How was school today?

By Psychologist Alex Almendingen

Have you ever asked your child how their day was at school, only to be met with radio silence? Or the shortest response possible, such as “okay” or “it was fine”? Such responses can be difficult for us as parents to sit with as we long to know about the experiences our child had throughout the day – what they learned in class, any uplifts they experienced, who they spent time with at school, and any challenges they may have encountered or overcome.

Why is it hard for some kids to talk about school?

For starters, the question “how was school today?” is a big one to answer! While some kids enjoy talking about their school day, for some it can feel like pulling teeth. While a young person may want to say “I had so many things going on today in class and a bunch of stuff also happened in the yard with some of my friends as well, but I have no idea where to start with all this”, it can feel much easier to say, “Yeah, today was okay”. Even on a typical day at school, young people can face a wide range of experiences and emotions that range from joyful highs (e.g., making a new friend) and challenging lows (e.g., disputes with peers). Couple this with the large number of demands young people may face, having to remember, mentally relive, and recall their day can be a big ask.

Benefits of talking about school

Regularly exploring with your child about their day at school can help show them that you’re interested in how they are going and in their experiences. Talking about their day can boost their connection with you. Further, it can also help them process the many emotion-rich experiences that emerge through the academic and social endeavours of attending school. Such conversations can also give you insights into your child’s difficulties, how they address challenges at school, and any areas for additional support they may need.

So, what’s a parent to do?

Here are some tips that may help young people start to share a bit more about their school day:

  • Set the scene: Take the time to connect with your child before asking about their day. This may involve hugs, having a laugh together, doing something fun, or sharing a snack. Aim to create a calm and conversation-inviting atmosphere that can help your child feel at ease prior to recalling the day’s events.
  • Getting specific: Rather than posing general, all-encompassing questions (e.g., how was school today?), learn some details about their school life (e.g., names of friends/teachers, weekly class schedule, upcoming or current class projects) and have a go at more targeted questions that enquire about:

Activities they did (e.g., which class did you like most/least, what was it about your teacher that made it easy/hard for you to learn or finish that task, did you end up playing your favourite sport during PE?);

Who they spent time with (e.g., who made you laugh today, what do you like most about your friends, who did you talk to most today); and

Emotions they felt (e.g., what was the silliest thing that happened today, did anyone at school cry today, if you could change anything that happened at school today what would you change?).

  • Use observations: From a young person’s perspective, questions that seemingly come out of the blue can be tricky to answer. Instead, use what you’ve seen or noticed as prompts (e.g., I saw you running over to that group of kids after I dropped you off at school this morning, what did you end up playing with them?)
  • Sharing personal experiences: Try telling your child about your day through light and casual conversation, as well as discussing specific things that happened. This can help young people develop a greater understanding around how to talk about their own day. Sharing your own past school experiences (e.g., favourite subjects or games to play during recess, who your close friends were) can also help prompt young people to share their own experiences.

So if that age-old parent question fails time and again to get a chat started, I encourage you to give some of these alternate approaches a try! They may be just the thing to create a space for some big and important conversations that can help our children reconnect with us after a long day at school.

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 is infant mental health?

By Associate Psychologist Olivia Smith

Unfortunately, the mental health of infants is often overlooked or misunderstood by most of us. One thing we do know, however, is that early experiences affect brain development and can shape a person’s mental health in the long-term. 

Infancy is regarded as a critical time for the development of a range of skills, and this includes emotional and social development. Infants learn from those around them how to experience, express and manage their emotions, how to form secure close relationships with others, and how to explore and learn from the world around them. 

Signs that an infant is experiencing good mental health include: being engaged in their environment and with those around them, and managing difficult emotions with the support of their caregiver. Although they cannot articulate to us that something is wrong, they will often communicate distress through significant changes in behaviour (such as in feeding, crying and sleep patterns). Some infants are more at risk of poor mental health due to factors such as medical complications, temperament, adverse events, and their caregiver’s own wellbeing.  

Attachment plays a key role in helping a child navigate stresses. Attachment refers to how consistently responsive caregivers are in meeting the emotional and physical needs of their child. A ‘secure attachment’ can act as a ‘buffer’ of sorts to help limit the long-term impact of possible adverse events a child may experience. This can be fostered by a caregiver:

  • engaging in play with their child
  • repeating the sounds their infant makes
  • using a calm and soothing voice and rocking their child gently when distressed
  • returning an infant’s smile

While we cannot always change the life circumstances in which we find ourselves, we can still foster a secure relationship with our infant. Both prevention and early intervention for infant mental health is key. 

If you would like further information, we would recommend the following resources: 

The Raising Children Network:

https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/health-daily-care/mental-health/mental-health-babies-toddlers

Barnado’s Northern Ireland:

https://www.barnardos.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/Information%20for%20Parents%20booklet.pdf

Tweddle: 

Olivia is an Educational and Developmental Psychologist who has worked in a range of settings, including schools, universities, the not-for-profit sector and private practice. Olivia has substantial experience working with children, adolescents and their families, including completion of neurodevelopmental and learning assessments. Olivia has a special interest in eating disorders and is passionate about ensuring young people with this presentation receive appropriate and effective supports. In recent times she has completed training in the SOS Approach to Feeding, Circle of Security Parenting, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Eating Disorders (CBT-E) and Family Based Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa (FBT). Olivia strives to build warm and collaborative relationships with children, adolescents, parents and other professionals involved in a child’s life, including allied health providers and teachers.

Understanding “bad” behaviour

By Associate Psychologist Laura Moresi

Far too often in our work we hear people talk about children’s ‘bad’ behaviour. We hear comments like they “know better”, they are “attention seeking” or are trying to “get a rise” out of the adults around them. Just like adults, children are constantly striving to do their best and receive positive attention from those around them. Unlike adults however, children don’t always have the skills to do this in an effective and adult friendly way. When we are trying to understand and change a child’s behaviour, it is essential for those around a child to learn how to look beneath the behaviour and respond in a supportive and skill-building way. 

Different families will have different expectations about what is appropriate, acceptable behaviour and what is considered inappropriate behaviour in their house. Some of the behaviours families say they find challenging in school-aged children include defiance (i.e., refusing to follow parent requests), lashing out (i.e., hitting or kicking others), lying and anger when a child does not get their way. 

When I speak to families or teachers about children’s behaviour in the clinic, one of the first places I start is trying to understand the skills that are needed for a child to behave in what the family considers to be an appropriate way. This typically involves:

  • reviewing developmentally appropriate behaviours for that age and ensuring that we are not expecting too much of a child too soon, and
  • taking a closer look at the many emotional, social and independence skills that can get in the way of a child doing what is expected of them.

When breaking down skills involved in difficult behaviours, we are often reviewing a child’s ability to do what is being asked of them and regulate or manage the emotions that may come up.

For example, if parents are concerned about defiant behaviours when asking a child to get ready for bed, we will review if the child is able to complete all of the steps required to meet this request. Can they complete these steps consistently and without adult support? Is the child experiencing any big emotions that may be getting in the way of them completing this, for example feeling anxious about bedtime?

In breaking down the behaviour in this way we are often able to identify areas of real difficulty for a child, for example they may be having trouble holding the multiple steps involved in getting ready for bed in mind while completing these, or they may be feeling nervous about going to bed alone in the dark. When we can identify and support the areas in which a child is experiencing difficulty, we see a decrease in the need to use more challenging behaviours to compensate for, or distract from, these difficulties. 

In our work, a message we give to families and teachers when discussing “bad” behaviour is this:

when children have the skills and support to do well they will.

When a child is displaying “bad” or difficult behaviour, it is therefore essential to look beneath this behaviour. We must try to understand and support the things that may be getting in the way of them doing the best that they can.

Laura Moresi is a psychologist completing the Educational and Developmental registrar program. Laura is passionate about working collaboratively with families and other professionals to support children and adolescents to reach their best potential. Laura has experience working with a variety of development and mental health concerns.

Celebrating parents!

family of four walking at the street
By Psychologist Christine Flavel

Parents and carers, today we celebrate YOU!

We know there can be some incredibly difficult times in caring for and raising children. It may be that our kids are having challenges, we’re having challenges that affect how we spend time with and communicate with our kids or even external things like lockdowns, not enough sleep in the family, grief and loss and so many other things that are out of our control.

You’re doing a great job!

June 1 is Global Day of the Parent and the team at Northern Centre for Child Development are taking the opportunity to pause and say WELL DONE and let you know that you are appreciated! We see you, and what an amazing job you’re doing.

On this special day, we encourage to take up the challenge of trying these two things:

  1. Spending time with carers and family plays such an important role in child development. This week, try to spend some quality time with your kids – you might only get 10 good minutes depending on attention span (and what side of the bed they’ve woken up from!) but enjoy the bonding time and know that this one thing can make a big difference.
  2. Do something nice for you. Again, it might only be 10 minutes depending on your commitments, but take a moment to be your own friend. It might be listening to a great song uninterrupted, buying yourself a cupcake, or making a dinner reservation to look forward to. You deserve it!

Thank you for your commitment to care for and raise great children.

Christine is a registered psychologist undertaking endorsement in Educational & Developmental psychology.  Christine has worked with a range of ages (children, youth and adults) in helping them understand mental health concerns including anxiety and depression, support with coping through stress and change, and setting and achieving goals. Christine also conducts psychoeducational and diagnostic assessments primarily for learning difficulties, autism and ADHD. Using a strengths based approach and working with clients to find what works for them, Christine will often utilise Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Solution Focused Therapy to explore and achieve client goals. Outside the clinic, Christine enjoys spending time with her puppy and eating cruffins (croissant muffins).

How do I balance work and family?

woman carrying her baby and working on a laptop
By Psychologist Judy McKay

If the pandemic taught us something it was how to manage (or survive) increased work and family demands. Now that the pandemic has slowed, the cost of living continues to rise and life seems ‘busier’ than ever, how do we navigate ongoing work and family demands? 

  • Strive for progress not perfection – Managing work and family demands is challenging and not always feasible. Be kind to yourself and set small, achievable goals e.g., pick one activity or task this week you will prioritise for work and family.
  • Re-evaluate what’s important  – As a society we tend to measure success and productivity based on how ‘busy’ we are. Being busy doesn’t necessarily equate to efficiency, achievement and quality of life. Think back to lockdown – what were the things you and your family really missed and what were the things you were ok to go without? This might assist you to distinguish the necessary from the additional activities and tasks in your life. 
  • BoundariesKnow your limits and your self-worth. Saying ‘no’ is easier said than done however sometimes it’s required. Try to differentiate what you think you “should do ” versus what you “need” or “want” – listening to your ‘gut’ can be helpful here.  Where possible, try to put boundaries in place around work hours, after-school activities and helping others.
  • Put yourself first when you can – “Save yourself before saving others”. In order to help and support others we need to be in a good headspace ourselves. If we are burnt out or our cup is full and overflowing, we are not going to be as efficient or productive as we can be. Find small moments amongst the chaos to do things for yourself – a cup of tea, a walk with a friend or your favourite meal etc.

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air” Some balls are made of rubber and they bounce back if dropped. Others are made of glass and can be damaged or marked if dropped. We must understand this to help us strive for balance in our lives.  Bryan Dyson – Former CEO of Coca Cola.

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. In the past, Judy has supported young people experiencing a range of neuro-developmental disorders, anxiety, trauma, social skill and emotional regulation difficulties. Judy values the individual needs of each client and attempts to incorporate their personal interests, strengths and goals throughout therapy. Judy utilises a client-centred approach to her therapy which is grounded in cognitive-behaviour therapy and other evidenced-based techniques.

Judy has a background in providing pastoral care to children and adolescents within educational settings. These experiences have enabled Judy to connect and build relationships with students of all ages, in addition to understanding the challenges typically faced by school-aged children. Judy encourages her clients to take a holistic approach to therapy and values communication with a client’s wider support network. This helps to promote positive client outcomes across all aspects of day to day life. 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.

How to be a “good enough” parent

black and white boy child childhood
By Psychologist, Christine Flavel

Parent guilt and regret is a real thing. In a time where social media shows us everyone’s highlights, it can be a trap comparing lunch boxes, children’s fashion and our kids’ compliance with another family.

When our children are struggling with their big emotions, life’s challenges, and understanding the world around them, it can be even harder to believe that we’re being a good enough parent. Is what we’re doing enough? Is what we’re doing the right thing for them? Our expectations of ourselves as a parent are often not met. The good news is- you’re doing OK. ‘Good enough’ parenting is ‘great parenting’!

This video is targeted at new parents, however the principles are very much transferable to parenting at all ages. We will never be perfect, but we CAN be ‘good enough’!

About the video: 

Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) supports mental health of parents and families during pregnancy and in the first year of parenthood. PANDA’s national helpline provides access to counselling and information to assist with anxiety and depression for parents.

1300 726 306 (Monday to Friday, 9am-7.30pm)

www.panda.org.au

Christine is a registered psychologist undertaking endorsement in Educational & Developmental psychology.  Christine has worked with a range of ages (children, youth and adults) in helping them understand mental health concerns including anxiety and depression, support with coping through stress and change, and setting and achieving goals. Christine also conducts psychoeducational and diagnostic assessments primarily for learning difficulties, autism and ADHD.

Using a strengths based approach and working with clients to find what works for them, Christine will often utilise Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Solution Focused Therapy to explore and achieve client goals. Outside the clinic, Christine enjoys spending time with her puppy and eating cruffins (croissant muffins).

Rupture and Repair: The Importance of Repairing the Tear with Your Child

black parents lecturing upset daughter at table
By Principal Psychologist Daniel Baldacchino

Children bring happiness to our lives; at times, a joy like no other! But inevitably the tough times come. As we go through all the ages and stages of child-raising, right through to adulthood, we’re going to experience lots of bumps in the parenting path. After all, we are imperfect parents living in an imperfect world.

WHAT IS RUPTURE AND REPAIR?

Rupture happens in all families but looks different for every family. However, with most, if not all ruptures, conflict or tension transpires. Big feelings too are involved – anger, frustration, sadness, maybe even fear. Most commonly, rupture looks like: a disagreement, a parent yelling at a child, a child being sent to their room, or a parent not being able to manage their reactions.

Ruptures are those bits of parenting where your relationship with your child takes a nosedive and you find yourself at odds with them. Some parents might even maintain the rupture, doing this by giving the silent treatment (until an apology comes their way) – an approach often passed on by their own parents. 

Ruptures or as we might tell ourselves ‘messing up’, often leave a bitter taste. They can leave parents feeling an abundance of shame and guilt and in ‘failure’ mode.

Repair, on the other hand, is like ‘making up’ or when we use our ‘grown up’ skills to be calm, to manage and move back to middle ground with our child. Like rupture, repair presents differently for every relationship, so it is crucial that you are flexible in your approach and kind to yourself and your child with your expectations. Essentially, repair is when we bravely act in a way to re-connect with our child, returning them and our relationship to a place of safety, support, trust and love.  

WHAT DOES REPAIR LOOK LIKE?

To start with, repair is more than just “I’m sorry”. It goes beyond that. Instead, it involves a set of gentle, compassionate behaviours from you.

Below are listed some key characteristics which should go a long way in modelling healthy repair in your relationship with your child – in fact, in all your relationships. 

  • Be aware, take a breath and take time out

Focus on slowing down, mentally and physically. Take a breath and analyse the situation. Be honest with yourself about what occurred and the role you played. Perhaps chat with your partner or a trusted friend, asking for a balanced, objective perspective. Be sure to return to your child relatively quickly as letting matters fester and delaying repair can only be damaging and prolong hurt and pain.

  • Name it happened and what happened

Reach out to your child in a calm manner, looking to “talk things over”, and “not to yell, blame or argue”. Sit alongside them, and as clearly and as honestly as you can, describe what occurred, with a focus on facts and not being emotion driven. Remember, good communication = good relationships! 

  • Own your role

Set a good example of being accountable and taking responsibility. If you have erred, say “sorry” loud and clear. Explain specifically what you are sorry for.    

  • Name the impact (and listen to your child’s version)

Learning to deeply listen without judgment to our child’s gripes, anger, unhappiness, hurts etc. is vital for building trust and comfort. Validate their experience, demonstrating genuine empathy – “I get that you felt angry when I did that, I really do”. Avoid denying, dismissing or shutting down their feelings and experience. Anything is open for discussion and negotiation – give them space and time for this.  

  • Plan a way forward and work on not repeating

Describe what occurred as an opportunity for “learning”, a learning opportunity for you both, you and your child. There is always something to learn from a rupture. Discuss, offer and ask for suggestions how you both will work together to “do things better next time” – such as listening more carefully, taking turns, being calm etc.

  • Touch

Physical touch can be an amazing way to re-connect with your child, and the best way to close off the repair process. Warm physical contact releases the love hormone oxytocin, which enhances a sense of trust and safety. When you hug, cuddle and/or kiss your child, you tell them that you love them and are there for them. It can help to cancel out the negative vibe that was around. It can be an instant reset. 

And finally, remember… that being an imperfect parent is not only inevitable, it can actually help your child. Making mistakes helps them become more resilient and prepared for what life will serve up to them as an adult. It also shows them that we can (and will) make mistakes and make a comeback. So while it’s important that you keep fine-tuning your repair work, perhaps cut yourself some slack and leave the shame and guilt behind.   

Daniel is an experienced psychologist, having completed Masters in Educational and Developmental Psychology in 2002 at La Trobe University. Having worked in a variety of roles over the course of his career, Daniel has had extensive experience working in complex forensic disability settings as well as in supporting the mental health of athletes through the AFL. Daniel also works closely with schools to support student wellbeing. More recently, Daniel has applied his educational and developmental knowledge and skills in the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents at NCCD. With extensive experience and a real passion for it, Daniel loves supporting parents to equip them with the understanding and skills required to confidently parent their children.   

Navigating Medicare and NDIS Funding Systems

photo of man touching his head
By Psychologist, Judy McKay

Navigating the healthcare system can be complicated and confusing. To assist our families in accessing the services and benefits they need, an attempt to compile the key information relevant to seeing a psychologist has been gathered for you. 

Medicare Tip Sheet: 

Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and General Practitioners through the MBS fact sheet for patients (health.gov.au)

Key Points

  1. Your child is eligible for up to 10 Medicare rebatable sessions (6 session pack + 4 session pack) per calendar year. Due to COVID-19, the number of eligible sessions has increased to a total of 20! NB: Access to the extra 10 sessions is set to expire on the 30th of June, 2022. 
  2. Medicare Rebate eligibility:  You must first book an appointment for your child with their GP (easiest option), Psychiatrist or Paediatrican. Ask for a Mental Health Treatment Plan (MHTP). The doctor will ask your child some questions about their mental health and ‘make a diagnosis’ (NB: A ‘diagnosis’ is required in order to receive a MHTP). Once you have the plan, send a copy to us (admin@centreforchilddevelopment.com) so we have it on file and can charge you accordingly!
  3. ‘Additional Courses of treatment’ (i.e., After 6 and 10 psychology sessions have been completed). In order to receive up to 20 psychology sessions under Medicare, your child will need to see their doctor after six, ten and twenty sessions for an update/review. If the doctor feels the child will benefit from further sessions, they will create an additional course of treatment. Send a copy of the additional course of treatment (i.e. 4 or 10 session pack) to us.  
  4. Alongside step 3, your psychologist will write a letter to your doctor after 1, 6, 10 and 20 sessions to update them on your child’s progress and any ongoing challenges. The psychologist will recommend an additional course of treatment if they feel it’s necessary. 
  5. If your child reaches the maximum number of MHTP sessions in a calendar year (currently 20), they can ask for a new MHTP from their doctor at the start of the next year and start over. They can of course continue seeing their Psychologist at the Northern Centre for Child Development even once they have used their 20 sessions in a year! However the sessions will not attract a medicare rebate. At this point, families with private health insurance sometimes use their ‘extras’ benefits, while other families pay privately. 

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

A number of relevant fact sheets to help families navigate the NDIS and available funding categories can be found using the below link:

https://www.ndis.gov.au/about-us/publications/booklets-and-factsheets

For children under 7, information about the NDIS early intervention funding can be found here:

https://www.ndis.gov.au/understanding/families-and-carers/early-childhood-approach

The 3 Participant Booklets are particularly useful in providing a step-by step guide for applying and maintaining NDIS Funding. 

Step 1. Understanding the NDIS: https://www.ndis.gov.au/media/80/download 

Step 2. Planning: https://www.ndis.gov.au/media/333/download

Step 3. Using your NDIS Plan: https://www.ndis.gov.au/media/336/download

Key Points: 

  • NDIS funding eligibility criteria: Aged 7-65 years of age, live in Australia or have residency, require support due to a disability and the appropriate support will reduce the level of need required in the future. NB: Children under 7 years of age with a disability or diagnosed developmental delay can access NDIS funding through the Early Intervention funding category. To continue to receive this funding from age 7+, a diagnosis such as Intellectual Disability, Autism etc.,  is normally required. 
  • NDIS Plans accepted by the Northern Centre for Child Development are self-managed (i.e., the family manages the funds) or plan-managed (an NDIS plan manager will manage the funds and pay the support providers on your behalf). 
  • An NDIS Plan is typically developed by a local area plan manager in collaboration with the family. Once you have an NDIS Plan, email a copy to us and let us know if it is self- or plan-managed so we can charge you accordingly. 
  • Typically, after a year of receiving services and support, a review of the NDIS Plan and funding takes place. In preparation for this review, the family often requires a report from the child’s therapists outlining their progress and obstacles over the last year. You can ask your psychologist at CCD to write an NDIS Review Report (the best time to ask for this is 3 months prior to the review date). 

Hopefully this hasn’t made you feel more confused than you already were! If you have any questions about the Medicare or NDIS Plan  process, your psychologist or our wonderful admin team will be able to assist you further!

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. In the past, Judy has supported young people experiencing a range of neuro-developmental disorders, anxiety, trauma, social skill and emotional regulation difficulties. Judy values the individual needs of each client and attempts to incorporate their personal interests, strengths and goals throughout therapy. Judy utilises a client-centred approach to her therapy which is grounded in cognitive-behaviour therapy and other evidenced-based techniques.

Judy has a background in providing pastoral care to children and adolescents within educational settings. These experiences have enabled Judy to connect and build relationships with students of all ages, in addition to understanding the challenges typically faced by school-aged children. Judy encourages her clients to take a holistic approach to therapy and values communication with a client’s wider support network. This helps to promote positive client outcomes across all aspects of day to day life. 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.

Raising accepting and inclusive kids

eggs in tray on white surface
By Psychologist Judy McKay

“Some people call me different but what does that mean? We’re all different  in some way, or you would be ME!” – Some Brains, Nelly Thomas

Children are curious, honest and open-minded. As they develop the capacity to understand who they are and compare themselves to others, they might start bombarding you with questions… “Why is?” “Why does xx…” “Why am I…?”. To assist, I have summarised my top 5 tips for helping your child understand and accept children with different needs. 

Parent Modelling

Be cautious of your personal biases and the language (e.g., labels, stereotypes, tone) you may use when talking about people who may be different to yourself (e.g., cultural background, people who are bi-lingual, gender, disability, mental health etc.). Kids are very perceptive and can pick up on these subtle nuances. 

Use child-friendly language and relevant examples

  • Keep it simple 
    1. Point out ways that they are different and the same to you and their siblings, discuss all the similarities they may have with their neuro-diverse peers. 
    2. Use analogies related to their interests e.g., Superheroes. They all have their superpowers and challenges however, they share a common goal to protect others and do good in the world. 

“Put yourself in their shoes”

Encourage them to understand how others have different thoughts and feelings to their own. Talk about situations when someone they know may have been upset, worried or disruptive and why they may have felt that way? 

Point out the strengths in children with different needs

  • Highlight the skills and unique abilities of children who have different needs e.g., 
    1. Their in-depth knowledge of certain topics. 
    2. Their ability to think differently in group work to come up with exciting ideas. 
    3. The different ways they communicate that may not involve talking!

Immerse them in diversity

There are so many beautiful books, tv shows, toys and opportunities in everyday life to experience, enjoy and celebrate the diverse community we are all a part of. 

References

Some Brains – A book celebrating neurodiversity by Nelly Thomas https://www.somekidsbooks.com/

3 Ways to Help Young Children Respect and Accept Diversity – Brookes Blog (brookespublishing.com)

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. In the past, Judy has supported young people experiencing a range of neuro-developmental disorders, anxiety, trauma, social skill and emotional regulation difficulties. Judy values the individual needs of each client and attempts to incorporate their personal interests, strengths and goals throughout therapy. Judy utilises a client-centred approach to her therapy which is grounded in cognitive-behaviour therapy and other evidenced-based techniques.

Judy has a background in providing pastoral care to children and adolescents within educational settings. These experiences have enabled Judy to connect and build relationships with students of all ages, in addition to understanding the challenges typically faced by school-aged children. Judy encourages her clients to take a holistic approach to therapy and values communication with a client’s wider support network. This helps to promote positive client outcomes across all aspects of day to day life. 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.

Siblings of kids with individual needs….what do THEY need?

By Senior Psychologist Kim McGregor

We all want our children to play and get along, especially siblings, as they will be the ones who will be present throughout our lives. But what happens when one child requires more support or has greater needs than another? How we respond to questions, explain the differences and celebrate the uniqueness of us all in a family will have an influence on how children accept and relate to their sibling with different needs. 

It is important to take a whole family approach to the needs and wants of parents and children in a family. Some siblings report that they develop positive qualities unique to having a sibling with different needs such as insight, empathy and independence while others find taking on an extra job as sibling of someone with special needs more difficult, feeling they always have to be the advocate or ‘good one’ to manage the extra stress on the family. 

There are ways to broach the subject and have family discussions to ensure all have a voice, understand differences and are supportive with each other’s need: 

  • Disclosing the diagnosis in an age and developmentally appropriate way to the child affected and their siblings, close family and friends. This can set the stage for open and honest discussions about questions or issues that come up about differences, using books or online resources.
  • Having family meetings to discuss upcoming events or implement approaches to help manage some of the required needs of a sibling. This way all can have a say, give suggestions and explore the impact on the family.
  • Having family schedules and timetables up so that all family activities can be monitored and included. This will also include fun activities eg. family movie & pizza nights, holidays, or respite weekends.
  • Making dates or times for each family member to feel special and choose an activity that they would like to do. Eg. having a name day to themselves, a beach or shopping day or a sibling day!
  • Connecting older siblings into organisations, online supervised chat rooms and sibling days and camps. This can help them connect with others whose families are similar to their own and whom they share their stories with.

Some helpful organisations and books include: 

Siblings Australia https://siblingsaustralia.org.au/ 

Association for Children with a Disability https://www.acd.org.au 

Young Carers – https://youngcarersnetwork.com.au/

Livewire – www.livewire.org.au 

Books:

Sibshops: Workshops for Siblings of Children with Special Needs, by Donald J. Meyer, Patricia F. Vadasy 

Views from Our Shoes: Growing Up with a Brother or Sister with Special Needs by Donald Meye

Everybody is Different: A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers or Sisters with Autism by Fiona Bleach 

This Is Me! I am who I’m meant to be!: Autism book for children, kids, boys, girls, toddlers, parents, teachers and caregivers by Amy Pflueger

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.