Is my 4-year-old’s play typical for their age?

As children commence 4-year-old kindergarten, their ability to engage with peers develops further. They begin to engage in ‘cooperative play’ in which they share mutual goals in the play and are assigned certain roles.

Children at this stage are interested not only in the play activity, but also in the children they are playing with. Play themes start to extend beyond their own experience (e.g. an astronaut going to outer space) and are more imaginative in nature. They might begin to take on role-play games, such as playing ‘doctor’ or ‘mums and dads’. Children of this age are also able to play some games with simple rules, such as hide-and-seek. 

If you have concerns about your child’s play skills, a good source of advice is their kindergarten teacher, who understands the typical development of children their age. Alternatively, your Maternal Child and Health Nurse or GP can assist and of course, the team at CCD are always able to help!

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success.

How can I tell if my 3-year-old’s play is age-appropriate?

Around the age of 3 years, children begin to engage in what is called ‘parallel play’. This can sometimes look like they are in fact playing with another child, but if you look closely, they are often in close physical proximity but engaging in their own separate play. They may, however, mimic what the other child is doing without interacting with them.

As children get close to 4 years old, they begin to shift to what is deemed ‘associative play’. This play is not particularly organised or coordinated, but children begin to interact in their play. This is also the age that children begin to exhibit preferences for particular play partners, and begin to use symbols in their play (e.g. pretending that a stick is a sword). 

If you have any concerns about your child’s play skills, a good starting point is your Maternal Child and Health Nurse or GP. If further support is required, the team at the Centre for Child Development is also here to help!

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success.

What should my 2-year-old’s play look like?

The best way to describe typical 2-year-old play is that they are an onlooker or a spectator. Children at this age are interested in what other children are doing, often watching them and perhaps talking about what they are doing. They do not yet, however, engage in play with another child. Most 2-year-olds also do not understand how to share or take turns.

Children at this age can begin to imitate pretend play actions (e.g. giving a teddy bear a cup of tea) and start treating toys as though they were animate beings (i.e. a doll is treated as though it were a real baby). Children learn best when they lead play, so let them sometimes forge ahead and follow them to see where the play goes!

If you have any concerns about your child’s play skills, a good starting point is your Maternal Child and Health Nurse or GP. If further support is required, the team at the Centre for Child Development is also here to help!

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success.

What does play look like in a 1-year-old child?

It is typical for a 1-year-old’s play to be solitary in nature. They often seek to explore objects and learn about their world through cause-and-effect manipulation of these objects (e.g. I fill up my bucket with sand- now it is heavy! I made a big stack of blocks and they fell!).

1-year-olds are generally highly focussed on what they are doing, and in a setting such as a playgroup are not aware of or interested in what other children are doing. It is important to note, however, that when a caregiver approaches a child to join their play, a 1-year-old would usually make eye contact, smile and laugh at appropriate moments during their interaction together. 

If you have any concerns about your child’s responsiveness or have noticed a lack of interest in other people or objects, a good starting point is your Maternal Child and Health Nurse or GP. If further support is required, the team at the Centre for Child Development is also here to help!

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success.

Help! My child hates haircuts….

Haircuts in children tend to be driven by necessity and practicality (hello lockdown locks!) rather than personal expression. When the time for a haircut does roll around it can be a great source of stress for all involved. Children who are overly sensitive to sound or touch can find haircuts very unpleasant. For these children, sensations such as hair falling on their face, the sound of clippers, and the plasticky cape, are magnified and can cause distress. Other children may dislike haircuts due to bad past experiences, concerns about their appearance, or worries about social interactions. 

Although you may be tempted to ‘cancel’ haircuts all together, the best way to help your child get used to them is through graded exposure. This means gradually exposing your child to the feared situation (or object) in small steps. To sweeten the deal, reward your child for doing each step. Most kids love getting extra 1:1 time with parents, or the chance to request their favourite meal. Just make sure they can remain calm at each step before moving onto the next.

To keep the plan clear, create a poster or visual with the goal, each step, and the accompanying rewards. Your child may even want to help decorate it! Initially the goal might be for the child to sit in the hairdresser’s chair for two minutes. Once this has been achieved, you might then progress to the actual haircut.

Some other strategies to try are:

  • Using social stories
  • Taking a transition/comfort object
  • Scheduling the appointment with the same person each time
  • Booking appointments during quiet times
  • Keeping the child’s haircut simple and consistent
  • Having the child’s hair cut at home

Yvette Zevon is a psychologist based at The Northern Centre for Child Development, who is completing the registrar program in educational and developmental psychology. She is passionate about working with young people and families and is grateful for the daily opportunities to express her playful side.

How do I know if my spirited child is school-ready?

The transition to school from 4-year-old kindergarten is a big one. Starting school brings some new challenges in terms of greater expectations and independence. Fortunately, most children look forward to starting school and often thrive in this new learning environment. 

Parents of ‘spirited children’- that is, kids who experience intense emotions, are incredibly persistent (or stubborn!) and full of energy- can worry about how their child will fare when they start school. If your child is already engaging in some form of therapy (be this speech therapy, occupational therapy, or psychology) or has received a diagnosis of a developmental difference, many of the goals you are already working on will help prepare your child for school. There are however some general tips to help prepare your child for school. Do not forget that their 4-year-old kindergarten teacher has also been working hard (where possible this year!) on preparing them for school and can support you with this transition. 

School readiness is a broad term that includes several factors. Children benefit from having good social skills (such as getting along with other children and be able to assert themselves); emotional maturity (are able to manage their emotions appropriately and can follow directions from adults); language skills (can listen to others and express themselves clearly); motor skills (such as the ability to hold a pencil) and independence skills (such as managing their lunchbox, toileting etc.). Identifying which of these areas your child is likely to have more challenges with can be helpful so you can practice these skills at home. For example, you may engage in more craft activities at home, play games that involve turn taking, help them label their emotions and practice putting on their uniform or opening their lunchbox containers. Whilst kinder has been disrupted this year due to COVID-19, your child’s teachers can help guide you with activities or games to help practise and develop these skills in the home environment.

Beyond these individual areas, it can often be helpful to enrol your ‘spirited child’ into an activity that helps them to channel their endless energy in a productive way, such as swimming or martial arts. Whilst this may not be possible right now, some activities may open up in the coming months or may be able to be accessed online.

Such children will likely benefit from frequent movement breaks at school, which their teacher can facilitate by giving them special jobs (such as handing out pencils to the rest of the class). Your child might need some help in developing strategies to help them cope with tricky situations- like how they can keep themselves occupied when they must wait for something. All children benefit from having a clear routine and being given warnings of impending transitions at home and school. It also goes without saying that your child’s sleep and eating will also have a big impact on their ability to concentrate and engage in learning. 

If you have concerns about your child’s readiness for school, there is support available, including the psychologists at CCD. Some clinics also run ‘school readiness’ groups (many of which are being run online) which can be a good practice opportunity prior to commencing school.  Your intended school will also run transition sessions and can provide additional support if you anticipate that your child would benefit from this. And finally, do not stress- with the proper supports in place your ‘spirited child’ will likely thrive when they start school.

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.

One question we need to ask every parent this week…..

Parents. We hear you. We are listening. We know how incredibly tough this year has been. Isolation from friends and family, kids at home 24/7 needing entertainment, food (my goodness the amount of food!), attempts to retain jobs, find new jobs, fear of ditching existing jobs that we hate because we’re scared we won’t find another one right now. REMOTE LEARNING.   And as for “it takes a village to raise a child”…..well, what village?! We can’t even see our families for a cuppa let alone get any respite or babysitting support! 

So if there’s one question we need to ask each other this week it is “R U OK????” 

And not just because some organisation decided that September 10th is good for R U OK Day to promote mental wellbeing….but because frankly, we REALLY need to check in on each other right now. 

We are all hearing words like “we’re all in this together!” but, how can we actually put these words into action? 

Credit: www.ruok.org.au

The R U OK campaign is all about reaching out to someone that you think may be doing it tough and just following these four simple steps:

  1. Ask R U OK?
  2. Listen (without judgement)
  3. Encourage action – this means not just self-care strategies, but referring them on for professional support if you are really worried about them
  4. Check in – this means a few days later follow up and see how they are feeling now. Did they take the action they said they would? Do they need further support? Is it time now to suggest professional help? 

For many people, the knowledge that someone is thinking of them is enough. For others, it takes someone asking the question for them to actually open up and talk honestly about their struggles. And for others again, the question may be the difference between serious harm or safety. 

So let’s all give it a go – because that’s what “we’re all in this together” really means. 

For more resources, check out www.ruok.org.au and look after each other, and yourselves. 

Madeline Sibbing is the Principal Psychologist at the Northern and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development. Madeline holds a Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology from Monash University. Her sixteen 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. She is a registered supervisor with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, supervising Masters of Psychology candidates and newly-registered Psychologists.

Consistently described as an engaging, down-to-earth and knowledgeable therapist, Madeline obtains enormous joy from working with children and young people… as often evidenced by the sounds of laughter and silliness emanating from her therapy room.

How to help kids cope with change

Change can be exciting and scary all at once. Whilst we know that children benefit from consistency, life throws a lot of changes our way- some we might foresee and others we may not (like the entire COVID pandemic!). Learning how to cope with change is a valuable life skill that will help your child become more resilient for what lies ahead for them in adult life. So how do we do this? 

  • When possible, give your child a warning about the impending change ahead of time. This might take the form of multiple conversations, such as about the arrival of a younger sibling or starting school. 
  • Try to keep other factors in your child’s life as consistent as you can. For example, if yourself and an ex-partner are separating, try to keep other factors such as their childcare centre/kindergarten/school the same, and maintain other routines as much as possible. 
  • Listen to your child and be willing to answer their questions. They may be repetitive- this is part of your child making sense of it all. 
  • Acknowledge and validate your child’s emotions. 
  • Do expect some regression in other areas, such as toileting or behaviour. This is completely normal and will not last forever. 
  • When possible, spend extra one-on-one time with your child in which you are fully engaged with them and following their lead. 
  • Give your child choices that achieve the same desired outcome. For example, you could ask your child whether they want cereal or toast- either way, the same desired outcome is achieved within defined parameters (breakfast being eaten). Giving children choices enhances their sense of autonomy and can reduce the feeling of everything in their lives being out of their control. 
  • Read books to your child about children going through similar experiences. You would be amazed what is out there (I have quite the collection myself!) 
  • Maintain your usual expectations and limits in other areas. Your child may push against these, hence maintaining them will reassure them that they are secure and safe. 
  • Reflect on other changes your child has become used to in the past and discuss this with them.
  • Remember that it will take some time for your child to adjust, and that is okay. 
  • Do seek professional help if you need it- that is what we are here for! 

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.

What is proprioception?

When I was at school, I was taught that humans have five senses: taste, sight, sound, smell, and touch. My allied health colleagues, however, would argue that we have eight senses: proprioception being one of them.

Proprioception is the awareness of the position of our muscles and joints in space. This sense allows me to close my eyes, lift my arm above my head and keep track of where my arm is positioned, all without ‘seeing’. Impressive! Thanks to muscle spindles (sensory fibres) that send information to the brain, I can form a map of my body’s position in space. 

Some other examples of proprioception include:

  • Balancing on one leg without looking down
  • Clapping your hands with your eyes closed
  • Playing ‘pin the tail on the donkey’
  • Complex movements such as riding a bike.

For some children, proprioceptive dysfunction leads to difficulty maintaining attention and engagement, especially in the classroom (or remote learning!). For these kids, additional proprioceptive input can help them to regulate their bodies and, therefore, their attention. 

Signs that might indicate your child is experiencing proprioceptive issues include:

  • Always seeming heavy-footed and ‘stomping’ 
  • Balance issues or appearing clumsy
  • Lack of awareness of body, eg. leaning on or bumping into others
  • Messy handwriting
  • Preference for tight clothes such as those with tight cuffs or fabrics
  • Frequently chewing or biting

Occupational Therapists are experts in helping children understand their proprioceptive needs.  They provide strategies that help children to calm, focus and regulate. Some strategies might include:

  • Heavy work strategies, such as: 

Animal walks

Carrying a heavy item from the classroom to the office

Commando crawling

Wheelbarrow walks

  • Deep pressure activities, such as: 

Rolling a swiss ball gently on top of a child

Using a weighted blanket

Bear hugs

Wrapping a child tightly in a blanket

At the Centre for Child Development we often work alongside paediatric Occupational Therapists whose input and strategies are incredibly valuable. If you have any concerns, therefore, we recommend you consult a paediatric Occupational Therapist for many more strategies and individualised support for your child. 

Yvette Zevon is a psychologist based at The Northern Centre for Child Development, who is completing the registrar program in educational and developmental psychology. She is passionate about working with young people and families and is grateful for the daily opportunities to express her playful side.

What are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills are the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our wrists and hands. These skills are developed and refined from birth to eight years of age. In children, fine motor skills are needed for everyday activities, such as play, school-based learning and self-care tasks.

Fine motor skills include:

  • Holding a pencil
  • Using scissors and other tools 
  • Construction with blocks such as Duplo and Lego
  • Completing puzzles
  • Brushing teeth
  • Getting dressed
  • Manipulating buttons and zips
  • Using a fork and spoon
  • Opening food wrappers and containers

As you can see, fine motor skills are super important. So, when a child has delayed fine motor skills it can impact on areas such as their opportunities for play, academic progress, and independence.

Below are some signs that your child might have fine motor difficulties. You may notice that your child: 

  • Is slow when drawing, colouring, or writing or their work is difficult to decipher
  • Has difficulty cutting smoothly along lines or curves
  • Finds it difficult to manipulate objects, such as tying shoelaces or threading
  • Tires easily when using a computer
  • Struggles to complete self-care tasks appropriate for their age independently
  • Is slow to master new fine motor tasks. 

If you have noticed some of these signs, don’t panic! The good news is that occupational therapy can help to develop your child’s fine motor skills. Your therapist is also likely to give you some fun activities to practice at home.  With this targeted support, kids can begin to develop greater independence which, let’s face it, is a win for them and a win for their parents!

Yvette Zevon is a psychologist based at The Northern Centre for Child Development, who is completing the registrar program in educational and developmental psychology. She is passionate about working with young people and families and is grateful for the daily opportunities to express her playful side.