The mindfulness app for kids you need to try

Simone Gindidis – psychologist at Hawthorn Centre for Child Development

Simone again with another tech article.  This time I’m chatting about the Stop, Breathe & Think Kids app (no they’re not paying me to recommend it!).  Mindfulness and relaxation is all the rage at the moment, and with good reason.  Research suggests that learning and practicing breathing techniques, relaxation and mindfulness can help with emotional regulation, releasing tension, and sleep.  To develop the necessary skills children engage in activities that help them to identify and process their feelings.

child relaxing in leaves

Stop, Breathe & Think Kids is for children aged 5-10 and is designed with activities and games to teach mindfulness.  An example of one of the activities (or ‘missions’) on the app is called Counting Breaths.  Muscle tension often happens when we’re anxious or stressed.  The Counting Breaths activity is a 2-minute guided breathing activity that has children doing a simple progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) exercise.  PMR is the process of creating and releasing muscle tension in the body – try curling and releasing your toes and you’ll get the picture.  This activity teaches children how to become aware of the way in which their feelings (such as worry) can sometimes impact how they feel physically while providing them with a strategy to use when wanting to loosen-up or settle down.

Stop, Breathe & Think Kids is free to download and there are additional paid subscription options for access to extra content.  The app is easy and fun to use and has received positive feedback from parents, children and mental health practitioners alike.  I do have a few cautions: the app requires you to setup a login and password using your email address.  Annoying, I know.  When apps request your data or other personal information, I always recommend parents take the time to either read the (often painful) privacy policies or email the app developer to ask how your data will be handled.

I regularly use apps with children and parents as some can offer families with information and  additional resources between sessions.  If you have any good apps or feedback about any of the ones we’ve showcased, please get in touch!

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Simone Gindidis – psychologist

Simone is a registered psychologist who recently submitted her PhD in Educational and Developmental psychology. She is dedicated to helping children, adolescents and parents achieve positive learning, relationships, and wellbeing across the lifespan. A lover of technology and gaming, she developed a successful e-learning iPad program to support second language acquisition in a private language school. Her PhD research investigated how smartphone apps can be used to support adolescents in therapy. In addition to technology and all things Harry Potter, she has considerable experience working in primary and secondary school environments training teachers and parents in the use of technology to aid communication and learning. She is trained in Cross-Battery Assessment of cognitive and academic abilities and ensures a flexible, responsive approach to providing evidence-based psychological services. Simone is sensitive to cross-cultural issues; fluent in both English and Greek. She is an Associate Member of the Australian Psychological Society, and former representative on the National Committee of Educational and Developmental Psychologists. An occasional lecturer and teaching associate at Monash University in postgraduate psychology and counselling programs, Simone is passionate about marrying the latest research evidence with psychological services.

 

 

2 ways smartphones are helping your kids

Hi guys! I’m Simone, the newest clinician to join the Centre for Child Development.  I’ve been described as a tech-enthusiast and most recently, the ‘Anti-Pauli Effect’ – don’t worry – I had to Google that last one too (I recommend it if you have time for a giggle).  In addition to my work helping young people and their parents achieve positive learning, relationships, mental health and wellbeing across the lifespan, I’m a bit of a technology nerd.  By ‘a bit’, I mean ‘a lot’; and although my PhD thesis explored the use of apps in therapy with young people, I don’t discriminate.  Apps, smartphones, tablets, computers, wearables, gaming systems – you name it, I’m all over it!  To encourage greater understanding and positive relationships with technology, I’m going to share tips and insights based on the latest research.

child with phone Photo by Diego Passadori on Unsplash

When used appropriately, smartphones can actually be helpful for young people.  That’s right, the iPhone you can’t seem to separate from your child’s hand can actually do some good! Here are two ways that smartphones can actually be helpful:

  1. Smartphones can allow kids to stay connected with friends.  In some cases, this connection may even increase the quality of their friendships. Of course you’ll need to address appropriate use of the phone in terms of ettiquete (i.e. is it okay to use the phone at the dining table? What would adults think if you were frequently checking your phone while they’re talking to you?) and safe behaviour (i.e. sending images and bullying spring to mind here).
  2. Smartphone apps can also be helpful, with research showing some apps can reduce symptoms associated with anxiety. We even use these apps in the clinic! I’ll be sharing more about the types of apps that can be helpful over the coming weeks, but in the meantime have a think about which areas in your child’s life technology/apps might help? It can be a great way to motivate a somewhat reluctant child to practice relaxation and mindfulness!

It’s important to remember that we can all experience challenges negotiating our relationships whether it’s with parents, siblings, children, colleagues, food or exercise.  Technology is no different – as Oscar Wilde said, “everything in moderation”.

As always, we really recommend that you address boundaries and household expectations around the use of smartphones in your home to avoid any challenges or negative effects of overuse etc.

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Simone Gindidis – Psychologist at Hawthorn Centre for Child Development

 

Simone is a registered psychologist who recently submitted her PhD in Educational and Developmental psychology. She is dedicated to helping children, adolescents and parents achieve positive learning, relationships, and wellbeing across the lifespan. A lover of technology and gaming, she developed a successful e-learning iPad program to support second language acquisition in a private language school. Her PhD research investigated how smartphone apps can be used to support adolescents in therapy. In addition to technology and all things Harry Potter, she has considerable experience working in primary and secondary school environments training teachers and parents in the use of technology to aid communication and learning. She is trained in Cross-Battery Assessment of cognitive and academic abilities and ensures a flexible, responsive approach to providing evidence-based psychological services. Simone is sensitive to cross-cultural issues; fluent in both English and Greek. She is an Associate Member of the Australian Psychological Society, and former representative on the National Committee of Educational and Developmental Psychologists. An occasional lecturer and teaching associate at Monash University in postgraduate psychology and counselling programs, Simone is passionate about marrying the latest research evidence with psychological services.

3 top tips to connect with your teen

Madeline Sibbing – Psychologist at Northern Centre for Child Development

Adolescence – it’s an inevitability and a time in our childrens’ lives that many of us dread.  I love this quote about the adolescent years – “Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.” That Earl Wilson, he was one clever dude.

In all honesty, though, adolescence can be a truly exciting time – during which young people start to develop their own opinions, to take on greater responsibility, to contribute more to the world, expand their horizons and begin to develop their unique identity. So, rather than simply ignore it and “ride it out” – how can we embrace this exciting time and stay connected with our teenagers?

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  1. Be around – this sounds obvious, right? But one thing I learned from many years working in a secondary school is that teenagers still need us just as much, if not MORE, than they did during primary school. Many parents think their kids are now in secondary school so it’s a great time for them to both return to full-time work.  Keep in mind, however, that the transition to secondary school is huge for all kids, especially those with ASD, ADHD, anxiety or other challenges.  This is a time when they need their parents’ time and attention more than ever. It is also a time when they will be increasingly connected to friends outside of school and online – so our availability to talk through problems is absolutely vital.
  2. Exploit those ‘captive’ moments – yep, a car ride is no longer just a car ride! When teens are ‘captive’ in the car and not sitting facing you having to make eye contact, this is the perfect time to ‘casually’ raise topics or inquire about their day. Open-ended questions or conversational invitations using your own comments (eg. “wow I’m exhausted from my professional learning at work today – I don’t know how you do it for six lessons each day!”) are a great way to encourage conversation from your teens.
  3. Get involved – no, I’m not suggesting putting on a leotard and joining your daughter in ballet class! Just get involved in their hobbies and show interest in their social circles:
  • Play that video game with them. That way you know what it is about (and can monitor appropriateness) as well as sharing in the experience with them!
  • Invite their friends over or offer to drop them home. That way you can meet their parents and develop a network of people caring for your teen’s friendship group.
  • Read the books they’re into – you might find that a bit of teen fiction is actually quite enjoyable! And added bonus, there’s another connection for you both!

I’ve no doubt that if you can connect, both you and your teen will absolutely reap the benefits. You will get to see that fabulous mind and personality as it blossoms and they will benefit from the security and connection with one of the most important people in their life.

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Madeline Sibbing – Psychologist

This article was written by Madeline Sibbing for Northern Centre for Child Development – a paediatric psychology practice in Melbourne. Madeline is a Paediatric Psychologist with a Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology from Monash University. Her fifteen years of professional experience has been attained within government and independent schools in assessment, therapeutic interventions and consultation with children, adolescents, parents and teachers. She also developed primary prevention programs, mental health awareness activities and teacher training in a secondary college. Madeline spent several years working as an Educational Psychologist in London, UK, as a Chartered member of the British Psychological Society before returning to Melbourne, Australia. Madeline works with all ages at the Northern Centre for Child Development in Preston (Melbourne), from young children through to adolescents and parents. She is able to adapt her therapy accordingly, using playful, creative therapy and parenting strategies for younger children and for older children and adolescents she employs Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Solution-focussed Therapy and mindfulness techniques.

Photo credit: RAYUL on Unsplash

Teaching your pre-schooler to WAIT

Madeline Sibbing, Psychologist at Northern Centre for Child Development

Being a working Mum is hard work.  You get home from a long day at work, your kids are hangry, you’re trying to explain to your partner how your NBN connection STILL isn’t working (true story), and your 3-year-old keeps shouting “Mummy mummy mummy mummy water!”

It’s enough to make your brain explode!

This is a frequent scenario in my household – so, many years ago I learned this simple tip for teaching pre-schoolers to WAIT. Yes you read that correctly, my children CAN now ACTUALLY WAIT!

It’s totally simple – and it only requires consistency and a bit of perseverance to pull it off.

mother and child in street portrait Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Here’s the trick – credit goes to someone on the internet somewhere sometime ago for teaching me this strategy:

  1. Child interrupts your conversation or your task
  2. Stretch out your arm and extend your hand
  3. Explain to the child that if they want your attention, they need to place their hand on yours.
  4. When the child has placed their hand on yours, you place your other hand on top of theirs. (This acknowledges that you know they are waiting).
  5. Commence with a short wait that you think your child can cope with initially. Even 5-10 seconds is a good start.
  6. Praise the child warmly and thank them for “waiting quietly” or whichever words feel right for you! And immediately give them your full attention.
  7. Keep doing this each time they go to interrupt. Extend the wait time gradually each time.

Good luck and happy waiting!

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Madeline Sibbing – Psychologist

This article was written by Madeline Sibbing for Northern Centre for Child Development – a paediatric psychology practice in Melbourne. Madeline is a Paediatric Psychologist with a Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology from Monash University. Her fifteen years of professional experience has been attained within government and independent schools in assessment, therapeutic interventions and consultation with children, adolescents, parents and teachers. She also developed primary prevention programs, mental health awareness activities and teacher training in a secondary college. Madeline spent several years working as an Educational Psychologist in London, UK, as a Chartered member of the British Psychological Society before returning to Melbourne, Australia. Madeline works with all ages at the Northern Centre for Child Development in Preston (Melbourne), from young children through to adolescents and parents. She is able to adapt her therapy accordingly, using playful, creative therapy and parenting strategies for younger children and for older children and adolescents she employs Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Solution-focussed Therapy and mindfulness techniques.

Photo credit: Sai De Silva on Unsplash

5 Ways to Get Your Child to Sleep – from Paediatric Psychologists

Sleep issues have to be one of the more common problems parents will want to discuss when they come and see us at our clinic. They range from mild behavioural issues, to chronic (behavioural or medical) problems. We are lucky at NCCD to have two terrific paediatricians working with us (you can check them out here), so we often work together as a team if there are chronic sleep issues presenting. For us psychologists, our usual treatment starts with some simple behavioural modification steps, and here our our top 5 tips (there are many more, but this is a good start!):

  1. Get a night time routine sorted ASAP. If you need to know why, check out my post here. But generally the routine should involve sleep inducing, predictable activities in the lead up to bed (shower/bath, brush teeth, PJs on, story, light out).
  2. Stop screen time a couple of hours before bed time.
  3. If your kiddo is a bit anxious, make a time earlier in the day to talk about their worries, not right as they’re getting into bed – or at any point during the home-stretch to bed! If your child starts to raise something at this point, you can thank them for telling you and explain that you’ll chat to them about it in the morning.
  4. Calm down the house prior to bed. You can dim the lights, put on calming music and generally be calm yourself.
  5. Set clear behavioural expectations that can be reinforced in the morning. For instance, for children that procrastinate about going to sleep, set an expectation that if they go straight to sleep then they can have TV or a special breakfast etc. in the morning. And conversely, if they play up at night time, there is no TV (or whichever reward you’ve offered) the next day. Choose motivators that work for you/your family. And ensure you follow through the next day. Remember, this is not bribery – bribery is offering a reward for a behaviour to STOP once it has already started, and is never going to end in behaviour change.

I’d love to know if you’ve tried any of these tips, and how they worked for you. Often it’s trial and error with behaviour change!

 

Amanda Abel
Amanda Abel

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development – a paediatric centre in Preston. Follow us on facebook and Instagram @amanda.j.abel

 

Photo credit:  Photo by Iana Dmytrenko on Unsplash

 

 

Why bedtime routines are so important

When parents come to see me in the clinic about sleeping issues for their children, my first question is always “what’s your night time routine?” When this is answered with ambiguity and vagueness, then I know what our first step of intervention is! Why is a bed time routine so important, I hear you ask? Well, let me tell you!

To begin with, think about your own routines and rituals around bedtime. If you asked my husband he would tell you that I take about an hour to actually get into bed once I’ve announced that I’m going to bed. I think he’d be exaggerating, but my point is that we all have little ‘bits and bobs’ we want to do before we head off to bed. It might be wiping down the bench, washing your face, turning on the dishwasher, locking the doors etc. But we often find that unless we’ve carried out these tasks, we might struggle to settle. Well, it’s the same for our kids! Here’s why…

Firstly, we know that predictability, routine and functional rituals can decrease anxiety. This is because it is something familiar for us to hang our hat on, so to speak. When our kids know that the same thing happens each night before bed, they don’t have to worry about what’s coming up next, particularly at a time when we are likely to see more challenging behaviours thanks to tiredness.

Having the predictable routine also decreases the chances of ‘pushing the boundary’ type behaviours, because your kids know that there is a set routine and there is no use trying to disrupt it, because mum and dad are consistent.

The night time routine is also a really beautiful time to connect with your child. While I dont recommend opening up metaphorical “cans of worms” at this time, and disecting your child’s worries from the day (this should be done earlier in the day, not right before bed), it’s a great time to tell your child how much you love them/how proud you are/ask them what was amazing about their day and perhaps discuss something to look forward to tomorrow.

Reading a story together is a way to further solidify your routine, and check out some of my book reviews for some ideas about great books for bed time.

Having a regular night time routine allows your child an opportunity to learn how to self settle and quieten their mind after a busy day. By reading a calming story and spending time with them in the dim light of their bedroom, using quiet voices and generally being calm, we show them how to slow down in preparation for sleep. This way they can drift off to sleep independently and (fingers crossed!) stay that way until morning!

Stay tuned for my top tips for a sucessful bed time routine so you can become bed time routine MASTERS!

Amanda Abel
Amanda Abel

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development – a paediatric centre in Preston. Follow us on facebook and Instagram @amanda.j.abel

Featured Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

Book Review – Nightlights (by Civardi, Petty, Dunbar & Somerville)

Are you searching for stories to read to your preschooler – or primary-schooler at bedtime? For a few years now, we’ve been reading stories from the “Nightlights” collection to our now 5-year old daughter. The first book in the series is a collection of stories designed to “encourage calm, confidence and creativity” according to the authors. In my opinion, the stories certainly fulfill this claim, but also provide an opportunity for you to introduce your child to visualisation.

Visualisation, or guided imagery, is a proactive strategy that encourages a child to  be still and listen and imagine the scenes and stories you are reading aloud to them.

Visualisation is a great way for your child to adopt appropriate relaxation and self-regulation strategies. We know that children who are able to self-regulate and are armed with proactive strategies for problem solving are likely to be more resilient.

I like the Nightlights book because it takes a bit of the hard work out of the equation for us parents, so we can just set ourselves up with our kiddo and read! Sometimes I do casually omit sections or skip over some stories which I think might be problematic for my kiddo. For instance,  I may not want to be reading stories with themes of ‘extended absences’ and ‘saying goodbye’ at bedtime if we’ve just experienced our own situation along those lines. While it is great to talk about these things,  bedtime is not ideal when it is time to quieten the mind.

Otherwise though, I really like this book and have consistently used it for my daughter so much so that it is essentially embedded in our night time routine!

So, if you’re looking for some bedtime stories that might serve the double purpose of connection time at bedtime, as well as providing your kiddo a chance to learn some self-regulation skills, try the Nightlights range!

I’d love to hear of some other books so please comment with your recommendations! I’m always up for extending the library!

Amanda Abel
Amanda Abel

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development – a paediatric centre in Preston. Follow us on facebook and Instagram @amanda.j.abel

 

References:

Enhancing Resilience in Children: A Proactive Approach. Mary Karapetian Alvord and Judy Johnson Grados, Alvord, Baker & Associates, LLC. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 2005, Vol. 36, No. 3, 238 –245

5 tips for getting through Term 1 with a new Preppie

So here we are, a week in to term 1 of the Victorian school year. If, like me, you have a kiddo starting Prep, you may have turned to the booze, retail therapy, or – my new-found friend, Bach Rescue Remedy (side note – that stuff is great and also got me through end of year festivities last year very calmly!). Personally, I found day two of the school year the hardest, and had to work hard to avoid ending up a  mess stay positive without my little partner in crime by my side for the day. But we’ve made it through week one. What’s been working for you to keep the household sane? Here are 5 quick tips that have worked for us, and for some of the patients that have come through our practice with newbies starting school this year:

  1. Reduce demands! This means, pick your battles. Is now really the time to be targeting bed-making skills when it’s never been addressed before? Right now, we want to get through the day and reserve some energy for tomorrow. In my house, my little preppie is coming home from school and playing until dinner is served up under a silver cloche by the butler. Just joking. Well, kind of. It’s served up on melamine by me, and sometimes I feel like the butler. Or the maid. But you get the point, don’t introduce a chore reward chart now if it’s not something you’ve done consistently in the past. It’s too much a little to handle.
  2. UNDER-schedule. Give extracurricular activities a miss for term 1 at least, if you can. Or minimise attendance, or reduce the regular amount of activities. We want our kiddos to have down time.
  3. Pack a lunch they will eat. Not the best time to introduce Michael Mosely’s Gut Health diet to your unsuspecting child who has eaten a white bread vegemite sandwich for the past 2 years. In many cases, the kids will have less time and less supervision to eat than in kinder. This means, their motivation is going to win out here. So when the choice is between playing on the monkey bars, or eating a dried up piece of gluten free date loaf, I know what my kiddo would be choosing! And it aint the food! Do try to pack high protein bits and pieces to keep your child going (there are heaps of blogs and Instagram posts for lunchbox inspo!)
  4. Develop a consistent routine – in our house its get up, have breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, hair done – then the TV can go on if it must. Keeping it consistent every day (including non school days) makes it more predictable for kids and provides some security.
  5. Arrive on time. Full disclosure here – I got my daughter to school a couple of minutes late on day 3! Epic fail! Luckily she coped okay, but it could have gone either way. We know it is much less disruptive for our littlies when we get them to school on time, so they have an opportunity to settle in before the bell rings. This way they start their day more relaxed and with a brain that is consequently more receptive to learning.

Lets see how we go for week two! Good luck guys!

Amanda Abel
Amanda Abel

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development – a paediatric centre in Preston. Follow us on facebook and Instagram @amanda.j.abel

12 ways to battle school refusal

One of our followers has asked for help with supporting her grade prep son with transitions – particularly the one from home to school. Here are some ideas:

  • Anyone who knows me will be able to preempt my first tip which is to get yourself a visual schedule! Use several if needed i.e. one for the morning routine and then another separate one to show the reward, finishing with the reward, leaving the house, and walking to the school, and entering the classroom, and finishing off with another reward. Love a visual schedule.
  • Use a time timer to indicate the passing of time.
  • Make a list of potential rewards you can use for successful transitions. Get creative. Sometimes earning a day off or afternoon off (gasp!) will be motivating. Otherwise stickers, screen time, being a special helper at school, choosing where he sits, having time in the library or receiving a tangible reward (toy, snack etc.) will be motivating.
  • Remember rewards need to be changed over time as the novelty wears off.
  • Consider which skills your child is lacking in order to be able to successfully transition. Is it that he or she isn’t sure what to expect when they walk in the classroom? Is it overstimulating at school and they don’t know how to manage that? Do they struggle with a particular aspect of school and have now generalised that worry so that school as a whole represents that unease? Do they have big feelings and not know how to regulate them? When you sit and work out all the millions of skills needed for a successful transition from home to school, you can be guided by that list in terms of what you need to teach your littlie. A psychologist, speech pathologist and/or occupational therapist can usually help with this.
  • Be clear and consistent about the expectations i.e. a cool and calm transition = reward (which may be tangible or praise, whatever is motivating for your child). Explain what is and is not a cool and calm transition.
  • Prompt your child frequently to remind them in the moment of what they need to do in order to be successful. They will need a lot of hand-holding initially to be able to earn that reward. The first few rewards will be the most important and pave the way for future success.
  • Try to stay calm yourself. Easier said than done, but kids pick up on our emotions. Think about what your face looks like, what does your voice tone and volume say? How many times are you repeating an instruction? What are you actually saying to your child? The goal here, is to be calm, kind, supportive, understanding and firm (i.e. following through with noncompliance and sticking to your expectations as much as possible).
  • Do you talk about the problem in front of your child? If so, stop.  Talk to your child about your expectations and the rewards but don’t complain about it or negatively talk about it to others in front of him or her.
  • Celebrate the (sometimes very) small successes. If there’s a slight improvement in behaviour, acknowledge it.
  • Give yourself time in the morning to be able to sit with the behaviour and follow through with non-compliance. It might mean getting a babysitter in to help with the other children so that you can dedicate a few mornings to your child.
  • Be kind to yourself and your child. You’re both trying really hard and will get there eventually. Always ask your health professionals for help if it’s not working out for you.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic! And email through any other topics you’d like us to address.

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development.

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3 easy ways to connect with your child

One of the more challenging aspects to parenting can be connecting with your child in a way that’s both meaningful and fulfilling.  For all parties involved! Connecting can be anything from fleeting moments of shared enjoyment, reading a book or a day out together. Sometimes super fun, sometimes exhausting and let’s be honest, sometimes it doesn’t quite meet our expectations when our attempts are met with meltdowns or disinterest! Here are three small changes you can  embed into your day to help you connect with your littlie…

Follow their lead – just because at the museum you’re interested in the dinosaurs, don’t expect your child to be. If the purpose of the outing is to have quality time together, try forgoing your own agenda and focusing on what captures your child’s interest. You’ll be less frustrated and probably get less challenging behaviours from your littlie because they’re engaged.

Don’t multitask –  when you’ve dedicated time to engage with your child, forget everything else. Set a timer. Be with your child. Quality out-trumps quantity here – 5 minutes of one-on-one time together is better than an hour of divided attention. Give yourself permission to let other things go and focus on your child.

Listen to them -Throughout the day, let your child speak and let them finish what they have to say. Don’t interrupt or predict what they are going to say. They need to know they are being heard by their most important people.

Have a go! We’d love to hear how you connect with your kiddos.

IMG_5917_shopped Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development – a paediatric clinic in Preston with a team of psychologists, a paediatrician, occupational therapist and speech pathologist.  Check out the website for more info.