Tuesday, 30 July 2013

I hope...

I was already enjoying the late winter sunshine and hoping that spring might be around the corner when I saw an article in this morning's Age about a mural King Sun by John Olsen, which has been installed in a building in Docklands.  The mural is bright and cheerful, to judge by the photos, with the quirky and typical addition of three frogs.  In this work, Olsen reminds us of the need for hope and optimism in the modern world.  As this was something I'd already been musing about it seemed to be an excellent blog topic!

If you have ever been depressed you will recognise the awfulness of despair and how hard it is to find the effort required to live in a world where hope seems to have died.  To seek help in this situation represents a hold on at least a slim glimmer of hope that things can change; the alternative, is often, to give up completely, to live in a constantly grey world or, tragically, to commit suicide.  I can't help wondering if it is hope that is really one of the great life forces.

  • compels starving parents to ensure their children get as much food as possible
  • drives refugees to risk their lives to flee persecution and starvation
  • lures people to move from country to city (or vice verse) from one country to another in search of a better life and greater opportunities for their children
  • keeps people with cancer and chronic illnesses going often through drastic treatment regimes so that they might be cured , or at least live a little longer
  • encourages us each night that dawn and daylight will follow night, and in the depths of  winter, that spring will soon in its turn.
Babies are, I think, little bundles of hope.  Not only do they represent their parents' hopes for the future, they seem also by nature to be optimistic/hopeful.  They haven't yet learnt not to trust everyone, nor to fear the world about them.

We owe it to our children to nurture this hopefulness, to teach them to be optimistic and to be resilient.  They should not be exposed to abuse, demeaning and degrading punishments  or to parenting and care that is overly permissive and sets no boundaries.  We often reward achievement, but perhaps we also need to focus on effort as well.  As I have previously said, we need to let children experience difficulties and failure not so that they are crushed but so they are encouraged and optimistic that they will succeed at something else or at another time, or even that it was fun trying.

As winter turns towards spring we know there will still be cold, wet, miserable days, but the bulbs and swelling buds remind us that change is on the way.  And thank you John Olsen for your beautiful King Sun.

John Olsen, Australian artist b.1928
An interview with Olsen while working on King Sun

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Gender issues: Action!

I was very surprised and greatly encouraged by the number of readers viewing SusanSays last week following my post about gender free toys for children.

There were also a number of responses on our Rogan Family Care Facebook page and after contact with Let Toys be Toys-For Girls and Boys, who say they have had a number of contacts from Australia, I've decided to take up the issue.

While I believe it is compatible with Rogan Family Care, I have decided to ask Sue Wragg, who does some work for us from time to time, to manage a campaign to promote gender neutral toys so that the on-going work of the agency is not disrupted.

Sue has started a Facebook page Gender neural toys for children and is looking for support in promoting this campaign in Australia.  If this is to be successful she will need people with ideas, energy and drive who are sympathetic to this cause.

Many parents, as well as kindergartens, childcare centres and nannies do a great job in encouraging children to have a variety of play experiences and to follow their interests, but unfortunately toy shops, particularly the mass market/major retailers and manufacturers still market their products in such gender divided ways that stereotyping continues.

I realise that our culture still has a long way to go in their attitudes, but change has to begin somewhere and this is a small seed that we very much hope will grow and bear fruit.

Important footnote
A new group, Play Unlimited-every toy for every body, has taken this up in Australia and with wide media publicity has launched a petition against Toys 'R Us online gender-biased advertising.
If you are interested in following up this issue I'd urge you to check out their website and sign the petition.
Sue is taking down the Facebook page she started to follow up this issue and with me, urges people to follow Play Unlimited.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Gender issues!

I feel like I'm jumping on the bandwagon after the recent issues in Australian politics, but today I really want to look at children's conditioning.  And perhaps that's where the issues that came out in Parliament really began!

I have been following with delight the campaign in the UK called 'Let toys be toys - for girls and boys' as it has taken up an issue that has concerned me for years.  When I used to go into large toy shops for my grandchildren I used to reel back in horror at the large pink sections of play things imitating domestic chores.  Half the stores seemed to be given over to dolls made to be as like human babies as possible, with all the trimmings: baskets, change tables, baths plus kitchens, shopping baskets and trolleys, irons and iron boards, brooms, mops etc.  The other half of the stores, mainly in reds and blues were cars and other forms of transport with garages, stations etc, construction sets and sporting equipment.  Any trikes or bikes seemed to be pink, with little white baskets or blue with tongues of fire on them.

It all seems like a real separation of girls should be interested in domestic activity and boys should be action and outward focused, attitudes I thought we'd left behind years ago.  When I was buying toys for my children, there was a little of this gender distinction, but a wider colour range was used, and things like construction toys, sporting equipment, and puzzles were not so heavily gender identified.

We live in an age when it is illegal to discriminate in the workplace on the basis of gender, and yet our toy shops are perpetuating this distinction.  And the problem is that it becomes very easy then for children to see the toys as indicating their appropriate gender role in later life.  How do little girls know that women can be mechanics, doctors, firefighters, train drivers, scientists, astronauts etc when all they see are pink themed toys encouraging them to be mothers and housekeepers?  How do little boys know that they can be ballet dancers, teachers, childcare workers, fathers and househusbands when all they see are action toys?  I thought this was a battle that had been waged years ago?  I'm not saying that girls shouldn't have dolls or play kitchens or that boys shouldn't have cars and train sets, but I am saying that toys should be available in a range of colours suitable for children of both genders.

I must commend the smaller, suburban toys shops, many of which promote toys on the basis of their interest to all children and on the skills that are needed to use them or that they develop.  It is also noticeable that these toys often last longer (in terms of quality of workmanship and in the interest they hold for children) and are enjoyed more than the mass market ones.

I would be interested to know if there is interest in Australia in forming an activist group like 'Let toys be toy's' to work to stop toy stores perpetuating these gender stereotypes. Do comment below if you are interested in following this up!

And when we have changed attitudes to toys, perhaps we could start work on the gender stereotyping of children's clothing, especially its 'pinkification'!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Lighten up in the gloom of winter with humour!

I've never been one for Christmas in July, perhaps that's because once a year is more than enough!  I understand that it gives us Australians (and others who share the southern summer) a chance to eat rich Christmas foods developed to be eaten in a cold climate rather than under a sweltering summer sun and 40°C in the shade, but for all the decorations, it just isn't Christmas.  But in mid-winter we do need cheering up, even though we don't have to endure heavy snow and short daylight hours, so I thought this week I'd have a bit of fun.

I recently asked on Facebook for words that children mis-pronounce or the extraordinary names they give to everyday objects.  We all have examples of these and other sayings, from our own and our children's childhoods.  Technically these are known as malapropisms.  A couple of examples I remember are 'guessing gown' which is much more exciting than dressing gown and one that I think many children have said 'belly jeans' for 'jelly beans.'  I think technically the last one is a spoonerism but who really worries about details like that.  I'm very fond of those black and white peppermint lollies called bumhugs, oops, sorry, humbugs!  I've always liked the little girl encountering hundreds and thousands (non-pareils) for the first time who called them crunchy dots.  And there was the little chap with an otherwise extensive vocabulary, who was very fond of 'mos' (olives), though they were also called 'o-leaves' by my granddaughter.

 There is also a word for misheard/repeated song lyrics...mondegreens, with many web pages dedicated to recording them.  Most of us have heard various versions of nursery rhymes, ("Heads, shoulders, sneeze and toes", "One for the little boy who lives down the drain")

There are also the innocent questions and remarks that young children make that are totally uncensored by conventions of being polite. I remember one of my granddaughters politely asking my friend  " Why are you so fat?", or her very puzzled response to my  'see you later, alligator" "Gran, I'm not an alligator."

Apart from those dreaded questions about where did I come from, there are also those questions that make you wonder what goes on in the mind of a child. "Look at my elbows.  Are my elbows growing?", or on seeing a picture of a little baby, "Does everyone start like that?"

I think it is a lovely idea to record these sayings for the children.  Just open a page for each child on on your computer and record them as they occur.  The children love reading them in later years, and so do their parents and grandparent who relive those innocent times.

What stories can you share of children and their sayings that will help warm up our winter?  Do add them as comments so we can all share.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Be strong: ask for help!

When I started the business, initially as a nanny school, I started from scratch... just a few hasty notes of what I wanted to do and then I set about getting organised,  finding premises to use, secondhand equipment, finding teachers and advertising for students.  Providing quality training and economic survival were my only goals and the latter was a long, hard struggle.  I really didn't know what I was doing from a business point of view but somehow it has grown and evolved to today's well-established nanny agency. As I look back, I wonder why I didn't ask for help, but I think the answer is that I wasn't sure what help I needed and where to find it.

We all have times when it feels as if everything is on top of us.  It might be business worries, or it might be a crying baby, sick or fighting children, a close relationship that doesn't seem as close and supportive anymore, the death of someone we love...these, and others, are all issues we have to deal with, sometimes all at once, and it is perfectly normal and acceptable to ask for help.

Identifying when you need help:
  • Having a sense of not coping, not being in control of life, spending sleepless nights worrying, letting everyday tasks, and even personal care, slide;
  • Feeling constantly tired, short-tempered, frustrated, angry;
  • Losing a sense of humour and of enjoyment of life;
  • Avoiding people.
Barriers to getting help:
  • All the above feelings can make asking for help just seem like one more thing you should do, but can't find the energy;
  • Pride and concern about what other people (partners, parents, children, colleagues, friends, the lady down the street) will think if they knew you weren't coping.;
  • Guilt about not coping when "everyone else is managing their job/family/relationship/life";
  • Concern about how much help might cost;
  • Not knowing what help is available and where to find it;
  • Being so overwhelmed that you can't even work out what would help.
Asking for help may be as simple as letting a friend or colleague know that everything is 'too hard' at the moment, or it may involve talking to someone a bit less involved like your Maternal and Child Health nurse, your doctor or approaching one of the many community agencies that offer support and counselling.

Help can come in many forms:

  • Practical, including childcare, household help, financial support, transport assistance
  • Personal, including counselling, friendship and support groups, a listening ear
  • Information, including the wide variety of services available to assist with particular difficulties, 
  • Professional, including medical and mental health services; early intervention services for children; legal assistance.
Asking for help and accepting help when it is offered can be difficult, but it is STRONG to ask and to accept it when it is offered.  It is in fact, the first step to getting back on top of the situation that has been getting you down.

There are a great many resources available in our community.  Doctors, Maternal and Child Health nurses, Community Services are all good starting points.

Lifeline: Phone 13 11 14
Maternal and Child Health Line (in Victoria, Australia) 13 22 29
Raising Children's Network General guide to services with information and links for all Australian states.