When, in living memory, have we had to deal with floods on such a large scale, transition through two years of a pandemic and worry about the threat of a major world conflict involving two superpowers all at the same time? Most adults I know are struggling to cope with the constant assault of local tragic events and those in the wider world. Can you imagine how challenging this is for our children? That’s why I wanted to talk to you this week about how to master the art of the sideways chat.
Floods in South East Queensland
But first, my heart goes out to all of you who experienced hardship from the recent weather. We had to make difficult decisions and it was with great reluctance that we closed the school for the second time in one week. Our calling is education and that is where our expertise is so we rely on others in their field of expertise to advise us on matters of weather and regulations.
After the unpredictable turn of weather in Week 5, we followed the Premier’s advice and closed the College last Friday when it looked like the forecast storms would endanger the lives of our students, families and staff. For many of you, this was challenging and I understand your frustration.
Was it better or worse that the warnings were cancelled and we ended up with a mostly sunny day? I’m embracing the relief that the weather didn’t cause more treacherous conditions for our families and staff rather than fretting that maybe we could have stayed open against all the official advice.
GCC was still open for children of essential workers and any children who may be at risk. Our major concern was that we would have enough staff who could safely travel to College to look after these students. Well, I don’t know if I was more proud of the staff who turned up with cheerful smiles and a ‘can-do’ attitude or our amazing parents and caregivers who kept their children safe at home. We ended up having a ratio of two staff members for every student!
Depression rates in Australia
However, the recent flooding, the situation in Ukraine and ongoing reminders about a pandemic is affecting children and adults alike. In 2022, an article by World Population Review listed Australia as coming second (tied with USA and Estonia) for having the highest rates of depression! The only country which exceeds our rate of depression is Ukraine! This really shocked me and especially as I thought of our students and their current and future mental health.
I’m mentioning this sobering statistic because it is important how we relate to our children about what is happening in our community and the world. Parents and caregivers have so much power to positively impact their children in order to help them build resilience and defy the rising statistics.
Master the art of the sideways chat
A recent article by the ABC called, “How to help children and teens process news coverage about the flood disaster and Ukraine conflict” listed a lot of good ways to help our children through what they seem to be bombarded with on TV and social media. There was one particular point I really liked called “Master the art of the sideways chat”. This refers to having those harder conversations in what might be a more unobtrusive or less formal environment or manner, like when you’re in the car, doing the washing up or walking the dog.
Sometimes, intentionally sitting down with our children to talk about how they are feeling can make something feel even bigger in their minds. That’s where mastering the art of the sideways chat comes into its own.
Sideways chats sometimes just happen because that is when children feel comfortable about opening up. For example, I know of one young boy who would happily chat in the car on the way home from school only to go immediately quiet when he was home. One of the best household inventions is the dishwasher but it sadly stopped the opportunity for sideways chats because washing the dishes is now a one-person job. Sideway chats happen while you go for a walk, wash the dog or do some baking. Lisa Woodward, Life Ed Australia learning manager says, these chats “allow us to feel more relaxed and speak safely about what’s on our minds”.
The main purpose of mastering the art of the sideways chat is not so your child listens to you but so you listen to your child. Regular low key interactions like this provide active nurturing and encourage a relationship where your child will feel comfortable approaching you with what is on his or her mind.
The next time you have the opportunity for a sideways chat, be intentional and use the moment to find out how your child is feeling. Encourage them to ask questions, put things in perspective for them and validate their feelings by accepting them. Let them lead the conversation. Questions like, “What’s on your mind?” rather than “Are you okay?” will be more productive.
Some children will be deeply concerned by what they see on TV or in their community and others will be more worried about what vegetables are on their plate for dinner or how they are going to manage their homework and sporting commitments that week. Regardless of whether your child is worried about nuclear war or having brussel sprouts for dinner, their feelings are important. Telling them to not worry about war or that children in Ukraine would be happy to eat brussel sprouts is not going to help.
It’s probably a blessing if your child is thinking more about vegetables than worrying about world events however, you won’t know what is on their mind unless you master the art of the sideways chat.
Mike Curtis, Principal