Life at 5 – Resilience

Did you watch the fascinating documentary Life at 5 last night on ABC1?.  The third installment of the Life Series saw the eleven Aussie kids involvied in the longitudinal study now aged 5.  Australia has already met these children and their families in Life at 1 and Life at 3.  (If you missed these ones you can iview them over at the Life Series site.)

(Shine: at age 1, age 3 and age 5.)

Over two episodes, Life at 5 tracks our group of children against contemporary scientific discoveries and findings from two areas of child development: childhood resilience, and the factors which enhance school readiness.  Life at 5 runs alongside Australia’s unique, federally-funded longitudinal study, ‘Growing Up In Australia‘, gaining exclusive access to a wealth of scientific findings from this study, in which 10,000 children and their families are interviewed over 15 years to unveil never-before captured sociological and scientific data. Though intimate, the adventure is big.  The Life Series combines vivid personality updates, interwoven with never-before seen archival footage and brand new psychological observations recorded on hidden cameras behind mirrored glass in The Life Lab…

The buzz word for last night’s episode was resilienceResilience is a topic I have written about previously, and it is a life skill worth serious investigation.  Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, or roll with the punches.  For some time now research has been showing that children who exhibit resilience in their early years are far more likely to be “successful” in life as an adult. The experiments conducted in the Life Lab as part of the documentary revealed so much about the way children process and react to challenging situations.  Those of us who were chatting on twitter during the screening wondered how well our own kids would cope with the Marshmallow test!  (And perhaps even how well WE would cope…)  If you’d like to tweet with us next week, parents and educators will be using the hashtag #lifeat5 to keep up with the conversation.

I’m really looking forward to part 2 next week as the five year olds start school!  Hope you’ll join me then for a chat.  I’m off to buy marshmallows.

I was approached by the ABC to promote this series, but my opinion is my own.

Cyclone Yasi and Media Storms

As the South-East part of the state recovers and rebuilds following the floods, the North and Far-North Queensland communities are bracing for the most severe cyclone we have ever seen.  Tropical Cyclone Yasi will hit tonight.  Schools have been closed for the rest of the week.  Hospitals have been evacuated.  Airports shut. Roads closed. Thousands and thousands of residents told to flee. This is a very, very serious storm.

(Satellite image at time of post: Bureau of Meteorology)

There is likely to be extensive coverage on television networks for the next 48 hours, possibly longer (particularly in Qld).  Here are some things I learned about the coverage of a natural disaster during the recent floods:

  • It will be incessant.  Expect rolling coverage, and the cancellation of regular programming (including children’s shows).
  • It will be emotional.  Footage will show real people dealing with real feelings.
  • It will be traumatic.  Homes will be destroyed, and lives may be lost.
  • It will be dramatic.  In case a natural disaster isn’t dramatic enough on its own, you can be sure the footage will include carefully selected songs, slow motion scenes, soft focus tear-stained faces and images of precious possessions amid rubble.

My message to you is to protect your children from some of the media storm if they are not directly affected.  It is up to us to expose our children to enough so that they understand what is happening at an age-appropriate level, yet protect them from some of the dramatic footage which they are not emotionally ready to deal with.  As I said with the last natural disaster in my state:

As parents, we have a responsibility to walk our children through times like this – and it isn’t always easy.  Their questions need to be acknowledged, even if we can’t give them answers.  We have to know our kids.  Really know them, in order to help them make sense of the world around them. We have to know how much information they can comprehend.  We have to know how sensitive they are.  We have to know how much they are likely to worry.  We have to know what will reassure them.  We have to know our kids.

Can I ask you to do two things?

  1. Please pray for those directly affected by this disaster.  If you are on twitter you might like to use the hashtag #pray4qld as well as #TCYasi
  2. Turn the TV off. Don’t leave it running, replaying the disaster over and over again in front of your kids.  Watch some together. Answer their questions. Talk about what we can all do to help. Then turn the TV off.

If you would like me, and other readers, to pray for anyone in particular in Yasi’s path, please just leave a comment below. We will hold them in prayer throughout the night and into tomorrow. Blessings, Cath. xx

Brisbane Floods – The Aftermath

The waters are already receding and the cleanup has begun, but the effects of this disaster will be felt for a long time.  I hadn’t intended to post again about the 2011 Brisbane floods.  However, I have had requests from readers across Australia and around the world!

My supermarket shelves!

Whether you have a four year old or a fourteen year old, they are probably asking you the same question: Why?  Some whys are easy to answer…

  • Why is the news on all day?
  • Why isn’t Dad going to work?
  • Why is the power off?
  • Why are the supermarket shelves empty?!

Some whys are harder…

  • Why do people build houses where it floods?
  • Why is it flooding on a sunny day?
  • Why didn’t the dam stop the flood?
  • Why did some people die?

Some whys are difficult, even for us…

  • Why couldn’t we save everyone?
  • Why do we have to have floods?
  • Why does God let bad things happen?

As parents, we have a responsibility to walk our children through times like this – and it isn’t always easy.  Their questions need to be acknowledged, even if we can’t give them answers.  We have to know our kids.  Really know them, in order to help them make sense of the world around them. We have to know how much information they can comprehend.  We have to know how sensitive they are.  We have to know how much they are likely to worry.  We have to know what will reassure them.  We have to know our kids.

My 2yr old son understands only a little of what is going on.  He has seen television footage (hard not to here in Brisbane) and talks about the river.  “River. House in river. Oh mess! More river. Truck in river. Oh dear. Mess!”  He followed his sister’s lead when they played floods earlier this week, and his focus was mostly on, you guessed it, the river.  I have simply explained to him that we need to make the river “all safe” again and fix the mess.

My 4yr old understands more and is asking lots of questions.  She asks about our friends and family (particularly her aunty), and whether they are safe.  She needs reassurance that our home will not flood.  She wants to pray about kids whose toys and clothes washed away.  She processes through play, rescuing people and rebuilding cities in her roleplay.  I am careful though to protect her from some information and some of the distressing television footage.  This is part of my job as her mother.  I have to know which things will be too much for her to deal with.

My sister's suburb

One thing that can help children of all ages to process the aftermath of a disaster, is to give them a practical opportunity to respond.  If your child is upset about other kids having muddy bedrooms, for example, ask them what they would like to do about it.  Young kids might like to donate some of their toys to charity, or to a specific evacuation centre.  Primary aged kids might like to donate some of their pocket money, or spend some of their money on a new toy for another child.  Local teens might like the opportunity to get in and help another family clean out the mud.  Other teens might be prompted to come up with a fundraising idea.  Letter writing is another great practical way for kids of all ages to respond.  You might help your child to write an email asking for change, post a letter of thanks, or send a drawing to give encouragement.

Most of us have been indirectly affected by the flooding.  If your family has been directly affected, or your child is having difficulty dealing with this disaster, I would strongly suggest that you seek counselling.

1.  Know your child

2.  Acknowledge their questions, answer appropriately if you can, and admit it if you can’t.

3.  Help your child to respond according to their age and understanding.

*   *   *   *   *

How have your kids been affected by the flooding in Queensland (and beyond)?  Have they asked lots of questions?  What other ideas do you have for responding in practical ways??

Brisbane Floods – Processing through Play

This week hasn’t gone as I planned.  It hasn’t gone as anyone in Brisbane planned. How do you plan for a once-in-a-hundred-year event?

Today, 75% of the state of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone, with flooding widespread, deaths confirmed and many people still missing.  It is a grim day in this beautiful part of the world.  The Brisbane River is swelling… spilling over its banks and swallowing our capital city.  The river’s peak is due to hit at 4am and inundate thousands of homes and businesses.  Many Brisbane residents will get little sleep tonight.

Our home is high and dry on a hill, and safely away from the river so we will not be directly affected.  But I wonder – will anyone in Brisbane (in fact, in Queensland) not be affected by this disaster?

24hr rolling coverage is on all stations on the tv, so the kids have seen many images of our city in crisis.  My sister is very close to the rising waters, and we are all keeping a close watch on details for her area.  Her power is cut for safety reasons, along with 120,000+ other homes, so we are doing our best to keep her up to date on the unfolding events.  My Dad had to spend the night with us too as all roads to my folks’ place were cut.  Despite not seeing any floodwater in real life, my children are very aware of what is going on.

Today the kids played “floods” together.  They set up roads and bridges and traintracks, then covered much of the landscape with a blue scarf.  They had people stranded at one end, and built a hospital at the other.  They flew a duplo helicopter from one end to the other, rescuing those in trouble and taking them to the “very strong and stable and high up” hospital.

I stopped for a moment to consider their play.  I know that the reality of the situation is less black and white.  I know that real people have lost their lives in this disaster.  I know that this flood will impact communities in ways beyond my children’s understanding.  But I didn’t discourage them.  Why?  Because play is part of their way of processing. They are making sense of the situation in their own way, and trying to understand the world around them.  Their play is a healthy response.

I hope that this is all they will have to process. We’ll see what the morning brings…

(image source)

The Night Before Christmas

We are always busy, busy on Christmas Day.  Two excited kids will rush to stockings at dawn, we’ll be off to church at 7am where I’ll be singing, and then we’ll be sharing with friends and family all day.  Lots of presents to give, and food to eat, and love to share.

But Christmas Eve is our special time.  Our time for the four of us to just be a family together.

  • We wrap the last of the presents.
  • We read the Christmas Story together.
  • The kids put out their stockings.
  • We turn the house lights off and sit in front of the twinkling tree.
  • We pray for others – especially for less fortunate families in Australia, for children living in poverty, and for all those who will be working on Christmas Day.
  • We get the kids into bed early!  They need a good night’s sleep before the big day.

Then hubby and I get time to ourselves.  There are always carols by candlelight* on tv, so while we listen we wrap the kids’ presents, and prepare food for the next day.  In the “calm before the storm” we take a moment to be grateful for all the blessings in our lives.

How do you spend Christmas Eve?

(* In Australia, Christmas is in our mid-summer. We have a tradition of big-scale, outdoor Christmas concerts where everyone sits on blankets with candles to sing carols together.  The biggest of these are televised nationally and include performances by Australia’s finest entertainers.)

Letters of Love – Letters to War

This week on 96Five FM (podcast below) I talked about their current campaign to send 3500 letters to soldiers serving away from home this Christmas. Many readers will know that I grew up in an Army family myself. My Dad served in the Australian Defence Force for 20 years, and much of my childhood was spent moving where ever Dad was posted. I remember the times when Dad was away. We missed him, and I’m sure he missed us too.

This year many Aussie families will be missing loved ones at Christmas because they are serving overseas. Kids will miss Dads.  Husbands will miss wives.  Parents will miss their adult children.  And soldiers will miss all that Christmas means to them back home.

So will you join me in writing a letter?  Just print off the letter head and write a quick note.  All the instructions you need are available on 96Five’s site.  Letters need to arrive at 96Five by this Friday, 10th December in order to make it into the hands of troops for Christmas.

I helped Miss 4 to write her own letter.  Her words are precious, “You might miss your family at Christmas and feel sad.  Don’t worry because you can blow kisses to them.  Kisses can fly all around the world (and they don’t pop)!”

If you’d like to hear my radio interview it’s available here: SquiggleMum Podcast – letters to war

PS – I wish I could also write a letter to every Mummy who has to manage this Christmas on her own with the kids while Daddy is away.  I would tell each mum that her kids won’t appreciate what she does, or notice how hard it is for her right now, but one day they’ll grow up. And then they will. xx

Beach Holiday (and Toddler Tips)

We took a spontaneous long weekend away to the Sunshine Coast, which is only an hour from home for us.  All four of us really needed the time away from everything, we shared some lovely moments on the beach together:

The boys learned about water and waves.

We explored the rock pools (one of our all time favourite family activities).

We discovered new and interesting creatures: hermit crabs, fish, molluscs… and check out the amazing Spotted Sea Hare we found! (No, I didn’t know what it was without googling, though I guessed sea slug.)

And at the end of the day, we wandered the sandy shore together. Happiness.

*    *    *    *    *

Holidays with under 5s are full of beautiful moments, but you have to find them.  Holidays with under 5s can also be tiring, challenging, and an organisational nightmare!!  I spoke on radio this week about my top 3 tips for holidaying with toddlers.

  • #1 = make bed times familiar
  • #2 = work in with toddler routines
  • #3 = take basic kitchen plastics (2 x plastic fork, spoon, plate, bowl, sippy cup)

Click the following link to hear the podcast if you’re interested:

SquiggleMum Podcast – Toddlers On Holidays

How Mums Deal With Sick Kids

We have had a week of sickness, with both kids battling a raging fever followed by sniffles and the kind of cough that makes other mums raise their eyebrows. The thermometer is in constant use, and the infant paracetamol is getting a workout too. I think we’re through the worst of it now, with only the cough hanging on, but I’ll have to keep an eye on the little man as he is prone to ear infections.

This morning on air I shared some thoughts about dealing with sick kids.  Here are my three top tips:

  • Lower your expectations – Obviously the kids aren’t going to be at their best. Relax the routine, let go of the little things, be realistic about meal times, and don’t stress about the house (no one will be visiting anyway)!
  • Cancel your plans – If you have little ones under school age, cancel anything you can! Don’t bother with trying to squeeze things in… just let people know that the kids are unwell and you’ll reschedule asap.  If you have school aged kids, cancel school for a day or two (and sadly, yes, whatever you had planned too), and cancel afterschool activities until they are 100% well again.
  • Take shifts at night – Find a system that works for your family, so that you aren’t working 24-7. We either take turns night and night about so that only one of us is getting up, or take pre-midnight shifts and post-midnight shifts.  (This week though, our little boy only wants Daddy during the night!!)  Single mamas, you need extra help during the day because you have to deal with v-e-r-y long night shifts.

Working mums, how do you juggle your career with caring for sick little ones?  Do most of your sick leave days get used when the kids are sick, or when you are? Any tips to share?

SAHMs, how do you give yourself time to recharge so that you don’t go insane?!  Do you have a top tip to share?

If you’d like to hear the podcast from this morning, it should be available later today at 96Five.

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Sadness and Kindness

Dear Sad Lady,

We saw you eating sushi at the shops today.  You were sitting with two kids and you were crying on the phone.  Did you hear some bad news?  Or was it just a bad day?  Did someone let you down?  Or were the kids just being a handful?

We saw you, sad lady.  We were going to stop and see if you were ok, but we decided you needed flowers.  So we bought you some.  Pink roses.  Just a little bunch.  We got them as fast as we could and raced back to the sushi place.

But you were gone.

So we didn’t get to tell you that we noticed.  We didn’t get to let you know that strangers care.  We didn’t get to brighten your day.  And we’re sorry.

You will probably never read this.  But maybe sharing the story will inspire someone else to buy pink roses for a stranger.

With blessings,

SquiggleMum and Kids.

PS – here are your roses:

Matthew 25: 34-40 (NIV Bible)

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father… For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Some Days They Draw On Walls

Some days my children are gorgeous.  They play nicely together.  They make each other laugh.  They share adventures.  They create things.  They listen and follow instructions.  And I look at them and think I must be doing something right.

Some days my children are a handful.  They rile each other up.  They have tantrums.  They are disobedient.  They break things.  They draw on walls.  And I look at them and wonder what I’m doing wrong.

I love my children on the good days.  I love them just the same on the hard days.  My love for them is not dependent on their behaviour.  I love them because they are mine.  Nothing they could do could make me love them more.  Nothing they could do could make me love them less.

My children are so much like me.  Some days I am gorgeous. Some days I am a handful.  I too am loved unconditionally – by the One who is perfect. His love for me is not dependent on my behaviour.  He loves me because I am His.  Nothing I could do could make Him love me more.  Nothing I could do could make Him love me less.

That kind of love frees me from the impossible pursuit of perfection.  I am free to be imperfect. And so are my kids.

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