should be told, with an explanation for them to understand.  This is important because children can think it is something that they have done that has made the nanny want to go.  If the reason for leaving is because of difficulties in managing the children or in the relationship with the parents it is not OK to say something like "I'm going to work with another family that will appreciate me more".  Be professional and say something along the lines of "It's time for me to meet another family and be their nanny for a while."

As the last day draws nearer you might want to countdown the number of sleeps, or mark them off the calendar.  If another nanny is to take over, it is good if you can talk about that positively eg " next week you will have to show x where the toys go", or "next week x will read your story, take you to the park etc."

Sometimes on the last day a family will hold a little event to mark the fact that you are leaving.  If not, be sure you do something special with the children: an outing or making a goodbye cake or biscuits.  It is also appropriate to give the children a photo of you with them (one for each child) for their memory book/box (and keep a copy for yourself).  This is especially so if you have been with the children for some time.  It is not helpful to make promises to keep in touch with the children unless you and the parents have discussed this, and unless you are sure that you will keep your word.  It can muddy the waters for a new nanny if you have contact with the children after you have finished with the family.

If you are sad to be leaving, meet with your friends, and tell them why you are sad.  Let them cheer you up, and then start the process of moving on, whether to a new job, to study, to travel, to start a family or to follow your dreams.

Then, from time to time, look at your photos and enjoy the memories they bring.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Ties that bind....or strangle

At present , everywhere I look "Family" seems to be the theme:
  • the novel I'm reading, The Chimneysweeper's Boy by Barbara Vine;
  • the newspaper which reports both horrific tales of child abuse and a report from the Australian Institute of Family Studies which shows 10 and 11 year old girls do more work than boys (nice to have confirmed what we already knew!);
  • websites I've been looking at like the Little Big Book Club which has family themed children's books for the month of June (Little Big Book Club);

As an experienced worker in areas relating to mothers and children, families have been very much my focus.  I believe strongly in the family unit for its role in nurturing and caring for its members, but I would be a fool to think that all families are alike.  They vary in their structure and in their ability to nurture, and in the worst situations family ties can serve to strangle the lives of their members, both physically and figuratively.

How would I recognise a healthy family?  It would be one where:
  • everyone's needs are usually met
  • the members care about each other
  • the members treat each other with consideration
  • members are encouraged to fulfil their dreams/potential
  • there is lightness and fun to counteract the difficulties of life
While Tolstoy famously wrote in Anna Karenina wrote 'All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way', there are many characteristics of unhappy families:
  • members need to compete against each other to have their needs met, with those who do best in this struggle getting the biggest share of attention, love, power, material goods, education while the others are diminished in their development
  • tensions exist between members resulting in physical, emotional and at times sexual abuse
  • those not receiving adequate care and attention develop manipulative or attention seeking behaviour, even becoming unmanageable
All new parents are learners, and there will often be much trial and error on the way to establishing a pattern of family life.  Today there is almost too much advice for parents to absorb.  Society and its commentators are quick to judge the behaviour of young people and to blame it on their upbringing and family life; barristers are very able at presenting to courts harrowing tales of abuse as mitigation of their clients' offending, yet most parents start out wanting the best for their children, and do the best they can to achieve this.  And most families manage to do a reasonable job: not perfect, but not terrible, either.

As a community, and as those who work in close contact with families it is important to encourage, support and help young parents rather than stand back and condemn.  As the well known African proverb says 'it takes a whole village to raise a child' so we all have to share the responsibility, not stand back and then condemn the parents if it goes wrong.