Why doesn’t my child LISTEN to me?!

Oh if I had a dollar for every time I was asked this question in the clinic…let’s just say I would be sunning myself somewhere, drink in hand! To top it off though – I’m guilty of complaining about this as a parent myself! Sometimes because I forget this crucial piece of information – we are teaching our kids NOT to listen to us.

Yep. Our responses to their non-compliance when we ask them to pack up their toys, put their PJs back in the washing basket, sit down to eat (you get the picture), is what teaches them whether or not to listen to us in the future. If, after we give them an instruction that they don’t follow, we throw our hands up in the air and give up (and do what we were asking them ourselves!), we are teaching our kids that they don’t need to listen to us.

Put visually this is what we call a “compliance routine” in the business (excuse the messiness – we just used this in a session!):

Compliance routine

You need to work out effective praise and consequences that are respectful and meaningful to your child (often a paediatric psych is the person who can help you nut this out if you’re struggling) but in a nutshell, the above compliance routine is THE BOMB. Try it and let me know how you go!

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist at the Northern Centre for Child Development, an independent paediatric psychology clinic in Melbourne’s north.


Anxiety busters for kinder and school – Amanda Abel

Today in a meeting with educational staff we were talking about increasing a particularly anxious child’s sense of control. Increasing a child’s sense of control within our safe boundaries and confines can help to decrease anxiety levels because the child can then have a ‘say’ about his or her environment. Here were some of the ideas we came up with:

  • Using a ‘choice board’ to show the child the activities that need doing each day in the educational setting, but allowing him or her to choose the order in which they want to do the activities.
  • Using a ‘visual schedule’ to show the child the expectations for the day i.e. literacy, recess, music, lunch, swimming, home.
  • Establishing calming activities and spaces for the child for when he/she feels overwhelmed, such as a tent, music, sensory toys, trampoline etc. This relies on either the child being able to communicate their feelings in some way, or the staff reading the child to determine he/she is needing a break or some down time.
  • Using sensory aides to assist with self-regulation such as weighted products, posture wedges etc.
  • Using visual timers to help the child understand the length of time he or she will be engaged in a particular task, or to show how long it will be until home time.
  • Offering many ‘choice of two’ options throughout the day i.e. “do you want the blue chair or the red one?”; “do you want to do the puzzle or the craft table?” etc.

These are just some ideas that we use for children who are struggling with anxiety in educational settings – and at home for that matter! If you know of a kiddo who needs more specific ideas, get in touch with us at Northern Centre for Child Development.

Photo credit Charlotte NC Child Portrait Photographer

House rules for smooth sailing at home – Amanda Abel, paediatric psychologist

If you’re looking for some smoother sailing or calmer waters at home, making sure your kiddos know the behavioural boundaries can help. So how do we teach our kids which behaviours are okay and which ones are not okay? I guess part of this conundrum is to make sure that we are firstly clear about it in our own minds.  I’m no advocate for a cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all approach in my practice, but I do generally find that a prescribed set of two to four, behaviourally based rules really helps communicate your expectations clearly to your kiddos. Before you sit down to explain the rules, consider these points:

  • You can set up clear rewards and consequences for whether or not the kids follow the rules. If you decide to do this, what will the rewards and consequences be?
  • Make sure your rules are positively phrased – i.e. you tell your children what to do, rather than what not to do.
  • Also, keep your rules realistic – I remember a family I saw many years ago who, when asked to create a list of ‘house rules’ for homework, returned the following week with an exhaustive list which documented every conceivable chore around the house that they wanted their child to do.
  • Keep your rules behaviourally based, not related to chores. Focus on the behaviours needed in order to be an active participant in the household if you are keen for your child to be contributing to the chore list. Behaviourally based rewards could be “we speak nicely to each other” or “we listen to our parents”.

When sitting down to explain the rules, talk about the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor with your child – i.e. why should he/she follow these rules now? You can explain both intrinsic (you’ll feel calmer when you talk kindly) and extrinsic motivators (you’ll get a star on your star chart for every day that you follow the rules).

For optimal results, pair your house rules with a reward system of some sort. Stay tuned for our post about reward charts and how best to implement one in your home.



Amanda Abel, paediatric psychologist, is available for consultations at Northern Centre for Child Development in Melbourne.

Photo credit Kris Williams

January School Readiness Group in Surrey Hills

Kerri-anne Telford (Paediatric Occupational Therapist) and Amanda Abel (Paediatric Psychologist) have joined forces to offer an exclusive School Readiness Program in the January School holidays prior to the commencement of school in 2016.

The Program will provide children in a small group (6 children max) with the opportunity to practice skills required for a successful transition to school. The children will have guided practice and support in skills such as gross motor, fine motor, social-emotional, and early literacy, along with appropriate sitting and mat time behaviours. Learning these skills in a supportive, structured and motivating environment will equip participants with exposure to the skills they need for successfully transitioning to school.

Kerri-anne and Amanda are highly experienced and will facilitate the sessions together. Following the completion of the program each child will be provided with a written report outlining their skills in each area along with strategies for the teacher in anticipation of their school entry in 2016. Reports will be completed and emailed on Friday the 29th of January.

The program will run across six sessions over two weeks in the Surrey Hills Clinic

When: Monday 18th, Tuesday 19th, Wednesday 20th, Thursday 21st January at 2pm-3:30pm; Wednesday 27th, Thursday 28th January at 10:30 – 12pm.
Where: 4/609 Canterbury Rd, Surrey Hills, 3127
Cost: $730 (FaHCSIA/HCWA fee is $750)

Bookings: Please email info@kerriannetelford.com.au
or call Kerri-anne on 0418 582324 or Amanda on 0498648515

Eligibility: Your child must be attending mainstream school in 2016 to be suitable for this program.
If your child is new to either Kerri-anne Telford Paediatric Occupational Therapy or Northern Centre for Child development, a 45-minute screening assessment is required prior to the commencement at a cost of $120.
Confirmation: Your child’s place is confirmed once we receive full payment

Kerri-anne and Amanda are also able to attend school meetings and observations and would be happy to be part of your child’s team to support your child to reach their potential in the school environment.

Christmas Play-Doh Recipes and Ideas

I think I am a wanna-be Occupational Therapist. Looking at our Pinterest page and Facebook posts, I’m seeing a vast majority of sensory ideas and product reviews! Other than really respecting the work of our fellow OTs, it’s possible that a contributing factor to my fascination with all things sensory is that I’m a pretty sensory person myself – although aren’t we all? Maybe it’s just that I’m aware of my sensitivities and areas of seeking! And I’m raising my very own little being who seems to be following in my sensory footsteps. Needless to say we have lots of sensory toys and activities at home, some of which get purchased for the clinic but never make it there because a little someone intercepts them! So, when thinking about ways to incorporate sensory ideas into our Christmas festivities, I wondered about making some Christmas themed play doh. Turns out there are HEAPS of recipes, so I’ve compiled a shortlist:

  • This Cinnamon play doh recipe looks like it would smell divine, although I don’t know too many kids who actually like cinnamon! Might be something I would enjoy more than my daughter!
  • Here’s a cool way to get into the Christmas spirit with play doh – add some decorations to make Christmas trees with cookie cutters.
  • My child would totally want to eat this play doh, so I would have to reinforce the ‘we don’t eat play doh’ message but how divine would gingerbread play doh be? And I’d probably be careful about making sure the kids don’t inhale the cinnamon.
  • Snowman play doh – this is for people who don’t have a glitter ban in their house like I do. Yes, call me a fun killer but the stuff is NOT ALLOWED in my place!
  • Free printable play doh mats – this kind of thing is great for increasing creativity and for helping prompt children to mix things up a bit in their play doh play. This idea could be used with a non-Christmassy theme to help encourage creative play at other times of the year.
  • Candy cane play doh. Yum. Oh oops, we’re not supposed to eat it are we?!
  • With scents like egg nog and orange clove, I think I’ve saved the best link for last! Here are five ‘must try’ play doh recipes that sound suitably Christmassy.

And in case you want to read about the benefits of playing with play-doh, have a read of this. Some of the benefits are fine motor development, sensory, bilateral coordination, hand strengthening and creativity.

So get out the flour (and the dust-pan!), throw in a bit of your ‘mess is okay’ attitude and get ready for some Christmassy sensory entertainment!

Written by Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist. Amanda and her team of dedicated professionals are available for consultations at Northern Centre for Child Development in Preston.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/torontorob/

Being Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind to beat anxiety

Kids love rules.  We think they don’t, but they do – even if they don’t know it! Confused? Think for a minute about times when your kids have shown signs of anxiety (nail biting, teeth grinding, ‘meltdowns’, controlling behaviours and clinginess can sometimes indicate feelings of anxiety). What was going on environmentally at that time? Sometimes, a lack of boundaries, rules or expectations can leave kids wondering “who is really in charge here?”,  which can lead to less sophisticated versions of these kinds of thoughts: “if my caregivers aren’t able to stick to rules or set consistent boundaries, how can they protect me and keep me safe?”. This can create some pretty big feelings for kiddos, often feelings they can’t label which causes further uneasiness. When we as adults feel uneasy or anxious, we often try to reduce these feelings by increasing our sense of control. The same kind of thing happens with our kiddos who might show a need to gain some control over their environment in an attempt to get rid of their “yucky” feelings. Enter tricky behaviours that are rooted in ‘control’.

To steal a phrase from the Circle of Security founders, we need to be “bigger, stronger, wiser and kind” as caregivers if we are going to create secure little beings. Sometimes we need to make ‘grown-up’ decisions and be the parent even when our inner-child is screaming out to join in and have a laugh with our kiddo at 3 am when they are being funny and refusing to go back to bed. Because, chances are, tomorrow night we won’t be in the mood to have a laugh and what kind of message are we sending if one night we are happy to engage in frivolity in the dead of night but the next night we are not? Our kids can’t read our minds.

To be proactive, we need to be comfortable ‘taking charge’ and being the adult while balancing this with being kind. We need to be clear in our own minds about the rules we value and how we are going to communicate these to our children – and what the consequences will be for when these rules are broken. Often consequences are natural and logical, like when my daughter didn’t follow the “we look after our belongings” rule and her hoola hoop broke. In these instances, I don’t need to apply another consequence because this was really meaningful for her, and she understood the sequence of events that lead to her devastation thanks to the hoola-that-is-no-longer-a-hoop!

But how do we respond in the moment when we have tricky control-based behaviours? We need to welcome our children when they come to us with big feelings. We need to provide support for our kiddos to help them organise their feelings. What does that look like? It’s about labelling their feelings and acknowledging that all feelings are valid and worthwhile. And while we do this, we need to show them how to make themselves feel better. This might be about working together initially to take some deep breaths, or offering space, or giving a pillow to scream into or punch, or grabbing out some sensory toys if there are some biting or scratching behaviours going on.

Our job as parents is to provide the scaffolding for our kiddos to be able to self-regulate. The aim is not for independence, but for children to come to us for help and feel comfortable expressing their emotions in a safe and supported way.

If you’re keen to get ideas on how exactly you can set clear and consistent boundaries, stay tuned for our posts about reward charts and house rules to help get you started.

Amanda Abel – Paediatric Psychologist MAPS

10 ways to use a Time Timer

I love Time Timers. If you are a parent or educator and you haven’t used a Time Timer before, you need to get your hands on one! These visual timers differ from your digital clocks and timers because they demonstrate visually that say, 5 minutes is half as long as 10 minutes. They’re not cluttered like clocks used for teaching the time to young children, and they don’t tick like the timer on your oven. The Time Timer is simple to use – as time lapses the red disc disappears actually showing that time is passing. You can also set it to ‘beep’ when the time is up if you want to. The Time Timers come in various colours and sizes (we stock them in our shop – give us a call or email, or drop in to buy one)

Here are just a few ways to use your Time Timer at home:

  1. Shorten endless mealtimes – if you have a littlie who takes their time to eat, get the Time Timer on and as they watch the red disc getting smaller and smaller they will guzzle up their dinner (hopefully!). Explain that once the timer is finished, the dinner plate goes away.
  2. Streamline morning routines – set the timer to your preferred time limit and explain that your kiddo needs to do X, Y and Z before the timer beeps in order to get a special treat in their lunchbox.
  3. Teach your child to wait – the visual timer can really help the decrease the anxiety for children anticipating a desirable activity or item. Set the timer, explain that they will get their TV show in 20 minutes and bob’s your uncle.
  4. Reduce homework horrors for older children – set the timer to the preferred time, let’s say one hour, and explain that it’s only okay to come out of the study once the red disc has disappeared/one hour is up.
  5. If your child has another non-preferred activity, like waiting in the car for his brother’s music lesson, set the timer for the 30 minute music lesson so that he can see time passing.
  6. Sort out sharing – if each child is to take a turn of something, set the timer for it and teach them to hand the item over (usually the TV remote!) once the disc disappears.

Did you know you can use your Time Timer for yourself as well?! Try using it in these instances:

  1. A quick workout – you need to keep working out until the red disc has disappeared.
  2. To manage your time at work – I use mine to keep my report writing within hour-long blocks. The visual really helps keep me on track.
  3. To limit house-cleaning – set the timer to the full hour and stop cleaning (woo hoo!) once the timer beeps/the red disc disappears.
  4. Keep showers short – use the timer in the bathroom to give a visual indication of how much time is left in the shower. Great for when we have water restrictions.

Stay tuned for more creative ways to use your Time Timer in the classroom and at work!

Written by Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development.

How to answer the flood of “why?” questions – Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist

I have a new ‘thing’. It’s called “the rules of the world”. It’s a bit of a throwback to my mum’s “because I said so” in response to my endless childhood questioning “why? why?”. I suppose Karma has a way of finding us and boy has Karma found me. I have a three and a half year old who is determined to get to the bottom of EVERYTHING! SHE DOES NOT MISS A THING! And in desperation on the weekend when my answers for why we can’t go in the pool at 7.20 am or why we can’t eat icy poles at 7.30 am (“it’s too early” didn’t suffice FYI), I devised “the rules of the world”. “It’s just the rules of the world sweetheart” I responded to question upon question. And it worked! For about half a day. Until she started questioning the “rules of the world” and then we were back at square one.

But it got me thinking about childhood cognitive development and the inevitable “why” questioning that pops up around 2 or 3 years of age. Granted, it has been going on for a year or so at my place so I’m either getting sick of it or the questions are getting harder! As kiddos’ brains develop, they start to make meaningful connections between things. They start to develop a ’cause-and-effect’ style of thinking that leads them to want to know “why” things happen or “why” we do things – it’s their inquisitive nature and interest in the world around them emerging. But don’t be too quick to assume that a 2 or 3 year old’s definition of “why?” means the same as ours. Sometimes it can be more of a “tell me more about this interesting topic”.

So how to answer “why?” questions? Each child is different, but I am now finding with my own kiddo that replacing “the rules of the world” with some expanded information about the topic is helping. This morning, to answer “why does daddy go to work?” I explained that he goes to work because it’s fun and he gets to talk to lots of people and that makes him happy. I explained that he also earns money at work which means we can buy a train ticket on the weekend to go to the city.  Through my work I am mindful of not giving long-winded explanations and trying to keep things simple so I find that offering a small chunk of information, like my explanation above, gives a child time to process and understand what I’ve said.

No magic cures here for the seemingly endless stream of “why” questions, but rest assured it is a positive sign of on-track language and cognitive development.

Written by Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/virtualeyesee/


Reverse Art Truck

In a bid to get myself organised for some school holiday creativity, I went on an adventure last week to check out Reverse Art Truck. Much to my 3 year old’s brief dismay, our drive through the back streets of Ringwood landed us at a large tin shed and not actually a truck. Boy, this place was amazing though. For $30 you can fill a huge garbage bag to the brim of factory off-cuts and seconds (think barrels of containers, pump packs, fabric, fake turf, timber, you name it!). Apparently kinders and other community groups stock their centres from this place. My husband even recalls nailing through a similar vinyl flooring off-cut at kinder, which as odd as it sounds is entirely plausible as the Reverse Art Truck has been around for 42 years.


The lovely lady who guided us through the process explained that Reverse Art Truck is a not-for-profit organisation who collect these factory rejects which would otherwise be destined for land-fill.

The shed is broken up into aisles of larger stock (like containers, spools, timber, fabric and carpet off-cuts) of which you can load up to your heart’s content. There’s also a section of smaller items including buttons, stickers, ribbon, paper, boxes, wallpaper cut-offs etc., which you need to take more sparingly so there’s enough to go around.

RAT small amounts


Reverse Art Truck 1

The three year old loved just walking along and throwing things into the bag explaining how she would re-purpose the items into some sort of elaborate car and race track situation. Getting the bag home and hearing it emptied out onto the floorboards was akin to that oh-too-familiar cringe-worthy sound of an entire tub of Lego being tipped out. Having said that, the hours of entertainment of just sorting through buttons, furry fabric, old door mat pieces and wooden cones has been well worth the mess!

So if you’re after some crafty materials and don’t want to re-mortgage the house for a trip to Spotlight, get yourself out to Reverse Art Truck. The place is cash-only so take your $30, your GPS and your imagination and you’re on you’re way to some messy creative awesomeness! You’ll find them at 17 Greenwood Avenue, Ringwood and here is their facebook page.

RAT exterior

School holidays: 5 ways for families to stress less

If you have school-aged kids, chances are you have a love-hate relationship with school holidays. Of course we all love hanging out with our kids, especially with the reduced demands that come with holidays. But sometimes exactly these reduced demands are what can wreak havoc on our littlies’ emotional regulation. Which translates to tricky behaviours and meltdowns. If your kiddos get a bit stressed when the everyday routine of school is removed, you probably find school holidays can be a bit of a drag for everyone involved at times.

A good way to understand this is to think about how much a child might rely on the structure and predictability that going to school every day offers. As adults, we might see toddling off to school every day as a bore but your child might see it as a safe-haven where the routines and rituals of timetables, specialist classes, recess and lunch provide predictability and thus calmness.

If this is all sounding familiar consider some of these ideas to try replicating the sameness that school provides in a bid to decrease your littlie’s (or biggie’s!) anxiety:

  • Get a schedule. Sort out what your child is going to be doing every day of the holiday period. For younger children, just make a visual schedule with a picture (or pictures) depicting what will happen each day of the week. You can whip something up quickly like in the picture below or you can get fancy and take photos etc. The important thing is that you talk your child through the schedule/calendar and explain what the week is going to look like. Older children can probably just refer to a calendar with written activities.

visual schedule handmade

  • Schedule some down-time for your child to just be at home. The benefits of this are that he or she has time to process information and not be in an overstimulating/overwhelming environment. Depending on the child this might be something that needs to happen every day or every couple of days.
  • Set up clear house rules so your kids can have a reminder about what is/is not appropriate. Pair this with a reward chart to increase structure and have clear expectations – just like at school. Be consistent and follow through with rewards and consequences.
  • Plan for each day to fit into a vague routine – for some families this might look like: breakfast, outside play, morning tea, inside play, lunch, rest time, go to the park, dinner, bath, stories, bed. Children who know what to expect each day will show less symptoms of anxiety.
  • Be proactive and talk with your child about appropriate ways to express their feelings. You might talk about things like “in the holidays you might have some big feelings because things are going to be different. If you have big feelings that you don’t know what to do with, it’s cool for you to go into your chill-out tent and have some down time. It’s not okay for you to hit or hurt anyone”. Sit down and think about ways your child can express themselves safely.

The general theme here is preparing your child for what’s going to happen over the holidays, increasing structure and giving them a way to express their feelings. Lots of acknowledgement of emotions and teaching appropriate ways to express feelings will never go astray.

Good luck!

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist and founder of the Northern Centre for Child Development in Preston (Melbourne). She is available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for client consultations. www.centreforchilddevelopment.com