How to turn a meltdown into a learning opportunity

photo of woman and girl talking while lying on bed
By Psychologist Alex Almendingen

Emotional meltdowns – they’re so ‘big’ that they warrant two blog articles to deal with them! In my previous article – “What to do after a meltdown” I outlined how there is often “unfinished business” that we need to work through with a child after an emotional outburst.

Some questions that we can ask ourselves during the post-meltdown phase include:

‘What caused that meltdown?’,

‘what was my child going through at the time?’, and

‘what could have stopped this from happening?’

Thinking about these questions can help us to process what was going on at the time and perhaps what we could begin to do differently next time.

So, what next? The following strategies can be used to help parents and young people reflect on and learn from these emotionally-charged outbursts during the post-meltdown phase after everyone has had a chance to cool down:

  1. Identifying, talking about, and evaluating triggers allows open dialogue around what might have led to the emotionally-charged outburst. Engagement in such discussions can help ourselves, as well as our child, develop greater awareness of potential high-risk situations or events.
  2. Encouraging an open discussion of the young person’s unmet needs can act as a powerful tool in identifying, acknowledging, and processing the emotions and internal experiences underlying triggering events. Maybe our child was lacking emotional connection or attention when they were feeling lonely; perhaps they were overwhelmed as a result of overstimulation; maybe they felt worried in a stressful or anxiety-provoking situation, perhaps they felt their rights and boundaries were violated, or maybe they just were not feeling understood. Once we can identify the unmet need, we need to help our child to express it. And tell them we understand how that must feel – empathy is paramount!
  3. Reasoning and problem-solving provides the opportunity to reflect on and consider how a given situation may have been handled in a more helpful way. You and your child could brainstorm possible solutions and weigh up the pros/cons of each option. In doing so, this can help address unresolved issues in the present and prepare for future occurrences of similar challenges. 

Here’s hoping these strategies give you some patience, reflection and strength to turn ‘unfinished business’ into a vehicle for positive change!

Alex is a registered psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Within school-based and public mental health settings, Alex has experience in conducting comprehensive mental health assessments and delivering evidence-based psychological therapy for young people and adolescents with a range of behavioural, emotional, psychosocial, and neurodevelopmental challenges. Alex is also committed to strengthening the confidence and capacity of caregivers to support their children’s development and overall wellbeing. Through his person-centred, empathic, and collaborative approach, Alex is dedicated to building and maintaining a trusting, safe, and supportive therapeutic environment for all his clients and their families to create lasting positive changes.

What to do after a meltdown – unfinished business

loving mother comforting crying son on couch
By Psychologist Alex Almendingen

Emotionally-charged outbursts typically involve a constellation of unmanageable frustration, explosive anger, as well as disorganised behaviours (e.g., yelling, hitting, throwing). We know that these behaviours present a major challenge for many parents, to say the least!

Oftentimes, after the screaming has stopped and the dust has settled, it’s tempting to tell ourselves that ‘all is better now’. It can be easy to simply carry on with our day without looking back, all the while hoping they don’t occur again. BUT, as difficult and distressing as they are, emotionally-charged outbursts can represent key moments of learning and growth for parents and young people alike.

In next week’s blog, I will outline some strategies to help you and your child learn from their emotional meltdown. But before we get to that step, consider the following tips to prepare you both for the “lesson” to come:

  1. Achieving relaxation: Whether it’s in an hour, sometime later that night, or even the following day, it’s essential to give ourselves and our child the time to relax and reach a point of emotional stability. We must both reach this point of calm before we are able to engage in reflective discussions, reasoning, and problem-solving.
  2. Striving for reconnection: After everyone has had a chance to calm down, reconnecting with our child forms an integral next step to re-establish bonds necessary for later reflection, reasoning, and problem-solving. Whether this takes the form of physical contact (e.g., cuddles), engaging in collaborative activities, or playing games together, showing our child that we still love and care for them helps us get back in sync with them on an emotional level and can help repair a moment of discord in the parent-child relationship.
  3. Invitation for collaboration: Upon establishing reconnection, it can be helpful to invite your child to have a chat around the emotionally-charged outburst. Framing such an invitation as a chance to reflect on and learn from the experience, rather than to reprimand, discipline, or punish misbehaviours is incredibly important. It provides a beneficial and constructive approach to encouraging collaborative discussions grounded in mutual understanding of each other’s experiences.
Alex is a registered psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Within school-based and public mental health settings, Alex has experience in conducting comprehensive mental health assessments and delivering evidence-based psychological therapy for young people and adolescents with a range of behavioural, emotional, psychosocial, and neurodevelopmental challenges. Alex is also committed to strengthening the confidence and capacity of caregivers to support their children’s development and overall wellbeing. Through his person-centred, empathic, and collaborative approach, Alex is dedicated to building and maintaining a trusting, safe, and supportive therapeutic environment for all his clients and their families to create lasting positive changes.

3 tips for managing screen time during lockdown

little girl holding a tablet
By Psychologist Judy McKay

China recently announced that they are tightening online video gaming restrictions for children under the age of 18. Under the new rules, online video gaming will be limited to a maximum of 3 hours per week (I know right?!) and can only be played between 8pm and 9pm Friday-Sunday or on official holidays. In the wake of this announcement, I’ve been thinking: how much screen time is healthy and how do parents put boundaries around screen time during extended periods of lockdown? 

With this in mind, here are my top 3 tips for managing screentime during the lockdown. 

  1. Limit screentime based on game type: With limited opportunities for socialisation during the lockdown, many children use online gaming as a means to communicate and play with their friends. Additionally, many games require the child to use their creativity and to utilise their cognitive thinking. Try to limit games that don’t serve this purpose, rather than those that do.  
  2. Set reasonable screentime boundaries: Rather than banning online gaming altogether, set boundaries around what time of the day the child can play, for how long and what is required of them before they can play online games. For example, first they need to complete their school work, spend half an hour playing outside or use their screens after school and before dinner only. 
  3. Optimal screentime varies from child to child: The Australian government recommends that children aged 5-17 years should have no more than two hours of screen time per day (not including schoolwork). I think it’s fair to say that COVID-19, online learning and extended periods of lockdown allow for more leniency! Limit screen time based on the individual characteristics of your child – notice how online gaming affects their mood, sleep, their schoolwork or concentration levels and adjust accordingly. 

Credit: https://www.kidsnews.com.au/technology/tough-new-limits-on-screen-time-for-chinese-children/news-story/e8bef056e521855a9ea47c0f504edb76

Judy is a registered psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Judy has experience working with young people, their families and extended support networks across educational, clinical and community-based settings. Judy enjoys working creatively and flexibly with children and adolescents to explore their difficult emotions and experiences.
Outside of work, Judy loves spending time at the beach or in the countryside. She further enjoys playing social sports and prioritises spending time with friends and family.
https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/2021/08/05/too-much-time-screens-screen-time-effects-and-guidelines-children-and-young-people

Does telehealth therapy work for young kids?

By Madeline Sibbing, Psychologist

Many of us are now experts at running virtual meetings and appointments thanks to the COVID pandemic.  Yet equally, for many of us the thought of having to adapt to therapy online still remains  daunting. This has particularly been the case for our families with younger, pre-school aged children, who might be asking: 

Can my child sit and focus online enough for it to be worthwhile? 

Can the psychologist be as effective and engaging online? 

DOES IT ACTUALLY WORK? 

So here are the answers, and some things to think about if you’re weighing up whether to give telehealth therapy a try for your young child. 

  1. PARENT SUPPORT – For very young children, most of our work is focused on supporting parents.  This means that we can continue to provide families with the same frequency of support, just simply doing so online. We can help families identify challenges in the home, establish appropriate strategies to address the challenges AND even observe parents trialling new strategies with their child via telehealth.  Thus, we can coach parents by monitoring and adjusting the strategies over time.
  2. PARENTAL CONSISTENCY – With many parents working from home, this has enabled some parents who would normally be unavailable to now attend sessions. We’ve found this has enabled caregivers to adopt consistent parenting strategies and really target the client’s goals in a focused way. This has led to some incredibly positive results for our clients! 
  3. IT’S FUN! Our psychologists have had a LOOOOOOT of practice by now at running sessions via telehealth. We’ve learned how to adapt games and therapeutic activities electronically, and frequently ‘book-end’ our sessions with a fun round of online games that kids seem to love. (OK we love them too – who doesn’t enjoy a round of Uno to finish up a therapy session?)
  4. RESEARCH SAYS ‘YES’ – Research shows universally that therapy provided via telehealth is AS effective and sometimes even MORE effective with children than face-to-face therapy. Why, you might ask? Well, one way it can be more effective is that sometimes parents expect that the psychologist will jump in and do the work with the young child. Through telehealth, however, the parents are taught and empowered to do the strategies themselves.  As we know, building up the support system around the child is vital in helping that family to function in the best way possible!

So the answer is……YES! Telehealth therapy can absolutely work for young children and their families, We’ve seen it with our own eyes!  It’s just about adapting it to suit each child and their family.

So if you’ve been reluctant up until now – take a leap of faith, and give it a go!

Madeline Sibbing is a 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

Remote learning…AGAIN….

By Psychologist, Emily Coen

Home learning- here we are AGAIN! We have had to engage in homeschooling on and off for over a year now, and let’s face it we are all just a little bit over it. Below are some helpful tips to try and make this experience just a little easier for you right now.

1. Schedule

Plan your day! It is much harder to start work when you have a big pile of things to do, and no idea where to start. Just like at school, separate each subject into planned time. If you do not get through all the tasks in that allocated slot- that’s ok!

2. Quality over quantity!

When sitting down to do work, we know that children (and adults/ psychologists writing this blog) can procrastinate and put things off. The number of hours sitting and doing work does not always reflect learning skills. 

When it is time for your child to complete their school tasks, engage in short periods of quality work time and include break time so they can switch off, before re-engaging again. Again, if you don’t get through all of the work, that’s ok! You can always come back to it later.

3. Breaks

Children need movement breaks and learning breaks to help them reset and focus. Just as we have breaks during a regular school day, these are as important at home. As lockdowns drag on we notice children being less diligent with this and staying cooped up in their rooms more. Make sure to include movement breaks into your schedule.

4. Rewards

Having to engage in the bulk of our learning in the home environment is HARD. Set up a reward system for you child to motivate them throughout the week. Rewards can include ‘student of the week’ and other certificates, getting to choose the meal for family take away night, finishing ‘school’ early for the day or a special treat.

For some children, they may need reward for a particular target behaviour or skill. For example, if they can apply the teacher’s feedback before the end of the school day they will get a reward.

5. Balance

With the unpredictability of 2021, life can be stressful and overwhelming. Whilst we may have been given a mountain of remote learning tasks, it is so important to include self care and down time into your day. Just as we schedule ‘school work’ into our days, we really need to be scheduling downtime, to relax, socialise and engage in physical activity. Your children will also be less likely to avoid their school work, when given enough downtime to balance out their day. 

You are only one person, and chances are, you’re working from home yourself. Have some realistic expectations of what you can practically achieve for the day, whilst maintaining your sanity!

Emily is a registered psychologist with a Master of Professional Psychology. Emily has experience working with children, adolescents and their families across home, clinic, and educational settings. Emily has a special interest in working with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disorders, anxiety, behaviour management, and emotion regulation difficulties. Emily is passionate about working with children and their families in a flexible and creative manner, to best support their goals. Previously, Emily has worked as an ABA therapist and supervisor, allowing her to develop strong relationships with children and their support networks.
Emily works predominantly within the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy frameworks. Emily is an accredited Tuning into Kids facilitator and Cool Kids Anxiety Program facilitator. 
Outside of work, Emily enjoys spending time with her family, reading a good book, playing netball, and cheering on the Geelong Cats.

How do I tell my child they have ASD?

By Psychologist Emily Coen

In the second part of her “Should I tell my child with ASD about their diagnosis?” series, Emily Coen is back again. This time, for those of us who feel like we may be ready to share our child’s diagnosis Emily has some advice on how to go about it!

What should I say?

It is most important that you stay positive about Autism Spectrum Disorder. Everyone with an ASD diagnosis is completely unique and therefore it is important that each conversation is individualised to the child themselves. Everyone is different in their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and personality. Differences should be discussed in a matter of fact manner, using concrete examples from the child and their peers. 

Most children will have a lot of questions, so start with minimal information, remembering that we can always continue the discussion as they learn more about themselves. There are some fabulous books you can read with your child such as:

  • Some brains:A Book celebrating Neurodiversity. Nelly Thomas
  • All My Stripes: A story for Children With Autism. Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer
  • Different like Me My book of Autism Heroes. Jennifer Elder and  Marc Simon Thomas
  • My Brother Charlie. Holly Robinson Peete

Some families find it easier to have a professional begin the conversation with the child, allowing the family members to play a supportive role. The professional can also gauge the child’s reaction, and provide further tips to the parents to best support the child. 

If you do wish for one of our fabulous psychologists to assist you with this conversation, please do not hesitate to give reception a call and book an appointment today. 

Emily is a registered psychologist with a Master of Professional Psychology. Emily has experience working with children, adolescents and their families across home, clinic, and educational settings. Emily has a special interest in working with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disorders, anxiety, behaviour management, and emotion regulation difficulties. Emily is passionate about working with children and their families in a flexible and creative manner, to best support their goals. Previously, Emily has worked as an ABA therapist and supervisor, allowing her to develop strong relationships with children and their support networks.
Emily works predominantly within the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy frameworks. Emily is an accredited Tuning into Kids facilitator and Cool Kids Anxiety Program facilitator. 
Outside of work, Emily enjoys spending time with her family, reading a good book, playing netball, and cheering on the Geelong Cats.

Should I tell my child about their ASD diagnosis?

By Psychologist Emily Coen

Here in the clinic, we come across this question all the time. Should I tell my child about their diagnosis? When is the right time to tell my child? What resources should I have ready for them? 

Many parents feel anxious around informing their child of their ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis, for fear that it will give them a label that might make the child feel different from others. Parents often go through a range of emotions when their child is given a diagnosis – grief, relief, acceptance, and many more. And of course each parent’s emotional experience is unique. You may fear that your child will not understand, that your child may become angry that they have a diagnosis, or you may fear that the child will view themselves differently overall. Our hope is that after your child receives their diagnosis, you as the parents are provided with the necessary support to be able to understand the diagnosis and to advocate for and assist your child, in the best way possible. 

Are there any benefits to sharing the ASD diagnosis with my child?

We think so! First and foremost, children need to be able to have an understanding of themselves and their needs so that over time, they can learn to advocate for themselves. 

Children with an autism spectrum diagnosis should also have the chance to understand, accept and appreciate their uniqueness, which can occur once they learn of their diagnosis. Quite often, we find that understanding the label also leads to a sense of belonging, and knowing that there are other children out there who are similar to them and really “get” them.

Particularly for older children who have better insight, knowledge of their ASD diagnosis can also build a stronger sense of self-esteem. This is because some young people are often already aware that they experience some areas of difficulty compared to many of their peers, such as socialising or tolerating change. Knowing about their diagnosis often provides them with an explanation of WHY they have these challenges. It can provide relief for them to know that it is the ASD and not simply a lack of effort that cause these challenges.

So when do I tell my child?

Unfortunately, there is no magic age when it is best to tell a child about their diagnosis. This will be completely dependent on the child.

As with all children, their personality, abilities and social awareness are important factors to consider when determining when a child is ready to learn about their diagnosis. In the clinic, I often hear questions such as “why do I come to see you?”, “why is it so hard for me to make friends?” and “why can’t I be like everyone else?” These questions are a good indication that your child is ready to learn about their diagnosis. 

For info about HOW to tell your child, read Part Two of Emily’s article in the next blog post!

Emily is a registered psychologist with a Master of Professional Psychology. Emily has experience working with children, adolescents and their families across home, clinic, and educational settings. Emily has a special interest in working with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disorders, anxiety, behaviour management, and emotion regulation difficulties. Emily is passionate about working with children and their families in a flexible and creative manner, to best support their goals. Previously, Emily has worked as an ABA therapist and supervisor, allowing her to develop strong relationships with children and their support networks.
Emily works predominantly within the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy frameworks. Emily is an accredited Tuning into Kids facilitator and Cool Kids Anxiety Program facilitator. 
Outside of work, Emily enjoys spending time with her family, reading a good book, playing netball, and cheering on the Geelong Cats.

Should my pre-schooler start school or wait?

By Psychologist Madeline Sibbing

Jump on any Facebook parenting forum, type in the key words “prep” or “what age to start school” and no doubt you will be inundated with pages and pages of posts, conversations and opinions on this very topic. When faced with so much information, it can feel quite overwhelming and sometimes complicate your decision-making process even more than before!

So with that in mind, here are some of our top tips to help you formulate your decision. This advice is based on our experience as paediatric psychologists and decades of collective experience working with young children. 

Listen to your kindergarten teachers

It is around this time of year that parent-teacher interviews are held, with the specific aim of identifying whether your child appears ready to start school next year. You know your child best of course, but kindergarten teachers also have a great grasp of the range of typical development, and the particular skills required for school readiness. So use their expertise and bounce your thoughts and ideas off them! 

Try and ignore sweeping generalisations

These might be “boys are less mature so should always wait an extra year” or “shy girls won’t cope in the school environment”. Hearing these types of comments can make us question our gut instincts, but are rarely helpful. Your child is unique and stereotypes like that should not apply! 

Speaking of ‘gut instincts’…..

……this is the time to trust them. As a parent of two children, both of whom have birthdays after January, I was faced with this tough decision twice. And I chose to send one child at 4 years and keep the other one back until they were 5. Why? Because my partner and I just felt, in our gut, that one of them needed that extra year and one just didn’t. Both kids have absolutely thrived in their own way. 

Think about the end-game.

The decision you make now will also impact your child when they start secondary school in Year 7, as well as when they come to completing Year 12.  Keep in mind the impact of your decision at those key developmental milestones as well as just entry into primary school. 

Be specific about the skills you want them to have before starting school.

Think carefully about WHY you are leaning towards your decision. Is it that you feel your bright child is very bored and acting up, so would benefit from the stimulation of the primary school environment? Or is your bright child still struggling to develop their emotional regulation and social skills and would benefit from another year in pre-school to do this?  Again, this is where kinder teachers can be super helpful.  Speak to them about what you observe at home and what they see at kinder – and, if needed, seek their advice on strategies you can use to help your child develop the required skills. 

My final piece of advice is simply this: no decision is written in stone. Yes of course we want to get it right the first time, but if things don’t go to plan, there are a multitude of school staff, pre-school teachers, psychologists and other therapists who can help you forge a different pathway.

Madeline Sibbing is a 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.

4 simple strategies to help kids with anxiety

By Psychologist, Judy McKay

All children experience worries, fears and anxiety to some degree. In fact, some anxiety is shown to be helpful (e.g., protecting us from danger, kickstarting us to study, practice and perform under pressure or to prepare for important events). However, when a child’s worries become persistent, when they start to affect daily functioning and prevent them from doing the things that they enjoy, we might start to have some concerns. Research suggests that anxiety disorders affect between 6-7% of children and adolescents. Below are some simple ways to help children manage their anxiety, by: noticing, normalising and talking about anxiety with them.

  1. Noticing physical and emotional changes – Things like somatic complaints, changes in confidence, sleep difficulties, appetite changes, more attached to parents and overthinking. 
  2. Labeling and acknowledging their anxiety – For example  “that feeling you are describing sounds a little bit like something called anxiety and I completely understand why you might be feeling worried and nervous right now”. 
  3. Normalise what they are feeling – For example “this reminds me of a time when I felt worried (I was ….) (I felt…)”. 
  4. Providing recognition for conquering fears – Noticing when they were really nervous and worried about something but they overcame it and did it anyway. 

So if your kiddo seems a bit anxious in recent times, try these four simple steps to start them on the road to identifying and challenging their anxious feelings!

References: Creative Ways to Help Children Manage Anxiety – By Dr Fiona Zandt and Dr Suzanne Barrett. 

Judy is a registered psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Judy has experience working with young people, their families and extended support networks across educational, clinical and community-based settings. Judy enjoys working creatively and flexibly with children and adolescents to explore their difficult emotions and experiences.
Outside of work, Judy loves spending time at the beach or in the countryside. She further enjoys playing social sports and prioritises spending time with friends and family.

Our fave parenting podcasts

By Judy McKay, Psychologist

We know that many of our CCD parents are juggling their own work, getting their kids to school and to various appointments all in the same day. Given this, finding the time to upskill in child development and parenting skills may not always seem feasible. So here are some recommended parenting podcasts that you can listen to on the go. They each contain short, informative and professional informed advice that you can soak up during the school run!

Parental as Anything – Maggie Dent

Maggie Dent is an Australian parenting author and educator. She’s an advocate for kids and parents alike and embodies a common-sense approach to parenting. In her podcast, she talks to parenting experts and gives you practical tips and answers to your real-world parenting dilemmas. 

A Different Brilliant – Orion Kelly

Orion Kelly combines his lived experience and expert advice to highlight the strengths, interests and aspirations of the autistic community. This podcast is made for autistic adults and parents of kids on the autism spectrum. 

Happy Families – Dr Justin Coulson

A podcast for parents who want all the answers but don’t have any time! In each short, easily digestible episode Dr Justin and his wife Kylie will address a specific family topic, offer expert advice and provide simple parenting strategies. 

Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting – Dr. Lisa Damour Raising kids can be a bumpy, stressful and uncertain process which is why Lisa’s podcast brings her sane, informed, and practical perspective to your timely and timeless parenting questions. USA based.

Listenable – Dylan Alcott and Angus O’Loughlin

In their podcast, Dylan and Angus speak to people living with disabilities about their lives to educate and break down the stigma associated with disability. This podcast is targeted more towards adults, however the following episodes are recommended:

#4 – Prue Stevenson – Living with autism

#14 – Too Peas in a Podcast

Judy is a registered psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Judy has experience working with young people, their families and extended support networks across educational, clinical and community-based settings. Judy enjoys working creatively and flexibly with children and adolescents to explore their difficult emotions and experiences.
Outside of work, Judy loves spending time at the beach or in the countryside. She further enjoys playing social sports and prioritises spending time with friends and family.