WHILE drought can play a massive toll on all those living in regions, one demographic that can often be forgotten is those children growing up through a particularly stressful time.
A resource has been made available to help families and practitioners negotiate the difficult time and engage in conversations to support children's mental health.
Infant and child mental health organisation Emerging Minds recently released a free eight-part podcast series, through funding from the Country SA primary health network.
Emerging Minds' director Brad Morgan said the majority of existing drought resources were predominantly aimed at adults and families.
"Drought is a whole-family issue," Mr Morgan said.
"Just like adults, drought can have significant emotional and psychological impacts on children."
Mr Morgan said they began looking at ways to provide guidance to those experiencing drought's negative impacts and the pressure it places on kids.
For two straight years our four children asked for rain for Christmas, that's how much it was impacting their lives.- PETIE RANKIN
He said by speaking with families in that situation, they were able to tailor the information to the format that was most useful.
"We heard from a lot of families they do spend a lot of time driving in cars so it made sense," he said.
Mr Morgan said the podcasts, which were about 10 to 20 minutes long, covered a range of topics, with input from rural and remote health practitioners, policymakers and even five parents from rural and remote locations.
"We really wanted to capture what families are doing and what we can learn from how different families have managed with supporting young and older children," he said.
Mr Morgan said some of the impacts on children during drought were the changes it could often bring about them.
"Children look to their parents to make sense of what's occurring and are influenced by the emotions around them," he said.
"We know the stress parents feel does have a flow-on effect to children and it comes out in different ways.
"Children haven't yet developed the cognitive ability to understand the impact weather has on a farm, and the subsequent impact it has on day-to-day life and adult behaviour. That creates uncertainty and concern for children."
He said drought could create changes to family relationships, such as a parent having to get a job in another location, or older children shouldering more responsibility for on-farm jobs since workers have had to be laid off to reduce costs.
Fifth generation pastoralist and mother of four Petie Rankin, The Twins Station, between Glendambo and Coober Pedy, says drought affects children more than most adults realise.
"For two straight years our four children asked for rain for Christmas, that's how much it was impacting their lives," she said.
"We talk about it every night at the dinner table. Our kids have seen their mum and dad dragging dead cattle away from empty water troughs.
"It hurts them to see their parents struggling and not being able to fix it."
SA Commissioner for Children and Young People Helen Connolly, who features in the podcasts, said the most critical thing people could do was ask regional children and young people impacted by drought how they were feeling.
"We need to ask them often, checking in regularly to ensure we stay on top of their changing situations," she said.
"That way we're more likely to learn what it is we can do that will support them in the ways they need support and what that might look like.
"The alternative is making assumptions about what we think they need, which is not likely to be nearly as effective."
Mr Morgan said there were signs to look for.
"Parents and practitioners should look for increased anxiety, withdrawal, lack of co-operation, unwillingness to participate in usual routines, emotional outbursts, and irregular or unacceptable behaviour, as these are signs that drought may be impacting a child's mental health," he said.
Mr Morgan said while there was existing support for other natural disasters such as bushfires, floods or even pandemics, but some of the strategies discussed in this podcast could have a wider application in dealing with stressful situations for children.
"We know with drought, even when it's over, the impacts linger for years and years," he said.
Episodes are available at the usual podcast providers, Spotify and for download at emergingminds.com.au/resources/podcast/?s=drought
Editor of Stock Journal.
Editor of Stock Journal.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.