Friday, June 23, 2017

What if there are too many options?

One of my treasured blog readers contacted me a couple of days ago and asked if we could have a chat. I was so excited that someone who reads my blog actually wanted to talk to me about education!

My reader was wanting to hear my thoughts on the best way forward for their child. Their child has a learning disability. It's one of those 'tricky' situations whereby their child's needs do not qualify for government funding for support in their school. However, the child would benefit enormously from the provision of classroom aide support and speech therapy, the cost of which would need to be covered by the family.

Let's face it, we would do anything we can to help our children get through school successfully, yet at the same time, we don't have thousands of dollars at out disposal to invest in therapies, classroom aides, and parent training courses. We also can't afford to dedicate our every waking hour to the needs of just one of our children when we also need to go to work, provide meals for our family and look after our other children. The challenge is to choose the best option for our child that will give them the support they need without sending us broke.

This article sets out some of the options for children with a mild learning disability that does not qualify for government funding yet would benefit from additional educational support.

Here are some of the options before you: 

Do not pay for any additional intervention:

Many students travel through our mainstream school system with an unidentified learning disorder. Sometimes these are the children who work so hard everyday in order to 'just grasp' the material being presented to them. In other cases, it's the children who 'appear' to be misbehaving but really are just trying to avoid revealing that they are struggling to understand what is being taught.

Then there are the children who have a diagnosed, mild learning disability. These children make their way through school at their own pace without any additional support beyond the classroom teacher. It's hard going, but many make it through okay. The flip side is that some young people become overwhelmed with the pressure of school when they find learning difficult. These students end up leaving school prematurely when they could have stayed had they have been provided with some additional support.

Classroom teachers are trained to cater to the wide range of abilities in their classroom and will do everything they can to support children for whom learning is difficult. Many schools will also run numeracy and literacy groups to give free additional support to children who are struggling in the classroom. Before you dive into paying for tutors and therapists, check what support the school offers as a part of their services and ask that your child be considered for any additional learning support opportunities offered. 

Pay for an integration aide to support your child:

Most schools will have a number of staff, known as integration aides, who work alongside students to assist them in the completion of their classroom work. Their hourly pay is mainly covered by the government funding provided for students with significant learning needs. The integrations aides, also known as classroom aides, are caring people who have been employed because they have the ability to patiently support children at school. Many will have completed a short-course to become an integration aide, others are qualified school teachers who have chosen to work as an aide for the sake of the shorter hours and reduced stress and responsibility. There are also many aides who are parents of children who have additional needs and understand from firsthand experience how to support children with learning difficulties.

Some schools ensure their integration aides give first priority to the students who have been given government funding on account of their disability. Other schools use their funding to place integration aides into many of their classrooms so that all children benefit from the support of an additional adult in the classroom. Schools are welcome to use their funding as they please and there are arguments for and against each model. However, what it means for children with mild learning needs is that they may already be receiving the support of a government funded integration aide without you having to pay another cent. Some teachers 'piggy-back' a struggling student with a student with an identified learning need and get the integration aide to work with both students. 

It is worth asking the classroom teacher if your child needs and /or receives additional support whilst in the classroom. 

In many cases, schools will allow you to pay for an integration aide to support your child for a set number of hours per week. An experienced integration aide will be paid around $26 per hour and so that is the rate you should be required to pay for the benefit of an aide for your child. This sounds like inexpensive tutoring, but you do need to keep these factors in mind:

  • Integration aides will generally only come to your child's classroom at the same pre-arranged time each week. This means that some weeks they will turn up and be able to help your child through a difficult task. Other weeks they might turn up whilst the teacher is going into an extended rant about the benefits of 'commas' and the integration aide will sit there unable to assist your child until a task is actually set. Some weeks you'll get value for money, other weeks you won't. 
  • An integration aide is a 'helper'. They are not paid to prepare an alternative program for your child (although some may kindly do that for you). Their main task is do whatever they can do help your child progress through the work they have been given by the classroom teacher.
  • There may be a number of children in the classroom using the same integration aide. Your child may need to 'wait their turn' to receive help when they really need it. In other cases, your child may not request the help of the integration aide at all during a lesson.

All that being said, as a teacher, I loved having integration aides in my classroom and I attempted to make the most of their time in providing tasks that they could help their allocated students with. I saw some of my students make amazing strides in their learning with the support of their integration aide. Was that money well spent? Absolutely 

When I worked as an integration aide myself, I also tried to give parents 'value for money'. Some students loved having me around and would willingly let me support them. Others were embarrassed by my presence, so even if they needed help, they wouldn't let me help them.

If your child is in upper-primary or high school, it would be wise to ask them how they feel about having an integration aide support them in the classroom. That conversation alone may help you to decide whether to pay for the classroom support or not.

Pay for a private tutor:

This is a good option if your child is just struggling with one subject in particular and needs a bit of a 'leg up' to fill in the gaps in the understanding of the subject. You can pay anywhere from $30 for half an hour to $100 for an hour depending upon the skills and experience of the tutor.  Some tutors will focus on helping your child with their homework in the given subject whilst others will identify your child's area of weakness and provide them with tutoring specifically designed to teach them new skills and build up their confidence in the subject. Some tutoring schools will have a set curriculum that the tutor will systematically work through with your child regardless of their areas of weakness in the subject.

It's up to you which tutoring style you choose but here are some tips for making private tutoring work:
  • Tell the classroom teacher that your child is receiving tutoring and work out a way by which the classroom teacher can communicate any specific learning needs that they have noticed to the tutor. 
  • Be specific with the tutor about the concerns you have and let them know what you want them to work on in as much detail as possible. If you only give the tutor vague instructions, they may end up working on areas that don't require attention.
  • If you don't feel comfortable with the tutor or your child doesn't seem to be enjoying their time with them - cut your losses early and find someone that does work for you. 
This is a good option if your child is just struggling with one subject in particular and needs a bit of a 'leg up' to fill in the gaps in the learning so that they can keep up with the rest of the class at school.

Pay for your child to see a Speech Pathologist:

If your child is having trouble keeping up with their work across a number of subjects, there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Speech Pathologists are trained to do more than just correct mispronunciations of words. They can actually assess, diagnose and treat a variety of learning, speech and language problems that a teacher is not trained to identify. Having recognised your child's needs, they are able to design a specific, targeted intervention program to assist your child in managing their learning challenges. They work with the long-term goal of equipping your child with skills that will enable them to understand and communicate ideas far more proficiently in the future. 

It is an expensive option, with reputable speech pathologists charging between $80-$130 for a 30 minute session. However, you need to approach speech therapy sessions with a long term perspective. It won't fix your child's immediate problems, but over time, you will see a development in their overall skills as they are able to understand, process and communicate their knowledge to educators.

Deciding what is best for your child is a heart-wrenching decision, and everyone is going to give you slightly different advice. My best advice is always to start with the teacher. Make an appointment time and let the teacher know that you want to talk to them about how your child is progressing overall. This will give the teacher an opportunity to go through all their notes and records so that they can give you an accurate idea of what is going on. Your teacher may also be able to advise you on whether your child would benefit from additional help either in school or by outside tutors or therapists.

I am always very happy to hear from my blog readers too. We all want to do the best for our children, and sometimes we just need to hear unbiased advice from someone who can see everyone's perspective.  Feel free to drop me an email on if I can be of assistance.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Time to take a day off school?

I woke up feeling 'off' this morning. It had been one of those weird nights of sleep where I am pretty sure I was asleep most of the night, but my dreams were strange and vivid. Firstly, I dreamed that we had opened up an animal refuge in our garage and were struggling to care for the rabbits, chickens, puppies and baby alligator that we had acquired. Fortunately, in my dream, the rabbits and the baby alligator were able to share an enclosure - go figure? The second half of the night I dreamed I was a Marvel superhero and my superhero friends and I were trying to take over various continents of the world whilst avoiding the enemies advances. Weird right?

So I woke with my face feeling all dry and stretched out, possibly because I was too lazy to wash my face last night, and I had this horrid taste in my mouth. I got up to have breakfast and ate it alright, but as I sat on the couch my tummy felt weird and it was far more comfortable to lay on my bed than continue on with my morning routine. Fortunately, at 42 years of age, I get the right to declare when I feel sick and should just go back to bed. When my husband asked me what was wrong - my only explanation was 'I just feel yuck'.

There was no cough, no sniffly nose, I wasn't threatening to vomit everywhere and I wasn't covered in a strange spotty rash. To the average observer, you would think I am totally fine to get on with my day and complete whatever work I needed to. However, if I had decided to go ahead with the coffee date I had planned with a lovely friend, went shopping and started cleaning the house, it would not have been pretty. I would have felt a whole lot worse at the end of the day.

The same thing has been happening with my own children for the past 3 weeks. Some days my son complains of a headache, other days its a tummy ache, other days he is just tired and irritable. My daughter complains of a sore tummy most nights and often a sore throat. She gets anxious if she looks at the clock and sees that it is past 8 p.m. She worries that if she doesn't get enough sleep, school will be a difficult experience in the morning. As I tuck my children into bed at night, they ask me if they'll be allowed to stay home if they feel sick in the morning. I reply with "we'll wait and see".

Of course, the poor children wake up the next day with the same vague symptoms that don't really seem to warrant staying home, and so they obediently get themselves ready for school and ultimately survive the day. They report feeling unwell at various points of the day, but not enough to warrant going to the nurse, and if they do, they are sent back to the teacher. There's no cough, wheeze, vomit, temperature or spots.....

I've been to the doctors twice in the last two weeks, hoping that they can provide the Latin name for what they are suffering from,  however, there is no medical term that succinctly identifies 'mid-term two, start of winter exhaustion'.  I have no medical experience except for First Aid and anaphylaxis training, but I wish to patent the phrase 'mid-term two, start of winter exhaustion'. It's a real illness I tell you. We've had it for three weeks now and it's not going away.

It got to the point last week where my husband and I agreed that the children are just miserable and going to school day after day when they are feeling off was not doing anyone any favours. Imagine sitting on the floor with your legs neatly crossed, listening to the teacher whilst your tummy feels just a little achy. Going to the music room with a vague headache that just comes and goes as it pleases. How can you learn when you are struggling to feel 'yourself' - it's pretty tough isn't it?

As adults, we have the authority to declare ourselves unwell and stay home from work, but our children can't. Perhaps if they possessed the vocabulary to clearly explain their symptons, they may be able to better convey to us why they should stay home. But they don't and in the absense of observable symptons, we send them along anyway.

I wonder what the long term impact is of sending children to school when they are not quite 100%? How do they feel about their learning when they are experiencing physical discomfort at the same time? Do they begin to fear certain subjects, because the physically activities or noise involved make them feel unwell? Do they stop asking to go to the nurse because they know they will just be sent back to the classroom anyway?

I have lot of friends who tell me that they would have to be practically dead before their parents would let them stay home from school. I think the same is still true, especially as keeping your children home from school may also mean that a parent has to stay home from work to look after them. However, school is far more intense and rigorous than it was 20 plus years ago. The amount of activities children switch between in a day and the high level of attention they need to maintain through the day is exhausting at the best of times. Trying to keep up when they are feeling even a little off must be near impossible.

So in our household, we are lowering the standards for what qualifies for a day of school. We are recognizing that no matter how non-descript the symptoms may seem to us, the feelings are very real, and possibly very scary, for our child. We are keeping in mind that our children need adequate time to recover from an illness before being sent back to school. We are learning to appreciate that regular emotional meltdowns and other signs of tiredness also qualify for a day off school.

I know, I know, I can hear the rebuttals now.....

1) Who is going to look after our children when we have to work and get on with other tasks?

I don't know the answer to that as each family is different.

A few things to think about though:

  • If your child comes home from school feeling 'off', maybe organise a family member or friend to look after your child the next day to give them a rest day.
  • If your child is struggling with tiredness and illness, you are also at risk of catching any illness they may have. It is better for you and your child to both take the day off and engage in some self-care rather than pushing yourselves until you both fall in a heap.
  • Speak to your employer about working from home or flexi-day options for when your child is sick.
A couple of years ago, I was working full-time whilst my children were in Prep and Year One. My daughter developed persistent tummy aches, but because I was so committed to doing my job to the best of my abilities, I rarely took a day of to attend to my daughter. In hindsight, I realized that my daughter was simply exhausted and some regular mummy days would have got her through the tiring phase of her prep year.

2) Won't my child miss out on important work if I give them a day off?

  •  Even if your child is at school, they aren't going to be getting much benefit out of the work anyway, Most teachers are very happy to keep a copy of all activities and material they cover whilst your child is away, Generally, a day of primary school missed can be caught up on with 45-60 mins work at home with an adult
  • Secondary school students can email teachers and ask them to send through any work they can complete whilst they are home
  • Concepts are taught and re-taught throughout a child's education.  A concept that is missed through a few days of absense will be retaught in the coming months or years anyway.
3) Won't my child start 'faking' their illness just to get time off school?

  • Most parents can tell if their child is in genuine discomfort or if their child is 'having them on'.
  • If a child is too sick to go to school, it is wise for a parent to enforce a genuine rest day. This means no trips to the shops, no sitting in front of the tv for hours. It is a time of sitting in bed and reading or quietly playing. A child who is not genuinely unwell will quickly return to school if they find that home is not an amusement centre during school hours.
  • If a parent takes the time to get their child to stay up to date with their school work when they are at home, the child will learn that staying home does not make them exempt from completing their schoolwork.
During these cold winter months, let's cut our children a bit of slack. A few days off here and there isn't going to jeopardize their future. However, it will give them time to rest and recover to that they can truly enjoy school when they are there.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Just give me some feedback......

Readers who have joined my blog recently may not be aware that in addition to filling the blogosphere with my ponderings on kids and education, I also run a teeny-tiny tutoring business. It's called Exploring All Options. I spend at least an hour a week with each student doing whatever I can to make the experience of school less stressful for them. Once we reduce the stress, I then work alongside the student to ensure they start experiencing success in school.

It amazes me that teenagers are willing to come and sit at my dining table and tell a middle-aged woman, whom they've never met before, about how the experience of school makes them feel. It shows how much struggling students are willing to accept help, if only educators have the time to give them that support.

My first session with every student starts the same.
Louise: "Sooooo, tell me how you feel about school?"
Student: Looks down, mumbles
Louise: "I really want to know - tell me - what's it like?"
Student: It's hard/frustrating/I find it stressful/I can't keep up/I hate reading
The list goes on.

Louise: "Tell me about your favourite teacher?"

I loooove asking this question.
It tells me so much about the student.
It tells me about how they learn best.
It tells me how they view school teachers.
It tells me what attributes they value in a teacher.
It tells me how I will be able to best support them in our sessions.

Recently, I encountered a new response, and I was so excited to hear it.

The student told me about a teacher he had who gave him written feedback on his English work. He would hand in his English pieces, the teacher would look at the work within a day or two, write comments on how he could improve his work and provide an indicative final mark for the work. Then the teacher would return it to the student and give him the chance to resubmit it, incorporating rewritten sections in response to their feedback. Then the teacher would go through the work again and give it a final mark.


1) Teacher teaches
2) Student produces work in response to teaching
3) Teacher looks at work and gives targeted feedback
4) Student learns from feedback and has another go
5) Teacher is able to measure student's performance based on his ability to learn and apply their teaching.


I want to find out the name of that teacher, enrol my child in that school and put in a request for that teacher to teach my child every year of their High School education. I hope they can teach Maths, History and Science too, because I'll be asking for them to teach my child in every subject.

I cannot tell you how much I long for all my students to receive timely feedback on their work. I spend so many sessions with my students, encouraging them as they work through tasks ready for submission and helping them prepare for tests to be completed the following day. Each week I will ask, Have you got that assignment back? How did you go in your test? We'll log on and see if grades have been listed.......nope, nothing yet. Sadly, by the time marks are received, we've long forgotten what the learning task was about. And feedback? The chance to learn from and apply feedback is long gone. What a waste of a learning opportunity!

When my husband and I first got married, I had moved from Melbourne to Sydney. We had a long distance relationship, so except for long weekends and holidays, we had never spent long periods of time together. When we were together it was a whirlwind of fun dates, visiting friends and making long term plans. Once we settled into a house together, we quickly had to adjust to the rhythms of everyday life. Having lived on my own for many years, I was self-sufficient. If I was thirsty, I got myself a drink. If I felt like eating drive-thru Maccas for dinner, I would. If I had an opinion to share, I would just roll it on out, even if my husband was halfway through talking.

I was pretty much oblivious to the fact that when you are married, it's good to show consideration to your partner. Offering them a drink when they're thirsty, not just thinking about yourself at dinner time and being respectful of their thoughts and opinions. The day came when my husband had had enough and decided to give me feedback on my behaviour. He pointed out the selfish things I was doing and told me how it was impacting him.

Imagine if, at this point, my husband gave me his feedback and then that was the end of the discussion.  Imagine if he didn't give me the chance to reflect on my actions and change my behaviour. Imagine if I only had one chance to do things right and I lost it. End of story. End of marriage.

Of course, that's not how relationships work. Naturally, (after a heated argument) I apologised, and reflected on my husbands feeedback.  I wanted to improve my behaviour for the good of our marriage. Fortunately, I have become more considerate of my husband over the past 11 years. Feedback is a waste of time unless you actually get the chance to reflect upon it and have another go at getting it right.

It's the same with education, if you don't give students feedback within a reasonable time-frame, the true impact of your teaching will be lost because you didn't give the students a chance to demonstrate what they have learnt, reflect on your feedback and have another go.

When our kids get out into the big wide world, they won't always get feedback and the chance to have a second go. But they're not out there yet. We are in the business of equipping students with all the skills they will need to get it right once they are out there. Let's give them some support, encouragement and FEEDBACK whilst they are in school. I can assure you our students will learn from it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Dear Teacher/Dear Parent....About Naplan

Dear teacher,

I want to let you know that my child feels worried about NAPLAN this week. She was talking with a year four girl who told her that the tests go forever and it's the worst thing she has ever done at school.

I feel so frustrated that my child has to go through this. 

Four tests in three days. Really? Couldn't you even space them out?

What's the point of them anyway?

If you could quietly help my child with the tests I would really appreciate it.

From a year three parent.

Dear Parent,

Thanks for your note. To be honest, I don't like NAPLAN either. It upsets the children and makes them feel worried about school. I want my classroom to be a happy place where children feel safe to have a go at things and do their best without being worried they'll get it wrong. I don't think my team leader or principal likes them either, but sadly they are a necessary part of modern day schooling.

I am actually glad they are squashed into three days, it gets the whole experience over and done with quickly. The problem with NAPLAN days is that they interrupt our normal routine and as you know, children like their routines. I know it is a daunting thought to have four tests in three days, but to be honest with you, the Tuesday tests are over by lunchtime and the Wednesday and Thursday tasks are over by recess. They are really only a small part of our school week, and once they are over, the children quickly forget about them.

As far as the point of them - well there is actually a good reason for them. The information that we get about each individual child is not so important as the overall trend we are seeing in the school. State and federal government funding is influenced in part by NAPLAN results and help identify schools that need more support. The school is also able to look at the overall results and see if they are making progress in the education of students over time.

As far as individual results go, yes, we check that each child is within the bounds of what would we would expect for a child at their age. If a child is performing below what we were expecting, then the school leadership might check in with the teacher to see if the child needs further support in their learning. If a child is performing above what we were expecting, then we might explore ways to enhance their educational experience that meets their interests and needs. If your child is performing as we would expect, then it is truly business as usual and we consider their results to just be confirmation that things are heading in the right direction in their academic education.

The real problem with NAPLAN tests is that the results are made publicly accessible on the Myschool website. This leads some schools to feel anxious about how their results may appear to prospective parents. Sadly, NAPLAN tests may show how a school is doing academically, but it doesn't tell you about how the children are taught. It doesn't tell you what lengths the school went to in order to achieve their results. It doesn't tell you how happy the children are in the playground. It doesn't tell you about the community spirit that lives in the school. It doesn't tell you about how children with additional needs are loved and embraced by the school community. All it tells you is that in May 2017, this is what the average child at a given school knew.

My advice, give your child a big hug and kiss tomorrow and send her off to school as you always do. When the results finally arrive in September, have a quick peak to see if your child may need additional help or needs more challenges at school, and then chuck the results in the recycling bin.

Instead of worrying about NAPLAN, celebrate the person your child is becoming. Celebrate the fact that they are learning more and more everyday. Celebrate their perseverance when things are hard. Celebrate the kindness they show to the children who find school a real struggle.

Celebrate that we live in a country that wants to keep schools accountable for what they are teaching our children.

And maybe go out for pizza on Thursday night to celebrate the end of NAPLAN.

Kind regards,

your child's teacher

Thursday, May 4, 2017

AWKWARD CONVERSATIONS - PART 3A - The birds and the bees

Admit it - this is the post you have been waiting for. The one where I explain the quick and easy way to explain the differences between men and women, the changes a young person goes through in puberty and of course - sex.

Actually, I am explaining most of that in "Awkward conversations Part 3B".

Today I want to lay the foundations for open, honest, non-awkward communication with your children about their bodies and their genitals.

As you may recall from my introduction into awkward conversations, I mentioned that I learnt about sex from a book given to me in a brown paper bag and that was pretty much the end of my education at home. I didn't live with any brothers, so I had no idea what a penis looked like, except for the one in the book that was small and pastel pink!

My year nine science teacher, lovely as she was, kept on covering her cheeks with her palms saying 'this is embarrassing' as she went through sex ed with us. By the age of 18, I had decided that discussions of our bodies, let alone it's capacity for sexual intercourse was a shameful, embarrassing topic that really shouldn't be discussed. Needless to say, I was in for quite a few surprises when I began dating and eventually married my husband.

So I guess you are hoping we have got to the bit where I tell you in three easy steps how to talk about sex in a non-awkward, relaxed kind of way so that your child grows up to be a well-adjusted, respectful and respected sexual being?

Ummmm, no.

To be honest, some of the things I am going to suggest have not even been road-tested on my own children, in my opinion they are still a bit immature to deal with some of this stuff - so feel free to write back with your own comments and suggestions - who knows, maybe you can become my 'blogging side-kick'.

1) Think about your worldview. I know, I know, I talk about worldviews alot. However, your beliefs about where people originally came from and the value of humanity actually impacts the way you will view the human body and what we should and shouldn't do with it.

Personally, I want my kids to see their bodies as incredible creations, created by a loving God, to be enjoyed in lots of different ways at the appropriate time.

2) Let your children know about what parts of their body are okay to share and what parts aren't. I tell kids that we have hands so that we can hold hands with a friend, we have arms so that we can hug our friends, we have legs so that we can run with our friends. We have mouths to talk with our friends and so on. I then tell them that there are parts of our body that we are not meant to share with other people until we get much older. These are things that are covered by your undies and in the case of girls, covered by a bikini top. Your penis or vagina and breasts are not to be shared with other people as they are private to you. No one should ask you to show your private parts to them. The only time people should see your private parts is if your parents (carer) are helping you wash, dry or get dressed or if there is a medical issue. I then go on to say that there may be times when a doctor or nurse needs to see those private parts. That's okay, but your parents should still be with you.

In fact, when I go to the doctor with one of my children and they need to show a private part of their body to the doctor, I remind them that this is only okay because they have a medical issue and I am with them whilst the doctor is looking at their body.

3) As you may have already picked up, I use the correct anatomical terminology. Calling genitals 'boo boos' or 'doodies' or whatever other cutesie names you have made up undermines the importance of your body parts. Silly names result in silly behaviour with those silly body parts......and believe me, I have a heap of stories about the crazy things little prep boys get up to in the toilets - all totally innocent, but all because their private parts have been referred to flippantly.

4) Don't be awkward! If your child asks you a question, don't go all bright red or get angry and tell them they are not allowed to know. Give them an age appropriate answer. Don't go drawing diagrams or borrow 50 books from the library about it. Don't go giving them a complete explanation of how they were conceived, resulting in them rocking in fetal position under the table. Just say what you need to say in a couple of sentences and move on. You'll know when they are ready for more details.

5) Leave a couple of age appropriate books about the human body around. If your child is interested in the way the body is structured, they will seek those books out and ask questions. Hiding all evidence of human nakedness or sexuality and avoiding any discussion of sex will lead them to the assumption that sex is taboo which could have wide reaching ramifications into the future.

6) Man oh man, I am so sad that I have to say this, but here goes......

Our children need to know that there may be a time when someone asks to see or touch their penis or vagina. That person may be a relative, friend or stranger. Our children need to know that NO ONE has the right to ask that of a child. No matter what that person has promised or threatened, our children need to know that they must come and tell their mum or dad if this happens.

When explaining this to your child, you don't want to be all dramatic and scare them.

You could just be getting your child dressed after a bath and say "You know what? Your body is so special and it is all yours to look after. Did you know that no should ever ask to see or touch you penis? It is your body and I want you to look after it. If someone ever asks to touch your penis or asks you to touch their private parts, be really firm and just say no and move right away from them. Then I want you to come and tell me. I promise you, you won't get into trouble, I won't be mad. I just want to know that you are okay."

This is a message that you just want to casually give to your child every few months. Don't make a fuss or sit them down for a serious heart to heart, just slip it into the conversation when you are in the car, or hanging out at the playground or reading a story just before bed. This means that if someone does attempt to 'interfere' with your child, your child will know that they can say no and then move away.

I pray that our children never ever have to use our advice.

Well, having gone through awkward conversations PART 3A, I'm hoping that writing PART 3B will be a breeze!!!!

I'm going to go and vege in front of the tv for a

Monday, April 24, 2017

AWKWARD CONVERSATIONS - PART TWO - Why doesn't everyone agree with me?

I still remember the car trip like it was yesterday. I had just spent the weekend in Mt Gambier with my youth group. It was a long drive back to Melbourne, so I opted to avoid the stinky church bus filled with ratty boys and jumped into the car of a young woman who had recently joined our church. I was 15 years old, leading a sheltered existence within my church and faith-based school.

The car trip was progressing nicely with interesting banter about life when suddenly, my travelling companion dropped a 'moral bomb' on me. She casually mentioned that she goes to the pub on a Friday night to have a drink with her friends. What? The driver of my car professed to be a Christian AND drinks alcohol? I began to feel sick, my ears became blocked and began to throb. I felt dizzy. I had to get out of the car. My driver was an alcoholic!!!!!

Conversation became strained after this confession and I was eager to get back on the smelly bus at the next McDonald's stop. The young woman obviously sensed my disapproval as I don't recall ever seeing her at church again after this event. In hindsight, I have no doubt that this woman was nothing but a social drinker, but at the time, I didn't know how to respond to this variation on my worldview.

The reason this situation arose was that I had been raised in a home where alcohol was not consumed. In fact I signed a declaration at seven, and later at fourteen, declaring I would never consume 'intoxicating liquor'. This declaration was part of a larger document that also outlined the spiritual beliefs that I understood to be true. Unfortunately, as the declaration to not drink alcohol was on the same sheet of paper, I had wrongly come to presume that not drinking alcohol was an integral part of my faith - and no one had told me any different.

Faced with someone who held a variation to my world view terrified me. I was ill-equipped to understand that it was possible to maintain a warm friendship with someone who made different choices to me, no matter how great or small.

My parents had every right to educate me in the Christian worldview and to hope (and pray) that I would continue to follow in that path. However, I had wrongly come to believe that some things, such as not drinking alcohol, were a core belief because I didn't fully understand some aspects of the worldview I was learning about. I also hadn't learnt that some people will hold variations to my beliefs and others will believe something that is in total opposition to what I believe.

So how do we encourage our children to follow our own worldview without developing a fear or disrespect for the views of others? The current debates over our refugee policy and same-sex marriage has mobilized dozens of lobby groups each with distinct worldviews, vying to declare what is the 'correct' response to these issues. Sadly, as the debates continue, the arguments are going beyond the core issue to criticism of the belief systems of others. This is incredibly sad and perpetuates this fear of others and their beliefs.

So how do we raise well-balanced young people who hold a distinct worldview, can develop a viewpoint and express it in a way that displays tolerance and respect for others?

Here is my feeble attempt:

1) If you wish your child to follow your worldview, whatever it is, explain to them what you believe and why. Give your child logical, well-thought out information. Give them information about what you believe at age appropriate times. Avoid emotion-loaded propaganda about your worldview or that of someone else.

2) Encourage your child to ask questions, express their doubts and challenge your worldview. If your worldview cannot stand-up to the questions of a twelve year old, may I suggest you pick a more robust worldview?

3) Point out the similarities and differences between your worldview and others. BUT, do so in a way that is respectful of the other worldviews and the people that hold them. Teach your child to ask questions of others respectfully and to present their perspective without 'lecturing' or 'arguing'.

4) Coach your children in the art of not being visibly shocked or offended by the views of others, no matter how wild or wacky they may appear to be. Teach them that they can be friends with people who hold different worldviews and that there is actually the potential to learn from them.

5) Finally, teach your child to maintain their own values and principles even when other people are doing things they don't agree with. Respecting the views of others does not mean allowing them to push you into doing things you don't want to do.

Just for the record, a few short years after this fateful car trip, I started working for a Melbourne-based Airline and discovered the joys of hanging out with my workmates at the pub on a Friday after work. I still didn't drink, but I learnt that I could have a great night out with people who come at life from a whole different perspective!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


*Trigger warning – This post contains vocabulary and themes that may not be appropriate for your children. Please wait until after your children go to bed to read this one!

It was 35 years ago, and yet my mother still has difficulty getting over possibly one of ‘her’ most embarrassing moments. I was 7, my sisters had moved out of home and I rarely had friends over to play games with. My parents had brought a traveling preacher home for dinner one evening and whilst mum prepared dinner, this very kind gentleman offered to play a game with me. Problem was, we were playing checkers, which requires someone to go first. Rather than taking the liberty of going first, I decided to choose who should start by using the very reliable and yet random method known as ‘eenie meenie, miney, mo’ (Spelling of the rhyme provided by Justin Bieber in his song – Eenie meenie – cheers Justin!).

And so I began…….
Eenie, meenie, miney, mo
Catch a n@$?@r by the toe
If he hollers, let him go
Eeenie, meenie, miney, mo

My mum came running into the living room quite flustered. “Louise, where did you learn that?”
She then turned to our guest, “I’m so sorry, I’ve never heard her say that before!”
I was totally confused. What did I do wrong? I don’t think our guest was embarrassed by it, his cheeks weren’t red, but it was hard to tell as he did have particularly dark skin on account of his African heritage.

With much blustering and hand gesturing, I surmised that I had used a word that for some reason was offensive for people with dark skin. To be honest, it wasn’t until I read ‘To kill a mockingbird’ that I truly realised just what emotions my use of that word would have evoked for our dinner guest all those years ago.

As I said in my introductory blog, many of our parents were brought up in an era where we avoided discussing things that were thought to be private or indelicate. The word ‘nigger’ was one of those words.

When I am faced with my children uttering words that make my ears turn a little pink, I try to take the following approach:

1)  Approach my children calmly, without a trace of anger.

2) Ask them to repeat the full sentence or phrase they uttered. It is quite possible they have mispronounced a different word and had no idea how the word sounded to me. A quick lesson in how to pronounce their intended word correctly should do the trick.

3) If my child has indeed said a ‘bad word’, ask them if they know what it means. If they already know the meaning, you may need to simply explain to them why we don’t use the word and the offence the word may cause to other listeners. Due to my adherence to the Christian worldview, I would explain to my children that I want them to use words that build up and encourage other people. Using words that put people down or may cause other people offence goes against that goal.

If it turns out that my child does not have a full understanding of the word being used, then I would explain the word in terms that are age appropriate. 

If the word is related to a person’s cultural heritage or appearance, I may say something like, “This word is used by people who want to be unkind to men and women with dark skin/who come from Asia/have an intellectual disability. It is a word that is often used to convey hate and anger. I know you didn’t mean it this way, but it may still cause pain to other people who hear it. Please don’t say it again.” If the child is older, I may even give them a book or article to read about the history of the people group they are speaking about. 

If the word is related to sexuality, I would definitely tailor my explanation to what the child already knows. For your average 5-12 year old, I might take this approach. “The word you just said is an impolite/rude/crass way of talking about something that God originally created for adults to enjoy. It is a not a word that that should be used for fun. When you use it, you are taking something very special and using it to hurt and offend others.” 

If the child is older, I may say, “That word is a crass way of talking about sex/female genitals etc.  I will tell you what those words mean, but I want you to refer to these things by their proper term and in the proper context from now on.”

Once children are armed with the true meaning of what they are saying and understand the impact the word may have upon other people, it is hoped they should stop using the word. If a child continues to use the word, then you may be dealing with an ongoing issue of disobedience rather than a mild case of ‘potty-mouth’.   

The days of parents turning red-faced and embarrassed or angry really should be over. If we want our children and teenagers to come to us to ask about ‘taboo’ subjects, they need to trust us to give them a balanced, honest, helpful response. We need to lay the foundations for that from a very early age and establish a long track record of trust and unflappable honesty. If we don’t, there will be plenty of peers, teachers, web sites and worse, that will fill in the gaps….and believe me, you really don’t want that!