You have a choice here. I know it's far from perfect. I know things are hard right now. But there is another option. Check out the video...
For most children, there is not going to be a long-term negative impact on their education by stepping back from school-based academic learning for a few months. If remote learning is creating more problems than it's solving for your family, it might be time to step back and consider your options.
You have a choice here. I know it's far from perfect. I know things are hard right now. But there is another option. Check out the video...
Jessica Cleary, Psychologist
As a homeschooling parent of many years as well as a psychologist, I can tell you right now that what you're being asked to do is not real homeschooling. This is SO much harder. And looks very different.
It is schooling at home during a crisis.
Let me tell you what to focus on if you're feeling lots of anxiety and stress with schooling at home during this time of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Tamsyn White, Principal Psychologist
I don’t know about you, but for me the world seems to have changed so much in the space of just a few short weeks.
At the end of February, COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, was barely on my radar and I certainly wasn’t aware of just how much it was going to start impacting my life. Lots of the clients I work with, my colleagues, and my friends, have reflected the same thing back to me, too.
One of the biggest changes for my clients is that, before COVID-19 really hit our consciousness, the word “Telehealth” was probably rarely heard. These days, if you’re tracking the news like I have been, the word seems to be everywhere!
So what is Telehealth?
Well - despite lots of people just hearing about it for the first time - Telehealth is not new. In fact, there are practitioners from lots of different disciplines who have been offering Telehealth services for many, many years. Some services ONLY offer Telehealth services.
For example, our clinic’s director, Jessica Cleary, has been offering Teleheatlh appointments to women around Australia who have been experiencing parenting stress for a number of years now; our Speech Pathologist, Meg Tasker, has worked for a Telehealth provider, offering speech pathology services to clients locally, and some who don’t even live in Australia; and I myself have provided Telehealth treatment to clients who live rurally in the past.
Telehealth has really broadened the scope of the clients who we can reach out to and help. We, as a clinic have almost always had Zoom (like Skype) appointments as an option if a client can’t attend the rooms on the day of their appointment.
You might also be reassured to know that there is some really good evidence that tells us Telehealth can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy in most cases. In fact, there can be a stack of benefits to Telehealth for clients - not least of all that we get an insight into where you (or your child!) lives, and can help you identify things in your own home environment that can be used in your journey to wellbeing.
There are some things to think about that can help you and your child get the best out of their sessions:
Above all - we’re all in this together. I’m so glad that we have this option to continue working with you through this hard and stressful time in the world. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you think we can help you with something we haven’t thought of.
If you live in Australia and would like to book a Telehealth session with Hopscotch & Harmony for you or your child, please click the button below to complete our booking form and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.
Jessica Cleary, Psychologist
Parents and educators are in uncharted waters as we seek to support ourselves and the children in our care through the current pandemic. Here are my thoughts on how to navigate conversations with kids on coronavirus.
Tamsyn White, Psychologist
In our work as psychologists, we often hear from children and young people that they are feeling so distressed that they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Of course when they hear this, many parents feel extremely worried.
Such distress in children and going people can manifest in lots of different ways in terms of behaviour, emotions, and impact on relationships and functioning at school, home, and workplaces (where relevant).
What to look out for - warning signs:
What can you do?
Talk and listen to your teen:
The expert on how your young person is feeling is your young person themselves. Check in with them often about how they’re travelling and let them know you’re always there for them, even if they don’t want to chat.
Check in on yourself
It’s natural to feel frightened, overwhelmed, or even angry if your teen lets you know they’ve been thinking of harming themselves. It’s important to let your child or adolescent know that you love them and support them, and that you need to keep them safe. Try to communicate calmly, without judgement, and try to help them see that it’s safe to talk to you.
Make sure you ask them directly
Parents are often worried that if their teen or child hasn’t had thoughts of suicide, they will be created if asked directly. This is a myth, and research has shown us that asking directly can be very protective. Avoid using euphemisms such asking if they’ve been thinking about “doing something silly” to themselves. Rather use direct, non-judgemental language. Simple is best: “Have you had thoughts about hurting yourself, or taking your own life?” should be a question we are all comfortable asking our loved ones.
Plan with your child for their safety
If your child or adolescent does let you know that they are having thoughts of harming themselves, make sure you’re prepared to engage in some safety planning. Ask them whether they have a plan to hurt themselves, and ask them to work with you as a team to help keep them safe. This might mean removing access to means, helping them manage their social media time, increasing their connection with supportive family and friends, and seeking professional help.
Be prepared to contact services
In a crisis where a young person has, or is just about to harm themselves, it is best to present to your hospital's emergency department - via ambulance if necessary. In situations of less urgency, where future potential risk is identified by you, you can gain assistance from your own General Practitioner, the local hospital Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, and sometimes from school counsellors, if they are available.
Where to go for help:
Kids Helpline is a free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25. They can be contacted by phone on 1800 55 1800 or website: https://kidshelpline.com.au/get-help/webchat-counselling/
Lifeline provides free, 24-hour Telephone Crisis Support service in Australia. Volunteer Crisis Supporters provide suicide prevention services, mental health support and emotional assistance, via telephone, online, and face-to-face. Call 13 11 44 or visit their website: https://www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/contact-us
Area Mental Health Services (AMHS) triage provides mental health information, advice and referral. Each AMHS has a centralised triage number. www.health.vic.gov.au/mentalhealth/services
ARAFEMI Carer Helpline provides free, confidential information, support and referral for family, carers and friends of people with a mental illness. 1300 550 265, 9am to 5pm weekdays www.arafemi.org.au/family-support/telephone-helpline.html
Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement provides a range of education, counselling, research and clinical services for those working in and affected by experiences of grief and bereavement. 1800 642 066. www.grief.org.au
Beyondblue provides information about the signs and symptoms of depression, available treatments, how to get help and links to other relevant services and support groups. 1300 22 4636, 24 hours/7 days. www.beyondblue.org.au
Part of my role as a school psychologist is responding to critical incidents that involve aggression and violence. I’ve learned to be able to face these situations with calmness and confidence. Many of the techniques I employ are taken from Therapeutic Crisis Intervention developed by Cornell University.
The techniques and principles in this model are highly generalizable and can be applied by families. The beauty of this is that as complex and daunting as aggressive behaviour can appear, the way to respond can be simple and involves answering 3 questions:
1. What emotions am I feeling right now?
If we are not emotionally regulated when we respond to a child there is a high likelihood that this will only perpetuate the situation. The child’s need remains unmet and they now also have additional stress. As the saying goes (and neuroscience attests to), ‘when we are at our angriest… we are at our stupidest’.
Speaking of, when children are highly emotionally dysregulated they don’t have access to their pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for problem-solving, reasoning and perspective taking. So, asking them to ‘make a good choice’ at the height of aggressive behaviour probably isn’t going to work.
We should try and emulate what we can see a duck in a pond look like; on the surface it is calm and graceful, underneath is a little more frantic but that is hidden from view.
2. How are environmental factors influencing the situation?
Many times, behaviours are influenced by those observing it. Removing other children or adults can be the catalyst for de-escalation. Similarly, removing yourself partially or fully as a responder (when safe to do so) can also be what is required for de-escalation to occur.
3. What does my child feel, need or want?
Behaviour is almost always a form of communication that expresses a need. Identifying and reflecting back your child’s need or feeling goes halfway to solving the problem. There is a difference between caving into unrealistic demands and simply demonstrating to your child that you can hear and understand their frustration.
Children may need up to a few hours to recover and return to a baseline state. This is the time to have that conversation about what they can do to get their needs met next time in a more adaptive way.
Alyce Galea, Psychologist
Early on in therapy, teenagers often find it hard to identify the stressors or triggers that might be contributing to their difficulties.
One way that you can start to identify your current stressors is by doing the stress bucket activity.
I often like to conceptualise our wellbeing as a bucket.
Stressors can be categorised into three domains:
Once we have determined what our current stressors are, it is important to identify those stressors that you have some control over, and those that you have absolutely no control over. That way, we can then focus on problem solving ways of relieving the stress of situations that you may be able to change, even slightly.
Two ways we can learn to relieve stress are:
For example: Regularly practicing relaxation or deep breathing, exercise, starting a journal, listening to music.
Alyce Galea is a psychologist at Hopscotch & Harmony who works with adolescents and young adults across a wide range of settings, including schools and community mental health services (Headspace). She is particularly interested in supporting young people experiencing mood and anxiety disorders, low self-esteem and interpersonal difficulties; and has a particular interest in working with young women exhibiting traits of Borderline Personality Disorder.
Hillary Sanders, Psychologist
If you’re considering taking your child to see a therapist, it pays to prepare them. Here are 10 useful pointers to consider:
1. Involve them
The important point to raise here is to actually ensure that your child is aware of their session, prior to attending. A common mistake parents make is not telling their child, or telling them at the last minute (such as when driving to the appointment). This is often with the best of intentions, as parents hope to reduce any undue worry or resistance about attending, however it is often counterproductive.
Like all of us, unfamiliar situations can trigger worried thoughts. If your child has no idea what the appointment is about, or what a therapist does, their brains will attempt to make sense of it, which often results in negatively distorted beliefs or assumptions. For example, your child may see a therapist in the same way as an authority figure, like a teacher, and believe that they are getting into trouble because they are "bad". Or they may see a therapist more like a doctor, and worry they will be subjected to medical tests, given medication or a needle.
As you can see, it’s important to ensure that your child knows what the appointment is about and what a therapist does, to avoid any misconceptions. We want to ensure they have a positive experience of help- seeking; if their first experience of help-seeking is one fraught with confusion, anxiety, and negative beliefs, then you may encounter resistance to them attending further sessions.
2. Use simple explanations
To explain the role of the therapist, keep it clear and simple. Introduce the role of a therapist as someone who can help people of all ages with things like big feelings or difficulties at home or at school. Explain that the therapist helps people find ways to cope with these feelings or difficulties, as well as helping them to feel better within themselves and within their relationships (i.e. friends, home, school). For children, point out that they will have fun with the therapist too! They will get a chance to play and be creative.
3. Gently touch on the difficulties
Add what you have noticed they are struggling with. For example, you might have noticed they are avoiding school, or perhaps they are finding it hard to manage anger at home. Gently mention what your concern is, but ensure the conversation is not a disciplinary one, meaning that you do not demonise their behaviour or send the message that "something is wrong with you", which places the weight of the issues on them. Phrase your concerns as "difficulties". For example, "I have noticed you're having difficulty with (state the challenge) at the moment, and a therapist can help us with this".
Every human being experiences emotional, behavioural, and social difficulties throughout their life. Normalise your child's struggle as part of being human! It can help to share your own experience of difficulties with your child, for example, "Hey I was nervous about school too", or "Sometimes I have days I can’t control my anger too". This normalises and humanises their experience, and helps them to see that everyone struggles, even grown-ups. If you have seen a therapist yourself, it can help to share this with them, and tell them a couple things it helped you with.
5. Give them a "mental map" of what to expect
To alleviate nerves about attending a new place and meeting a new person, give your child an idea about what to expect from their session, such as what time their session is, how long it will go for, where you will be (i.e. in the session with them, or in the nearby waiting room), and the name of their therapist. If you have already met with the therapist, you might like to share your impression of them (e.g. "they were easy to talk to", or "they go for the same football team as you!"). Most clinics have photos and a brief description of therapists on their website, which you could share with your child if they are curious.
6. Comfort tools
Some children like to bring toys, games, or sensory tools with them to the session as a way to help them feel more at ease, and self regulate if needed. You may wish to ask your child if they'd like to bring something along as a comfort tool, or even as a bit of "show and tell" to enable their therapist to get to know them better.
7. Working together, not in isolation
It’s important for your child to know they are not doing this alone. I often talk about working together as a "support team", where the child, parents, therapist, and sometimes other people like siblings, are all going to work together to get a better handle on the issues. The issues do not resolve simply through the attendance of therapy sessions; an important part of the work occurs outside of session, based on the implementation of strategies at home, school, etc. So remind your child that you're in this with them!
8. After the session
It's okay to check-in with your child about how they’re feeling, and whether or not they would like to talk about anything from the session, but make sure not to interrogate or push them to disclose (if you require more information about how privacy and confidentiality works for child clients, please speak with their therapist). If your child requires a calming activity to transition from their session into the next task of their day, such as returning to school, it can help to go for a short walk outside, play a game, or enjoy a snack or drink together.
Therapy can be difficult for all ages, as it often involves working on behavioural changes, sitting with discomfort, and processing painful memories, feelings, and insights. It makes sense then, that some people would resist it, especially children who are geared towards pleasure and reward! So naturally, some resistance is to be expected. However, if you notice an ongoing pattern of resistance to attending sessions, ask your child about it. There could be other reasons to explain it. Perhaps they don't think they need help, and feel resentful that they are being "forced" to go. Maybe they are not ready to reveal their thoughts and feelings. Or perhaps they just don't "click" with the therapist. All reasons are valid and worth hearing. So rather than ignoring the resistance, listen to your child, and raise any concerns about their engagement with the therapist.
10. Don't aim for perfect!
As a parent, you are not expected to know exactly how therapy "works", or to give the perfect description of the therapy process to your child! Keep it calm, kind, and simple. Leave all of the finer details to the therapist.
Overall, the pointers I have raised here simply ensure that your child has some awareness of what they'll be walking into, rather than it being a big "unknown". This goes a long way to reducing any unnecessary worry, and promoting positive engagement in the very beginning.
A final note: Therapy is a useful tool, yet your love, care, and non-judgmental "noticing" of your child's distress is the first and most important step in the therapy process.
Hilary Sanders is a psychologist at Hopscotch and Harmony Werribee and Belmont who is passionate about supporting people of all ages, however has a particular interest in working with adolescents and adults. Hilary values diversity, and encourages individuals to celebrate their uniqueness- she believes human difference is what makes life interesting! An LGBTIQA+ advocate, Hilary acknowledges the complex nature of sexuality, and is driven to support individuals experiencing challenges arising from sexual diversity
Natcha Limpianunchai, Provisional Psychologist
It is common to feel overwhelmed about the current bushfires. Children may not fully comprehend what they see on the news or smell in the air, however they may still experience distress and anxiety.
You may find yourself feeling helpless about how to help your child, particularly if you feel overwhelmed yourself. Here are a few starting points to consider:
What could be going on?
If your children have seen the news or heard conversations about bushfires, they may be feeling helpless, sad or worried. If your children have experienced direct effects of the bushfires (e.g. evacuating from their home, seeing bushfires first-hand), they may also feel unsafe and uncertain. Take notice on any changes in behaviour, such as fear about sleeping alone, wanting to stay close to parents more than usual, nightmares, increase in tantrums, or withdrawal from play. Engage with a health professional if there has been drastic change in behaviour.
Every child may need something different
Everyone has a different way of coping with stress. Some children may want to share their concerns with you straight away whereas some may not. Don’t feel like you need to make your child talk about it, but reminding them that they can talk to you about anything they want anytime they would like, can be very helpful in this situation.
Explain the truth with age-appropriate language
You can ask your child how much they understand what is going on ("What do you think is happening?", and help to foster their understanding using different means such as drawing or story books. Some story books about difficult experiences or bushfires are ‘a terrible thing happened’ by Margaret Holmes, and ‘Bushfires’ by Marguerite Hann Syme.
Shift the focus to hope
Children may have seen pictures and videos that are scary to them. Showing pictures or news of people who are helping, such as donations, help from overseas, and volunteers, can help to alleviate some of the distress. You can also discuss ideas on how they can help, such as making craft items for animal rescue or participating in a fundraising.
Don’t forget to look after yourself
It is difficult to support others when you are overwhelmed yourself. Pay attention to your emotional state and what you need to feel supported, to help you to feel more confident in supporting others around you.
Although most children can recover from distressing experience over time, some children may experience ongoing distress, and those who have experienced the bushfire first-hand or have lost loved ones are more particularly at risk. Signs such as frequent, continual emotional outbursts, prolonged preoccupations with the bushfires, or severe anxiety can help to indicate the impact on their wellbeing.
We hope that you stay safe during this stressful time. Please reach out to your doctor or to a mental health professional if you need further support.
Emily Vujicic, Psychologist
Christmas seems so far away now, and we are already back in full swing at school. Most children will be settled back into routine of the school term with bed times, after school activities, and being responsible for home learning activities.
For many children and parents, it can still be a very tiring and tense time. There may be extra adjustments like a change in friendship groups, an unfamiliar teacher, or things in their family life that are affecting them. This may lead to difficulties with sleep, tears in the morning, and possibly reluctance or refusal to go to school.
I have put together a small collection of ideas could help ease the transition process.
Being organised can help take the load off the mornings. Making lunches, packing bags and
getting clothes out ready the night before can all mean there is less to do in the morning when there is more time pressure. This helps make the morning the most relaxed and positive it can be. Utilising check lists can help give your child independence in these tasks, and help prepare them for the following day.
Routines can be helpful to get the children settled, and having a nice balance of activities
and rest times. It is important not to have all of the fun things at home, and school is then seen as
missing out. This might mean ‘fun’ snacks are for school, not letting the children know what
interesting things you will be doing while they are at school, and not using school or teachers as a negative or threat.
As you go back to work and your children are back at school, you may need to make
additional effort in having positive time with them, giving them opportunities to talk. Often, children and adults alike, worry right before we go to bed, when we don’t have things around us to distract us from our thoughts. Many families find that after dinner time is a good time to check in and see if there is anything to talk through.
If there is something troubling your child, be optimistic, realistic and empowering. It may
mean that you spend some time helping them to think realistically about a situation, or find the
positives if they can only see the negative. Helping them to come up with their own strategies to
cope is a good life skill that can be strengthened in all of us. It may even lead to activities you do
together, like some deep breathing or a calming walk.
Dr Ross Greene encourages the idea that children are doing the best they can. If there is a
problem, lets try teach them the expectations, and make sure they have the skills to do it. By talking with children proactively and collaboratively, we help instil a sense of responsibility in them. It helps children feel heard, and like they are a part of changes, rather than changes just happening to them.. If you are interested in this, I encourage you to read any of his books, or The Explosive Child for more depth info.
It is also important that everyone is giving the children the same message, so communicating with the school can help ensure that your child may need a little extra TLC, encouragement or support as they transition into the year.