FIFO Focus’ Sharon Rudderham joins Big Al as part of the REDFM series FIFO Life.
In part 10, Sharon talks about FIFO and Kids – aspects of parenting that need attention when a parent is a FIFO worker.
When one parent works away – helping young kids adjust to FIFO
It’s been found in an Australian study that FIFO impacts families and kids in different ways at different times depending on circumstances such as roster patterns, workplace culture, and home and school environments. Some kids experience negative emotions or behavioural problems when one parent works away, while other kids thrive in this environment and are more resilient, well adjusted, self-assured, independent and confident.
FIFO parenting, where you co-parent when you are both at home and one partner solo parents when the other is away, is a unique challenge and is demanding for all family members.
Whilst it is normal and healthy for kids to miss their parents, anxiety is not healthy. In young kids, look out for irrational feelings of fear or panic, excessive crying, clinging, shyness, sleep difficulties, feeling sick, inappropriate behaviours like hitting, biting, fighting, or regressing (eg starting to wet the bed).
As parents, your actions are critical so it’s it’s important to also consider if kids are picking up on or copying your own stress and reactions.
Below are our recommendations on how to R.A.I.S.E. kids under a FIFO parenting arrangement.
Tips – Help RAISE your kids
|R||Routine, Predictability and Consistency|
|A||Awareness – help kids understand FIFO|
|I||In the moment – be present when you are with them|
|E||Encourage feelings and emotions|
Routine, predictability and consistency
Young kids crave this to feel safe and secure. Be consistent in your expectations, discipline and routines by establishing guidelines. For example: bed and dinner times, setting the table, feeding pets.
Build self-esteem via family discussions and asking for their suggestions. Give kids independence, control and autonomy by encouraging them to do things themselves such as packing school bags, deciding what to have for lunch, getting dressed, and celebrate their success.
Importantly, help kids connect with others through school, sports, family, and play dates.
Awareness – Help kids understand why you work away and what you are doing
Put a large map in your kids’ bedroom, circle where you work and add photos of you in uniform, equipment / plant, mines and camp Regularly text new photos so your kids can feel connected.
Personalise a calendar with your roster and let the kids countdown the days. Use numbers rather than happy or sad faces for fly in/out days.
In the moment – Be present when you are with them
Get involved in day to day activities such as school runs. Organise family activities like going to the beach, the zoo or the movies. Arrange family catch ups with workmates on the same swing to help develop friendships and support networks whilst you are away.
Schedule one on one time for each kid with each parent to do a favourite activity like bike-riding or going to the park but also try not to overindulge your kids when you’re home as this can make things more difficult when you are away.
Spend time making something together, for example a drawing or a dry pasta bracelet. Take a photo of you wearing the item at work or displaying it in your camp room and send it to your kids. They will love it.
Create a routine where you have a special family meal before you head to work in your favourite restaurant or at home. Turn off electronic devices and talk.
Stay connected when away
Conversations with kids can be notoriously hard! Stick to the schedule of when you will make contact. When you call them, tell them that you love them and are proud of them. Kids need to hear this. Create an online calendar with kids’ activities and check this daily so you have something to talk about. Ask simple questions on topics important to them that require more than a yes/no answer. For example: “What was the best thing today?” “Who did you see?” “What did you learn?” “What was the funniest thing?” “What did the dog do?”
Simple ideas include:
- Create a treasure hunt – leave notes where the kids can find them (eg under pillows, in their toy box, stuck to their scooter). Get your partner involved by placing them in lunch boxes.
- Send emails or letters in the mail.
- Take a book to site and read bedtime stories over the phone.
- If you can’t make it to events, invite others such as grandparents.
- Ask your partner to share successes via texts, photos and emails so you can respond when you’re free. Share with family members, especially grandparents. Kids will love hearing responses.
- Personalise your camp room with photos and kids artwork. Take a photo and send to the kids,
- Share promotional items or interesting things from site. Ask workmates for spare stuff. Kids love these and enjoy showing them to friends.
Encourage conversations about feelings and emotions
It’s important to explore and address kid’s emotions. Show you are interested by being direct and asking simple questions such as:
- “What is upsetting you?”
- “How are you feeling?”
- “Does it upset you when I go away?”
- “How does it make you feel?”
Kids are literal and need detail so provide simple, clear and truthful answers. Use words like “I am going to work” and not “leaving” or “going away.” Try not to say “it’s ok,” or “don’t be silly” as they may hide feelings and exacerbate anxiety. Don’t try to fix everything, rather, build confidence by asking “What do you think?” or “What would make it better?” Importantly, share your own feelings.
Suggest fun alternate activities. Create a list and keep it handy. Ideas include writing a letter, visiting grandparents or friends, drawing, craft, watching TV, playing outside, cooking, going to the park, riding a scooter.
Remember, not all kids experience FIFO in the same way and it’s likely they will change over time. Some of these ideas will work for some families and not others. Get creative and find out what works for you!