Talking to your kids about coronavirus

Written by Amanda Abel – paediatric psychologist and founder of Northern & Hawthorn Centres for Child Development

Well it’s pretty hard NOT to take notice of the toilet paper that’s flying off the supermarket shelves along with hand sanitiser and flour right now. What are your kids saying about it? I wonder what their thoughts are? What have you said to them? Have they asked any questions?

If your kiddos have seen the news, which lets face it, has had pretty graphic imagery of drastic measures being taken to control what is now an epidemic, they might be feeling a little nervous about catching coronavirus. Add to the equation, parents and caregivers encouraging the hand sanitiser a little more than usual, and we are left with some kiddos who are probably pretty confused and anxious.

Here are my tips and thoughts to manage parenting through the coronavirus epidemic without causing undue stress for your kids:

Limit exposure to the media – This is the same as for any disaster, don’t let your kids see the tv or newspapers if you can. Particularly primary school children who don’t have the reasoning skills to understand how this is likely to impact their lives. Remember, the child brain is far less developed that your own. If you are struggling to comprehend the coronavirus epidemic, how do you think your kids are feeling? Unless you are able to censor the coverage and sit down and talk your child through it in an age-appropriate way that helps them understand it, don’t expose them to the media coverage.

Don’t talk about it too much – again, at risk of repeating myself with my piece about the recent Australian bushfires, don’t initiate too many conversations about this. Your kids don’t need to hear the adult perspective of coronavirus and how many deaths there are, what the fatality rate is, and how it started. Contain your anxiety, answer your kids’ questions in terms that are appropriate for them to understand, and focus on more relevant and real issues for their daily life (i.e. homework, friendships, what’s for dinner!). Don’t make it taboo to talk about, but also don’t focus on it.

wash hands

Talk about Likely Vs Unlikely – I use this a lot clinically to help children with anxiety. We talk about perceived threats and try to put them into perspective. I.e. “it’s unlikely that you’ll catch coronavirus right now”. OR “you might catch coronavirus, but it’s unlikely that it will be any worse than a case of the flu like you had last year” etc. As parents, we need to remember to put things in perspective too, and be rational so that our kids don’t pick up on our anxiety.

Give them some control – if your child is really worried, show them how they can follow rational medical advice to help ease their anxiety. At the time of writing, the medical advice is suggesting we focus on washing our hands properly as a preventative measure for contracting coronavirus. Encourage your child to put some measures in place like washing their hands when they get home from school and before they eat. Let them know that this is a helpful way to manage their feelings of stress.


I hope these ideas help, it can be really hard to navigate disasters and epidemics as parents – so reach out for help if you need it.


Amanda Abel, psychologist, is the founder of Northern and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development. She has over fourteen years’ experience working with families and has a special interest in paediatrics, autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays, learning difficulties, disabilities and behaviour management. She has worked in a variety of settings in both the public and private sectors which has allowed her to gain extensive experience helping a wide range of clients.

While working with children witih Autism during her tertiary studies, Amanda developed a particular interest in early intervention for children with autism, developmental delays, disabilities and challenging behaviours. Amanda’s honours thesis investigated the social skills, friendship expectations and attention of high functioning children with autism, and this was presented in 2004 at the 3rd Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Forum, Melbourne.

After her own experience becoming a mother, Amanda undertook the Circle of Security Parenting® (COS-P) training and is now a registered COS-P parent educator. She has now combined her knowledge of behaviour modification with the attachment principles from the COS-P program to provide families with practical strategies that are sensitive and responsive to their child’s emotional needs.



What you need to know about sibling fights – and how to handle them!

If you’re anything like me, you may soon be reaching the point of the holidays where your children are fighting like cats and dogs and the sound of squealing and whining almost has you running for cover.

First point: you’re not alone!

Why? Because ALL siblings fight. Yes, we all know it but sometimes we forget just how normal this behaviour really is.  I know I sometimes have visions of my empathic, angelic children sharing, offering to help each other and working collaboratively……..but the cry of “Mum, he hit me!” snaps me back to reality pretty fast!

kids on beach

All children fight because all people in loving relationships fight. Arguments, disagreements, differences of opinion are a simple fact of being in a family.  Of course, for children this is amplified due to the fact that they are still learning how to negotiate these conflicts.  Not only that, they are still in a more egocentric phase of life than we adults are.  In other words, they find it hard to see past their own desires and to be as empathic and flexible as we can.

So in summary, expect fights. They will happen!

The question is how to handle them when they occur.

Many of us have learned the hard way that playing referee rarely works. Or it doesn’t work for long. What it does achieve, however, is draining our emotional reserves and making us frustrated also!

Here are a few tips to help you manage the remainder of the holiday period:

  1. Notice and praise caring, loving behaviour when it occurs. And BE SPECIFIC – eg. “I can see your brother really felt happy when you shared that donut with him. Well done!”
  2. Try and schedule in some individual time with each of your children. Filling their cup in terms of quality time with each parent will help to stave off those conflicts that come from competing for your attention.
  3. Keep the interest high. Easier said than done over a 4-week break, but keeping the kids engaged can help reduce boredom and thus, fights. Remember that activities do not need to be expensive! A super-mum I know recently did a “playground crawl” with her kids in her local suburbs – she mapped out 7 local playgrounds, set a timer at the start of each one and when the alarm rang, they jumped back in the car and raced to the next one! Kids had an absolute ball (and so did that Mum!). Google can provide lots of activity inspiration, but also things like having a picnic in the backyard, everyone choosing a book and reading in the sunshine, going on a bushwalk, making homemade icypoles, attending your local library holiday program, are all inexpensive ways to keep busy.
  4. Finally, keep your expectations low and BACK OFF. While engagement and activities are great, this also needs to be balanced with down-time. Children need to learn how to occupy themselves when they feel bored. If every minute of their day is scheduled, they won’t know how to sit with quiet, how to let their minds wander or develop creative games. So when you’re feeling mentally tough – back off and leave them to it. It will help them in the long run!

Madeline Sibbing – Psychologist

Madeline is a paediatric Psychologist based at Northern Centre for Child Development in Preston, and a mum of two whose parenting advice comes not only from her work, but the mistakes she has made on her own kids!  Since she can’t be a hip-hop dancer, she figures she has the best job in the world and loves learning from the kids she sees at work every day!

How to tell if your daugther might have Autism Spectrum Disorder

Once upon a time (not too long ago), experts thought that autism spectrum disorder in girls was rare, and if it was present, was most likely associated with an Intellectual Disability and extreme behaviours of concern. Research however has taught us that ASD in girls is much more common that originally thought, and that the current 1:4 ratio of girls to boys diagnosed with ASD may still be missing many girls. There are numerous reasons for this, with the greater ability to imitate and ‘mask’ their symptoms meaning that girls tend to be older when they are diagnosed (if at all).

As a clinician assessing for the presence or absence of ASD, we look for several traits. This can include difficulties with social communication, including difficulties with non-verbal communication (e.g. eye contact, body language, gestures etc.), difficulties in understanding and maintaining relationships with others, and not always being able to read the emotions of others or pick up on social cues. We also see if there are any repetitive behaviours present, such as repetitive speech patterns or body movements, difficulty coping with change, an intense interest area or being hyper or hyposensitive to sensory input from the environment. How these difficulties manifest in girls can be subtle.

girl with leaf

Some possible ‘signs’ of ASD in the female population include:

  • Being the ‘model student’ at school but having intense emotional outbursts once they get home.
  • Being intolerant of change, especially when it is unexpected.
  • Disliking grooming, such as having their hair brushed, particularly as they approach puberty.
  • Seeming bothered by bright lights or certain smells or tastes.
  • Seeming to tire easily.
  • Preferring to play alone, or when they play with others try to dictate the rules. They may also adopt a passive role and rely on another child to guide them and speak for them.
  • Being shy in social situations, often seeming to watch and copy other girls’ behaviour.
  • Having a ‘special interest’ that seems typical for their age, e.g. animals, music or literature- but this interest is much more intense and all-consuming compared to their peers. It may dominate majority of their conversation.
  • Enjoying arranging or organising things.
  • Having a strong imagination and often retreating into a fantasy world.
  • As a younger child, may have appeared to engage in pretend play, but if examined closely resembled a static visual scene (rather than a storyline).
  • Beginning to noticeably struggle socially as the social world becomes more complex (at the onset of adolescence). This may include difficulties in making and keeping friends.
  • Seeming immature for their age, including speaking in a tone of voice like a younger child.
  • Not picking up on the ulterior motives of others due to some social naivety (unfortunately making them “easy prey” for bullying etc.).
  • Experiencing depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or epilepsy (although these can occur in the absence of ASD, those with ASD are more at risk of developing these disorders).

If you are considering ASD as an explanation for a girl or young woman’s presentation, consider if there are a number of ‘signs’ present; whether these have been consistent across her life; and whether they are negatively affecting her everyday life and functioning. If this is the case, it is likely worthwhile pursuing a diagnostic assessment to increase understanding and provide better support for her. Feel free to get in touch with us at NCCD and HCCD if you’d like to learn more about the assessment process.

Olivia Smith is a registered psychologist and is completing her registrar program in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Olivia is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. Outside of her work at NCCD, Olivia works as a clinician in the area of early identification of autism in children (aged 12 to 36 months) at the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University.


What’s normal for a 2 year old?

Children all develop at different rates, and it can sometimes be difficult for parents to know whether their child’s development is typical. For example, other children at mother’s group may appear more advanced than your child, or perhaps a lot of the children in your family were ‘late talkers’. As a parent it is important that you trust your instincts, including suspicions that your child’s development is atypical in some way.

toddler girls

A two-year-old will typically:

  • Frequently make eye contact with family members in a variety of settings (e.g. to ‘check in’, to direct your attention towards something or to request).
  • Respond to their name being called by turning and looking at you.
  • Smile at you when you smile at them.
  • Point to things of interest in books or point to show you something that is out of reach and turn to look at you.
  • Follow another person’s point.
  • Bring things to you to ‘show’ you by holding them at your eye level and looking at you.
  • Copy your actions after you do them (e.g. pretending to sweep the floor).
  • Be using some gestures in their communication, such as nodding for ‘yes’, shaking their head for ‘no’ and waving goodbye.
  • Have between 20 and 50 clear words and is beginning to use two-to-three-word sentences.
  • Follow simple verbal instructions without you needing to gesture.
  • Begin exhibiting some pretend play (e.g. feeding a teddy and putting it to bed) and be able to play for a few minutes by themselves.
  • Show an interest in other children their age and playing alongside them (parallel play).

If you have any concerns about your child’s social development, please do not hesitate to contact your maternal child health nurse or your general practitioner. This will put your mind at ease and ensure that your child gets support if it is needed. We know that the earlier we support children, the better their long-term outcomes.

Olivia Smith is a registered psychologist and is completing her registrar program in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Olivia is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. Outside of her work at NCCD, Olivia works as a clinician in the area of early identification of autism in children (aged 12 to 36 months) at the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University. 

Don’t use reward charts until you’ve read this!

Olivia Smith (NCCD Psychologist) shares her experience and thoughts about how to effectively use reward charts to help your kiddo…

As a paediatric psychologist, some of my caseload involves direct work with parents. Whether it be by life situation, temperament or a developmental difference- some children are more challenging to parent, and that’s okay! Sometimes parents feel they don’t have a good model to draw on from their own experience of being parented or had a vastly different upbringing to their partner. Other children present with behaviours that exceed their knowledge base and additional skills training is needed.

Reward charts are commonly used to encourage the occurrence of positive behaviours, be this in the home or school environment. Like most things in life however, preparation and implementation are key to success. I have worked with many parents who report having tried reward charts, and they haven’t worked; however, this is often due to a lack of planning or inconsistent implementation. Before you reach for the stickers and laminating machine, consider the following:

lightbulb post it

  • It is important that your child is developmentally ready to understand the link between their behaviour, the ‘token’ (for example a sticker on a chart) and the eventual reward that they will ‘earn’. Children at earlier stages of development are not able to understand delayed gratification. Such children will quickly lose interest if getting that star on the chart does not immediately translate to something tangible for them.
  • Decide on a specific behaviour that the reward chart will track. It is important that this behaviour is something the child has the capacity to do, is clearly defined and is a ‘positive opposite’ of the problem behaviour. For example, if your child is always yelling when you ask them to finish on the iPad, your goal behaviour would not be ‘good behaviour’ or to ‘stop yelling’. It instead could be ‘to take three deep breaths when you are asked to stop using the iPad’.
  • Consider what is a reasonable timeframe for the chart to cover. For some children this may be receiving a token for every 2 minutes of playing appropriately with their sibling with the eventual reward earnt after 5 such occurrences- for others, this may be ‘saving’ tokens across the course of a month to ‘purchase’ a larger reward. We want to set children up for success, rather than creating goals that are impossible to achieve.
  • Determine suitable rewards based on different levels of achievement. Rewards do not necessarily need to cost money. They may instead be special privileges, like getting to choose what the family eats for dinner or watches on TV, or activities, such as going to the movies, getting to bake a cake or going to the park. They can also be access to a preferred item. For example, rather than a child having unrestricted access to an iPad, screen time may be dependent on having earnt a certain number of tokens that day.
  • Ensure that the reward is ‘valuable’ to the child- what their preferences are will change over time, hence it is important that rewards update accordingly.
  • Ensure that the token is applied to the chart immediately after the occurrence of the desired behaviour and that you give labelled, specific praise. For example, you may say “you spoke to your sister in a calm voice when you lost the game”, rather than just “good job”. A high-five or hug (if enjoyed by your child) also never goes astray!
  • Do not give tokens if the desired behaviour does not occur, as the child will quickly learn that they will get their reward anyway. Likewise, do not remove tokens- instead if the child does not engage in the desired behaviour, they do not earn a token at that time.
  • As the child becomes more consistent in exhibiting the appropriate behaviour, you can gradually change the goalposts so that they must exhibit the behaviour more often or frequently to earn the same reward. It is important that any changes be discussed with you child prior to being implemented. Ideally, we are working towards the reward chart becoming obsolete and the behaviour becoming a regular part of the child’s everyday life.
  • Finally, parents often express that they don’t want to ‘bribe’ their child to behave appropriately. However, reward charts and bribery are different- this is to do with when the reward is being offered. In a reward chart scenario, the link between the behaviour and the token is made clear to the child prior to any behaviour having taken place. In contrast, in a ‘bribery’ situation the child is usually already behaving inappropriately- and hence a negotiating situation takes place, which teaches the child that they should only comply if they ‘get’ something out of the situation. Timing is key.


Olivia Smith is a registered psychologist and is completing her registrar program in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Olivia is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. Outside of her work at NCCD, Olivia works as a clinician in the area of early identification of autism in children (aged 12 to 36 months) at the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University.



Keep cool with water play!

What’s the best way to beat the heat and keep your kids from the lure of video games and spending their entire summer facing the screen? Splash your way through this summer with these insanely fun water play ideas!

Water Balloon Pop – tie about 40 water balloons onto the clothesline or a tree in two different colours (team colours!) The object of the game is for members of each team to take turns being blindfolded and wearing a hat with a fork attached. They are then verbally guided by their teammates to their team’s colour balloon, and they need to pop the balloon without touching it. This continues relay style until whichever team has popped all their balloons first!

Beach ball race – Grab some beach balls, some squirt guns, and see who can move their ball to the finish line.

Fill the Bucket – you’ll need two teams, a bucket of water, a big sponge for each team, a container to squeeze the sponge into. Each team gets their sponge wet, runs to the other side, and squeezes their sponge into the container. This continues until one team fills their container or you run out of water. The winning team is the one who has the most water in their container, and they get to dump their water onto the losing team!

Duck, duck, SPLASH! This game is a cool twist to an old classic, Duck, duck, goose. Have participants sit in a circle. The child who is the Splasher has a cup of water and walks around saying “duck, duck, duck”, while splashing a little water on each participant’s head (this also teaches them the art of self-control – to not splash too much water if the person isn’t actually going to be chosen!) When he/she gets to the person who is to be tagged, they yell “SPLASH!!!” and spills the rest of the water from the cup onto the person’s head. The person then has to chase the splasher around the circle to beat them back to their spot, or else they are the new Splasher.

Colour hunt & sort – you’ll need ping pong balls, coloured Sharpies, a net/scooper of some sort, and a big tub of water for this activity. First, start by drawing on your ping pong balls; you can put a colourful star on each ball so that you have around five balls in each colour. Next, fill up your tub of water just an inch or two then grab a scooper. Let your little one explore and play, notice and comment on the colour balls your child picks up. You can set up colourful bowls around the water tub and see if your child wants to pick up the balls and place it in the similarly coloured bowl that matches the ball they pick up!black and white water play

If you’ve got a pool, grab pingpong balls or wine corks and write down letters and/or numbers on them, and then drop them into the pool. Have your kids collect the letters of their name, the number that matches their age (or two smaller denominations that equal their age) … the possibilities are endless! You can even write the sight words your child is learning at school, review them, and then get him/her to swim and hunt for the sight words.

We hope this has given you some ideas to beat the heat this summer!

Dr Lydia Soh is a registered psychologist who is a huge Harry Potter fan. Her passion for her work comes from a commitment to helping children and families develop their own toolkit of skills and strategies to achieve positive learning, healthy relationships, and mental wellbeing to lead a fulfilled life. Outside of her clinical work, she tutors at Monash University and spends her free time sweating it out at the gym or binging on the latest TV shows on Netflix.


5 ways to use playdoh with your child

Playdoh – who amongst us hasn’t had a tub (or two… or more realistically, ten) in the house as part of our child’s toybox? Playdoh is a fun and easy material to use with children of different ages, requires minimal set up and clean up, and is sure to keep your children occupied. There are several developmental benefits to playing with playdoh, including creativity and imagination, sensory exploration, and using and developing fine motor skills.

  1. Here’s a great way to use playdoh as a multi-sensory approach to teaching kids about letters and numbers. Let’s use their name as an example. First, write your child’s name on paper as big as you can. Then, show them how to roll the playdoh into ‘worms’ of varying thicknesses and lengths. Then, get them to try to form it to the letter of their name. Once their name is complete, they can even keep rolling more worms (or balls!) to make designs around their name. Not only are they learning how to spell their name, they’re strengthening their hands (through rolling and kneading) and learning about letter/number formation!

play doh child kelly-sikkema-k4xoACkQZiw-unsplash

2. You could also have your child write or trace letters in playdoh with a toothpick or pencil. The resistance that playdoh provides can teach your child about regulating pressure from their hands and fingers, which is good start for developing general pre-writing skills.  Your child will likely benefit from this process of multi-sensory learning – the added sensory input that goes into his/her nervous system when forming the letters and numbers .

3. Playdoh can also be a great tool for teach kids emotional regulation. Give your child a ball of Playdoh and show him or her how to smash it with your fist, then knead it with your hands. Remind your child that feeling anger is perfectly normal and okay! Smashing Playdoh, rather than other inappropriate objects (or people!), is an excellent way to release tension and then continue to engage your child’s senses to calm down afterward.

4. Playdoh can also be used to practice building facial expressions! Laminate a picture of a blank face for easy reuse with playdoh, and you’re ready to explore feelings! Give your child this feeling mat and playdoh to create facial expressions  – they could be used to express how they’re feeling right now, or how they might feel in a given situation. This is a great tool for checking in with your child about their emotional literacy.

5. You could also create a Feelings Caterpillar with multi-coloured Playdoh – this activity is a great way to have open conversations about emotions. Begin by making balls of Playdoh of each colour and placing it in the middle. Each colour of playdoh represents a different feeling, and label the colours with note cards (blue represents sadness, red represents anger, etc.). Take turns to come up with scenarios (e.g., someone laughed at me when I fell down) and choose a colour that represents how each of you might feel in the scenario. Pinch a small piece of playdoh and roll it into a ball to create a segment of their own caterpillar, and give your child a chance to share why they chose that colour. After you’ve read all of the scenarios, talk about the similarities and differences in your child’s caterpillar and your own. Talk about how in the same situation, different people might experience different feelings!

Playdoh is definitely a great teaching and learning tool. Engaging your child’s senses with playdoh can provide a sense of comfort and safety as they broach difficult topics and feelings. For more creative ideas on how to use play in your day to day interactions with your child, check back in with us on our next blog post!

Dr Lydia Soh is a registered psychologist who is a huge Harry Potter fan. Her passion for her work comes from a commitment to helping children and families develop their own toolkit of skills and strategies to achieve positive learning, healthy relationships, and mental wellbeing to lead a fulfilled life. Outside of her clinical work, she tutors at Monash University and spends her free time sweating it out at the gym or binging on the latest TV shows on Netflix.

For  more ideas, or if you’d like specific advice, contact us at NCCD and HCCD to see whether one of our psychologists can help!

Back to school jitters…

Northern Centre for Child Development Psychologist, Madeline Sibbing, gives us some tips about helping kiddos with the anxiety about returning to school for the new year…

Who can believe it’s that time of year already?! I was just wrapping Christmas presents and running out of hiding spots… I’m drowning in name labels and lunch boxes!

Whilst by now many of us see the start of the school year as something of a sweet relief…..(and the end to those siblings fights!)……many of our children will be developing the jitters about returning to school. A new classroom, new teacher, new group of children, new challenges that can be overwhelming for many of our kids.

school bag kids

In our experience there are a few important things that we can do as parents to help reduce the anxiety our kids experience at this transition. And remember – it is probably unrealistic to erase all anxiety completely – but if we can reduce it to a more typical and manageable level, then we have done a great job!  So, here goes:

  1. As parents we often jump into reassurance mode, after all it’s our job to comfort our kids right? But sometimes with these best intentions we can inadvertently make our kids feel like we are not listening to how they really feel. So just take the time to listen. Ask them questions. Do so in a non-judgemental, curious way.  Once you are armed with ALL the information, then you have a better chance of helping your child.
  2. PREPARATION is key. Many anxious kids try to avoid thinking about school until it is upon them so as to avoid feeling anxious! Other children try to control every little detail as a way of managing the chaotic sensations that anxiety brings.  For both these types of kids, preparation and planning is vital.  Try on that school uniform, break in those shoes, take a walk around the school yard if it’s your first year, do a test-run of the drive and drop-off to school.  The more prepared your child can be, the less anxiety they are likely to feel.
  3. There are many other strategies that can help anxious children in general, and these can be particularly useful in the lead-up to the school year. These include: “Worry Time”, whereby you ‘schedule’ time to discuss worries with your child and then aim to leave the worries behind once worry time is over.  A “Worry Box” is a similar strategy – decorate an empty tissue box, and encourage your child to write/draw their worries on a slip of paper and put them “away” in the worry box.  Strategies such as these help children to express their worries and also get them “out” of their head and onto the paper.
  4.   Don’t be afraid to check in regularly with your child’s class teacher.  If, after the initial settling in period, your child is really struggling, one of the most effective strategies in our experience is to enlist the support of a key staff member.  A welfare teacher, Assistant Principal or Learning Support Assistant may be able to meet your child at the gate and spend a bit of time with them, helping them to transition in to the school day.


As always, if you have specific concerns, talk to your child’s Psychologist or give us a call for further support!

7 ways to make dining out with kids easier

Amanda Abel, paediatric psychologist and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development shares some tips for going to restaurants with your kids. 

Go early – this allows you to feed your child at their (presumably) regular eating time and decreases stress because the restaurant is likely to be quieter.

Be clear about the do’s and don’ts – before you go, explain what’s okay and what’s not okay (behaviour-wise) to your child. For instance, “we walk in the restaurant, not run” or “we use quiet voices”; “we keep our feet off the furniture” etc. You may want to put a motivator in place i.e. “if we can follow the restaurant rules, we might stop off for ice cream on the way home!”. Similarly, be clear about consequences for ‘not okay’ behaviour. If your child plays up, calmly take them outside and talk to them as calmly as you can to work out the problem and to find a solution. This is waaaaay easier done when you don’t have the family/friends/co-diners observing you so do what you can to move yourself and your kiddo to somewhere private. This also reduces the chances of your child playing up further out of embarrassment.

Restaurant choice – if you’re not used to fine dining, don’t go anywhere too posh. However these tips will work if you do! Sometimes taking a graded approach to posh restaurants can help i.e. gradually build up the posh factor, starting with a standard restaurant first and each time you go out go somewhere posher!

Take entertainment – whether or not you use devices is your choice but please if you do, TAKE HEADPHONES!!! There is nothing worse for other diners than hearing a child’s nursery rhymes blaring out of an iPad while they’re trying to enjoy their meal! Other successful options are sticker books, or colouring books (remember the pencils etc.!), dry erase activities, origami (if your kiddo is into it!)…You can also ask the restaurant if they have any colouring packs (but be wary – they often charge for them!)

Don’t overstay – kids get bored quickly and easily and it then means that no one enjoys themselves! Get the waiter’s attention and order as quickly as you can. Look at the menu online to speed up the process. Maybe don’t order 3 courses if you think that’s going to be too long for your kiddo to sit at the table for.

Don’t give too much choice – sometimes kids have trouble ordering off the menu. I often recommend giving a choice of 2 from the menu i.e. “do you want the spaghetti or the pizza?”. You don’t have to allow your kids to eat something unhealthy from the kids menu if you don’t want to – just don’t give it as an option. It’s okay to say no!

Movement – some kids just need a good walk around the restaurant to be able to stay calm and happy. It’s perfectly fine to take your kiddo outside for a little break if they need it, or if the venue is suitable, for a wander around the restaurant.

So, in summary, be prepared! Can you tell I’ve been through this many times?! It’s really important to remember that if your child is struggling, you need to stay calm. They feed off our anxiety/embarrassment/shame because it makes them feel uncomfortable and it can then exacerbate their behaviour. So try to get down to their level, connect with them, acknowledge how they’re feeling and devise a solution.

I’d love to hear any tips you guys have, so please let us know if you have any other ideas that might help the families we work with!



Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive. Appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News, regularly featuring in print media, and as a contributor to Finch Publishing’s “Working Mums” book, Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get children thriving. Having worked with children of all ages over the past 20 years and as a psychologist for the past 10 years, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully and help them reach their full potential. Amanda frequently presents at seminars and conferences, most recently at the 7th annual Learning Differences convention in Melbourne and Sydney in 2019.







The screen time tips you need to know about for your kids

Simone Gindidis – Psychologist at Northern Centre for Child Development

Screen time boundaries

As a psychologist, I particularly enjoy using technology such as apps with evidence-based counselling techniques, parenting support, and for clinical assessment.

One question frequently asked by parents relates to screen time recomendations.  This comes as no surprise; research is increasingly showing a relationship between unhealthy technology use and symptoms of poor mental health such as anxiety and depression.  It’s easy to see how parents might become overwhelmed by this information especially given there are so many different screen time suggestions available online and in the media.

So how can you help your children develop a positive relationship with technology?  Australian parenting website RaisingChildren recently published a great set of recommendations that are simple, straightforward, and evidence-based.  The recommendations are outlined below, together with some practical suggestions for how to make them work:

  1. Role model healthy screen use at home. One suggestion for this could involve making sure that no screens are used during family meals.  Studies show that family dinners can have positive benefits for children such as extending their vocabulary and emotional resilience.  Limiting screen time during dinner could therefore help you to connect with your children by maximising your quality time together.
  2. Discover your child’s technology interests. One way to make this happen could involve asking your child to teach you how to use their favourite game or app.  Who knows, maybe you’re a better Fortnite player than you think!
  3. Encourage your child to use good-quality content. This would also be a good way to promote your own digital knowledge – learn where to find information about app quality together with your child.  Questions to guide your process could include:
    • What are other app users saying about this app?
    • How does this game store and use our personal data?
    • Have there been any studies to support this app’s claims?
  4. Negotiate screen time rules as a family. Think about what boundaries work for your family.  Consider what message your child is receiving if the screen time rule set by the family is no televisions during dinner time and you’re still checking Instagram; while discussing boundaries don’t forget to remember the first recommendation and role model healthy use.
  5. Share screen time with your child. Extend on the second recommendation mentioned earlier and instead of only learning about what games or apps your child is using, attempt to share in their technology experiences.  Think about starting a game or a music playlist that can be shared and regularly re-visted.


Keep us posted on how you go with setting some boundaries for your kids! And as always, get in touch if you need more specific guidelines for your family.

Simone Gindidis – psychologist

Simone is a registered psychologist who recently submitted her PhD in Educational and Developmental psychology. She is dedicated to helping children, adolescents and parents achieve positive learning, relationships, and wellbeing across the lifespan. A lover of technology and gaming, she developed a successful e-learning iPad program to support second language acquisition in a private language school. Her PhD research investigated how smartphone apps can be used to support adolescents in therapy. In addition to technology and all things Harry Potter, she has considerable experience working in primary and secondary school environments training teachers and parents in the use of technology to aid communication and learning. She is trained in Cross-Battery Assessment of cognitive and academic abilities and ensures a flexible, responsive approach to providing evidence-based psychological services. Simone is sensitive to cross-cultural issues; fluent in both English and Greek. She is an Associate Member of the Australian Psychological Society, and former representative on the National Committee of Educational and Developmental Psychologists. An occasional lecturer and teaching associate at Monash University in postgraduate psychology and counselling programs, Simone is passionate about marrying the latest research evidence with psychological services.