How to help your children cope with disasters (when you’re feeling anxious, too)

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It's a terrifying situation no parent wants to imagine, but the wildfire crisis in Australia can't be ignored. For mamas in the midst of a disaster like this one it can be hard to know what to do or say to help your children feel better.

A mama from Australia messaged us in the hopes of finding some tools to help her children cope with the anxiety. We know that kids are scared and parents are scared, too.

But we also know that in the face of that fear, we parents can empower ourselves to protect their children's sense of security and their mental health.

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Dr. Laurie Zelinger is a child psychologist and author of Please Explain 'Anxiety' to Me: A Story for Children, PEARLS of Wisdom for Their Parents. She says that while it's natural for parents to feel anxious during events like disasters or after acts of terrorism, we should try to control our own anxiety before having a talk with our kids about theirs.

“Even if [you're] not comfortable, you have to do a couple of things to make yourself look more comfortable," she suggested in a previous interview with Motherly.“Talk much more slowly than you think you need to, and sit at your child's eye level."

That is exactly what mom of two Meaghan Wegg did when her family had to evacuate during their vacation and spend six days sheltering in a movie theatre, watching kids movies as the ash fell outside.

"It was super hard for me to keep calm but knowing my kids were there and needed my support definitely helped me focus on them. I had to keep them being kids to avoid the stress getting to them," she tells Motherly, explaining that her family usually lives in Montreal, Canada, but her husband, Tim, was born in Australia. They were visiting his home country this holiday season with their children, 3-year-old Georgia and 5-year-old Jackson and were staying at a popular campground when they were advised to leave and eventually ended up sheltering in a cinema with more than 100 others.

Intuitively, Meaghan ended up using some of the strategies Dr. Zelinger previously suggested to Motherly for parents dealing with anxious children during chaotic events outside their control: "Prepare, explain, answer, reassure, listen, safeguard."

"We played rock, paper, scissors over 100 times," Meaghan tells Motherly.

She has some advice for parents in Australia who may have to leave their homes: "Know your safety plan and exit plan if ever anything needed to urgently happen, and keep your focus on your kids' health. I became glued to them!"

Eventually, Meghan's family was rescued from the area and is now safe at her in-law's home outside of Melbourne, away from the fires.


If you are in Australia and the idea of talking about the wildfires with your kids has you frazzled, try using Dr. Zelinger's 'PEARLS' of wisdom method.

Dr. Zelinger suggests parents don't start heavy discussions right at bedtime. Instead, set aside an earlier time in the day to hang out with your kids and answer their questions.

P is for Prepare

Before discussing evacuation plans with your children, decided what you think they need to know and plan out how you're going to explain it at an age-appropriate level. They don't need every detail, but give them the broad strokes.

E is for Explain

If your child wants to know why the family must be prepared to evacuate, or why everyone keeps talking about fire, tell them, but keep it simple and on their level. “I would probably give them an explanation that was only two or three sentences and see if that satisfies them," says Laurie.

If it seems like your kid isn't getting what you're saying, as them to break it down for you. You cannot assume that what you say is understood unless you check, Dr. Zelinger explained.

A is for Answer

If your child asks the same question more than once, try to use the same explanation each time you respond. “You're usually better off using the same answer you used before so the child realizes there is certainty in it," Dr. Zelinger says.

R is for Reassure

According to Dr, Zelinger, one of the best things parents can do for a child who is anxious about an event outside their control is simply reassure them that the grownups are doing their best to keep them safe.

Don't make guarantees, but remind them that there is more good in the world than bad.

L is for Listen

“Just let your kids talk," says Dr. Zelinger. Take some mental notes while they go on. The things they keep repeating are the issues they're confused about and that you can clarify later. Be mindful of the areas that they're avoiding too because maybe you need to fill in an important detail that they've totally missed.

S is for Safeguard

If your child is worried that they will lose their home or be hurt, take a moment to talk about all the things their community is doing to prevent that from happening. Make sure we're reminding the children of all the safeguards in place to protect them," says Laurie.

Unfortunately, parents can't guarantee that homes and schools will not be lost. But you can guarantee your children that you will always be there to listen to them, and that you will do your very best to keep them safe.

[A version of this post was published February 6, 2018. It has been updated.]

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When we buy baby gear we expect it to be safe, and while no parent wants to hear that their gear is being recalled we appreciate when those recalls happen as a preventative measure—before a baby gets hurt.

That's the case with the recent recall of Baby Trend's Tango Mini Stroller. No injuries have been reported but the recall was issued because a problem with the hinge joints mean the stroller can collapse with a child in it, which poses a fall risk.

"As part of our rigorous process, we recently identified a potential safety issue. Since we strongly stand by our safety priority, we have decided to voluntarily recall certain models of the Tango Mini Strollers. The recalled models, under excessive pressure, both hinge joints could release, allowing the stroller to collapse and pose a fall hazard to children. Most importantly, Baby Trend has received NO reports of injuries," the company states on its website.

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The strollers were sold through Amazon and Target in October and November 2019 and cost between $100 and $120. If you've got one you should stop using it and contact Baby Trend for a refund or replacement.

Four models are impacted by this recall:

  • Quartz Pink (Model Number ST31D09A)
  • Sedona Gray (Model Number ST31D10A)
  • Jet Black (Model Number ST31D11A)
  • Purest Blue (Model Number ST31D03A

"If you determine that you own one of these specific model numbers please stop using the product and contact Baby Trend's customer service at 1-800-328-7363 or via email at info@babytrend.com," Baby Trend states.

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[Editor's note: While Motherly loves seeing and sharing photos of baby Archie and other adorable babies when the images are shared with their parents' consent, we do not publish pictures taken without a parent's consent. Since these pictures were taken without Markle's permission while she was walking her dogs, we're not reposting them.]

Meghan Markle is a trendsetter for sure. When she wears something the world notices, and this week she was photographed wearing her son Archie in a baby carrier. The important thing to know about the photos is that they show the Duchess out for a walk with her two dogs while wearing Archie in a blue Ergo. She's not hands-free baby wearing, but rather wearing an Ergo while also supporting Archie with her arm, as the carrier isn't completely tight.

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When British tabloids published the pictures many babywearing devotees and internet commenters offered opinions on how Markle is holding her son in the photo, but as baby gear guru Jamie Grayson notes, "it is none of our business."

In a post to his Facebook page, Grayson (noted NYC baby gear expert) explained that in the last day or so he has been inundated with hundreds of messages about how Markle is wearing the carrier, and that while he's sure many who messaged with concerns had good intentions he hopes to inject some empathy into the conversation.

As Grayson points out, these are paparazzi photos, so it was a private moment not meant for world-wide consumption. "This woman has the entire world watching her every move and action, especially now that she and Harry are leaving the umbrella of the royal family, and I honestly hope they are able to find some privacy and peace. So let's give her space," he explains, adding that "while those pictures show something that is less than ideal, it's going to be okay. I promise. It's not like she's wearing the baby upside down."

He's right, Archie was safe and not in danger and who knows why the straps on Markle's carrier were loose (maybe she realized people were about to take pictures and so she switched Archie from forward-facing, or maybe the strap just slipped.)

Grayson continues: "When you are bringing up how a parent is misusing a product (either in-person or online) please consider your words. Because tone of voice is missing in text, it is important to choose your words carefully because ANYTHING can be misconstrued. Your good intentions can easily be considered as shaming someone."

Grayson's suggestions injected some much-needed empathy into this discourse and reminded many that new parents are human beings who are just trying to do their best with responsibilities (and baby gear) that isn't familiar to them.

Babywearing has a ton of benefits for parents and the baby, but it can take some getting used to. New parents can research safety recommendations so they feel confident. In Canada, where the pictures in question were snapped, the government recommends parents follow these safety guidelines when wearing infants in carriers:

  • Choose a product that fits you and your baby properly.
  • Be very careful putting a baby into—or pulling them out of—a carrier or sling. Ask for help if you need it.
  • When wearing a carrier or sling, do not zip up your coat around the baby because it increases the risk of overheating and suffocation.
  • Be particularly careful when using a sling or carrier with babies under 4 months because their airways are still developing.
  • Do not use a carrier or sling during activities that could lead to injury such as cooking, running, cycling, or drinking hot beverages.

Health Canada also recommends parents "remember to keep your baby visible and kissable at all times" and offers the following tips to ensure kissability.

"Keep the baby's face in view. Keep the baby in an upright position. Make sure the baby's face is not pressed into the fabric of the carrier or sling, your body, or clothing. Make sure the baby's chin is not pressed into their chest. Make sure the baby's legs are not bunched up against their stomach, as this can also restrict breathing. Wear the baby snug enough to support their back and hold onto the baby when bending over so they don't fall out of the carrier or sling. Check your baby often."

Meghan Markle is a new mom who was caught off guard during a moment she didn't expect her baby to be photographed. Every parent (no matter how famous) has a right to privacy for their child and the right to compassion from other parents. If we want people to learn how to safely babywear we can't shame them for trying.

Mama, if you've been shamed for wearing your baby "wrong" don't feel like you need to stop. Follow the tips above or check in with local baby-wearing groups to get advice and help. You've got this.

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We often think of the unequal gender division of unpaid labor as a personal issue, but a new report by Oxfam proves that it is a global issue—and that a handful of men are becoming incredibly wealthy while women and girls bear the burden of unpaid work and poverty.

According to Oxfam, the unpaid care work done by women and girls has an economic value of $10.8 trillion per year and benefits the global economy three times more than the entire technology industry.

"Women are supporting the market economy with cheap and free labor and they are also supporting the state by providing care that should be provided by the public sector," the report notes.

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The unpaid work of hundreds of millions of women is generating massive wealth for a couple of thousand (predominantly male) billionaires. "What is clear is that this unpaid work is fueling a sexist economic system that takes from the many and puts money in the pockets of the few," the report states.

Max Lawson is Oxfam International's Head of Inequality Policy. In an interview with Vatican News, he explained that "the foundation of unpaid work done by the poorest women generates enormous wealth for the economy," and that women do billions of hours of unpaid care work (caring for children, the sick, the elderly and cooking, cleaning) for which they see no financial reward but which creates financial rewards for billionaires.

Indeed, the report finds that globally 42% of women can't work for money because of their unpaid care responsibilities.

In the United States, women spend 37% more time doing unpaid care work than men, Oxfam America notes in a second report released in cooperation with the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

"It's an economy that is built on the backs of women and of poor women and their labour, whether it's poorly paid labour or even unpaid labour, it is a sexist economy and it's a broken economy, and you can only fix the gap between the rich and the poor if at the same time you fix the gap between women and men," Lawson explains.

According to Lawson, you can't fight economic inequality without fighting gender equality, and he says 2020 is the year to do both. Now is a great time to start, because as Motherly has previously reported, no country in the world is on track to eliminate gender inequality by 2030 (one of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by 193 United Nations member countries back in 2015) and no country will until the unpaid labor of women and girls is addressed.

"Governments around the world can, and must, build a human economy that is feminist and benefits the 99%, not only the 1%," the Oxfam report concludes.

The research suggests that paid leave, investments in childcare and the care of older adults and people with disabilities as well as utilizing technology to make working more flexible would help America close the gap.

(For more information on how you can fight for paid leave, affordable childcare and more this year check out yearofthemother.org.)

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It's been more than a decade since federal guidelines were implemented to ensure nursing mothers have the time and space to pump at work, but as Motherly has previously reported, many mothers still find it extremely challenging to maintain a pumping schedule in the workplace.

This week a new study out of the University of Georgia showed that while most women report having access to private spaces and break times for pumping there are still significant "gaps in access to workplace breastfeeding resources" and the researchers recommend employers take action to reduce breastfeeding disparities.

"We know that there are benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the infant, and we know that returning to work is a significant challenge for breastfeeding continuation," says Rachel McCardel, a doctoral student at UGA's College of Public Health and lead study author. "There is a collective experience that we wanted to explore and learn how can we make this better."

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The challenges of breastfeeding in 2020

There is a lot of pressure on mothers to exclusively breastfeed, but nearly half of mothers feel like they must make a choice between breastfeeding and keeping their job. A baby's mother is the best person to decide whether the infant should be breastfed, formula-fed or both, but it should be her choice. When workplace supports for breastfeeding are not in place many mothers feel like they don't have a choice at all.

Public health campaigns and social norms reinforce breastfeeding as the best choice, but a recent survey from Areoflow found that 1 in 3 people (31%) "do not believe employers should be required to provide a lactation room" but at the same time, 90% of those surveyed stated that they believe women should be allowed to pump at work.

For too many women, those contradicting messages mean that pumping at work is an uncomfortable experience, something they need to do nearly in secret. It's an example of the many ways in which mothers are supposed to parent as though they don't work but pretend they aren't parents when at work.

Calling for change in 2020

Half the states in America explicitly protect the rights of nursing parents in the workplace, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and federal law also provides protections to nursing workers under the Affordable Care Act. Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act—but millions of working mothers are not covered by those protections, and the new research out of the University of Georgia's College of Public Health suggests that even mothers who are need more support from their employers.

Heather Padilla is an assistant professor at UGA's College of Public Health and the co-author of the study. She recommends employers "designate a person who is responsible for making sure that women who are preparing for the birth of their baby understand what resources they have available to them when they return to work," she said.

Supervisors or HR directors could fill this role, and would fill a gap between company policy and personal experience. Padilla and McCardel found that many women "said they hadn't expected to get much help from their employers, and there was a general lack of communication about the resources available to them."

The work Padilla and McCardel have done reinforces the work we at Motherly are doing: In 2020 we are calling for change, and demanding support for mothers feeding their babies.

Mamas need to work + babies need to eat

For many American mothers work is not a choice, it is a necessity. Mothers are increasingly the breadwinners for their families and it is very hard for mothers, even those with working partners, to be a stay-at-home parent in 2020.

We need paid family leave and protection from breastfeeding discrimination. We need employers to support working mothers who choose to pump, and we need to reduce the stigmatization of formula feeding.

Mama, we see you pumping in your office and mixing formula bottles to take to day care. We see how hard it is and we support you. Know that no matter what your baby is eating—bottled breast milk, formula, or some combination (because breastfeeding doesn't have to be all or nothing)—we know you are working so hard to provide it.

We have declared 2020 the #yearofthemother. Join us, and call for change because McCardel is right—this is a collective experience and it is one we can make better for the mothers who come after us.

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