Anxiety is one of the most common childhood disorders. Most commonly a child will experience one of the following forms of anxiety:
Some of the ways anxiety may present in your anxious child:
The good news is that anxiety can be managed through therapy to learn how to decrease those worrying thoughts, but you as a parent or caregiver can also help your anxious child by teaching them to calm down and relax their bodies and minds. One technique that you can teach to your anxious child to help them relax is Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).
Often when we experience worrying thoughts and events our bodies will respond with muscle tension. This tension we feel can be uncomfortable making it difficult to relax and even go to sleep at night.
PMR is the process of tensing different muscle groups for a few seconds and then releasing the tension. This is done in part so that we can identify the areas that we hold the most tension and also so that we can distinguish between tension and relaxation.
Here are some basics you can try to help your child using Progressive Muscle Relaxation:
What to say:
"Take some deep calming breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth...
Imagine your tummy is a big balloon and when you breathe in the big balloon is filling with air, and as you breathe out, the air is slowly escaping and the balloon becomes small again.
Now...squeeze your toes and feet into a tight ball... hold this... (five seconds)... now relax...let them go loose.
Tighten the muscles in your legs by pointing your toes...hold the muscles tight...(wait five seconds)... now let go and feel your legs go as loose as cooked spaghetti.
Let's focus on your tummy now. Tense the muscles in your tummy by squeezing it in... hold this... (wait five seconds)...now relax...notice how good your body feels.
Lift your shoulders as high as you can, bringing them up to your ears...hold this... (wait five seconds)...now relax....breathe in.... and breathe out...
Next you can tense your arms and hands, by stretching them forward and tightening your hands into a tight ball, like you are squeezing a lemon...hold this... (wait five seconds)...now let your arms go floppy like cooked spaghetti...notice how relaxed they feel...
Let's move to your face...tense your face by scrunching up your whole face...wrinkle it up as hard as you can...hold this... (wait five seconds)...now relax.
Take another deep, calming breath in through your nose and out through your mouth...
When you are ready, gently open your eyes and notice how good and calm your body feels." .
If you would like more support for your child, please contact one of our friendly psychologists!
Abby Elder. Provisional Psychologist
“It can’t be that bad!” My doctor exclaimed while studying my face with a look of pity.
I had entered his consulting room in a hobbled posture trying to describe my situation in a wobbly voice. For the last week the pelvic pain I had become accustomed to feeling since I was thirteen years old had become extreme, leaving me bedridden for four days.
I did not know it but I was experiencing a flare up of pain symptoms related to endometriosis. I am now struck that I cannot recall the exact sensation of physical feeling of pain or its severity. What I can remember is the emotional impact of the symptoms of chronic pain.
You might be reading this because your child has been diagnosed with endometriosis. Or perhaps a young person you know is experiencing chronic pain but not yet diagnosed with a disorder.
Either way the impacts of chronic pain, especially pain related to endometriosis, can have significant negative impacts on a young person’s mental health, as well as members of their family.
This blog post cannot provide medical advice, but will provide strategies to support a young person who is experiencing chronic pain to get the help they need.
Keep reading for strategies to better understand pain, communicate with family members about chronic pain, and why it is important for your child to be their own pain spokesperson.
Endometriosis - a chronic pain disorder
Endometriosis is a medical condition that affects roughly 1 in 9 Australian females. It is considered chronic because there is no cure and those diagnosed with endometriosis can experience symptoms their entire lives.
Medical research is still defining endometriosis, from its cause, effective diagnosis, and the incredible range of symptoms and severity, as well as how to best treat those symptoms. This uncertainty can leave young people and their families grasping for solutions, like they are trying to solve a complex puzzle with no guiding picture.
Endometriosis tip sheet written by Endometriosis Australia
Chronic pain and youth mental health
Chronic pain can impact all people at any age. Pain Australia estimates that one in four young Australians experience a form of chronic pain. Children and adolescents can be experienced through endometriosis as well as migraines, sports injuries and symptoms of chronic diseases such as juvenile arthritis.
An important difference about chronic pain is that it is a lifelong condition that ebbs and flows. This is different from acute pain such as breaking an arm. While an acute pain is distressing, it will usually come with an expiration date of disruption to one’s life.
Because chronic pain can be expected to be felt in some way across a person’s life, an individual can develop feelings of hopelessness and helplessness related to their pain.
Disruptions in a young person’s life can mean missing large amounts of school, difficulty socializing with friends, and loss of enjoyment during activities and events. Pain Australia estimates young people experience disruptions in their physical activity at a higher rate than adults.
Young people are still defining their identities, what they are good at and what they want to pursue with passion. The emergence of chronic pain can impact this development. Parents and caregivers who are supporting young people living with chronic pain must consider not just the physical sensations, but the emotional toll of isolation and disappointment.
You can help a young person who is experiencing chronic pain by defining pain. Pain is a common reality in our society but the reasons a person feels pain are not well understood. By helping young people to understand the biological and psychological components of pain you can empower them to seek the support they need to better enjoy their lives.
Supporting the family unit
For families supporting a young person experiencing chronic pain, the start of symptoms can be a time of disruption. A previously active child might suddenly be limited in their capacity to complete previously enjoyable activities.
Other members of the family might be affected, with parents and caregivers needing to miss work, and siblings missing out on fun activities. An acknowledgement that everyone is impacted can be a start for families to find a new way to support each other.
You might consider making a specific time to come together as a family and put the disruptions into words. It might be helpful to also focus on what each family member needs to feel supported to brainstorm actions to take.
After this initial family discussion consider asking your child who is experiencing chronic pain what level of information they would like to share ongoing with siblings and others. There are times when chronic pain can affect most parts of a young person’s life. If family members are not kept informed in an appropriate way, they might feel excluded and miss out on ways they can support their loved one.
Share this tip sheet for siblings of children with chronic pain here developed by The Pain Management Network
Are you faking all this?
People who live with chronic pain become skilled at masking and getting on with it. This should be worthy of praise, but can also invite criticism from well meaning (or maybe not!) friends, family, and medical professionals. Especially when a person finds themselves unable to hide the pain symptoms.
“It can’t be that bad,” My doctor had said in frowning exasperation.
I did not have the communication skills at that time to challenge my doctor, or to explain my needs. Instead I turned inward to try to solve my complex pain puzzle.
I remember thinking, “Maybe it isn’t that bad?”
The Pain Management Network encourages parents to make children the spokesperson of their pain when possible. Maybe a young person verbally describes their symptoms at medical appointments, or parents and children brainstorm which pain management strategies work best for the child.
Making the young person their own pain spokesperson will help them develop assertive communication skills for describing their pain with the knowledge their parents can back them up when needed. This may increase a child’s sense of autonomy, and decrease feelings of helplessness associated with chronic pain.
It can also stop those nagging feelings they might have when a medical professional might appear dismissive. A firm reminder to themselves that they are not making it up, that their physical needs are worthy of being communicated.
If you are after support for managing Endometriosis or chronic pain, please contact the clinic.
Tim Walker. Mental Health Clinician
The Tiger Who Came to Tea is a children’s book and is a great example of using mindfulness and flexible thinking, individually and as a family, to manage anxiety or other challenges.
A young girl, Sophie, and her mum are surprised when a tiger knocks on the door and asks to come in. Naturally this is an unexpected and difficult disruption!
Rather than avoiding or resisting the tiger, the young girl and her mother offer it some tea. In fact, the tiger eats and drinks absolutely everything in the house!
The more food the tiger needs, the more she offers him. The girl and her family make room for the tiger, and finally it leaves. The girl, her mother, and later her father when he gets home after work, and after being told about the tiger and all he did and ate and drank decide to accept the disruption the tiger has bought to their home and normal routine.
Whilst not written about anxiety and mindfulness, this story might be a helpful way to draw similarities between a disruption in our lives and anxiety to young children.
The tiger is representative of all the changes that need to be made to accommodate anxiety and it’s challenges. Rather than pushing the tiger away, pretending like he doesn’t exist, or trying to get rid of him, Sophie and her mother invite the tiger in, sit with him, and problem solve the consequences of his visit.
In the same way, it can be important to help young children understand that all feelings come, and then go again.
Nothing remains forever, not even joy or happiness that we might wish did. Instead, sometimes we need to invite hard or challenging or unwelcome feelings in, so that we can sit with them, and problem solve how to manage.
After all, pushing our feelings away or down never really resolves them.
The book is free here in PDF format:
There is an audiobook version on YouTube, with some related activities for children: http://www.lovemybooks.co.uk/the-tiger-who-came-to-tea
Adults or teenagers interested in how this relates to mindfulness practice might like to read this article about inviting our emotions to tea. https://www.tarabrach.com/inviting-mara-to-tea/
Why should we know the difference?
A common theme that comes up in working with children and adolescents is bullying. Often I hear reports from clients who feel they are being bullied at school, which is obviously troubling for both the client and the parent, as nobody wants to be bullied and no parent wants to hear that their child is being bullied, or feels uncomfortable going to school.
Although a child may genuinely believe that they are being bullied, not all reports of bullying can actually be defined as such. In some cases the child may perceive teasing to be bullying, whether it is intended to be playful and harmless or goes too far and becomes hurtful.
In particular, some children may tend to have a more challenging time interpreting social situations and may perceive teasing as bullying. Therefore it is important that all kids and their parents understand the difference so that they can appropriately handle the situation, whether that be to work with the school to address the bullying and/or to seek assistance through school programs, a psychologist or counsellor to help develop and build a child’s resilience and assertive communication skills.
What is bullying and teasing?
Bullying: The National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) define it as when an individual or a group of people with more power, repeatedly and intentionally cause hurt or harm to another person or group of people who feel helpless to respond. Therefore bullying is not a single episode of rejection, acts of nastiness or mutual arguments, disagreements or fights.
Teasing: Teasing is a social exchange and can be friendly, neutral or negative. Teasing or being mean is different to bullying as there is usually no power imbalance.
Although teasing can be hurtful and unkind it’s common among children and so it is important to know the difference as they may require different responses. Whilst I understand it’s common amongst children, I don’t condone bullying or being mean, and feel that it’s important for us to have common terminology so that we can assist children in the most appropriate way.
Child Behaviour: The importance of figuring out WHY in order to cease the negative and encourage the positive
What is behaviour?
Behaviour is the way someone acts or conducts themself, especially toward or around others. When discussing children’s behaviours, we often find ourselves using the terms positive and negative behaviour or appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.
Difficult Behaviours and why we act so quickly around them
Children may at times display negative or inappropriate behaviour. As parents and adults, our first thought is to react to this behaviour straight away to try to cease it, because it is not considered appropriate in the current situation. The behaviour may be having negative effects on other people or their thoughts about the child or about us!
Why do behaviours occur?
Behaviour occurs for many reasons. The reasons we behave are called functions. There is often a function of every behaviour we see or do. The function is the Why. A person may be trying to gain someone’s attention, seek control of a situation or express their thoughts or feelings, none if which are wrong. The difficulty some children may encounter is in understanding how to use positive and appropriate behaviours instead.
Noticing why behaviour is occurring is extremely important. We need to know why behaviour is happening and what a child wants, so that we can assist them to gain this in an appropriate way.
When children have not independently clued onto how to behave in a positive manner, to get what they are after, they may continue to use negative behaviour because this is what they are familiar with… and maybe it has been working for them so far!
Proactive and Reactive Methods
Reacting to behaviour to try to stop or reduce behaviour after it has occurred is surprisingly called… a reactive strategy. Reactive strategies can include giving verbal feedback to a child or a fair and logical consequence occurring.
Teaching a child a skill (like how to gain something in an appropriate way) before the child is in a situation is called using a proactive method. Using a proactive strategy gives a child the appropriate behaviour to use, and gives them the best chance to demonstrate a positive behaviour. They then have a better chance of what they want, which will encourage them to use the desired behaviour again.
Do we need a more systematic game plan?
If you find that a negative behavour is occurring again and again, and you can’t seem to redirect the behaviour to something more appropriate, these tips may help:
- Do they want someone’s attention?
- Do they want to be in the ‘drivers seat’ of the situation?
- Are they trying to communicate a thought or a feeling?
- Are they trying to release frustration?
- Are they trying to regulate themselves or self-soothe?
- Are they trying to avoid something?
Knowing how to respond to behaviour, to encourage positive skills, and discourage negative behaviour is a tricky task. Every child is extremely different and will be encouraged and discouraged with varying methods of adult responses. If you have noticed difficult behaviours and would like some assistance to increase your child’s skills and to encourage positive behaviours, please contact us - we are here to help.
Nathan Gilbert. Psychologist
Dr Dan Siegel is a neuropsychiatrist and pioneer in understanding the relationships between the developing brain, emotional experiences and attachment.
Dr Siegel's resources and videos on “Connection before Correction” and the “Hand model of the brain” are extremely valuable video resources explaining complex neuroscience terms in easily understandable ways, and in ways that are easily applicable to parents in supporting their children when dysregulated.
Why do I love it?
I love recommending Dan Siegel’s approach to emotional literacy to all parents who seek help in how to better support their children who experience dysregulation.
Dan Siegal’s books and resources help parents gain a better understanding of helpful ways to respond to a dysregulated child. He stresses the importance of empathy and feeling more connected with their child through teaching effective co-regulation skills.
What is a key takeaway?
Connection before correction may seem like just 3 words, but it encapsulates a whole lot more than just what those 3 words mean.
By helping parents understand the importance of increased connection and understanding of their children’s needs/barriers, we can also help them explore and develop their emotional literacy. This then helps create more meaningful and positive relationships between parents and children, and more open communication and emotional expression between children and parents.
Why my clients should read it?
All parents can benefit from increasing their understanding of their emotional experiences, common triggers of these, and also what can be done to help manage certain emotions.
You can purchase "The Whole Brain Child" here:
Learn more about Dr Dan Siegel's work here: https://drdansiegel.com/
Lynnette Dickinson. Provisional Psychologist
One of the most powerful tools we have for calming our nervous system is something we are doing every day and, mostly, don't even notice.
Our breathing rate is inextricably linked to our autonomic nervous system - shallow, rapid breaths where we unconsciously focus on the inhale is linked to the fight, flight or freeze response or the sympathetic nervous system and long, deep breaths are associated with relax, rest digest response or parasympathetic nervous system.
Fight, flight or freeze is an emergency response and is very useful when we are in danger. In fact, it is a necessary protective response to fear. However, when we live in this state for an indefinite time, we experience this as anxiety and anxiety not only impacts on our capacity to think, learn, organise ourselves and remember, it has long term effects on our health.
The Breathing App helps you reconnect with your breath, slow down your breath and hack your autonomic nervous system.
You can switch your nervous system from fight, flight or freeze to relax, rest and digest in a few breaths.
In addition, you can set the frequency and length of breathing practice to suit your lifestyle, and most importantly, the app brings awareness to the power of your breath.
And there are plenty of breathing apps available, so if this one doesn’t work for you, keep trying until you find one that does.
Your breath is always with you, it is free and can be your ticket to a peaceful mind and a healthy body.
Three long sighs is all you need to start your journey to relax, rest and digest.
You can download the breathing app from the Apple store or Google play here:
You might have found this page because you’re wanting to encourage your child’s already healthy development in eating habits and skills - but it may also be that you’re looking for help to figure out why mealtimes have become a battlefield.
This article is for you either way!
We’re going to look at 3 tips and tricks that can help you support your children to enjoy mealtimes.
Before we get started, it’s important to remember that every child is a unique individual and that understanding their unique traits may be really important to help us figure out what might be driving mealtime difficulties.
The tips in this article are general in nature and not intended to replace therapeutic support from a dietitian.
1. Make vegetables fun!
Sometimes we slip into a pattern of bribing kids with delicious treats if they only eat their vegetables. This can mean that we’re accidentally giving kids the (mistaken!) impression that vegetables are the bad guy and the treat (i.e. ice-cream) becomes the knight in shining armour.
Obviously we want to be helping our kids experience their vegetables as fun, delicious, and exciting. Getting kids involved with vegetable selection at the supermarket or green grocer, and with the preparation of their meals, can encourage them to try new and varied vegetables.
If we do want to reward our kids’ exploration of foods, trying using non-food items as rewards. Stickers or extra play time are more effective rewards than other foods.
2. Make food exploration fun!
It can be normal for adults to view eating and mealtimes as serious business - and it is, but it’s also behaviour under development for kids and can be a lot more complex than we ever thought before we had kids.
In fact, did you know that eating involves a 32 step process? I had no idea before I became a dietitian. Trying a food might be a sniff, a lick, or picking a food up to explore it with hands - eating a full serving isn’t necessarily something we can expect, especially for kids going through a phase of fussy eating.
One of the steps in developing eating behaviours is interaction with our food - i.e. getting messy.
When a child engages all 5 of their senses, they can work up that eating ladder consisting of the 32 steps, and that is exactly what is needed for them to feel a food is safe enough to actually put in their mouths.
It can be really tricky to let kids play with their food - I don’t know about you but when I tried to play with my food as a kid, I was told that it wasn’t a toy!
It can be especially tricky for adults who really enjoy, and work really hard, to keep a clean and tidy home to let their kids get messy with food - but it’s such an important part of developing eating skills for children.
When kids are able to touch, feel, and mash foods between their fingers they are actually engaged in the really tricky process of developing those eating skills - so next time you’re tempted to stop your child from ‘playing’ with their food, try to challenge yourself and see where your child’s play leads them.
You may be surprised that more food ends up in their mouths than ever before!
3. Help kids understand mealtime boundaries with regard to alternative foods
Generally speaking the parents I work with all have in common that they want their kids to be happy, healthy - and well behaved!
It can be really hard when parents feel their kids aren’t eating enough to help them be happy and healthy, and sometimes parents might slip into a pattern of offering a more preferred food as an alternative to a meal that their child doesn’t want to try or to eat.
This is really understandable - nobody wants their child to starve or to be so hungry that they don’t sleep or grow well.
When we slip into this pattern of offering up alternative meals, we can accidentally dampen a child’s natural curiosity for new foods or family meals, because if they just wait a little bit they’ll be offered a delicious alternative!
This isn’t what we’ve meant to do at all, and after we’ve accidentally led our kids into this pattern it can feel impossible to get out of.
Rather than offering a totally alternative meal when your child doesn’t like what you’ve served up to the whole family, try to make sure there is at least one desirable and safe food option on your child’s plate with every meal.
This means that there will always be at least one component of the meal that they will be happy to eat, alongside newer or less familiar foods that might need to be explored.
This can remove the anxiety and pressure for you AND for your child - they’re still filling their bellies with something nutritious, and don’t come to expect a whole new food if they just refuse to eat dinner with the family.
You also don’t have to be preparing whole new meals for each member of your family!
If you’ve already fallen into this trap accidentally, don’t worry! You can roll it back from here. Start asking your child what the one safe/desired food option should be on their plate tonight, and then let them know that there will also be other less familiar options for them to explore.
Do you feel like mealtimes are a battleground and you’re not sure how to support your child to enjoy mealtimes again?
You may benefit from the support of one of Hopscotch and Harmony’s dietitians who can support you with a structured approach to food exposure based on your child’s current eating patterns, and to work on your goals from here.
You can use THIS form to request an appointment today.
Alfred and Shadow: A Short Story about Emotions is a heart-warming, educational animation which touches on the core emotions we all experience as humans, why we have them, and how they work. In sum, emotions are important sources of information about our world. For example, emotions tell us whether we are safe (anxiety, fear), and help us to relate to others (love, empathy). This video also explains why we have more "unpleasant" emotions than "pleasant" and how our childhood experiences impact how we express emotions later in life.
A key message from this video is to become aware and "open up" to your true feelings and what they might be trying to communicate, rather than ignoring or dismissing their importance.
Alayne Cummins. Psychologist
Have you been feeling “off” or not like yourself?
Have you struggled with feeling depressed or anxious?
Have you struggled with your body image or feelings about your eating behaviours?
If so, you are not alone and there are many others out there who experience similar feelings.
It can be hard to deal with these difficulties alone, but you don’t have to!
Getting support can be so helpful.
Here are some tips to help you start to feel a bit better:
1. Notice, name and acknowledge your feelings and reactions.
When we push down what we are feeling, it’s like trying to hold in a cough. Usually you hold it in and it gets stronger until it bursts out in a coughing explosion. When a feeling or reaction arises, we can say to ourselves: ‘I notice that I am feeling stressed, my body is telling me that through feeling hot and my heart racing.’
2. Sit with that feeling without trying to make yourself feel bad about it.
You can do this by saying ‘It’s been a hard day and I'm feeling upset, but that’s okay and this will pass’. Try to let the feeling wash over you.
Each and every day that you try to notice your feelings and thoughts, helps you gain a better understanding of yourself.
Self knowledge is so powerful in improving your mental health.
Book in a session with Alayne to learn more about mindfulness and how to incorporate it into your life.