Episode 201

Maggie Dent on National Tree Day 2020

Recorded by | Run time: 48 min, 19 sec


Regenerating Our Land, Our People, Our Future 

Maggie Dent has become one of Australia’s favourite parenting authors and educators, with a particular interest in the early years, adolescence and resilience. Maggie is the author of six major books, including the bestselling 2018 release Mothering Our Boys. She is also host of the ABC podcast, Parental As Anything. Maggie is a dedicated advocate of environmental awareness and sustainable practices and she’s consulted on Planet Ark’s Tree Report, which coincides with National Tree Day on Sunday 2 August.

Maggie Dent Tree Report Planet Ark

Each year, National Tree Day provides Australian communities with an opportunity to regenerate by connecting with each other and contributing to important environmental projects.

Given the hardships faced in the last year, this opportunity to get out in nature with family, friends and the wider community can help play a key part in the recovery of the Australian people, land and wildlife.

Maggie joins Bron from For the Love of Teaching to talk about National Tree Day and how, after a particularly challenging year, Australians can harness this opportunity to regenerate our land, our people and our future.

Maggie’s Youtube Channel

Full Episode Transcript – Maggie Dent National Tree Day

Maggie Dent has become one of Australia’s favourite parenting authors and educators with particular interests in the early years, adolescence and resilience. Maggie is the author of six major books, including the bestselling 2018 release Mothering Our Boys. She’s also the host of the ABC podcast Parental as Anything. Maggie is a dedicated advocate of environmental awareness and sustainable practices, and she’s consulted on Planet Ark’s Tree Report 2020, which coincides with National Tree Day on Sunday the 2nd of August. Each year, National Tree Day provides Australian communities with an opportunity to regenerate by connecting with each other and contributing to important environmental projects. In 2020, Planet Ark is celebrating the 24th year of National Tree Day. They’re hoping to increase the previous total of 26 million trees, shrubs and grasses planted around the country with thousands of volunteers taking part in planting events in the local environment, given the hardships faced in the last year, this opportunity to get out in nature with family, friends and the wider community can help play a key part in our recovery.

Bronwyn Brady: Maggie joins me to talk about National Tree Day. I will thank you so much for being here. It’s lovely to see you. And today you’re joining me to talk about National Tree Day and how after this particularly challenging year for us, all Australians can harness this opportunity to regenerate our land, our people and our future. So welcome and thank you for being here.

Maggie Dent: My absolute pleasure. These sort of things are passionate in my heart when you’ve grown up immersed in nature. It never leaves you. And when it’s devastated, it devastates us quite deeply. And this whole renewal part is something, as a farmer’s daughter, I’ve lived many times. So this is just a perfect match. Thank you very much for asking me.

Bronwyn Brady: Oh, thank you. And so with National Tree Day as part of Planet Ark, and they’ve written a really amazing report, which you consulted on, which is the Tree Report for 2020.

What made you decide to get on board with planet Ark as a consultant on the Tree Report?

Maggie Dent: Well, I think it was really there’s been a lot of talk about recovery and resilience and things, and I just wanted to kind of get on and talk about it from a really a family basis instead of a community basis. Even though I, I have actually worked with communities following bushfires and following floods. So it is something I have lived and I know the sorts of things that make a really big difference to children. So I wanted to make sure there’s some serious, common sense that it’s very doable for those families whose children were really impacted deeply by this. And also hopefully to bring some hope or on, I just know that when there’s a good dose of hope with some practicality and a vision for we will recover families and communities do recover much better than without that. Definitely.

So it’s something positive to focus on and move forward through, even though it has kind of felt like the waves have just kept coming with the devastation now in the 2020 Planet Ark Tree Report, which I’m going to link in the show notes for the listeners. You say Maggie, that caregivers need to find ways to become the alpha figures in children’s lives. And I love that, but what does this mean? And how can we do this effectively as teachers and parents, and I guess big role models in our kids’ lives.

Maggie Dent: And that’s such a good thing because one of the what’s happened, the shift of paradigm for parenting has moved from very severe punitive, controlling kind of parenting, which we now have from the science of child development doesn’t actually, you don’t need to do that to raise awesome children. And I have four sons and I never had that.

So we want it what’s happened. That means that we have to be soft and gentle and kind, and loving and tender all the time and not be firm. So we actually really have to get that message out that the balance has been firm and loving so that our kids know that we turn up with what we call swagger, you know, and that’s really one of the big things because when a family is decimated by, it doesn’t matter what tragedy it is. Then the adult is shattered and it’s really hard to quite often have the energy, let alone to care for our children, let alone to turn up with swagger. But what we want parents to realise is once you’re all in that same space, as you start stepping out of it, a couple of months down the track, our children want to lean on us, even if we’re not coping.

So it’s that, that voice again that says, “Look, this is how things are after awful things that happen. And sometimes bad things happen to good people, but together that’s where we get strong. So there’s going to be times that I need to cry because there’s big feelings in me and I’m frightened and that you can help me. You can get the tissue box.”

And if they’re a bit older, you can make me a cup of tea and I’m going to regroup. And then I’m here. So together it’s about us also recognising, so that swagger means at times that we make sure we turn up when things are down that our kids might be doing and not cave. “Yeah, no, we’re not having, we’re not having that before dinner. We never do.” And we just move on. So you don’t buy into the argument.

We don’t, we just, just move on. And don’t make it a thing that, “Oh, what about their feelings?” Because in that moment, that’s exactly the boundary the child needs reminding. So swagger and alpha is really important.

Can I share just a really quick story that a mum told me way, way out in Western New South Wales? And she said, “Oh gosh, Maggie, that whole concept of being the alpha you’re so, right, because she said we were driving on a country road and it was a bit muddy and a skidded and the car skidded right off. And it skidded into the kind of gutter or the drain. And when the car stopped, I was just a jittering wreck and my four and a half-year-old, four and a half-year-old daughter said, “Mummy, take some deep breaths. Where’s your phone? I’ll be able to ring daddy, he’ll come and get us.”

She said, I just, she stepped up. And I’m going to say, at times you will have strong, feisty children who will step up and that’s okay to temporarily let them do that. But what we, they need to know is where there to ensure that they can get to bed and sleep safely. And that they’re going to be, it’s a long journey. We’re going to be beside each other all the way out. But we don’t have to be perfect in that journey on the way out. One of the things I discovered and it’s also shows up in research is that this was when the really awful floods were happening in Queensland. And I had kind of, sort of, you know, when I revisited, cause I actually visited the one of those areas when I revisited, there were parents that came and chatted to me because I had said, “Try not to send your children away, try to keep them close to you.”

Maggie Dent: When the recovery centres, even though you’re worried about them, they worry more when they’re removed from your presence than they do in, in amongst all of that stuff. And I had parents come up to me saying “You are so right, because it was tricky. And our kids did see the helpers turn up and our kids did see people they helped, they were cleaning up mud. So they became part of the recovery. And the families who had sent their children away to grandparents so that they could keep safe. Even though it was only for a month or two, they didn’t seem to recover as well as the children who had been there all along.

So I think it was that message that kids can deal with stuff. As long as my grown up is beside me reassuring me that we’ve got this and it was, and the ones who had went away just said, just that’s one of our regrets because there were children crying at night, you know, 500ks away and nanny and poppy couldn’t possibly soothe them.
Maggie Dent: Because the people they wanted to be with was their primary attachment rather than their secondary attachment person and no Skype or no FaceTime works as well as the arms of a warm parent, even a parent, whose heart’s broken. That is exactly what our kids need to know they can count on.

Bronwyn Brady: Yeah. So being that it’s been such an excessively rough year for many of us in Australia and around the world and definitely one which has challenged our wellbeing as adults, much less children as well for teachers and parents. So our roles are particularly challenging because we are trying to sustain the young people in our lives and their health and wellbeing. But then we’re also trying to keep ourselves afloat at the same time.

How does trauma affect us?

Bronwyn Brady: Can we just snap out of it and get on with things or, you know, what are we looking at now for the rest of this year next year? Is it a longterm thing?

Maggie Dent: Okay. So the first thing is that everybody, it’s our reaction to a major adverse event that is actually technically what trauma is. So there are people who can compartmentalise and see it as a series of tasks that need to be completed until we get to the end point.

And there are others who are a bit more empathetic like I am, and they just feel not only their own and their children’s and their students. angst, they’ve got the world’s angst. So those people you’ll notice out there. And you know, that’s a lot of us, I still don’t, I still can’t watch much of the news. I had to turn everything off because I was just in overwhelm with that. So as soon as I started to take better care of my boundaries around what I know lo overloads me, I was more available to be able to do the stuff that I was doing online to support families, but I couldn’t have done both.

Maggie Dent: So it’s a really important thing that we all look at. And then we know that there are some people that are amazingly strong right through awful disasters. And I know this has happened definitely through the bush fire season, you know, they’ve turned up and they’ve fought and they’ve gone nights without sleep. And they haven’t been near their children and their families. And then like two or three months out, the other end, that’s when they collapsed.

So in other words, some of us are wired to do the hard stuff until everything looks safe and then, then we crash. So again, that’s another reality we need to build in. Now, if we go back to, we already had this trauma to give it already fatigued, I call it emotional fatigue. And also our amygdala, it just keeps firing up because seriously, we still we’re still, you know, triggered because it was such a long period of time.

And where I live we didn’t eat at the front of our house on our deck the entire summer, cause it was completely surrounded with smoke. Yep. And then just as we sort of started to take a breath, up comes this other giant thing which was a pandemic, could you get another worse event?

So already fatigued, overwhelmed, nervous systems of children, teachers and parents would then recharge again, which is why a lot of people sort of like dived into comfort, eating at home and we’re cooking and trying to do stuff to lift everyone’s energy. Because we were just so… there’s nothing in the nervous system.

And then on top of that what happens is we all the flip around for our beautiful teachers. One minute, they’re working from curriculums in classrooms and what two week window they had to flip it.

Resilience in Educators

Now I am a former teacher, my head just thought, “How the heck are you going to do that?” So, and then also those beautiful teachers who are a bit more empathetic are also worried like heck about their students, the ones who don’t have access to technology and how are we going to keep them? And then all the time we’re thinking, “Okay, so how are we going to assess the gaps when they get back and how am I going to meet the gaps when they get back?”

So I’m really concerned. We’re going to witness extreme teacher burnout this year. And I think one, I guess one gift came that suddenly parents realised why this profession needs more respect because we just, you know, we just don’t turn it. We’re actually a really trained to identify, you know, deficits and gaps in students’ learning. We know how to actually engage those reluctant.. I’m a mad, passionate boy champion.

And I could get those disengaged boys in my classrooms engaged. Now it was an art and I had many years of experience doing it. So again, we’ve got parents pulling their hair out, going, “How do you get these kids to learn?”

Resilience in Parents

Maggie Dent: How could parents trying to work from home expected to do eight hours of work online, be able to facilitate what I called crisis learning. Cause it’s not true home learning. It was beyond stressful. And then of course the uncertainty that any point in time, it, we can have flare ups. And I mean, even all the Victorian flare ups, that’s flared all of us back up again now because regardless of what state you’re in, you were in a different state of awareness, “Oh gosh, we’re heading towards the new normal”. And then all of a sudden it’s just flipped everything. So everyone’s nervous systems right now are going to be doing that.

And so as we go further, we can’t fully what I call recover and restore ourselves, mind, body, heart, and soul, until we know that there is that threat completely removed. So we’ve probably got, you know, as long – another year. And then on top of that, we worry professionally, we worry about how and I know I’ve heard from high school teachers saying that the bright committed, you know, motivated students zoomed along while they were home and the ones that were less able and all sorts of reasons why that was happening, bailed, did nothing. So the gap that they had in the classroom is now wider than ever.

So there’s a deep sense of helplessness within some teachers of “How do I, you know, I am a professional, but that gap just got so wide and I’ve got, you know, 25, 30 students in my classroom for whatever class.”

And I just think that’s where we go. It’s going to erode away gradually on that capacity for us to turn up and give it our best shot because we really do want to win with what we do. And I think it’s a year you know, that is continually going to keep chewing at us.

And the overloaded nervous system impacts our sleep. The sleep impacts our immune system. So they’re more likely again, you know, to get sick. And I think the other one on top of that for teachers is, you know, if you get, if you sneeze, you can get sent home, you might have hay fever, but that’s just a caution. How do you then hand that over to a relief or in such short notice, really worry for them.

Bronwyn Brady: Yeah. And we are getting a lot of that feedback from teachers. Exactly what you just hit on. It’s so great that as a former teacher, you really get that because even things as small or you know, minor as calling in a relief teacher, only teachers really get it that how stressful that actually is and the catching up that you’ll have to do and the concern about the students.

So it’s, it’s pretty it’s pretty hard time, but it’s also really good to hear you say Maggie, that it is going to take a year, two years, time down the track because I think we must be gentle with ourselves and not put pressure for things to return to the new normal, because that’s such a catch phrase and we are hearing it everywhere and it is the new normal, but it still has normal in it. It’s still trying to retain some sort of normalcy and that’s not really that realistic. So yeah, really great points there.

So when we’re talking about kids and, and helping them recover from trauma and getting them back to baseline, because they’re in that deficit zone at the moment,

What are the main things that children need from adults to be safe, calm and happy?

Maggie Dent: (laughs) Remember not try to be perfect or they don’t want perfect parents. So we’ve got stiff upper lips and the, you know, just not owning their own emotional condition at any point in time. So being really honest with our kids when we’re having a lousy day is incredibly important, then we become safer for them to, you know, I think that’s the first one you know, the simplest things. And I know that we’ve had some of our high school kids and our year twelves have really crumbled with the disruption to their lives, particularly because that’s a big window where the connectedness and belonging with our peers and our friends overrides our connection quite often with our parents.

And we’ve really messed with that. So, I know there’s a lot of worried parents out there about their, their teens, you know, that they are really struggling, that they’re even grumpier than they used to be. So having an awareness around adolescent mental health, I think is going to be really important as we go forward is when does it become red flags? And when is it just, they’re struggling with stress with an, an underdeveloped brain plus an overloaded limbic system, which is growing where all feelings are more intense.

So I think there’s a difference between this high school kids and the primary and the early, early childhood ones, so anything in home that keeps predictability that you know, that they don’t have to, the brain doesn’t have to work at, you know, what happens next? It’s a subtle thing, but it really, our brain is trying desperately to process change, unbelievable change that comes from everywhere.

How Has Isolation Been Positive for Children?

And it’s not all been bad because we now know that a lot of parents have found they’ve connected with their kids a bit more. They’re having more kind of quality and loving time stuff. They didn’t have time for lots of more bike riding and skating and yeah, lots of dogs being bought and lots of cooking happening. So it hasn’t all been awful, but it’s the predictability I’d like to keep some of the things going that you did in Iso. Yep. You know, those bonded moments, don’t throw them all out and pack a busy life on the top of that. There’s nothing more important for our children. I think of all ages, but play and physical movement and especially with the fun component to it as well. So anything that gets your kids moving, cause we know that cortisol, which is the stress hormone has an energy to it.

Maggie Dent: So if we don’t get the moving in fun ways and discharge it, it just builds up and then it explodes. And then it’s often not what we want. I think it’s that reassuring now that what happened did happen, and it’s a little gift I think, is our neighbourhoods became a little more cohesive. I think we started to realise that we looked out a little bit more for our elderly, but we met kids. I’ve had messages from parents who’ve said to me, “We’ve now recreated through this 10 virus the best if possible that our kids get home, eat something and they’re off playing with neighbourhood kids. And they’ve heard that would never have happened without this. We’ve met all of them. We’ve set up healthy boundaries.”

It’s kind of like the retro thing has happened. And I think that’s the sorts of things. So whatever it is that children need to do to have fun, to lighten the excess energy and their nervous systems is going to work around your home and environment.

So be as light as you can through this and keep reassuring them. It’s like a year that never has happened before. Yeah. And it will never happen again. And our job is to get through it and out the other end, keep reassuring them. We’ve got this, you know, it might not be the same as that family’s doing it. And it’s not the same as that family’s doing it, but we’ve got this. So when kids hear that, wow, I just, I stepped right in and got yet, we’ve got this. And I think that’s, that’s the message. Even some days you fake it, we’ve got this!

Bronwyn Brady: We’ve got this.

Maggie Dent: And hang on. I’m just gonna duck into the bedroom and hide myself in my wardrobe and eat three squares of fruit and nut chocolate. I got this.

Maggie Dent: So balanced, very balanced, fruit and nut that that’s all you need.

How a Mantra Can Help Us Think Positively

Maggie Dent: Yeah. Yeah, no. So that’s a, that’s a great thing. And I think that having that running through their mind is like a little track. We’ve got this. It’s, I’m equipping them with that vocab and that positivity and giving them a little bit of hope. As we mentioned before, mantras like that turn that negative voice. The negative bias that we all have has just kind of had fuel put on it.

You know, everything gets twisted into a negative bias. So to really counteract it, one of the great ways is that cause our brain is wired to keep doing this. Cause it still isn’t safe. That mantras really work. “I’ve got this. I am, I can, and I will”, you know, anything a family can create and you can do a little family chant when it becomes automatic. The kids will say it to themselves. And that’s what we want them to do while they’re at school. Like “I’ve got this, I’ve got this.”

And I think we have to turn off that endless inner critic, voice of ours, that is always, “Oh, we can’t do this. It’s not going to work”.

Maggie Dent: And the last thing is, anxiety is such, it turns up in so many ways. And of course I think it’s  a big lesson in us that we now know that anxiety is not all bad. Anxiety is the feeling in us when there is some form of threat to survival, which is exactly what humans need to do to survive. It’s what do we do with our anxiety when it becomes irrational or we, it’s not based on facts. So again, it’s having conversations with kids. It’s okay for mum and dad to be feeling anxious and a bit stressed, but also every now and then we can call our kids into being a little braver in, in small moments. So it’s a bit like as they were all heading back to school, I shared something about social anxiety, you know, about “It’s a slightly different world. Like some of those kids have kept going cause their essential services, they’ve got new friendship groups. It’s not going to be the same prepared them when we prepare our kids that it might not seem okay. And you might feel a bit funny in the tummy. We give them a chance to be a little braver. It’s when we don’t know the brain goes, wow, this is really different.”

Maggie Dent: Then I guess immediately trigger that anxiety patterns from that over efficient amygdala. So again, it’s those moments of bravery, encouraging them little steps and then gradually it becomes a new habit.

Bronwyn Brady: Yeah. Yes, exactly. It’s so great. And that kind of leads into resilience and I know that you are a big proponent of educating parents and kids about personal resilience.

Why is resilience such an important skill for kids to learn at a young age?

Maggie Dent: Okay. So yeah. Oh yeah. I’ve got a whole book. I’ll condense it really quickly. So what I was actually counselling full time after I stepped out of the classroom and I did start to see children who were struggling with things that previous generations of children didn’t struggle with.

And so it really was a fascination for me that what was it that had changed? So it kind of was a combination of a lot of things that we suddenly got frightened about our children’s safety. We decided the world was way more unsafe than it had been before, which was technically a fallacy cause it’s technically safer now than it used to be. And we just didn’t hear about it. And then what we were doing was overprotecting our children with too much love. So in other words, all the choices we make to keep our children safe, come from love with it.

And you know, there’s lots of names that people have put on those styles of parenting, but when we’re still carrying our son or daughter’s bag up to the classroom in year four, because we love them. There’s a problem in that because it’s giving the child a message that you’re still not capable. So I think it’s about us giving our children, you know, age appropriate, you know, challenges and life skills that they need to step up to that were automatically happening previously. And the biggie is that we changed some of the kind of, let’s not let our children experience discomfort emotionally. So for us as teachers, that means that then they’re less able to take learning risks in our classrooms because they’re terrified of failing. Cause it feels so awful. I believe in training our children well, before they go off to schools and that’s three, four and five that you don’t always get what you want and it’s uncomfortable and it’s okay to feel angry and cross in that moment, but still that’s what how it feels.

Yes. It’s also that Pass the Parcel at birthday. Parties changed. Everyone gets prizes, everyone gets stickers. I think sometimes there are children getting stickers for breathing. So over, over reward. So all our kids thought external rewards is why I do stuff instead of internal locus. So, you know, it’s a combination of those things. So when we, when I validate that, Oh my gosh, this is palpable sigh of relief in a room going so glad to hear that, “Oh my God”, I kept thinking, no, they need to learn this early. I’m a real proponent of playing endless games that are quite quick.

So children known to fail often, and then they get better and better at failing because nobody enjoys failing. We need us, as parents say, we don’t like it either. It makes us feel uncomfortable, but we’ve done it. And we know that it’s very rarely life threatening.

So, Bron, we just get up and keep going. One of my true stories is the one of my dad telling me that I’m so bad. I don’t run very fast. I’m a basketball, or I can run about the length of a basketball court. And he said, I just, you know, he noticed I was always coming last in the running races. And he said to me, one day “It does feel a bit yucky does it sometimes?”. And I said, “Yeah”, he said, “Well, if it does, why don’t you start waving at the crowd?” No joke. I started waving at the crowd. So enthusiastically sometimes I fell over because I was waving so big, but it also shifted the focus for me. And then I used to notice, I wasn’t the only one that was pretty slow at running. So quite often I’d hook my arm in with someone else.

Maggie Dent: But the key thing. So there’s a thing that I want parents to listen to. What strategies can I help my child in those moments that feel uncomfortable with something they can’t succeed or when they fail a test or when they don’t pick picked in something, teach and guide our kids? But the big one my dad said, and this is the one for resilience is he said to me, I know it’s uncomfortable, but he said, “What I want you to always be is brave enough to turn up and have a go when you’ve got no chance of winning, because it’s the ones who turn up and keep having a go that gets through in life.” And I’m still turning up at 65 having a go. So can you see the subtle messages that actually helped to build you have that core and personal resilience and that when there’s a failed moment as a child, it’s a teachable moment.

Yeah. And also the other message under that is that when our kids need to know, can you love me when I muck up? Yep. And that’s a big part of what I write about Mothering our Boys. Cause I wanted mums to recognise that they will make lots of mistakes cause there’s impulsivity and a need to move. And they love to be brave and not intentionally wanting to hurt themselves or others or the world. They’re not deliberately wanting to be naughty. They just make a lot of lousy choices and that’s our job. “That was a poor choice. And I still love you.”

How do Kids Grow Through Failure and Disappointment?

Maggie Dent: So I guess that’s the other side. Can you unconditionally loving our children means I can fail that NAPLAN test in year three or you know, get a lousy grade, whatever it is. And at the end of the day makes no difference.

Maggie Dent: Yeah. It just a one point in time test and just turn up, do it, done. It’s not my thing, but you know what? I’m really good at making pikelets at home. Yeah. So that’s the other side. One of the building blocks that I have is where’s the self-mastery so when a child is really good at something, even if they’re not academically capable, it means that I’m useless. “I’m dumb” can’t hold in that brain. Yeah. So sometimes I’d keep saying, can they ride that bike without training wheels? Can they climb that tree? Can they do the monkey bar and every time keep practicing and encouraging them to practice because we don’t always get things the first time and that we improve with practice. We don’t always get perfect, but we definitely improve. And that gives kids some sort of agency around when I’m feeling I can’t do something or I’m not capable.

So again, there’s all those sorts of things that we gradually can build strengths in our children. So that one day when really big stuff happens, they also know they lean on their family, but they’ve experienced setbacks before and they have recovered from it.

Bronwyn Brady: Yes. So important. And I think there’s a phrase that came to mind when you were talking about you know, failure or disappointment. And I’m thinking about playing board games with my kids and you said, “No one’s going to die”. And I think about my daughter: someone might die. She’s pretty, she’s pretty brutal. But like that, that feeling of failure if you can overcome it, if it’s a short term pain for a long term gain, you actually doing them a great service down the track. So it’s, I know of a parrot too, and it’s hard. Yeah. But I think you’re so spot on.

How do we Teach Children to Deal with Grief?

Maggie Dent: Yeah, we’ve got to do it. And it’s the same with me around death and loss is losses of really good, big thing for us to explain to children and death. So that’s why, you know, I’ve been known to suggest you get Guinea pigs and hope they died because I think children under six or under six, definitely need to know if you’ve loved something and it dies. It, your heart hurts and it’s really big and uncomfortable. And that this is actually what happens when a house burns down in a bushfire, we’ve lost all our possessions. So if we don’t have an understanding that loss really hurts on the inside, then now when it does happen and we feel it it’s, it’s really frightening. Cause you’ve had no previous experience. That’s right. Yeah.

Bronwyn Brady: Yeah. That’s, I’m going to remember that the Guinea pig test, maybe that’s why many teachers have goldfish.

Maggie Dent: Yeah, no, I seriously. And that’s, what’s really beautiful. And that’s what education often does it create it’s experiences and teachers are trained to take those experiences into teachable moments, but as parents, you know, it’s about not avoiding, not hiding it and being honest with it and acknowledging that it really, really hurts. And I mean, I’m a death specialist I’ve worked in palliative care and help people die. I’m very good at helping people die. I think it’s called a death doula nowadays, but and I’ve also worked in the funeral industry and I’ve also conducted over 250 funerals, because I’m a celebrant. So I’ve worked really close with families and watched how people recover from these major things. So, you know, no question, the ones who have strong families who are open with all their big feelings who cry and laugh and drink endless cups of tea, they will process and come through it in a, you know, in a more healthy fashion.

Yes. Then those who just it’s just move on. And it just go back to work. We’re not dealing with this. It’s just that, it’s just a thing because it bottles up and gets built up and gets bigger and often impacts our heart. If we don’t allow it to feel a big ugly feelings and it shuts down its capacity to feel love and to give love. So it’s a double whammy in that journey. And it’s one of the toughest things we do as, as parents is those big, tough conversations. And it’s, it’s one of the kind of ones I cover on my YouTube channel with my little Maggie Moments is how do I have that conversation when we’ve caught some really tough news that somebody has died, that they love it’s the parents are the best people to have the conversation. Yeah. Yeah.

And to guide them through all of those enormous feelings of grief. Yeah. And so I’m going to link your YouTube channel in the show notes here as well. So that parents can go and take a listen to your amazing videos because there’s, there’s such good snippets and so helpful, practical advice too long.

You see I’ll keep them short and concise. Dad’s, dad’s like that too. Cause they’re not too long. Yes. Dad’s, dad’s love it.

Bronwyn Brady: Awesome. You can send them to the dads or the dads can send them to you, but okay. So talking about grief and our children and our students have been through no matter what they’ve been through this year, they have witnessed other people’s grief and loss through media, through friendships, through hearing things. And I know that some children being greatly affected by seeing the, you know, the massive deaths of animals and nature.

And, you know, we’re getting adults are getting eco anxiety and children have to be feeling some of that, that flow on effect. So as something that’s, you know, we’re coming through, we’ve got a little bit of hope trickling in at the moment. And there’s a bit of relief in the community. We’re beginning, you know, these positive steps towards regeneration of our earth and our selves, but what are some steps people can take to regenerate their mental health? We’ll talk a little bit more about the lens itself later, but the same for National Tree Day this year is regeneration of self  and environment.

How do we Regenerate Ourselves and Our Environment?

Maggie Dent: I think there’s enormous power in hope. There’s just no question. And it’s, it’s there is more and more research coming out for a long time. It was just thought it was a warm, fuzzy thing, but we actually have research to show how important hope is. So again, one of the things I wish that was showing at the moment is what some of that bush area looks like now because the Australian bush is amazing at returning wonderful, great even things that you could never believe would come back, come back. And so to things like, you know, our, our grass trees and things that are so spectacular. So those of us who’ve been in country areas would know this is what happens with that nature. I think it’s the animal one. And the loss of that, that was really impacted so many of our children.

That’s why we wanted them not to be seeing any more TV or news cause they were ripping everybody’s heart out. So it is about that hope. Now I know a lot of children raided their piggy banks to donate to our koala rescue and animal rescue. So that’s already an, a, a sense of agency that children have twins into altruism. What we’d like to have is to continue that even though the fire’s not happening now, we know that that recovery and restoring those habitats, but also it’s ongoing that our, you know, our beautiful wildlife will need some support. So maybe they need to see is that something else we could have another cake stall. There’s no fire now, but can we keep that sense of altruism going because what it does, it makes kids feel I’m making a difference. And that’s what hope is.

Hope, Recovery and Yellow Ribbons

Maggie Dent: So one of the things I shared in when I went out to a community called Yenda which is near Griffith, which was devastated with flood and when I went it was about sort of five weeks and just, it was, it had never happened before. And we went to a big community meeting and I was asked to come along and sit and work with the children. And the, and I took a long lengths of gold ribbon meter, long lengths of gold ribbon. I gave to all the children and I said, what I want you to do after we finished? And we did a lot of talking about colour breathing, breathing out those big fears and, and telling us about our dreams when everything is better getting back into our school. So in other words, I focus them to what was coming rather than getting, cause you can’t get stuck in the endless replay of how awful it is, especially when you see it in your community.

So they had to go and tie those ribbons around their community. Things that really mattered to them. And it was so sweet. So we had some tying them to their grandparent’s front letterbox or tying them around the favorited chook and a number of them tied them at the front of their school, which would take, you know, months to rebuild. And when I returned such a long time later, I did notice on the front that it was as tattered gold ribbon, still on the front gate. And I took a yellow rose and, and for their rose garden. And it turned out that a lot of parents thought that was a good, they’ve got a beautiful yellow rose garden as a consequence. So in other words, the children that keep coming through we’ll get the story of the yellow ribbon, the yellow roses, and the hope that was built down at a core level.

Maggie Dent: And so in our homes, we can do similar things. You know, it’s about us having a plan about if so if we know someone or is there someone in that area that we might be able to still send messages of hope, do we write some letters and draw some pictures and send to the coordinator in that town? Because a lot of them feel like we’ve forgotten, you know, COVID-19 came in and stole all the media.

And we now know that some of those people are still living in caravans without running water and it’s freezing. And I think they feel forgotten. So I think it’s about our kids and our teams knowing I don’t let them be forgotten and be giving them a sense of agency is how can I make something a little bit better? So it is those little things that we do possibly again, in your home environment.

Being able to reminisce of how far we’ve come, you know, looking back and going already you know, the sky is blue and, you know, everything is kind of, so this is what happens in life, especially from those incredible, our sky went completely black a few times. And we are 35 kilometers from one of the fire fronts. And it is, it was eerie that I actually really was able to get a sense of what they were saying.

So I think it’s about revisiting. It was that awful briefly and look where we are now. Yeah. Because our children need a context to that, to this, as it prepares them again for going forward. And of course, as, as teachers, there were so many things that we can do with our children they can be writing. I mean, I’ve seen English teachers, so I would have had the creative writing going, can you write this from a perspective of a koala that’s stuck up a tree?

Maggie Dent: Can you write this from, you know, I would’ve done, I would’ve had a field day letting them, letting them see how it came from other perspectives, which is also what helps us understand a little bit better when the next scary thing kind of happens. So I think there’s lots of little things that families can do yeah. In that, in that whole journey, as we recover, make sure that we’re now aware that even be more aware about the need for us to support those who rescue our wildlife. Cause we’ve lost so many.

Bronwyn Brady: Yeah. Yep. Absolutely. And because you know, our fragile ecology is in danger seasonally. This is going to keep happening to these children year after year. So I guess, yeah, it’s really important. And I hear what you’re saying to help them to work through and to have that agency and feel productive in, in the recovery efforts and beyond because yeah, it’s amazing how and, and sad how quickly the news cycle turns over to the next, the next thing.

And then people are left high and dry, like literally the farmers are still struggling.

What are Triggers for Past Trauma?

Maggie Dent: So I think one other thing too, Bron, is that we need to be aware that as the next summer emerges, a lot of people get triggered again on hot days without necessarily seeing smoke. So we do know that’s kind of how trauma keeps resurfacing, which is why you can end up with some problematic things that it’s like after the floods. That was the first lots of rain, you know, once again, triggered those children back into being really frightened. So that’s partly why I’ve created a whole series. There’s all sorts of things about giving our children audios and things that they can listen to to keep them calm, create habits of mindfulness that, you know, Smiling Mind does some wonderful free ones that it’s about building pathways now for our children to escape safely before the next thing comes in, that wobbles us.

So again, it’s an opportunity for us to take action around the things that can help us as families you know, calm down when things get tricky.

Tell Us About National Tree Day 2020?

Bronwyn Brady: Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. So National Tree Day is coming up on the 2nd of August and Schools Tree Day is a different day. It’s the preceding Friday, the 31st of July. So talking about giving children agency and having them be hands on and helping with regeneration, how can classes and families benefit from either planning their own or taking part in organised events for National Tree Day or Schools Tree Day.

Maggie Dent: I love it. It’s consciousness lifting. That’s what we’re doing. We want to let our children know they’re part of a bigger world and it’s not the egocentric will that we’ve kind of pressured it in a lot of ways that if you haven’t got stuff, then you’re not going to be happy.

We need our kids to know that real happiness and meaning comes from being part of a whole world. That includes our natural world. So I, that’s why I love this. And I’m, I’ve been a part of you know different events at openings of things over the years. And I notice always we tend to plant a tree. So I think it’s that opportunity at that this is hope cause that tree, you know, is, is it grows that we’ve got this massive, massive, giant fig in our town. And  I, whenever I walked with my grandkids to the, to the local shop, we just stand in awe of that every time I’ve been in, you know, I think I have, you know, tree watcher, my entire life pausing to observe them and look up.

I noticed that this generation didn’t look up as much at clouds or trees. Cause they’ve got this down here or they’ve got parents that are doing this. So that consciousness of looking at this amazing natural world that we already have and what can we do to ensure it continues.

In awe of it. I’m such such a crazy wild woman that a country woman that when I’m sometimes in a city, I’ll stop to look at a tree. People will run into me!

Maggie Dent: I kind of need a sign that says “ Watch out I’m prone to looking at trees”  because everyone’s in such a hurry. And I, I hope this is one of the other gifts that COVID-19 has given us that the hurried up incredibly pressured way we were living. Wasn’t good for us, our children, our students, our schools, our communities, and that what we were missing was that connection time in nature, that we know that nature is naturally restorative. You know, that’s, it was my sanctuary as a child. It is still my sanctuary. Now it’s where I get all my ideas and my creativity. And I think we, if we can reassure our children, that that will always be there for them. That nature will always be there when, when things are fabulous. And when things are said, it will hold you in this great space. It holds the same space every time.

And that, that’s what we wanted. We want to lift the awareness and consciousness of our children to be environmental, not so much warriors, but be aware that we’re part of something way, much bigger. And that each day we can be consciously helping our world, you know, from putting the litter in the bin or just being mindful of not you know, doing anything that may be detrimental to our wildlife.

Maggie Dent: I think it’s that lifting the awareness, you know, that’s why I’ve had magpies follow me my entire life. It was a nickname I had as a child, which I thought, and it’s so funny that I, you know, I’ve kind of had one time in my entire life that I was swooped by a magpie. Because I think they recognise I liked them and everyone up here wherever I am they come and warble on my house.

They warble away. They sing to me so often. And I, like I said, I like to develop a fondness with children with one particular bird or creature. I think that’s a really healthy thing to start early in life, take them off to the zoos and the wildlife parks so they can connect with it. Yeah. I think that fascination, yes, gradually build something else later in life. So it’s about us making time and energy to prioritise, you know, that connection with nature while they’re younger, because seriously, we’ll be there when you might not be nearby.

They will still go for a walk and find some sort of comfort in the world.

Bronwyn Brady: That’s amazing. I love that. I’ve never heard it put that way, but it’s so it’s just, it makes so much sense. I know for my children, we go on a lot of bush walks and they feel, I thought it was actually just the endorphins and the exercise, but I think it’s actually just the forest air sometimes. And the, and looking and observing and taking time to be mindful of things. And kids are so good at that naturally before they learn not to. So they’ll on a different level. They’ll pick up everything. They’ll put, you know, the three year old will have two sticks in his hand, wherever we go, they just love it. So if they get, they, they are rejuvenated by nature. And I think we can take a leaf out of their book.

Maggie Dent: There’s a lovely researcher called Dr. Katie Bagget. I think she was from Victoria. She did research in terms of the restorative qualities of greenery in school grounds. So she worked out the, the volume of greeting where it’s a very complex study and how restored students and teachers felt in those environments. And look, it was so overwhelming that the more greenery, the more restored our children are naturally at recess and lunch time.

And that’s why I worry when we look at multi-story schools with no greenery it’s not the same looking out the window as it is in that real immersed space. So again, she’s now moved into aged care, which I think is also lovely. Because she said, that’s what we need to get aged care outside in nature more. And I went, “Oh! She’s a winner”.

Bronwyn Brady: Yes, absolutely. That’s yeah, the, the concrete jungle schools are definitely a concern from, Oh, I’m an early childhood teacher. And I just think, what can you do with that? Like, it’s very limiting for your teaching and your pedagogy to not have, you know, be able to collect, you know, samples or go on nature walks or whatever. So yeah, really hard. But no, I really appreciate you joining me. Should I thank you so much, Maggie, for all of your amazing insights, you’re just so spot on.

And yeah, I hope that National Trade Day is an amazing day for everyone in any of the teachers wanting to participate. I’ll put pop links in the show notes so that you can go through to the Planet Ark National Tree Day website, or read The Tree Report, which may be consulted on. So I love the tray report. It was done so beautifully. It was exquisite. I loved it as well. Gorgeous. I spent my weekend leafing through it and my kids came home my desk and had a little can yeah, it’s beautiful. It’s a digital resource so you can download it as well.

Maggie Dent: Stunningly fab. I encourage everybody to download it so they can have a look with their kids because it does cover everything we’ve talked about today is, you know the beginning, the recovery, the sorts of things that we want our kids to be aware of. It’s just an, a wonderful resource. I definitely will be sharing it.

Bronwyn Brady: So great. Thank you so much, Maggie. Really appreciate your time.




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