Many of us are now experts at running virtual meetings and appointments thanks to the COVID pandemic. Yet equally, for many of us the thought of having to adapt to therapy online still remains daunting. This has particularly been the case for our families with younger, pre-school aged children, who might be asking:
Can my child sit and focus online enough for it to be worthwhile?
Can the psychologist be as effective and engaging online?
DOES IT ACTUALLY WORK?
So here are the answers, and some things to think about if you’re weighing up whether to give telehealth therapy a try for your young child.
PARENT SUPPORT – For very young children, most of our work is focused on supporting parents. This means that we can continue to provide families with the same frequency of support, just simply doing so online. We can help families identify challenges in the home, establish appropriate strategies to address the challenges AND even observe parents trialling new strategies with their child via telehealth. Thus, we can coach parents by monitoring and adjusting the strategies over time.
PARENTAL CONSISTENCY – With many parents working from home, this has enabled some parents who would normally be unavailable to now attend sessions. We’ve found this has enabled caregivers to adopt consistent parenting strategies and really target the client’s goals in a focused way. This has led to some incredibly positive results for our clients!
IT’S FUN! Our psychologists have had a LOOOOOOT of practice by now at running sessions via telehealth. We’ve learned how to adapt games and therapeutic activities electronically, and frequently ‘book-end’ our sessions with a fun round of online games that kids seem to love. (OK we love them too – who doesn’t enjoy a round of Uno to finish up a therapy session?)
RESEARCH SAYS ‘YES’ – Research shows universally that therapy provided via telehealth is AS effective and sometimes even MORE effective with children than face-to-face therapy. Why, you might ask? Well, one way it can be more effective is that sometimes parents expect that the psychologist will jump in and do the work with the young child. Through telehealth, however, the parents are taught and empowered to do the strategies themselves. As we know, building up the support system around the child is vital in helping that family to function in the best way possible!
So the answer is……YES! Telehealth therapy can absolutely work for young children and their families, We’ve seen it with our own eyes! It’s just about adapting it to suit each child and their family.
So if you’ve been reluctant up until now – take a leap of faith, and give it a go!
Amanda Abel – Paediatric Psychologist & Founding Director
Earlier this week I received a late-night email from Madeline Sibbing – one of our Principal Psychologists. It was something along the lines of “I can’t (insert expletive!) believe I forgot to write a blog post about RU OK Day – it is this week”. She mentioned how angry she was with herself.
After reminding her not to beat herself up, it got me thinking about the situation we find ourselves in right now and that Madeline’s 2020 RUOK Day blog post would unfortunately still apply this year as we still find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic, juggling remote learning and working from home. But this time it is different. This year we are all exhausted. We’ve been playing this juggling game intermittently here in Melbourne for 18 months now – with little teasers of ‘freedom’ in between the 6 lockdowns we’ve had so far. And as for the rest of Australia and the world – everyone is struggling in some way or another as a result of COVID.
There’s no doubt that COVID and lockdowns have significantly impacted parents. In fact, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in June 2021 that 23% of women experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress due to the pandemic, compared with 17% of men. The same survey also found that more Victorians experienced psychological distress than the rest of Australia. And here we are again – locked down, working from home and remote learning. But this time, we are seeing the impact that 2020 – and the continuation of the pandemic, has had on our children. Hospitals are seeing a significant increase in child and youth mental health admissions, and our mental health system is overloaded with demand for services. Many of the parents I’ve spoken to clinically are experiencing stress about work, guilt about their children’s education and are mentally and physically exhausted.
I share this story with you because Madeline’s feelings of anger at herself might ring true to you. We need to accept that this is NOT a normal situation to be in. We can’t expect ourselves to perform to our usual high standard, remember everything, be the teacher to our kids, support our family and come out of the other side of this pandemic in one piece.
So please, have a read of last year’s RU OK Day blog post, where in 2020 Madeline reminded us to check in with our friends who are struggling. This is still applicable today unfortunately.
And if you need some ideas to keep going through the remainder of this lockdown take some simple steps to help your body’s natural response to stress kick in:
Slow your breathing down – inhale for a count of about 5, hold, then exhale for a count of 10. Ensure your ribcage and abdomen expand.
End your shower with cold water or immerse your face in cold water
Engage in non-screen-based activities that you really enjoy
Some general ideas that can help parents who are working from home with little remote learners by their sides are:
Set aside time to play and connect meaningfully with your kids (make a list if you find it hard to think on the spot)
Get physical daily – even if it is dancing with the kids or playing chasey
Spend time in nature – which is known to reduce stress
Give yourself permission to say ‘no’ to extra work demands
Allow yourself dedicated ‘worry time’ – try not to think about work stress until your designated ‘worry time’ each day. This allows you to be more present with your kids and contain your stress so that your reactions to the kids can be focussed on their emotional needs rather than a response to your own stress.
Try mediating apps (Headspace is great, or even try YouTube for some freebies) – there are some super short 3-minute mediations that you’ll be able to fit in. You can even try embedding meditation into the daily routine with the kids so they can reap the benefits too.
Be flexible in your working habits, with later or earlier starts or day swaps if needed and if possible.
Increase structure into your workday by forming some WFH routines (coffee breaks, lunch with the kids etc.).
You can also increase structure into your kids’ lives which reduces anxiety and difficult behaviours – things like visual schedules, reward charts and house rules can work a treat if used consistently.
Try to embed fun into your lockdown life. Have a picnic in front of the TV for dinner or camp in the back garden. As important as structure is, we also need some variation to keep a sense of novelty in our lives!
Remember, this won’t be forever so it can help to find solutions that simply work for now. If you need to let things slip a bit with the kids, then that is absolutely what you should be doing. At the end of the day, the most important thing your family needs is to know that you’re all loved – and for your kids to understand that they are a priority in your life. If choosing not to argue over your child’s schoolwork means that you’ll all still be talking to each other by the end of the day, then that’s the option to take. Help is available at Parentline Victoria on 13 22 89, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 or Lifeline 13 11 14. You can also speak to your GP about a referral to see a psychologist for ongoing support.
Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD). She consults monthly in Beechworth in North-East Victoria. Amanda frequently presents at both academic and parenting events, most recently at the 7th Learning Differences Convention in Melbourne and Sydney in 2019 as well as many other events hosted by PR companies in Melbourne. Amanda is media trained, appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly features in print media. As a contributor to Finch Publishing’s “Working Mums” book, Amanda shared her insights about juggling a business and parenting.
Home learning- here we are AGAIN! We have had to engage in homeschooling on and off for over a year now, and let’s face it we are all just a little bit over it. Below are some helpful tips to try and make this experience just a little easier for you right now.
Plan your day! It is much harder to start work when you have a big pile of things to do, and no idea where to start. Just like at school, separate each subject into planned time. If you do not get through all the tasks in that allocated slot- that’s ok!
2. Quality over quantity!
When sitting down to do work, we know that children (and adults/ psychologists writing this blog) can procrastinate and put things off. The number of hours sitting and doing work does not always reflect learning skills.
When it is time for your child to complete their school tasks, engage in short periods of quality work time and include break time so they can switch off, before re-engaging again. Again, if you don’t get through all of the work, that’s ok! You can always come back to it later.
Children need movement breaks and learning breaks to help them reset and focus. Just as we have breaks during a regular school day, these are as important at home. As lockdowns drag on we notice children being less diligent with this and staying cooped up in their rooms more. Make sure to include movement breaks into your schedule.
Having to engage in the bulk of our learning in the home environment is HARD. Set up a reward system for you child to motivate them throughout the week. Rewards can include ‘student of the week’ and other certificates, getting to choose the meal for family take away night, finishing ‘school’ early for the day or a special treat.
For some children, they may need reward for a particular target behaviour or skill. For example, if they can apply the teacher’s feedback before the end of the school day they will get a reward.
With the unpredictability of 2021, life can be stressful and overwhelming. Whilst we may have been given a mountain of remote learning tasks, it is so important to include self care and down time into your day. Just as we schedule ‘school work’ into our days, we really need to be scheduling downtime, to relax, socialise and engage in physical activity. Your children will also be less likely to avoid their school work, when given enough downtime to balance out their day.
You are only one person, and chances are, you’re working from home yourself. Have some realistic expectations of what you can practically achieve for the day, whilst maintaining your sanity!
In the second part of her “Should I tell my child with ASD about their diagnosis?” series, Emily Coen is back again. This time, for those of us who feel like we may be ready to share our child’s diagnosis Emily has some advice on how to go about it!
What should I say?
It is most important that you stay positive about Autism Spectrum Disorder. Everyone with an ASD diagnosis is completely unique and therefore it is important that each conversation is individualised to the child themselves. Everyone is different in their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and personality. Differences should be discussed in a matter of fact manner, using concrete examples from the child and their peers.
Most children will have a lot of questions, so start with minimal information, remembering that we can always continue the discussion as they learn more about themselves. There are some fabulous books you can read with your child such as:
Some brains:A Book celebrating Neurodiversity. Nelly Thomas
All My Stripes: A story for Children With Autism. Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer
Different like Me My book of Autism Heroes. Jennifer Elder and Marc Simon Thomas
My Brother Charlie. Holly Robinson Peete
Some families find it easier to have a professional begin the conversation with the child, allowing the family members to play a supportive role. The professional can also gauge the child’s reaction, and provide further tips to the parents to best support the child.
If you do wish for one of our fabulous psychologists to assist you with this conversation, please do not hesitate to give reception a call and book an appointment today.
Here in the clinic, we come across this question all the time. Should I tell my child about their diagnosis? When is the right time to tell my child? What resources should I have ready for them?
Many parents feel anxious around informing their child of their ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis, for fear that it will give them a label that might make the child feel different from others. Parents often go through a range of emotions when their child is given a diagnosis – grief, relief, acceptance, and many more. And of course each parent’s emotional experience is unique. You may fear that your child will not understand, that your child may become angry that they have a diagnosis, or you may fear that the child will view themselves differently overall. Our hope is that after your child receives their diagnosis, you as the parents are provided with the necessary support to be able to understand the diagnosis and to advocate for and assist your child, in the best way possible.
Are there any benefits to sharing the ASD diagnosis with my child?
We think so! First and foremost, children need to be able to have an understanding of themselves and their needs so that over time, they can learn to advocate for themselves.
Children with an autism spectrum diagnosis should also have the chance to understand, accept and appreciate their uniqueness, which can occur once they learn of their diagnosis. Quite often, we find that understanding the label also leads to a sense of belonging, and knowing that there are other children out there who are similar to them and really “get” them.
Particularly for older children who have better insight, knowledge of their ASD diagnosis can also build a stronger sense of self-esteem. This is because some young people are often already aware that they experience some areas of difficulty compared to many of their peers, such as socialising or tolerating change. Knowing about their diagnosis often provides them with an explanation of WHY they have these challenges. It can provide relief for them to know that it is the ASD and not simply a lack of effort that cause these challenges.
So when do I tell my child?
Unfortunately, there is no magic age when it is best to tell a child about their diagnosis. This will be completely dependent on the child.
As with all children, their personality, abilities and social awareness are important factors to consider when determining when a child is ready to learn about their diagnosis. In the clinic, I often hear questions such as “why do I come to see you?”, “why is it so hard for me to make friends?” and “why can’t I be like everyone else?” These questions are a good indication that your child is ready to learn about their diagnosis.
For info about HOW to tell your child, read Part Two of Emily’s article in the next blog post!
Jump on any Facebook parenting forum, type in the key words “prep” or “what age to start school” and no doubt you will be inundated with pages and pages of posts, conversations and opinions on this very topic. When faced with so much information, it can feel quite overwhelming and sometimes complicate your decision-making process even more than before!
So with that in mind, here are some of our top tips to help you formulate your decision. This advice is based on our experience as paediatric psychologists and decades of collective experience working with young children.
Listen to your kindergarten teachers
It is around this time of year that parent-teacher interviews are held, with the specific aim of identifying whether your child appears ready to start school next year. You know your child best of course, but kindergarten teachers also have a great grasp of the range of typical development, and the particular skills required for school readiness. So use their expertise and bounce your thoughts and ideas off them!
Try and ignore sweeping generalisations
These might be “boys are less mature so should always wait an extra year” or “shy girls won’t cope in the school environment”. Hearing these types of comments can make us question our gut instincts, but are rarely helpful. Your child is unique and stereotypes like that should not apply!
Speaking of ‘gut instincts’…..
……this is the time to trust them. As a parent of two children, both of whom have birthdays after January, I was faced with this tough decision twice. And I chose to send one child at 4 years and keep the other one back until they were 5. Why? Because my partner and I just felt, in our gut, that one of them needed that extra year and one just didn’t. Both kids have absolutely thrived in their own way.
Think about the end-game.
The decision you make now will also impact your child when they start secondary school in Year 7, as well as when they come to completing Year 12. Keep in mind the impact of your decision at those key developmental milestones as well as just entry into primary school.
Be specific about the skills you want them to have before starting school.
Think carefully about WHY you are leaning towards your decision. Is it that you feel your bright child is very bored and acting up, so would benefit from the stimulation of the primary school environment? Or is your bright child still struggling to develop their emotional regulation and social skills and would benefit from another year in pre-school to do this? Again, this is where kinder teachers can be super helpful. Speak to them about what you observe at home and what they see at kinder – and, if needed, seek their advice on strategies you can use to help your child develop the required skills.
My final piece of advice is simply this: no decision is written in stone. Yes of course we want to get it right the first time, but if things don’t go to plan, there are a multitude of school staff, pre-school teachers, psychologists and other therapists who can help you forge a different pathway.
All children experience worries, fears and anxiety to some degree. In fact, some anxiety is shown to be helpful (e.g., protecting us from danger, kickstarting us to study, practice and perform under pressure or to prepare for important events). However, when a child’s worries become persistent, when they start to affect daily functioning and prevent them from doing the things that they enjoy, we might start to have some concerns. Research suggests that anxiety disorders affect between 6-7% of children and adolescents. Below are some simple ways to help children manage their anxiety, by: noticing, normalising and talking about anxiety with them.
Noticing physical and emotional changes – Things like somatic complaints, changes in confidence, sleep difficulties, appetite changes, more attached to parents and overthinking.
Labeling and acknowledging their anxiety – For example “that feeling you are describing sounds a little bit like something called anxiety and I completely understand why you might be feeling worried and nervous right now”.
Normalise what they are feeling – For example “this reminds me of a time when I felt worried (I was ….) (I felt…)”.
Providing recognition for conquering fears – Noticing when they were really nervous and worried about something but they overcame it and did it anyway.
So if your kiddo seems a bit anxious in recent times, try these four simple steps to start them on the road to identifying and challenging their anxious feelings!
References: Creative Ways to Help Children Manage Anxiety – By Dr Fiona Zandt and Dr Suzanne Barrett.
We know that many of our CCD parents are juggling their own work, getting their kids to school and to various appointments all in the same day. Given this, finding the time to upskill in child development and parenting skills may not always seem feasible. So here are some recommended parenting podcasts that you can listen to on the go. They each contain short, informative and professional informed advice that you can soak up during the school run!
Parental as Anything – Maggie Dent
Maggie Dent is an Australian parenting author and educator. She’s an advocate for kids and parents alike and embodies a common-sense approach to parenting. In her podcast, she talks to parenting experts and gives you practical tips and answers to your real-world parenting dilemmas.
A Different Brilliant – Orion Kelly
Orion Kelly combines his lived experience and expert advice to highlight the strengths, interests and aspirations of the autistic community. This podcast is made for autistic adults and parents of kids on the autism spectrum.
Happy Families – Dr Justin Coulson
A podcast for parents who want all the answers but don’t have any time! In each short, easily digestible episode Dr Justin and his wife Kylie will address a specific family topic, offer expert advice and provide simple parenting strategies.
Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting – Dr. Lisa Damour Raising kids can be a bumpy, stressful and uncertain process which is why Lisa’s podcast brings her sane, informed, and practical perspective to your timely and timeless parenting questions. USA based.
Listenable – Dylan Alcott and Angus O’Loughlin
In their podcast, Dylan and Angus speak to people living with disabilities about their lives to educate and break down the stigma associated with disability. This podcast is targeted more towards adults,however the following episodes are recommended:
At the centre we work with parents that are ready to do whatever it takes to ensure the best for their children. But, when the subject of parent self-care is raised this is often dismissed as unnecessary, not the current focus and sometimes even selfish. We know raising children is an incredibly important job, but looking after yourself helps you do the job well and allows you to give your children what they need to grow and thrive.
It is all too common to see a self-care post on popular social media sites that highlights the need to ‘treat yourself’ with bubble baths, long walks on the beach or bingeing the latest Netflix series. While these activities are important and can leave you feeling great, they are not reflective of true self-care and can often leave parents feeling that self-care practices are frivolous and/or selfish.
True self-care is a broad concept focused on improving your physical and emotional wellbeing and involves any action you do to improve your health. Self-care tends to fall under the following six categories:
When discussing self-care with families at our practice, the focus is often on practices that fall under these categories and support them in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Examples of self-care that may not be as readily posted about can include staying active, eating balanced meals, getting as much rest as you can and prioritising tasks to manage your stress levels.
A further reason to prioritise your self-care is that self-care and mental health are strongly connected. When parents do not make their self-care a priority we can observe increased signs of stress and burnout. Parents can manage stress by using routines, staying connected to others and making time for themselves. Even a few minutes alone for a cup of tea or some breathing exercises can help bring your stress levels down. If feelings of stress continue, parents can also access their own mental health support.
Parents are often so focused on caring for their children that they do not always take time for themselves. But when you take time to care for yourself every day, you are looking out for your loved ones. And, as some might say, you’re giving them the best of you rather than what’s left of you.
How do children learn to become independent and contribute to the household? The key is to start early, by building independence while they are young and harnessing that enthusiasm that young children have to “help” or “do it myself!” If you’re having trouble letting them step up, or unsure of how to go about it, here are three top tips to get you started!
Give them choice – Kids love feeling in control of their decisions. Providing them with 2 options instead of telling them what they need to do can be a simple and effective strategy to build autonomy. It can also be useful when encouraging your child to do something they don’t want to do (e.g., You need to have a bath and eat your dinner so which would you prefer to do first?).
Develop their sense of responsibility – Allocate them a special job or role within the family system (e.g., Feeding the dog, unpacking the dishwasher or watering the pot plants). Encourage them by praising their efforts. You could also track their success with a star chart with a reward they are working towards.
3. Encourage Exploration - Once you feel that your child has developed a sense of safety and security (i.e., they have a safe and protected place to return to if they venture too far), it’s time to let them explore their surroundings and to test their limits outside the safety net you can provide. Show confidence in your child’s abilities and let them know you think they can do it!
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.
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.