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!
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/
Alyce Galea. Psychologist
Talking with a highly emotional teenager can be tough! When our emotions are heightened, our ability to access and use the thinking part of our brain can become really difficult, and it can be almost impossible for us to use rational thought.
Here are some tips on how best to communicate with your teen when they are in an emotional state:
1. Remain calm and check in with yourself.
There is very little benefit to trying to communicate with your teen when they are in a heightened state, and the same goes for when you are experiencing big emotions.The most helpful thing you can do in this situation is to check in with yourself and try to remain calm as best you can.
If your teens can sense your calm, they are more likely to calm themselves and be in a better position to effectively communicate with you. There is a scientific principle called neuroception that helps us understand this - when we are in the presence of a calm person, our brain picks up on those calming signals and our brain understands that we are safe. Being safe leads to feelings of calm.
2. Be present.
Although your teen may not want to have a conversation with you, it’s important that they know that you are there for them and available to talk when they are ready. That gesture alone might be enough for them to trust that you are open and willing to hear them out.
3. Take a strengths based, non judgemental approach.
Although you might not agree with how your teens behave, or how they should feel in a response to a certain situation, it’s helpful to provide a safe, non judgemental space for them to vent and talk it out.
4. Offer to listen and comfort, rather than “fix” things.
Your job is not to fix things, per se, but to coach your children, offer the support they need and encourage them to practice skills of emotion regulation and problem solving, until they find what works for them. The way we problem solve and deal with our emotions, may not be particularly helpful for our teens.
It’s important to remember that when we come to the solution for a problem ourselves, often with support from another person, we’re more likely to be able to make sense of the problem solutions and put them into practice - rather than when somebody imposes their solutions on us.
5. Expect rejection and avoid feeling disheartened.
Adjust your expectations about how the conversations might go, so that you can avoid feeling disheartened or taking things personally. Your teen might test you a little until they can trust that you genuinely care and want to help them. It may take some time and persistence to reconnect with your teen, don’t be put off. If you’re willing to make the changes to better communicate with them, they will come through.
I hope this has given you some helpful tips to be able to alter the way you communicate with your teens to build a stronger connection with them.
Contact the clinic if you are in need of parenting support or support for your teen
Dad’s mental health matters too. Dad’s have a unique and great impact on their child’s social and emotional development. Listed below are five starting places for Dad’s to explore their role as a parent and caring for their own mental health.
Dad’s are an important member of the parenting team. The Centre for Perinatal Excellence (COPE) have developed a number of resources with valuable and down to earth advice for fathers and partners on adjusting to life with a baby. COPE explores topics such as what to expect during pregnancy, birth, and life with a baby. Information is included on the signs of anxiety and depression to look out for in men. There are also tips for maintaining positive wellbeing during this transitional time.
Dad’s can understand what skills and difficulties are age-appropriate. The Raising Children Network and KidsMatter websites provide information on what to expect from children at different ages and when to seek advice regarding a child’s development. Through learning about typical development, dad’s can feel more confident about understanding the many changes that happen as children grow up and how to support their relationship with their child.
Dad’s have strengths that make them great parents. Take a moment to reflect on what qualities are important to you as a parent. Consider how day to day interactions with your child may or may not display these qualities. It can be easy to miss the remarkable moments of strength, kindness and wisdom that all parents share with their family.
Dad’s can seek support for parenting skills. Participating in a group program can be a great opportunity to connect with other people who may be experiencing similar challenges to your family. It can also offer a chance to hear different strategies and ideas that might work in your family. Evidence based programs include Tuning into Kids, Triple P, and Health Dads Healthy Kids. Sometime attending a program isn’t feasible. Luckily, there are online options such as ParentWorks that can be done at home and at your own pace.
Reach out to employers for organisational support. Balancing multiple priorities such as family, friends, work, and leisure activities can be a stretch. If you are feeling stressed or down you may be able to access an employer assistance program (EAP) giving you access to short-term counselling. Alternatively, it may be possible to have a conversation with an employer around family friendly work arrangements.
Emily Vujicic, Psychologist
A life without worry is a dangerous thing. It would mean a lack of concern for consequences of our actions, a reduction in reflective thinking and a reduced drive to get things done by a deadline. It would mean we would step out in front of the busy road, or test if the iron is hot by using our finger.
Worry has been a safety mechanism for us throughout the evolutionary process, and has help ensure our survival. The point being, that a little bit of worry is a good thing.
The other end of the scale is a debilitating experience when we cannot think of anything but mistakes we have made or have a fear of the future that is enough to make us physically sick and interrupt our lives.
So how do we know when to worry about worry? How much is enough? And how to help foster a sense of safety without taking away our children’s ability to experience worry and instead learn to cope with it?
High anxiety can occur in approximately 1 in 10 young people, and the chances of being anxious increase significantly if they are already dealing with an ASD or ADHD diagnosis, or a learning disorder.
If compared to other children you see that your child gets worried more often, and more intensely than others, and things have persisted for some time, then it might be time to get some professional support.
Other signs to look out for include irritability, avoidance of things they might have previously enjoyed, physical complaints like a sore tummy, or comments like things being ‘boring’ or ‘stupid’, when they may in fact be difficult and your child is feeling afraid. Not wanting to go to school or see friends can be a red flag for a child experiencing anxiety.
As a parent, there are some things you can do at home to help foster a sense of resilience to things that may be worrying and help your child cope with those feelings.
Some possible ways include:
The relationship building that you do with your child will ultimately underpin these strategies. Being able to give them the confidence to believe what you say, to confide in you, and to give them the feeling of independence and competence to take on the world.
Don’t minimise the positive interactions that you have together in the big jigsaw puzzle of your child’s world. Plant the seeds of the relationship when they are 5, so they know when they are 15, that you are cheering them on.
Emily Vujicic, Psychologist
Last week I wrote about the 6 specific areas of life/work that have been identified as contributing to stress and burnout. This week, I'm exploring how to help bring your focus back to the positive aspects of your life. One way is to take regular time each day to appreciate the positive things that are happening. Write them down and reflect on them when you need the reminder.
When we think of self-care, too often we think of bubble baths and date nights. While both of those things are enjoyable and relaxing, it does not have to be your visual when it comes to self-care.
Saying “no” to additional demands is self-care, as is going for a walk around the block for a quiet walk.
Eating a healthy meal, or an act of kindness towards another person can also be a form of self-care.
Trying something new or engaging in a hobby can also be self-care.
Often, we find ourselves saying that we do not have enough time to do some of these things, and our self-care can be one of the first things to drop when we experience stress. However, it is important to remember that taking care of yourself is not a selfish act, it is helping you be the best version of yourself in order to best care for your children.
Having a consistent time in the day scheduled for self-care can increase the chance that it happens and can be for just 3 minutes per day to start with. Being energised and refreshed helps us parents with patience and compassion and helps us model to our children that it is ok to take time for ourselves, ask for help and deal with our stresses in healthy ways.
So, when you feel the stress and negativity creeping in, remember that it is ok to stop and ask for help. Giving 100% of yourself does not have to mean working until you fall apart. Having someone to talk things through can help give you some perspective, and often just getting things out of your head can be helpful. It may be helpful for you to consider services like Parentline (1300 30 1300), lifeline (13 11 14), your GP or even the ear of a friend.
Megan Mellington, Psychologist
As a parent, we will undoubtedly encounter moments of frustration towards our children. It could be awoken by the simplest of circumstances, such as needing to repeat ourselves like a broken record, intervening with siblings squabbling over a toy, or because we are stressed by other things and our tolerance for managing challenging behaviours is limited.
However, as many of you might already have experienced, when we respond with anger this often only escalates the situation with our child, and they too may then respond in a similar manner. While many of us have regrettably resorted to shouting, questioning or punishments out of anger, what is important to remember, first of all, is that you are human.
Anger is a normal part of the spectrum of human emotions. Anger isn’t bad, it reminds us that we are passionate about something like perhaps wishing to raise respectful, emotionally regulated and empathic little humans. So when less than desirable behaviours are observed in our children, we want to help them develop ways to self-manage, through teaching and implementing boundaries.
Sometimes though, when we have been teaching and redirecting our children all day, our waning tolerance for their tantrums or perceived “defiance” can move us to anger. This article aims to outline some tips about how to tame our own “angries” so that you can engage with your children in a mindful and empathic way.
I've previously shared Dr Dan Siegal's video explanation of what happens in the brain when we get angry and how the thinking part gets shut down. So how do we get our “thinking brain” back online so that we can respond in a more helpful way for our children? The following are several brief tips I often use in parent consultations to support this process:
We can’t always be an emotionally regulated parent, and we shouldn’t expect this of ourselves. Even if we do take our anger out on our children, there are many things we can do to minimise the likelihood of this happening in future. If we can tame our “angries” by recognising our emotional state, taking a pause before responding, and regulating ourselves before attempting to regulate our child, we are modelling adaptive and healthy ways of managing anger.
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Dan Siegal talks about the parts of the brain involved in emotion regulation. He also coined the term, “flipping your lid” as a metaphor for our experience of being in the throes of anger, and what happens in our brain when anger takes hold. This Hand Model of the Brain clip demonstrates this idea beautifully.
As Dan Siegal outlines, there are two main parts of the brain involved in anger; the pre frontal cortex or “thinking brain”, and the amygdala or “alarm system”. In my next post, read how we get our “thinking brain” back online so that we can respond in a more helpful way for our children.
Infant mental health refers to how well an infant (newborns to the age of three) develops socially and emotionally. Specifically, this refers to: developing the ability to form close and secure adult and peer relationships experiencing, managing and expressing a full range of emotions exploring the environment and learning
How to promote Infant Mental Health
Infant mental health can be nurtured through a secure and stable relationship with their caregiver. This is done by what caregivers do, the things they say, as well as through the environment created at home.
It includes even small things that caregivers may do without even noticing it, such as talking to your infant and spending time with them. In particular, noticing and responding to your infant’s cues can help to nurture your relationship with your infant as well as support their mental health.
Learning to understand your infant’s unique cues
Cues refers to the sounds and movements infants make. These can include facial expressions, vocalisations, body movements and reactions. Cues can be as subtle as an opening hand or widening their eyes.
Cues let us know something about the infant’s needs, their emotional state and physical
state. In other words, cues are an infant’s way of communicating with us. Caregivers can
learn to understand what an infant is trying to communicate by:
understand your infants cues every time! However, become a curious observer of your
infant and their cues. Continue trying to understand what your infant is trying to
Responding to you infant’s cues
As cues are a way for your infant to converse, it is important for caregivers to respond to these cues. This involves responding sensitively and promptly. By responding to your infant’s cues, it helps the infant make sense of the world. It lets them know that their caregiver will respond to them when they are feeling insecure, it makes them feel safe, creates a predictable routine and creates trust.
Understanding and responding to your infant’s cues is just one way that you can promote your infant’s mental health. It is also very important that caregivers take care of themselves and their own mental health, in order to continue to build a secure and stable relationship with their infant.
If you would like support regarding your infant’s mental health or your own mental health, please contact Hopscotch and Harmony to discuss further.