My, How We’ve Grown! The Birth and Development of a Public Awareness Campaign to Foster Caregiver-Child Interactions
by Cora Boecker, Supervisor, Langley Infant Development Program, Langley, BC, Canada
Editor’s Note: Recently, ZERO TO THREE member Cora Boecker used Member Connect to share three videos created by Langley’s Infant Mental Health Collaborative to support parents’ everyday interactions with their children. These videos are part of a public awareness effort, the Talk to Me, Play with Me, Carry Me Infant Mental Health Campaign. We asked her to tell us more about the campaign, how it began, and how members can connect with her about using the materials. She happily agreed!
Over the course of working in the field of early intervention for 25 years, I noticed that certain developmental delays were becoming increasingly prevalent. My colleagues and I are seeing more children with speech delays, social-emotional concerns, and gross motor delays.
As I looked around in restaurants, stores, and parks, I began to wonder if there was a connection between the increase in parents’ screen time and use of baby equipment and the delays we were seeing. It struck me that the use of technology entered our lives so quickly, we didn’t have a chance to fully prepare how we were going to balance our time on screens with our time with our children to create a healthy attachment. I wondered….
What impact does it have when we look down at our phones 80 times per day to check the weather, news, social media, emails, parenting apps, etc… Are we missing those mini moments of connection that children need?
What impact does it have when it has become easier to remove a car seat out of a car than it is to remove the baby from the car seat? In coffee shops, babies are strapped in car seats at their parent’s feet rather than on their parent’s laps; what are they missing?
What impact does it have when babies spend much of the day in jolly jumpers and “exersaucers” instead of using their senses to explore their environment on the floor?
Our Early Child Development committee, in Langley, British Columbia, Canada, started exploring how we could address the concerns we were seeing across our community, using a positive, pro-active approach. This led to the creation of the Talk to Me, Play with Me, Carry Me Infant Mental Health Campaign. This multifaceted public awareness campaign was designed to increase parent/caregiver’s awareness of the importance that simple everyday interactions (talking, playing, carrying your baby) can have on a child’s well-being, while highlighting the impact that parental overuse of technology and overuse of baby equipment can have on those daily interactions and thereby the social-emotional health and overall development of children.
The campaign began with a poster, designed in partnership with the BC Pediatric Society, and was distributed throughout the community. This poster highlights the preferred (talk/play/carry) interaction in color and the non-preferred interaction in black and white…. It was good, but we knew posters were not enough…
So we created a video highlighting three families interacting with their infants. The Talk to Me, Play with Me, Carry Me (#mywellbeingSTARTSwithyou) video is presented in a child’s voice, shot from a child’s perspective, showing the contrast between the “non-preferred” interaction (in black nad white) and the “preferred” interaction (in colour). The video helps to extend our reach by being shared through social media as well as being available to play in waiting rooms of physician offices. The video has been viewed internationally over 20,000 times since March 2018. Although this was a powerful way to share the message, we knew there had to be more we could do….
What better way to share the message than to have the babies do so themselves? Baby bandanas printed with our Talk to Me, Play with Me, Carry Me message were given to every new baby through our local maternity ward before discharge home starting in May 2018. Bandanas were also provided to community organizations and at community events to ensure all babies in a community received one. It is hard to ignore the message when you have a baby looking up at you wearing it! An information card was added to the bandana, providing more information about the messaging and linking parents to appropriate resources.
Talking cards were developed and shared with maternity nurses and community professionals to ensure that everyone was using consistent language when sharing the campaign messaging—again, ensuring that the approach was one that did not shame or blame. The campaign became the focus of community events and training opportunities for families and professionals, all of which helped to deepen the community’s understanding of mental health and what we can do to encourage optimal well-being.
As the message of our first video started spreading, we came to the realization that it was important to expand the campaign to reach parents of preschool-aged children, where we were seeing similar concerns regarding the impact of parental screen use. A second video - Talk with Me, Play with Me, Comfort Me (#mywellbeingGROWSwithyou) was created. This video highlights common scenarios of screen use at home, child care, and in the car and is again presented in a child’s voice, showing a child’s perspective during non-preferred interactions contrasted with preferred interactions.
To help share the message of this second video, and to encourage parents to play with their children, a bag containing a small ball was provided to parents of preschool-aged children through preschools and community events. An information card is attached, providing more information about the messaging and linking parents to appropriate resources.
Recently, we were approached by our local school district which wanted to incorporate the campaign messaging into their “Welcome to Kindergarten” package and with that, a third video was born. This video—Talk with Me, Play with Me, Learn with Me (#mywellbeingTHRIVESwithyou)—highlights the importance of sharing time and interest with our school-aged children and, again, shows the impact that screen time can have on that.
This message was shared with families as they visited the school in preparation for kindergarten entry. A bag with open-ended play activities was provided along with a Frisbee branded with the campaign message. Feedback from a range of families was incorporated into this campaign. Material was written to be easily understood by those with lower literacy levels, including immigrant and refugee populations. A survey was completed to measure the success of the campaign to date. Results indicated that 68% of those who viewed the video are now working to change or modify their screen time use when around their child. Our hope for this campaign is that families will give increased consideration to their use of screens and baby equipment. As a society, we need to get to the point where it is as socially unacceptable to be on our phones at the playground or while holding our children, as it is while driving our cars.
We welcome other communities to print the poster and share the video and hashtag. For information about how to purchase bandanas, balls, bags, and/or Frisbees and regarding the campaign in general, please contact: Cora Boecker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-534-1155 (ex 108).
[Funding was received by the Ministry for Children and Family Development and various community agencies. The campaign is supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the BC Pediatric Society and the Infant Mental Health Promotion team based out of Toronto Sick Kids Hospital.]