Mindfulness sometimes seems like the quick fix and the “flavour of the month”. However, when practised correctly and regularly, mindfulness is proven to have many benefits for our mental and physical health. Research indicates that mindfulness can reduce stress, rumination (cycle of anxious thoughts), and can increase working memory, focus, emotional regulation and cognitive flexibility.
“The purpose of mindfulness is to bring ourselves to the present moment, to be aware of our surroundings, to notice our thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental way”.
There are many ways to be mindful and finding what works for your child can seem overwhelming and at times expensive. That’s why I’ve included some of my favourite free relaxation resources for kids:
Insight Timer – App: A variety of free mediations including bedtime stories, yoga, body scans and breathing exercises. Some of my favourites include the Superhero meditation 1, 2 & 3 and the “Parents” section.
Cosmic Kids – Youtube Channel: Hosted by Jaime Amor, a Youtube channel full of interactive and child-friendly yoga, mindfulness and relaxation videos. You can also purchase their app if you’d like more content. https://www.youtube.com/c/CosmicKidsYoga/playlists
In a year filled with lockdowns it can be tricky to keep coming up with creative ideas to keep the kids occupied! So, faced with another 5 weeks of “I’m booooored, what do I do?” I thought I’d come up with some local ideas for those in Melbourne to keep the boredom at bay!
Disney: The Magic of Animation Sensory Friendly sessions
This exhibition features over 500 exceptional artworks including original paintings, sketches and concept art that have been specially selected by the Walt Disney Animation Research Library in Los Angeles, California. These rarely seen works reveal the development of beloved stories and animation techniques from your favourite Walt Disney Animation Studios films and shorts, including Mickey Mouse’s first talkie, Steamboat Willie (1928), films such as Fantasia (1940), Sleeping Beauty (1959), The Little Mermaid (1989), The Lion King (1994), Frozen (2013), Moana (2016), Frozen 2 (2019) and Raya and the Last Dragon (2021).
The ‘relaxed visit’ sessions are suited for visitors with ASD, sensory sensitivities or anyone who would benefit from a quieter and less busy setting. These sessions give you a chance to explore this magical exhibition in an environment that suits you and your children.
When: Sat 8 & Sat 15 Jan 2022. 10–11am
Jurassic World by Brickman
A Lego Lovers delight- Ryan ‘The Brickman’ McNaught (from Lego Masters) will unveil an epic, world-first exhibition at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC). He transforms Jurassic World — the blockbuster franchise from Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment — into an immersive must-do adventure that will be the largest LEGO® brick experience in Australian history. Visitors to Jurassic World by Brickman® begin their journey by walking through the iconic 4-metre-tall Jurassic World gates to experience the Isla Nublar. Find more information at: https://exhibition.thebrickman.com/
Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show
Everyone’s favourite sheep takes over the iconic Sidney Myer Music Bowl stage this summer. Academy Award winning studio Aardman and internationally acclaimed circus company Circa bring Shaun the Sheep to life. Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show combines Circa’s awe-inspiring acrobatics with the playful charm of the multi-award winning TV series. Performing in an open-air theatre for the very first time (COVID-safe!) see these two worlds collide in an ingenious adaptation for all ages. https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2022/kids-and-families/shaun-the-sheeps-circus-show
Funfields park (including sensory friendly event)
Visit Victoria’s Biggest Theme Park, only 40kms from Melbourne. With Awesome Rides & Attractions, including NEW Dragon’s Revenge Swing Ride (Now Open), NEW Pegasus Sky Bounce ride & NEW Mystic Kingdom coming soon! Funfields is also home to Volcano Beach Heated Wave Pool and 3 ProSlide World Record Waterslides; Kraken Racer, Typhoon & Gravity Wave & many other wet & dry rides including Re-Imagined Amazonia Falls, Pirate Ship, Go Karts, Alpine Toboggan Slide, Mini Golf and so much more.
Melbourne Museum explores life in Victoria, from our natural environment to our culture and history. The Melbourne Museum has something for the whole family thanks to their permanent eight galleries, including the children’s gallery for babies to 5 year olds. The Melbourne Museum is also an autism friendly museum. Partnering up with AMAZE, the Melbourne museum has created a range of social stories and sensory friendly maps to assist their visitors get the most of their visit. https://museumsvictoria.com.au/melbournemuseum/visiting/access/the-autism-friendly-museum/
ArtVo is an immersive art gallery or ‘trick art’ gallery – the first of its kind in Australia.Unlike a traditional art gallery or museum, visitors are encouraged to touch and interact with the artworks, photographing themselves and becoming part of the art. With over 11 themed zones, visitors can explore large interactive 3D artworks painted directly onto the walls and floors. Additional sculptural elements allow visitors to immerse themselves into different scenes, locations, and famous paintings. For more information visit: https://www.artvo.com.au/
Vincent Van Gogh at The Lume Melbourne
Stepping into THE LUME Melbourne is an epic adventure into art. Australia’s and the Southern Hemisphere’s first permanent digital gallery transforms the world’s finest art into fully immersive sensory encounters. The walls come alive as light ripples across every surface and masterpieces come to life. Curated tastes, aromas and a choreographed soundtrack add thrilling new dimensions to this 360-degree experience.
Explore, play, dance and marvel as every surface becomes an animated canvas: floors, walls and guests alike. Be transported as familiar landscapes become moving images that tower four storeys tall, while you wine and dine in the heart of the gallery. Create your own journey, linger where you please and be delighted by new perspectives on iconic artworks.
THE LUME embarks on its first adventure with a fantastic trip through the vibrant works of Vincent van Gogh. Surprises await in this symphony of colour, sound, taste and aroma. Get ready to experience the captivating world of Van Gogh in a whole new light. See https://thelume.com/melbourne/ for tickets and information.
With the summer holidays swiftly approaching some of you might be starting to scratch your heads, thinking about new and creative ways to entertain the kids over the break.
See below for 3 art and craft activities you could try that also have a therapeutic element to them. (Hint: they’re cheap and often use things you already have lying around the house!)
Used for: Emotional regulation.
Calm jars provide visual sensory stimulation, in turn providing a calming and distracting effect. They can be added to a sensory toolbox for your child to help them regulate when feeling emotionally heightened. Search “Calm Jar Instructions” to find a step-by-step guide and list of required materials.
DIY Board Game
Used for: Emotional regulation, social skills, conflict resolution, gameplay etc.
You can tailor the theme of the board game however you please. Search “blank board game template” or create your own. Some themes include: feelings (think subtle emotions as well as more common ones), scenarios to develop social skills; colour-coding according to the zones of regulation, or coping skills.
Used for: Anxiety
Delaying worries that aren’t urgent can help children to take some control over their thoughts so that they aren’t all encompassing. Using an old shoe or tissue box, decorate and turn it into a personalised worry box. Spend time with your child writing down their worries on some strips of paper and put them in the box overnight for safe keeping. The next day, go through the worries with your child and remove the ones that are no longer on the child’s mind. They can also add any new ones that might have come up.
We’re writing this from Melbourne so no doubt there will be some rainy days over the break where these activities might come in handy! In the meantime, gather your empty drink bottles, glitter, and cardboard scraps in preparation!
Body image refers to the thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and beliefs we have about our body. As people travel through childhood and adolescence, their bodies undergo rapid and dramatic changes. It’s not surprising therefore that some young people may have mixed feelings about how their body is developing and how they look.
While many us may experience some body image concerns from time to time, for some young people, these concerns become highly distressing. Pervasive body image concerns can influence a young person’s self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-worth. These can all contribute to experiences of disappointment, guilt, and shame. It is therefore valuable to identify these concerns early to foster mindsets and a culture of positive body image for the young person…..and within the family unit as whole.
If you’re wondering what to look out for, here are several potential red flags amongst young people who may be experiencing body image-related concerns:
An increased interest in food and counting calories;
Cutting out certain food groups and no longer eating previously enjoyed foods;
Increased focus on body weight and shape, as well as sudden changes in weight;
Excessive body checking (e.g., weighing, mirror checking) or actively avoiding body checking;
Avoiding social situations that involve eating in front of others or when body image may elicit anxiety (e.g., swimming);
Often talking about body image (e.g., thinness, muscles, physique) and comparing one’s own body with others; and
Other compensatory behaviours (e.g., excessive exercising, skipping meals, using smaller plates/bowls, eating more slowly than usual, purging).
While professional support can be paramount in addressing body image concerns, parents and caregivers also play a key role in fostering favourable body image in their children. Some tips that can foster positive body image in young people may include:
Modelling positive body image (e.g., acceptance of one’s body despite flaws, focusing on the health and function of the body rather than how it looks, seeing beauty in the diverse range of appearance and internal attributes);
Avoid appearance-focused commentary (e.g., making positive or negative comments about appearance that can encourage young people to heavily focus on how they look). Instead, focus can be on internal characteristics such as personality, effort, hard work, kindness, good listening etc.;
Avoid diets and unhealthy weight control practices (e.g., encouraging eating and exercise behaviours for health gains and mental wellbeing rather than to elicit weight and shape changes); and
Having open conversations about body image concerns (e.g., normalising changes that occur during puberty, challenging messages that reinforce weight stigma and a diet culture).
Grandparents play such an important role within the family unit. They also have so much to teach children from their incredible life experience! Many grandparents often want to connect with their grandchild, but are unsure what to do, or say. Here are some tips to support you:
Have a general understanding of their diagnosis and how it relates to the child. Ask the child’s parents to relay important information about the diagnosis to you. What do you need to know about the child and how they engage with the world?
Encourage independence. Children quickly learn who will do things for them and therefore won’t do these things. The more a child can be independent (within reasonable expectations of age and ability) the more they will thrive as they become older.
Let your grandchild lead and teach you things. Take an interest in your grandchild’s game or current interest and follow their lead in play.
Our neurodiverse kiddos often take longer to process information, so give them 10 seconds after you speak to process the information and respond.
Use brief and concrete instructions rather than lengthy sentences with too many words.
If your grandchild requires an additional means to communicate such as visual or sign language, use that! This will assist them to understand what you are saying.
Offering a choice of two options rather than picking anything you like. Choosing from a small amount of items helps to reduce feelings of confusion, overwhelm and stress of making the wrong choice.
Children will use adults around them to help regulate themselves. When a child is upset or angry, yelling at them will also escalate their behaviour. Use a calm but firm tone with your grandchild so they can understand the situation and respond appropriately.
Identify their triggers to emotional outbursts or coping mechanisms and help the child to regulate themselves. Engage in some sensory games or relaxation techniques to assist with calming your grandchild.
Have clear and consistent expectations and boundaries when it comes to behaviours. Set expectations so the child knows what to expect and what is not ok in your home.
Most importantly, focus on your grandchild as the unique person that they are, not their diagnosis. Show the child love and affection as you would with any of your grandchildren. And above all, have fun together!
Loss can present in many ways and children will experience many kinds of loss throughout their lives. While some losses can be tragic and monumental such as the loss of someone or something they love (e.g. a family member or pet), others can be positive and include developmental and transitional stages (e.g. transition to school or to a new friend group).
Today, children are also experiencing loss related to episodes such as an accident, environmental occurrences such as bushfire; changes in their educational environment such as the transition to online learning and the loss of face to face teaching. They may even experience changes such as illness in family members or in their community.
Children will process loss in their lives in relation to their development, their age, past experiences they have to draw on and how important the loss is to them. How we respond and support them through the stages of loss will assist them to process and express the changes in a more helpful way.
So how can we help? As adults we can do the following to support a child feeling loss and dealing with changes with courage:
Understand that children observe and sense more than we know
Offer your time, attention and comfort in a safe and appropriate place to talk at an age appropriate level using concrete words (eg. keep the language simple)
Listen carefully to their story, how they explain their thoughts and feelings to you which may be through talking, play or drawing
Take note of their behaviours. Their behaviours may represent a range of strong feelings including shock, panic, anger, anxiety, confusion, or excitement and overwhelm
Be available for questions and discussions
Be open that every child will react differently. Offer security and predictability by maintaining family routines where possible
Follow your child’s lead to make time to express themselves at their own pace: to retell good memories, use art or whatever medium they choose to document or tell the changes and loss with courage
Kim McGregor is a registered Psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational & Developmental Psychology. She has worked extensively with infants, children and their families in not for profit, early childhood, specialised school and government multidisciplinary settings providing assessment, diagnosis and treatment for their developmental, cognitive, social, emotional and learning needs.
While Kim enjoys working with and celebrating all children as they grow and develop, her experience and interests include understanding the specific strengths, abilities and support needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, developmental delay, intellectual disability and learning disabilities to reach their full potential through comprehensive assessment.
Her goal is to always work from a person centred and family focused partnership with parents providing clear communication, empathy and support throughout the journey of understanding and helping their child. She incorporates evidence based therapies to support skill development, having trained in CBT programs such as The Cool Kids Anxiety program (Cool Kids) and the Secret Agent Society program (SAS) and in Positive Behaviour Support (PBS).
While Kim has spent most of her life in Sydney, she now enjoys all that Melbourne has to offer with her family and pets.
Play is an essential part of child development. It offers children a space to use their creativity while developing important skills that support their cognitive, physical and emotional abilities. Through play, children can create and explore a world that they can master, playing out wishes, conquering fears and practicing roles that they would otherwise not be able to. As children learn to master their world, play supports their development of new competencies and increases their confidence and resiliency.
Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children, but sometimes it can be tricky to know how or when to jump into this play. The most important tool for connecting with children through play is being able to follow their lead. While this can sound easy it takes a lot of practice and patience to truly immerse yourself in child-centered play. Some of the tips that can help you to follow your child’s lead are:
Get face to face with your child – getting down to your child’s level allows you to connect more easily and share in the moment, so whenever you can get into a position that makes it easy for your child to look right into your eyes.
Observe your child – children can have very different styles and methods of playing, before jumping in it is essential that you take the time to watch what your child is doing. By pausing and tuning into your child’s play you can pick up on important messages about what your child is interested in and how they engage with this.
Really listen and give the child your full attention – while observing your child’s play it is important that you show your interest through active listening, this can be shown by leaning forward and looking at your child expectantly. Observing in this way communicates to your child that they have your full attention and you are ready to fully immerse yourself in their world.
Use less questions – while questions are often our way of showing interest and getting more information, when this is done during a child’s play it can be disruptive and at times direct the play. Try limiting your questions and instead comment on what you see the child doing with interest and enthusiasm (i.e.,that looks like a big mountain for them to climb, your tower is getting so tall, I wonder where the dragon has gone).
Above all else, remember to have fun. Your children know you better than anyone and when they see you letting go and getting into their play it makes them feel like superstars!
References:Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191.
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:
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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.