Nat Kendall-Taylor, PhD, is Chief Executive Officer at the FrameWorks Institute, a research think tank in Washington, D.C. He leads a multi-disciplinary team in conducting research on public understanding and framing of social issues and supporting non-profit organisations to implement findings. A psychological anthropologist, Nat publishes widely on communications research in the popular and professional press and lectures frequently in the United States and abroad. He is a senior fellow at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, a visiting professor at the Child Study Center at Yale School of Medicine, and a fellow at the British-American Project.
Shifting mindsets: How communication can shape early childhood outcomes
Shifting mindsets: How communication can shape early childhood outcomes
This webinar explored how changing the way we talk and think about early childhood can promote child safety, development and wellbeing.
Audio transcript (edited)
RANI KUMAR Welcome everyone to today's webinar, Shifting Mindsets - How communication can help shape early child outcomes. My name is Rani Kumar. I'm the head of policy and campaigns at NAPCAN, and it's my great pleasure to welcome you to today's webinar. I'm speaking to you today from the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and I would like to acknowledge these lands and pay my respects to Elders past, present and future, and to extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues who are on this webinar today.
Today we're talking about the importance of communication. How do we communicate to support the development, the wellbeing and the safety of all children? The stressors in families of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the various lockdowns in different regions means the need to pay attention to how we communicate to our content and our style. What we say and how we say it is even more pressing. By thinking carefully about how we frame our communications, we can help drive change and improve outcomes for children.
So in this webinar today, we have a stellar cast to talk through the research on what works and the practical strategies for how you can start implementing these strategies into your work today. We have Nan Kendall-Taylor from the FrameWorks Institute to explain the research and the evidence base. We have Annette Fuller from B4 Early Years Coalition in Tasmania, who has been implementing the research in their programs. And our very own Meron Looney, the Northern Territory Manager for NAPCAN, is going to share insights of successful adoption of the strategies as well.
I'm looking forward to hearing from all of them and I know all of you must be too. I just need to run through some quick housekeeping and then we can get to the speakers.
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So today we are going to start with Nat Kendall-Taylor - what better place to start - and the research that underpins our discussion today. Unfortunately, because Nat is based in the US, he has had to prerecord his presentation. It's well past bedtime over there. So after Nat, we'll get Annette, who'll come on and talk about her experiences implementing this approach in their program, and then you'll hear from Meron Looney, who will come together to talk about her experiences implementing it in the Northern Territory, after which we'll discuss your questions.
So over to Nat.
NAT KENDALL-TAYLOR: Hello everyone. How are you doing? Rani, thanks for passing the mike. Looking forward to talking with you all today about some of the work that we've done with a whole bunch of partners around more effectively communicating about the importance, the salience, the necessary solutions to better support young children and their families today.
I'm really happy to get to be here, even if it is only virtually. I aspire next year to be there in person with you all for National Child Protection Week, that is, Rani, if you'll have me. I kind of - not kind of - I totally miss all of my Australian colleagues and the energy and the learning that I get from the amazing work that you all do, so it's good to have a goal of next year in person, but I will certainly take this virtual opportunity to talk to you about framing today. Those of you who know me know that I'll take any opportunity to talk about framing and this is certainly a good one here today.
What I hope I can do is kick-off, tee up, set up a conversation or set up the two speakers that are coming after me, Annette and Meron, who are going to tell you about the kind of applied path of the communications equation that I'm going present. I am going to talk about how communications is a tool that we maybe don't always think of or don't think fully enough about that can add important value and supercharge the work that we all are doing in attempts to better and more fully support young children and their families, and I'm going to talk about a particular idea within the field of communications, and that is the idea of framing, and I'm going to introduce the idea of framing and use these lovely cows to do so.
So this is an exercise that, again, is better done in person but we're going to do it virtually here, and the way that it works is I show you this picture and I ask you - and I tell you that this cow front and centre, Bessie here, is sick and I ask you why, and the way that this normally works when it's done in person is that people say - normally it's something must be wrong with the grass that Bessie is eating or the cows around Bessie must be sick or some things people say maybe they got into the trash of this guy in the brick house in the background, and that all makes sense, but what if I shift the perspective and I change the frame and I show you this, and you can see clearly here how including different information, expanding the lens that we're seeing, gives us a remarkably different way of understanding and answering and orienting towards this question of what's going on with Bessie.
That really is the idea of framing and, when we talk about framing in the work that we do at Frameworks and the work that we do with our partners at NAPCAN - at NAPCAN and Telethon Kids Institute and a number of our other partners, what we're talking about is those choices. That choice in the frame that we use, the inclusion or exclusion of certain information. We're interested, when we think about framing, in how all of those choices, both big and small - big like values and metaphors, small like pronouns and verbs - how all of those choices that we make as communicators - and I'm going to argue that each and every one of us on this call together is a communicator and has an incredible power to tap into in that role - how all of those choices affect how people think, how they feel and how they act as a result of hearing what it is that we have to say.
And there have been a number of examples. I've been collecting examples over the last year and a half of ways that we've seen framing and sometimes really small choices affects the discourse around COVID in particular in early childhood and how people think and feel about these issues, and I'm going to give you three really quick ones just to drive home both the importance of framing but also it's sometimes taken for granted, very nuanced, very subtle ways in which those small things end up having big effects in how we think about issues.
And so the first one - these are all US examples but I think they pertain based on what I know about the Australian context. The first one is a lot of the discourse that we've been hearing primarily for the past six months to a year about the number of mothers who are leaving the workforce in record numbers, and what this construction does through largely this verb of "leaving" is it ascribes individual responsibility to mothers as making the decision to do this. It kind of takes away all of the context of the equation here, the fact that mothers aren't making this decision by themselves alone in some vacuum but are being pressured by context, by the economy, by employment, by child care, to make these decisions, and, last but not least, it feeds and [reifies] 00:08:20 a number of the gender stereotypes that we hold and that become active when we think about mothers.
The second one, this is a really good one, meaning a really bad one. Parents with young children are skipping well-child vaccinations. This is a phenomenon in the United States and I imagine it is evident in Australia as well, and it's really just one word in what you see here that has a dramatic effect in terms of what people think and feel and do when it comes to parents, and that is the verb of "skipping". When we talk about parents skipping, what we allow people to do, what we push people to do, is to blame those parents, again kind of divorce them from context, and in the United States where these figures are not evenly experienced across the population but it's poor people, it's people of colour who are missing visits. It allows people room to apply their racist and classist stereotypes.
And last but not least the discourse that's ranging around adolescents and slightly older children is this idea of this kind of lost generation, that we'll be living with the consequences of this lost generation for years to come, and again it's dramatic, this is almost taken word for word from a number of headlines, but what this does really powerfully is it gets us to a point where we're thinking very fatalistically about the ability to do anything for young people who have experienced the last year and a half, it creates unproductive understandings of the potential for solutions and activates unproductive negative understandings of young people.
And so the way to think about framing, the way that I think about framing, is through the use of this metaphor that you see on the screen, this idea of a key, that framing has the ability, the choices that we make and how we present our information, how we engage with those who we're providing support or colleagues and other professionals, has the ability to unlock new conversations, new ways of thinking about issues, new ways of coming to and appreciating the importance of solutions, but, as you just saw in those three examples, a key does the other thing too. Has the ability - those choices that we make have the ability to lock things up, to close down thinking, to eliminate space for productive conversations, to decrease support and allow people to reject solutions.
And what I want to talk about quickly, I'm going to talk about some work that we've done on child maltreatment, in the UK actually, to give you an example of the importance of this key and the ways that we select them and how they can have this either opening positive effect or how the choices that we make can do the opposite, how they can lead to unproductive understandings, lead to ways of engaging with these issues that really are not aligned with what we're trying to do, and I'm going to talk about metaphor in particular.
So when it comes to issues of child abuse and child maltreatment, people have a proclivity to understand these issues through individual causes, through parents or adults who choose to do bad things to kids, and we know very well from a lot of research in social sciences that has to do with child maltreatment but more generally that, when people have these individual-level understandings of cause, they go to individual-level solutions. So this is about people making better decisions. This is about people trying harder.
Now, there's certainly something to say about this. I mean, child maltreatment, abuse and neglect are acts that are related and have to do with individual volition and decisions and effort, but there's also this other piece that's really important, and you all know this in your work, these kind of more social or contextual causes, and we know that, when people can think about these social causes, they go to dramatically different solutions. They go to public, they go to policy, they go to programmatic solutions and they think about better services and more supports rather than just individuals trying harder and making better decisions.
The argument is that we need people to be able to hold both of these things in mind if we're going to do our work in creating better outcomes for kids and the problem, as I said, is that we know this in Australia and it's certainly the case in the UK and the US, is that these ways of thinking are not even. There's no parity between individual causes in terms of how people understand these issues and social causes. So our work is to figure out how to use these keys to rebalance this and allow people to engage with both of these perspectives that are critical to their ability to come with us in our work and engage with solutions.
And, again, we've done a lot of this work through the use of metaphors that reorient people's thinking, and what I'm going to show you now is some before and after, on the street interviews. These were all done in the UK, some in London and other areas in the midlands and the north of the country, where you're going to see people first talking about child maltreatment, child neglect, without the benefit of frames, without the benefit of a metaphor, and then I'm going to show you how that discussion changes once people are primed, once people are introduced with a metaphor to think about the issues.
So first is the before. This is how people talk and think about child neglect without the benefit of one of these framing keys.
INTERVIEWER: What are some of the reasons why children are neglected?
MALE 1: I mean, I think that it could be a lot of things. (1) Parents. I mean, [it all] 00:13:57 depends on the parents.
MALE 2: Lack of understanding of how to be a parent.
FEMALE 1: Some people produce children and have no responsibility for them.
FEMALE 2: Maybe they're too self-absorbed.
FEMALE 3: Too selfish.
FEMALE 4: I guess they shouldn't be parents. They just weren't made to have children.
FEMALE 5: A lot of people have children without really fully comprehending what is expected of them as parents.
FEMALE 6: They don't know what it is to show love to another person.
INTERVIEWER: So what do you think could be done in this country to reduce levels of neglect?
MALE 3: I think when someone has that decision to have a child, they need to really step up to the plate and obviously make sure they're doing what's needed for the kid.
MALE 4: I think everybody's got to change their behaviour.
MALE 1: And don't always hope for a handout.
MALE 5: You see these people who have got 19 kids from seven different women and they're milking the system.
MALE 3: I believe it comes from the individual as opposed to something that you can put around people.
MALE 1: You can only get help if you help yourself.
MALE 3: You can't obviously control people and how they live their lives.
MALE 6: People don't necessarily get educated as to how to bring up their children.
FEMALE 7: I'd say it's just a bit too difficult to say but you'd have to cure poverty in order to prevent neglect.
NAT KENDALL-TAYLOR: So again there it's very evident that people's dominant, their default orientation to this issue is highly individualistic. It's choices that parents make or do not make. It's the level of effort that they exert in caring or not caring. And again, the task here that we undertook is how do you not eliminate those individual considerations, which are certainly part of the issue, but how do you balance it, how do you introduce into this thinking, into this conversation, a contextual perspective, and we did that through the use of a metaphor, a kind of overloaded metaphor that explains that, when people are carrying too much weight, like a lorry, like a truck, they can become overloaded to the point of breaking down.
In a similar way, when parents are burdened with things like the stress of poverty or lack of support, that this weight can lead to problems in the way that they interact in the relationships that they have with their children and part of the solution is this figuring out how to reduce the initial load but also support those who are bearing disproportionate amounts of it.
And when people are primed with a less wonky version of what I just did, you get conversations that look and sound dramatically different from the one that you've just heard, that look and sound like this.
INTERVIEWER: How does that make you think about what would cause neglect?
FEMALE 6: When people don't have the means, they don't have the - even the mental ability to do it anymore if they themselves are suffering for whatever reason.
MALE 7: Become overloaded by life and what it's throwing at you, then yes, I'd say neglect is probably more likely to happen.
FEMALE 7: Oh, these conditions that little by little take away our capacity of caring.
FEMALE 6: Financial worries.
MALE 7: The thing that you're in a situation that you don't have full control of.
FEMALE 8: Worries about exactly where the next meal is going to come from. Worries about their living condition.
MALE 8: As stuff comes along that's stressful, that's difficult, it sort of takes away some of your ability to do stuff that you have to do.
FEMALE 8: So all these things just get in the way.
MALE 9: So you're always firefighting and, because of that, you don't have the time that you need to actually nurture your children properly.
FEMALE 8: Everything is a great deal more tough.
INTERVIEWER: What does that suggest could be done to reduce levels of neglect in the UK?
FEMALE 6: I think you would need to address why these people feel overloaded, what are the reasons behind it.
MALE 7: Perhaps third parties are - you know, someone else who has come along to share the load with you.
MALE 10: Support is needed. Support is needed there.
MALE 11: Obviously they need help. They need experience.
FEMALE 9: Just having more kind of advisers within communities the parents are encouraged to go to.
FEMALE 10: It's not about demonising the person who's neglecting. It's about realising that actually, they're totally subject to all these external factors.
NAT KENDALL-TAYLOR: So I hope you could hear that. I realise my dog just started barking right in the middle of that. But a dramatically different conversation, obviously one that's much more balanced and oriented towards appreciating the role of those contextual factors.
So the work that we've done with Telethon Kids and [certain] 00:18:08 other partners really has been kind of how can we find the keys that unlock thinking in Australia about the importance of early childhood and the need to better support families, and we've done this through a project that has included almost seven and a half thousand Australians but that we've build that on research that has been conducted over more than eight years in Australia with a lot more participants and then based on work that FrameWorks, the organisation that I lead, has done globally with a very large sample of participants, and what this research has shown is the importance of a coherent story, a narrative about early childhood that really plays the role of unlocking more productive space for people to think about these issues, and it's a story that starts with the kind of issue, setting the issue at the level of health and wellbeing, the way that the development of children affects their health as children and their future health and wellbeing as adults, that this issue matters largely because of a frame or setting the frame around fairness, that no matter where a child lives that each and every child needs to have the opportunity to be healthy and well, an answer to the question of when that not only is oriented towards the future effects of development but that really grounds the discussion in the experiences, the wellbeing, the relationships of families and children now.
Every story has to have a bad guy. The bad guy of this story is the way in which the lack of support in some areas for some Australians disrupts that development and undermines that health and wellbeing. And then the solution is to provide the support that each and every child needs in the way they need this support, and what this looks like, just to give you a quick example, when it comes to this now and later frame, is to move from a way of framing information that the field of early childhood has used, some might argue to great effect, for a long time, which has really focused on the down the line, on the future effects, to one that is more balanced in talking not only about the later but the effects of supporting kids and families now in terms of their wellbeing and relationships and quality of life and health and all of these things.
So the challenge now is how do you take that story that has emerged from all of this research that plays that productive version of the key and then unlocking space and ways to talk and ways to think about solutions, how do you take that out into the real world, out into a field that, at least in the United States, looks like this when it comes to communication? Every organisation, every sub-issue has their own way of talking, and if this is the way your communications landscape looks, it's highly unlikely that you're going to be able to shift mindsets, to do that unlocking function, and what we are at the point of doing in Australia is thinking about how you move from this relatively orthogonal (that's a fancy word), chaotic or discordant sense of communication to one that is aligned, one that is aligned, and not that everyone's saying the words all the time but that people are communicating within the boundaries of that core story that I've just presented.
And one of the ways that we've started to do this is through two really awesome and amazing tools that have been developed by FrameWorks in collaboration with Telethon Kids and with funding from the Minderoo Foundation. One is a short guide that allows you all to apply this story, these recommendations, and the second is an online self-paced e-learning module which gets into more detail about how to do that.
And so with that I will say thank you all very much. As always, I encourage you all to frame on and I'm going to hand things over to my colleagues, Annette and Meron, to talk about their work now. Thank you all very much.
ANNETTE FULLER: Wow. Thanks, Nat. That was an awesome presentation, and you've really set the scene well for us around those framing keys and for Meron and I now to share a little bit about our experiences in actually applying those keys in the field.
Look, I just want to start and acknowledge I am presenting today from Lutruwita, which is Tasmania, and presenting from the land of the munwinina people, acknowledge their ongoing custodianship of the land and sea and pay my respects to Elders past, present and future and to all Aboriginal people on the presentation today.
To start, I'm just going to give you a little bit of an overview of who is B4 and what we do and where we've come from. So B4 is the B4 Early Years Coalition and B4 being that period pregnancy to 4, before school. It was launched by the Tasmanian Government and is funded by the Tasmanian Government as a collective impact initiative in 2016, and, as a social change initiative, B4 is looking to engage, support individuals and organisations to get behind the early years with three goals: everyone understands the importance of the early years; everyone understands the actions they can take in the early years; and everyone works together for the early years so that we can ensure that every Tasmanian child in the early years is cared for and nurtured no matter what.
Currently, B4 has about 250 individuals and organisations joined up and wanting to be part of this movement for the early years. Now, this all sounds wonderful. 250 individuals and organisations wanting change. But, as we started to move forward, we realised we actually had a problem. In getting people to understand the importance of that period (pregnancy to 4), we had all the early years experts in the right-hand corner and we had the general population over in the left-hand corner. The early years experts were passionate, enthused, reading all the recent research and actually couldn't understand why the left-hand corner wasn't coming over. When we went over to the left-hand corner, the general public had no idea and couldn't understand why we were all so excited and why we were all going on about the early years.
That then got backed up by some research that Nat and his team did with FrameWorks, with Telethon, around early childhood development in Australia, which really just empirically sealed that look, there's this gap of knowledge between the expert and the general population around their understanding of the importance of that period of development, and unfortunately, that gap's just getting wider.
We then looked at some more research thinking okay, we know what our problem is now is we need to bridge this gap. As we looked at some other research that had happened in Tasmania with the Tasmanian Early Years Foundation, we actually found that 70%, or up to, of parents' information around child development was coming from their friends, their family, or people that they knew in community that they had trusted relationships with.
We looked at some other research, and I just think this is a wonderful survey, the Edelman's Survey of Trust. It's an annual survey and what it was showing in Australia was people's trust in governments, businesses and organisations is decreasing but people's trust with people they have a relationship with is increasing. So we just knew another glossy brochure from government was just not going to cut it, so we had to find another way.
We had to tap into that informal information highway of those friends, families and other networks, and, just as importantly as tapping into that highway, we needed to find the words that worked. We needed to find those words that were going to accelerate conversations and not block conversations. We were basically looking for some superheroes, and, as Nat showed in his presentation, through Telethon Kids and the work FrameWorks has done around with a lot of other partners that B4 was lucky enough to be part of as well, we got two superheroes. We got the quick start guide for the core story plus we got a set of e-learning modules. We got the words that work, the words that would allow us to bridge that gap.
B4 had already started what we called a B4 community storytellers' project, and this was around tapping into that informal highway of information sharing. What we did was identify community champions, so people in the community that had already a skillset in training, had connections, were embedded in their community and had a passion in the early years. What we did with the champions was train them up in the B4 key messages, which is around the ARACY NEST messages, skilled them up in how to be the best storyteller they can be, and that's around telling stories for impact and for change.
Now we're also able to add in words-that-work training. So not only can they tell stories impactfully, they can tell stories that are now going to accelerate the conversations that they have. Our community champions then go back out into their communities, identify those informal highway networkers and give them the skills of key messages, storytelling and words that work. So over time, we are just going to saturate Tasmania with the key messages around the early years, using words that work through stories. And we know stories work. The evidence, the research, sits there. Stories are impactful, and particularly stories that are emotive and stories that connect with us.
Some of the research - and I'll just read a quote from an evaluation from our training of our community champions, which noted that trusted influential community members are the fastest way to increase community understanding on the importance of the early years and change behaviours through intentional and strategic storytelling. We're now adding, especially when paired with words that work.
So what have we found out in the field with our storytellers, with our community champions? We've had conversations with tradies on the early years with our community storytellers, and some of the words that have really resonated for them is the emphasis on the importance of the early years for now and later, with a number of the tradies actually coming back to the organisation that was having the conversations to get more information about things they could share with families and friends, of what they needed to be doing, the actions they could be taking for children now.
We've also had one of our wonderful community champions talking at her local gardening club, full of grandparents, full of aunts and uncles talking about the importance of belonging, talking about the time they spend with their grandchildren and their other little ones in the early years in developing that love for nature and just those opportunities for play and discovery, and the fact that what they're doing is building brains and bodies, and this is all about now and for the future.
We've had chats. I know I was talking with a young man at one of our local child and family centres. She had a beautiful little newborn - oh, two or three months old, and I just said to her, "You are an amazing brain builder." I mean, she just looked sideways at her, and I talked to her. I said, "You know how you're just talking to your baby and you're making sounds, your bub was coming back to you blowing raspberries, doing the bubbles. You then went back." I said, "The flash word for that is serve and return," but I said, "What that is is brains grow by interaction. So what you're doing is helping your baby grow, and babies need that interaction to grow their brains. So that's why putting them down with TVs or screens doesn't work because there's no interaction so their brains can't grow from that. Your baby's brain needs you and needs your friends and family to grow."
Some of the other ways that B4 has looked at how do we incorporate and embed the core story into what we're already doing. I mean, like yourselves, we're all busy people. We actually don't have time for another job. So it is around how do we just put it into what we're already doing. We've now made it part of our induction for all new staff in B4 that we do the e-learning modules and that we have the quick start guide, and my quick-start guide lives with me. It lives on my computer, it lives beside me. I refer to it constantly. I've shared it across - I sit in the Department of Education in Tasmania. I've shared it across the Department. I've shared it across stakeholders. With B4, we have a monthly newsletter. We're going to have a words-that-work section in our newsletter and every month pop up a new story in there to keep promoting and sharing.
At a recent B4 partnered with Early Childhood Australia Tasmania, we held a forum. So we had a captive audience of a hundred early years professionals. So I got Professor Donna Cross to kindly video an overview of the core story and the work that's been happening and we then broke up the hundred participants and got them to practise and use, from the quick start guide, their elevated pictures around advocating for the early years using words that were going to be effective and words that were going to accelerate their conversations.
The other reality here is this work is very new. We're all learning. None of us are experts but we need to be out there having a go and, now that we know the words that make a difference, we'd be mad not to use them, because that's what we're invested in this area for in the early years is that we want to make a difference.
And now it is my great pleasure to hand over to Meron for her to share some of her learnings and what they've been doing up in the NT. Over to you, Meron.
MERON LOONEY: Thanks very much, Annette. I was really excited to hear about what's happening with B4 and the early childhood story and I like that it's around helping people have the confidence, the skills, to have those key messages and the storytelling and the words that work to resource people up in what to do. So I think sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming when we're talking about how to do this new reframing when you first start learning about it but this is a really great way to have this conversation.
So before I start, I'd like to acknowledge that I'm presenting from Larrakia country and I pay my respects to the Larrakia people as the custodians of these beautiful lands and seas on which I'm presenting from in Darwin in the Northern Territory.
So yeah, I think sometimes when we're talking about it, it can feel a bit overwhelming when we're talking about reframing, but it doesn't have to be about huge changes. So what I want to do today is share some of the ways that people in organisations have started using framing in the Northern Territory.
So two years ago for National Child Protection Week, NAPCAN shared research that Nat and the FrameWorks Institute had done with Australia's Parenting Research Centre, the PRC, around how we talk about parenting, and, as with the clips that Nat showed, public opinion was very much around the individual parent and blaming parents if things weren't going quite well, without seeing that broader social context.
So what that research found was that rather than talking about parenting tips and skills and effective parenting that can make parents feel judged or that the worker's an expert, that the best way is to start from a child development frame, so this fits really beautifully with what we're talking about today. They also developed and tested a metaphor that talks about parenting as being like a sailing boat. So sometimes it's smooth sailing but there can be times of storms and rough waters. So it's a bit like the load-and-lorry metaphor that's working in the UK.
So NAPCAN developed a little short workshop to share this research and to start supporting people to put it into practice, and this has led to a lot of interest in the Northern Territory and people are becoming more aware of the language they use and the impact this has on families, on children, on people working in organisations, and also on departments and things that are actually funding the programs that we work in.
So it can take a bit of adjusting to the way you think and you communicate. So years ago, I used to be a preschool teacher. So if I had any conversations with parents, they always started with the child, talking about the child. I then came to Darwin. I did a social work degree and I moved into family support-type work, and my way of communicating shifted to focusing on parents and parenting. But since learning about framing in the last couple of years, I can now really see the benefits of sticking to an approach that focuses on the child and their development rather than talking to parents about parenting.
So I want to share some examples with you and the first one is from a child and family centre in Palmerston. So a couple of years ago, I was running a workshop in Palmerston and one of the participants, as we were talking, said, "Oh, now I understand why that worked." So they've been running a group program for Aboriginal dads and calling it a parenting program for Aboriginal dads and hardly anyone was going. They were finding it really hard to engage people. So what they did, a couple of weeks we were having this little bit of training, they'd recently changed the way they promoted it, so instead of talking about a parenting program for Aboriginal dads, they said something like, "Your child's development is important. Come and learn about how you can support it now and for later." Lots more dads came and they wanted more and more sessions.
So the actual content of the program didn't change much. It was much the same. They just changed the way they communicated about it and promoted it from a focus on effective parenting and being a dad to offering parents an opportunity to support their child's development. So the way we communicate can actually engage parents and caregivers or it can actually push them away, especially if parents might be feeling judged.
So that was about promoting a program and the next example is about having everyday communication with parents. So this is the HIPPY program in Darwin provides home-based support for families with young children and what they say is coming and learning about the reframing has helped them pay more attention to the language they use and in the ways they encourage families to take part in activities. So they now do that more through focusing on the child rather than the parenting and their skills.
So, for example, some of the parents they work with say they struggle to get their kids to school. So instead of saying, "Oh, so how come she didn't get to school?" they'll say something like, "Does she need anything to get to school tomorrow?" or, "What does she really like to do on a Thursday that she loves to do," so focusing on what the child needs and wants.
Also, if they go on a home visit, they used to say something like, "And here's a new book. You can read to your child," and we'd normally think there's nothing wrong with that, and there isn't anything wrong with it, but they've reframed it to be something like, "I think your child is going to love this new book. I can't wait to hear about what she does for this activity."
So reframing for NAPCAN - now, we've got lots of resources out there and it's been a bit of a wake-up call for us too and we're changing the focus and the language on many of our resources and the way we talk about things. So one of these is a clip, a video clip that we use in our training all the time around the continuum of wellbeing, child wellbeing. So there's a sentence in there that, once we learnt about the reframing and how to frame parenting in positive ways, just really jumped out at us as not being very helpful.
So the sentence is, "We all try to do the best we can in the very difficult job of raising our children." What we've done is we're changing that to, "We all try to do the best we can in the very important job of raising our children." So if we think about when we talk about the very difficult job of raising our children, for me anyway, that makes me feel heavy and I go, "Oh, yes, it is really hard, you know, it's really difficult," and it doesn't really look at options of what's next. If we talk about we all try to do the best we can in the very important job of raising our children, it actually feels really uplifting and more hopeful, and that's just, as Nat said, one word can make a difference. So yeah.
Part of the journey in learning about this way of communicating is that you tend to firstly notice when things aren't framed in a helpful way rather than - and you don't necessarily know what to do with it then but you just know that ooh, I don't think that's quite right, and this happened when I ordered some resources from Parentline, who are operated by Boystown in Queensland and they run a telephone and online counselling service for parents in the NT.
So we were just learning about the importance of our language and framing in the lead-up to Child Protection Week a couple of years ago and I ordered some new promotional materials. I was very excited. I opened up the box, and when I opened it I went, "Oh my gosh. This is not how this research, this new research that I'm learning about, says how we should be framing our messages to parents." So if we can have that first slide now, thank you.
This is what we had. So it was full of posters and other materials that talked about kids don't come with a manual, raising kids can be fun but tough, and a bit like that, you know, the difficult job of parenting, when you talk about parenting can be tough, it takes you down that channel of difficulty, I guess. So I went, "Ooh, what do I do about this?" So I rang up my contact in Parentline and had a talk to her about it and explained what this new research was about, and she said, "Oh, that would explain the response by my daughter the other day." She said, "I put up one of the new magnets up on the wall, up on the fridge, and it was about parenting being touch, and my daughter said to me, 'Mum, that doesn't actually make me feel very good. I actually thought you liked being a parent and when you talk about it being touch it makes me feel really bad.'"
So what happened was it led to Parentline changing some of their resources. If we can just have the next slide. And so they redeveloped some of their resources to be more positive and child-focused. The one that is my favourite is "Kids do better when parents feel supports." So that's using that message, focusing on the child first. And we do need to support parents but we do that because it helps kids do well.
I actually contacted Parentline for permission to use this little story and the posters are still on their website and some of the new resources, so the CEO has said she's going to follow up with their marketing team to see what happens in the next stage of their marketing. So changing the way we frame and talk about things can take time and we also need to get others in our organisation on board as well.
So the PRC, the Parenting Research Centre, runs the Raising Children Network, which I'm sure most of you would know about, and they have about 60,000 pieces of information on their website and they're working through every single one of them to look at how the messages are framed and to focus rather than on effective parenting, to be around child development.
So when Annette was talking about having champions and people sharing the messages, a surprising example of a new storyteller was a high school coordinator with a Certificate II in child care studies. So as a result of learning about framing, she made a really good change to the way she taught a unit on child safety and wellbeing to the child care studies students as well as the assessment piece, which was to develop a poster for National Child Protection Week. So originally, the task she set was around the impacts of child abuse and the types of posters that the children would create would have pictures of kids with black eyes and looking sad and looking traumatised.
After learning about framing and the navigating waters metaphor, she changed the assessment task with a focus more on the context of parenting and not blaming parents, and this is what the students came up with. We can have the next slide. So this slide - these posters, rather than children with black eyes and looking awful, it actually focuses on prevention, it's focused on child wellbeing and supporting parents. So not only are these inspiring and positive messages using the reframing research and the navigating waters metaphor, apparently the students actually felt much more engaged in the activity and much more positive about creating these posters. They really got behind it because it was a way of looking forward and it made them feel really good.
So my final example - don't change the slide yet, in a sec - is from the Larapinta Child and Family Centre in Alice Springs. They work with families down there. And this has only just come through to me today so I'm really excited about sharing this with you, because Alice Springs really got behind the reframing research. So Larapinta Child and Family Centre have embedded this approach into the way they think about and communicate with families and the broader community about their work. So what really resonated with them was the start with child development focus, which is the core of their business.
So just for example, when parents comment on their child's behaviour, often negatively. They might be using the centre and they comment in a negative way about their child, the response from Larapinta is to describe the expected developmental stage of a child. So it might be if the parent's complaining that their two-year-old doesn't share, it might be something like, "Well, you know, actually, developmentally, children don't learn that and their brain isn't quite ready for sharing just yet so it's actually something that you could expect of children this age."
What they've also done is reframed a lot of their written communication - and I'll go to the next slide now thanks - with a real focus on the child. So their by-line for all of their activities now has become, "Babies and children thrive when families are supported and connected," and they've attempted all their promotional material to frame around what's best for children's growth and development. So there are a couple of examples there. Supporting our culture supports our growth. A sense of belonging helps babies and children thrive. A couple of others are Nurturing children's growth today builds a better tomorrow, and Children thrive when they belong to people, place and culture. So many of their messages are also focused on celebrating strength-based positive messages around Aboriginal culture, language and families, and they're actually looking at using this type of framing to tackle racism in how they can do that.
So the last slide I want to show you, Larapinta partnered with Tangentyere Womens Family Safety Group, which has developed a campaign for children called Girls Can, Boys Can - have we got that last one - and this aims to challenge those gender stereotypes that underpin family violence, and once again they've framed a by-line around child development. So their by-line - as soon as I saw this, I went, "That's been framed," - Kids thrive when they're free to be whoever they want to be, and they've got a number of posters and things. I think you're going to get information about where you can - websites and things that you can access that information.
So children need us to get our messaging right. So if we can use this evidence around framing, we can help to win the minds and the hearts that Nat talks about, winning the hearts and minds of people in ways that can make sure that families and communities have what they need to help children thrive and do really well.
So I'd now like to invite Rani and Annette to join me, and I think we've got a few minutes left for some questions.
RANI KUMAR Thanks, Meron. That was fantastic. And thanks Annette and Nat for all your useful insights. It was a really stimulating discussion and took us on a really great journey from the research that Nat talked about; Annette, to your community-based practice and implementation right on the ground; Meron, to your examples of services and agencies taking on reframing, and I think one of the important threads that I was hearing is that we know that we have words that work but there's also channels that work. There's ways to implement this work that is different and we've got to find those channels.
Annette, the examples you had about your community champions and those trusted community members that have the influence to change mindsets and, Meron, your example of Parentline, for example, changing their language, and that other program for the dads that actually found a different way to engage dads around that program without changing the program, just the way they framed it, I think it's really important to reflect on the fact that one change then has a cascade effect on a lot of people because anyone coming to that program from there on is getting more of an impact.
So it's not just - you can do something simple in your practice and you can have a big impact, so I think that's a really important thing to think of when you go, "Oh, this is just a small change," but it can have a really important impact.
We do have some time for questions. Probably just five minutes. I'll get to them now, and remember, any questions we don't get to, we will do a bit of an extended version recording. The first question we have, and I think this is the pertinent one for most people, Annette and Meron, is do you have a cheat sheet for what not to say and how to rephrase or reframe content as you go along? I think that's what most people want to know; how do you get into this? Annette, would you like to start?
ANNETTE FULLER: The cheat sheet is the How to tell the core story, the quick start guide, and, look, do the e-learning modules. What I found useful is also within your team try to get a bit of a community of practice, because if you're just framing by yourself, it can be difficult, but if you get colleagues that are also using framing, you can bounce off against each other, and you're not going to come up with all the ideas. That's why you have a team. Others will come up with some ideas as well. And be gracious to yourself. You're not going to be perfect 100% of the time but it's about having a go.
RANI KUMAR Meron.
MERON LOONEY: It can be - so speaking of cheat sheets, I've got one here too. So this is the chat sheet about reframing parenting that's from the navigating waters - from the FrameWorks Institute and their navigating waters information - the Parenting Research Centre, sorry. So that's a bit of a dos and don'ts. When you're talking about parenting, avoid talking in this way but do talk in this way.
So I think that can help people have some confidence when you've got those. I think your guide, Annette, that guide is amazing. I did have a quick look at it and it's like wow, that's what you need, and it's when you're starting on this journey you need a starting place and I agree that having people around you - you don't always get it right the first time, and what's right anyway? It's around massaging what you've got and go, "Right, well I don't think this is going to work so let's have a think. How can we get together and talk about shifting the way we're framing it and look at those resources that are provided to help us."
RANI KUMAR Yeah, absolutely. I think those are the best places to go. There's a question about there's so much negativity. How do you stay positive in how you talk about these issues with families and clients? Meron, would you like to take that one first?
MERON LOONEY: I'll start. I think there is a lot of negativity and there's actually some tips in how to avoid that in some of the information that is on the PRC website as well but I think you can even just start - like in the NAPCAN video, where we changed one word and it changes the whole way people respond to that. So changing from the difficult job of parenting to the important job of parenting can actually push some of that negativity away.
I've just got an example also of one of the stories I heard from a child care centre was that a mum came in one morning and she was very distraught. She had a toddler and she had a new job and she was really worried about - she was running late for the new job because the toddler was doing the thing that two-year-olds do and was finding it really hard to get organised, and she was crying and really upset, and the worker said, "Oh, you're riding the toddler wave. You're riding that wave and we're here to help you come down the other side."
And so often what we might say is, "Oh, all toddlers are like that," but if you say, "all toddlers are like that," that mum might go, "Well, why can't I do something about it? Why is it affecting me so badly?" But if we use that type of metaphor, you know, that, "Here's the wave. We know it's going to come down the other side and here we are to help you," it's a different way of looking at things I think.
RANI KUMAR Absolutely. Annette.
ANNETTE FULLER: Yeah, and I think the key for me is that we've got keys. You know, it was what Nat was talking about, those framing keys, that if I go back to the issue that B4 identified is that in the right-hand corner we had the experts, the knowledge, the passion around the early years, and in the left-hand corner the general public, who really couldn't understand what the fuss was all about, and where the negativity and frustration was coming was that neither side was hearing each other. But now we've got the keys that allows that conversation to happen so that we can actually share the knowledge from each other in an effective way so that we hear each other.
MERON LOONEY: When you're focusing - so if the negativity - if parents are feeling threatened or judged, then if you're focusing on child development you're not talking about the parent or judging their parenting at all, you're talking about what children need and the supports that the parent might need to make that happen, to support the development.
RANI KUMAR Absolutely. I just want to add to that that, with negativity, one of the core principles for framing is not to name the problem. Do not repeat what you don't want people to take away, so to be conscious of naming the solution rather than the problem.
Okay. So our next question is really about how do we encourage reticent parents' participation. Meron, I know you had an example earlier. Did you want to start with this one?
MERON LOONEY: Well, I think often parents might be reticent to come to a program or to engage in services if they're feeling judged and they're feeling like they don't fit, they don't fit comfortably. So the way to avoid parents feeling judged is to not talk about parenting and call these parenting programs. And I know this is a bit of a dilemma for many people that I talk to, they go, "Well, that's what we're funded. We're funded as the blah blah parenting program." But by just shifting the language and using that child development focus once again, it's not around you as a parent, it's around your child and how we can support you to promote their development and help them do the best they can. So I think that focus on child development first is one of those key points, if you like.
RANI KUMAR Annette.
ANNETTE FULLER: Yeah, I was going to say, I mean, it reminds me immediately, going back to Nat's presentation, of where it had parents skipping out on their child's vaccinations. You know, it's that one word - I'm not even going to be able to say it, but the hard parent. It's about we need to shift that language and shift our focus around what is it that's not making it easy for people to enter our services? What's making it not easy for people to approach us to have conversations for us to share information? What's not making it easy for families to access the services and supports they need when they need it to help their children to thrive? So it's very much reframing, getting rid of that word and looking at what is it we can do to support parents help their children thrive.
RANI KUMAR That's perfect. Thanks Annette and Meron. Annette, that really leads us into our next question, which is about in this time where people are in lockdown and many of our interactions are online, how do we keep engaging families and communities as a way of promoting child wellbeing? So exactly as you were saying, it's on us to look at the ways of engaging and encouraging families to participate. Do you have any more thoughts on that in an online world?
ANNETTE FULLER: Yeah, look, and it is reaching out and it is sharing with parents the value of connecting, whether it be family, friends, however, through online mechanisms, through Zoom, Facebook, whatever you're doing, but it's a really important part of development and wellbeing for their child, that belonging, being connected is critical to their health and development, and popping them on Facebook, as much as I would never support putting children on a screen at any other time, but this is really important for children to maintain those connections with people they have loving relationships with, connections with their friends, connections with activities they might be doing. Really important for their health and development and really important now and into the future.
RANI KUMAR Excellent. Meron, did you have anything to add?
MERON LOONEY: Not really, except that in some ways in these times of COVID, which means people can't physically be with others, it's actually elevated the importance of staying connected in other ways and so those online ways, as Annette said, are ways of helping children feel really connected with the people that care about them.
RANI KUMAR Fantastic. And we've got one question, I guess, that's really important that we do think about this. What are some of the strategies that either of you or both of you might have that can be used to prevent complacency and slipping back into the old habits, the ways that we've all become so accustomed to going - to using our language in a particular way? How do we stop using words that don't work?
MERON LOONEY: I think it's really challenging, actually, because, as we said before, there's not a start point and an endpoint, it's a journey, and part of that slipping back is part of that journey, I guess. So I think to stop the complacency is to be aware of the impact of your communication on others and to notice when you've reframed something and you're talking about it differently, when it is having an impact on how someone else receives that message that you're trying to communicate, and to practise and to surround yourself, if possible, with people who are really passionate about reframing as well and keep those conversations alive.
RANI KUMAR Annette, did you have anything to add?
ANNETTE FULLER: I absolutely agree with Meron and I think the other thing is to look out for those warning signs within your practice. For me, I describe these as conversation accelerators, that if suddenly your conversations are getting blocked if suddenly people are disengaging, if suddenly people are walking backwards, that's when you've got to really pull up and go, "Hang on. What am I doing? What have I done? Why aren't people actually engaging with my conversations, engaging with my reframing? Oh, hang on, I'm not framing. I've gone back to my old ways. I've gone back to talking about parenting and how hard it is. Oops, better pull myself up." And also being kind to yourself, that we are going to make these mistakes. This is really new information and no one's an expert. We're just in having a go.
RANI KUMAR Fantastic. Absolutely. We notice that at NAPCAN, don't we, Meron, that we do slip up and we do help each other, we catch each other and say, "I'm not sure this is right," and that's really about having a go, being conscious and aware of what you're saying and really having that community around you to keep promoting it and moving the journey together.
Thank you both so much. That was really great and really appreciate both your insights. Thanks for that.
ANNETTE FULLER: Absolute pleasure. Thank you.
1. B4 Early Years Coalition: How to share the early years using words that work
2. What and who is B4?
- The B4 Early Years Coalition (B4) was announced in 2016, and is a collective impact initiative, funded by the Tasmanian Government, connecting, supporting, and engaging with individuals and organisations to understand the importance of the early years, take action and work together to ‘ensure all Tasmanian children, pregnancy to 4 years, are cared for and nurtured no matter what’.
- B4 has over 250 individuals and organisations who have joined up to be part of the change Tasmanian children need now and for the future.
3. but B4 had a problem …
"it’s natural, it just happens you don’t need to do much"
"development is important only when they start to speak"
"it’s modern life that’s the problem!"
"children are parent’s responsibilities, not mine"
"Child care is about keeping children safe"
Not everyone did understand the importance of the early years and the actions they could take to support Tasmanian children at the right time and at the right place, according to their specific needs, for them to thrive now and into the future.
Source: L’Hote, E., Hawkins, N., & Kendall-Taylor, N. (2019). Talking about early childhood development in Australia. Frameworks Institute.
4. and this wasn’t the only problem B4 had …
through research we also knew
'approximately 70% of parents get their information and advice on parenting from family and friends'
Source: Enterprise Marketing and Research Services. (2011). Tasmania’s Biggest Job – Research Report. Tasmanian Early Years Foundation.
'Community members are increasingly placing more trust in information sources from relationships within their control, while trust in information shared by Governments, media, organisations and brands is declining.'
Source: Edelman. (2019). Edelman Trust Barometer Annual Global Study.
5. B4 needed to tap into that informal information highway – of friends, family and trusted individuals
and just as importantly we needed to know the words that would work, words that would be conversation accelerators and not conversation blockers for our early years key messages.
We needed a superhero …
6. to embed what B4 was already doing.
Alt text: Screenshot of the publication by Frameworks: How to tell the Core Story of Early Childhood: A short guide
Screenshot of the video: Welcome to the Core Story eLearning Module
7. B4 Community Storytellers Project…….
- Facilitators Guide and Training through B4
- Screenshot of the publication by Frameworks: How to tell the Core Story of Early Childhood: A short guide
- B4 Community Champions
- B4 Key Messages
- Storytelling techniques
- Words that work
- Training – focusing on the B4 Key messages and storytelling
- B4 Community Storytellers
- Screenshot of the video: Welcome to the Core Story eLearning Module
- B4 Community Storytellers
- B4 Community Grants
- Share their stories about the importance of the early years with friends, family, those they have a trusted relationship with.
- Awareness raised and encourage to take action
8. Words that have worked
- Talks with Tradies
Now and in the future clicked – what we do before birth matters.
Being specific – not all children in Burnie are getting the support they need to thrive. We need to support children and their families to access the services and supports according to their needs to thrive.
- Talking to the local Gardening Club
Nurturing children together to explore the natural world and their place in it, supports children build a strong sense of belonging. This is important for their health and development now and into the future.
Source: Smoke Signals August 2021 Free Community Newsletter
- ECEC Services
Making marks through drawing and painting is helping children to develop and learn, which is supporting their physical and mental health. When children play, whether they are making marks, dressing up, or building a sand castle, they are building their brains and learning new skills. Early Childhood Education and Care services like ours are great places for children to come to develop and learn through play. Learning through play is best done together here and at home and supports your children’s health and wellbeing now and into the future.
- Community Meeting
B4 knows positive supportive communities are really important in supporting children’s and family’s wellbeing, resilience and development. A simple welcome and connection can make the world of difference for a family and their children. Everyone needs to feel connected. Right now there are children in the early years in our community that are not feeling connected. This causes their health and development to suffer. We need to improve the health of all children in our community, and especially those who do not feel connected by building positive inclusive communities. Supporting families to support their children to thrive according to their needs. Let’s all play a part to support our community to be a place where children and their families have the connections and supports they need, for healthy development and learning now and into the future.
- Talking with Families
Talking to a very tired mum of a two month old at one of our Child and Family Centres … I commented, wow you are a great brain builder … she just looked at me sideways … your baby’s brain grows through your interactions when you were blowing bubbles and your baby was trying to copy and you went back and forward – that interaction matters and is vital for you bub’s healthy development and learning. Their brain cannot thrive on its own, it needs you.
'Trusted influential community members are the fastest way to increase community understanding on the importance of the early years and change behaviours though intentional and strategic storytelling.' … especially when paired with words that work!
Source: Healthy Tasmania. (2019). B4 Early Years Story Tellers Project Final Report, unpublished.
10. Other ways B4 is embedding words that work:
- Included Core Story e-learning in our staff inductions
- Shared across the Department of Education, Communications Unit, key stakeholders, colleagues
- We practice with each other in our team.
- Shared with our B4 membership though our B4 newsletter, with regular updates or key tips in using words that work as part of our monthly B4 Newsletter moving forward
- At a recent Early Childhood Australia Tasmania / B4 Early Years Forum we ran a ‘Words matter, practicing the words that work for the early years’. Using a 15 minute recorded video by Prof. Donna Cross, the Quick Start Guide and a captive audience of around 100 Early Years Professionals from across the state – in 4 smaller facilitated groups – we practised words that work in our Advocacy for the Early Years
11. Contact us
12-16. Images of examples from Parentline Resources, NAPCAN, Larapinta Child & Family Centre and Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group
This webinar was held on Tuesday, 7 September 2021. Please post your questions and comments below.
Whether it is written or verbal, communication can impact how we think, feel and relate to others. For child and family welfare professionals, the information we receive about clients can affect how we engage with them directly and how we work with other professionals in supporting child safety and wellbeing.
Making small shifts in the words we choose and the way we deliver them can prevent unintended reactions, improve message clarity and promote helpful responses. This webinar explored how changing communication about early childhood can promote child safety, development and wellbeing. Specifically, it considered:
- How communication can shape the way professionals think and feel
- How the language professionals use, and their communication style, can impact child safety, development and wellbeing – for better and worse
- How to adapt communication practices to promote better outcomes for children and families.
This webinar is of interest to professionals working with children and/or their caregivers across early learning and care services, family and relationship services and parenting programs.
Questions answered during presenter Q&A
To view the presenter Q&A, go to 54:00 in the recording
- Do you have a cheat sheet for what not to say, and how to rephrase and reframe content?
- There is so much negativity, how do we stay positive in how we talk about these issues with families and clients?
- How do we encourage reticent parent’s participation?
- In this time when we are in lockdown, and many of our interactions are online, how do we keep engaging families and communities as a way of promoting child wellbeing?
- What are some of the strategies that can be used to prevent complacency and slipping back into old habits? How do we stop using words that don’t work?
- Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group (Alice Springs)
- Girls Can Boys Can
This project works with parents, carers and educators to create equal and respectful relationships between girls and boys so that kids can thrive and grow up to be whoever they want to be and free from discrimination.
- Mums Can Dads Can
This project aims to challenge rigid gender stereotypes regarding the roles of men and women in regards to parenting and will build on the work that is currently being carried out by the Tangentyere Family Violence Prevention Program (TFVPP).
- NAPCAN video resources
- How to Frame Early Childhood Development
This webinar, produced by NAPCAN as part of National Child Protection Week 2020, provides guidance on how we can use words and messages to create positive outcomes for all children.
- Safe Harbours for Families
This video, produced by NAPCAN as part of National Child Protection Week 2019, encourages conversations about how to support children and families and highlights ways that consistent messaging can be used to engage communities in caring for children
- Reframing Parenting
This resource, produced by the Parenting Research Centre, supports people to talk and think in more productive ways about parenting.
- Frameworks Institute
This website offers a range of research reports, toolkits and resources on framing social issues such as adolescence, community engagement, and children's mental health.
- Passing the Message Stick
This project, led by a steering committee of pre-eminent First Nations advocates, provides a guide to changing the story on self-determination and justice.
- We are Seed Mob
This video introduces Seed Mob, an Indigenous youth-led environmental organisation providing leadership in responding to the global climate crisis.