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