Explaining face masks to kids

Although they are not mandatory for children aged younger than 12 years in Victoria, many families are keen for their children to wear face masks to protect them from COVID-19. Getting them to do so, however, can be a challenge, as can helping children adjust to seeing others (including their parents and carers) wearing masks when out in public. Here are a few tips to explain to kids why this is happening, and to help them get used to the idea of wearing one themselves (please keep in mind that it is inappropriate and dangerous to put a mask on a child aged 2 years or younger): 

  • Explain to your child in a developmentally appropriate way why we wear face masks- they stop germs from spreading. Try and relate this to previous discussions you may have had, such as about hand washing and social distancing. 
  • Younger kids may appreciate discussions around different ‘superheroes’ who wear masks, and that we too can be ‘superheroes’ and help keep other people safe. Some children will enjoy being given the ‘job’ of reminding other family members to put on their masks when leaving the house. 
  • Younger kids may enjoy practicing wearing face masks at home, putting them on their toys, taking ‘selfies’ and looking at themselves in the mirror. All these things help to normalise them for kids. 
  • For older children, you can talk more about this being an act of sacrifice for the greater good, and the importance of working together as a community. 
  • Letting children have some say regarding the colour or pattern of their mask (whether these be purchased or made at home) will likely make them feel as though they have some autonomy, and hence will increase the likelihood of compliance. 

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and 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. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.

Why you should ‘fit your own mask before helping your child’…..

While interstate travel and overseas holidays are postponed for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to remind all parents of important pre-flight safety instructions:

In an emergency, parents should fit their own oxygen mask before helping their children.

This advice may go against your parental instinct; however, a child’s well-being depends on the well-being of their parents and caregivers. In the time of a global pandemic, this has never been more important. 

With Victoria in lockdown again, many parents are confronted with increased stress arising from health and safety concerns, increased demands of remote learning, balancing work obligations, greater financial strain, and lockdown fatigue. With all of these worries it is completely understandable that parents are feeling overwhelmed. These responses, while completely understandable, may make it difficult to maintain the stable, and secure “home base” your child needs during this crisis. 

What does this mean for parenting during a pandemic?

While many parents put their needs last, it is important that you take care of yourself. Parenting is an important and challenging job, that is made even more difficult by the pandemic and associated stressors. When you take care of yourself physically, emotionally and mentally you can more effectively give your children what they need to thrive. When you look after your own wellbeing, you can foster resilience and be responsive and compassionate to your child’s emotional needs. Plus, you are modelling the importance of self-care so your children can learn from your example!

Self-care during the COVID-19 lockdown

Self-care is defined as the practice of taking actions to maintain or improve your own health and wellbeing, especially during periods of stress. 

Lockdown and social distancing have likely hindered common coping strategies (e.g.  visiting family and friends) therefore it is even more important that you continue practicing self-care. You may need to get creative or consider new activities to use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some examples of self-care activities that may help you maintain good health and improve your well-being. 

FIVE SELF-CARE IDEAS 

  1. Physical Self-Care:  Exercise by going on a walk, eating healthily and at regular time intervals, reduce screen use before bed to improve sleep quality.  Try a youtube dance class, parkour move or jump on a bike with the kids!
  • Psychological/Emotional Self-Care: Write in a journal to help reflect on your day, complete a mindfulness exercise, practice deep breathing, re-read a favourite book or watch a movie, revisit an enjoyable hobby (e.g.  play a musical instrument), watch a funny youtube clip that makes you LOL!
  • Social Self-care: Schedule a regular phone call or facetime with a friend, check in on relatives, schedule something fun with your kids – maybe a picnic in the backyard or “The Floor is Lava” indoors on a rainy day!
  • Spiritual – Write a list of things your grateful for, go into nature (subject to lockdown restrictions), meditate, try yoga.  
  • Covid-19 specific self-care:  Limit your daily consumption of Covid-19 news media.

Remember – not only is it okay to care for yourself, it is in fact recommended as happy, balanced parents are one of the building blocks of happy, balanced kids!

Rebecca Loizou is a psychologist at the Northern and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development.  Rebecca is passionate about working with children and adolescents. She believes in working collaboratively with families, schools and other professionals in order to create strong support systems for young people.    Rebecca has experience working with a variety of clients presenting with developmental and mental health challenges. 

Tackling toilet training

Toilet training can be both an exciting and stressful time, and it can be hard to know when it’s the right time to begin! Using the steps below, parents can determine a child’s readiness and start working towards a successful toilet training experience.

Signs that your child is ready

Many children show signs of being ready for toilet training between approximately two to three years of age, but this can vary greatly between children.  It is best to focus on whether your child is showing interest in learning about the toilet and has the gross motor abilities to independently use the toilet.  These behaviours offer a better indicator of when your child is ready and increases the likelihood of a successful learning experience.

Signs of toilet training readiness can include:

  • Sitting and walking independently for short periods of time.
  • Pulling pants up and down without assistance.
  • Understanding and following simple instructions.
  • Having dry nappies for two or more hours.
  • Appearing to dislike wearing a nappy, this may be seen through attempts to pull the nappy off after use.
  • Expressing interest in the toilet, such as following people to the toilet or watching parents on the toilet. 
  • Expressing with words or gestures when or just before they are weeing or pooing in their nappy.

Selecting a Space and Time for Toilet Training

If your child is showing signs that they may be ready to start toilet training, it is important to consider the space that they will be learning in and ensure it is easily accessible. 

Strategies for making a toileting area accessible can include ensuring your child is able to access the space without parent assistance and addressing any fears your child may have about using the toilet. Some children worry about using the toilet for the first time as they are afraid of falling in! Taking extra time to understand and address worries can make a huge difference to your child’s toilet training experience.

Just as considering the space your child is learning in is important, so is selecting the time in which you begin toilet training. Starting toilet training at a time when there are no major changes coming up in your family life is important for reducing pressure on both your child and yourselves!

Preparing for Toilet Training

Before starting toilet training it can be helpful to prepare your child for using the toilet. 

Some helpful tips for preparing your child can include:

  • Teaching the child words to express the act of using the toilet, such as ‘wee’, ‘poo’, ‘potty’ or ‘toilet’. 
  • Verbalising and modelling your behaviours when going to the toilet so that the child can learn to recognise this process.  
  • Allowing your child to try sitting on the toilet or potty without going to help them become familiar with the space.
  • When changing your child’s nappy, demonstrate taking the dirty nappy to where the child will be toileting to help them understand what this is for.

Starting toilet training

When beginning toilet training it is important to go at the child’s pace. Some children may learn this skill faster or slower than others. If your child does not seem interested in the toilet or is actively resistant, it is far better to hold off on toilet training for a later time so as to avoid creating a negative association. 

Steps for starting toilet training:

  1. Establish a routine
    Dedicate specific times throughout the day for your child to sit on the toilet for a few minutes to help them become familiar with the routine of toileting. It can be helpful to choose times when the child is more likely to need the toilet, such as when they first wake up, after lunch or before bed.
  2. Reduce the use of nappies during the day
    To assist your child in learning to recognise when they need the toilet it can be helpful to use training pants, cloth nappy covers or even underwear to help them to recognise when they are wet. Many children are not night-trained until around five years of age, so it is important to continue using a nappy at night and during daytime naps until the child is ready.
  3. Dress your child in easy to take off clothing
    To promote independence when using the toilet, it is helpful to dress your child in clothes that they can easily remove themselves should they decide to use the toilet. 
  4. Provide consistent encouragement and reinforcement
    As children learning to toilet cannot always control when they can and cannot go, it is important to initially praise your child just for sitting on the toilet. As your child becomes more familiar with the toilet, gradually reduce praise for sitting and begin praising attempts and successes. 

Armed with this information you are ready to start the big and exciting process of toilet training! Remember, the goal is to make toilet training as positive and natural as possible. Remaining calm and encouraging throughout the process promotes the chances of a successful learning experience.

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. 

Surviving remote learning and working from home

It is the ultimate parental juggling act- trying to keep your own career afloat, whilst also keeping the kids on track with their education. It is a huge ask of anyone (and hopefully a unique situation we will not encounter again in future!) What can parents do to make their lives a little easier? 

  1. Create a solid routine with your children’s input, factoring in time for outside play, quiet time, rest, and social connections (for example, video calls with friends or relatives). 
  2. If possible, have clear ‘zones’ in the house that differentiate workspaces. In small spaces, this might mean putting a tablecloth on the kitchen table during ‘work time’ or wearing a hat as a visual cue to your child that you are ‘at work’. Some parents find it helpful for their child to wear their school uniform as a cue that it is time for schoolwork. 
  3. Have a clear plan with your children regarding what times you will be free to assist them, and what they should do if they don’t know what to do (e.g. write a question in an “ask me later” workbook for older children, and creating a list of other tasks they can do in the meantime). This would include a discussion around what is an ‘urgent’ situation, and how you would prefer your child to get your attention when an ‘urgent’ situation does occur. You could support this by setting alarms, so they know when your ‘work time’ begins and ends. 
  4. If you have a partner, co-parent, or support person you share caring responsibilities with, try to ‘share the load’ as much as possible. For example, one parent might try to complete their work on weekends, or you may have ‘shifts’ where one works in the first half of the day and the other in the second half of the day. 
  5. Set up the house so that the kids have access to things you want them to be using, and not to things you do not want them to be using! This might mean packing a lunchbox as you usually would for school and packing away school-related things when the school day is over. 
  6. Be realistic in your expectations, and kind to yourself if not everything goes to plan. This was always going to be tough with ups and downs along the way. No-one is expecting you to take the place of your child’s teacher, and their teacher is there to support you through this unusual time. 

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and 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. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.

How to make the most of therapy via telehealth

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have found ourselves doing our jobs very differently (if we are lucky enough to be able to work in these uncertain times). Once upon a time I never would have foreseen myself doing ‘telehealth’- that is, delivering health services remotely via digital and telecommunication means- as a child psychologist. As it turns out, we are more adaptable than we think, and necessity has led to us all developing new skill sets. 

Part of the changing landscape is the mainstream use of telehealth appointments. Such a change can provoke some reticence, which is only natural, but I would encourage families to give it a go. For some of the families we work with its success has been a pleasant surprise, and some children even prefer telehealth to face-to-face appointments. It is also good to be able to keep some sense of ‘normality’ and routine going during such a disrupted period, as well as giving children additional support at a challenging time. 

We can work on most things via telehealth that we would do in a face-to-face appointment (aside from some assessments which are only able to be conducted face-to-face). Many parents of young children have found it helpful to utilise these restrictions as an opportunity for some parent support sessions also. 

Based on experience, here are our top three suggestions to maximise your telehealth experience: 

  1. Find a quiet, contained space for your therapy session with minimal distractions (e.g. siblings, food, TV). For younger children, we request that parents remain on hand to assist as required; for older children, consider where is best in terms of privacy. If you are unsure, consider what your usual face-to-face format is (i.e. whether you attend the session with your child or wait in the waiting room). 
  2. You may be emailed prior to the session requesting that certain materials be available, such as paper and pencils- if you can have these handy it would be greatly appreciated. 
  3. Explain to your child how it might be a little bit different speaking to someone over the computer and answer any questions they may have. There are some positives too- they can show their psychologist some of their favourite things or their pets! 

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and 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. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist. 

What does anxiety look like in kids?

Anxiety is a normal part of life and can affect anyone, including children. While many children will exhibit fearful and anxious behaviours, in most cases this is short-lived and goes away after a while.

Some examples of typical worries at different stages can include:
● Babies and toddlers fearing loud noises, strangers and separation.
● Preschoolers fearing being alone, big animals and the dark.
● School-age children fearing needles, going to the doctor and supernatural things (like monsters or ghosts).


While many children learn ways to cope with their fears and worries, some children experience anxiety more intensely and more often than other children their age. As parents and carers, it is sometimes hard to know the difference between typical worries and something more.

Signs of Anxiety in Children
If a child is experiencing anxiety they might:
⇒ Express excessive worrying
⇒ Experience difficulty sleeping at night or have vivid nightmares
⇒ Appear restless or fatigued during the day
⇒ Experience difficulty concentrating
⇒ Appear to become easily frustrated, irritated or upset
⇒ Seek a lot of reassurance from caregivers
⇒ Express physical symptoms, such as stomach pains or headaches

When questioning whether your child is exhibiting a typical or clinical level of anxiety, it can be helpful to consider whether their anxious behaviour is stopping them from doing what they want or is interfering with their friendships, schoolwork or family life. Clinical anxiety can impact on a child’s happiness and health, so if your child is displaying persistent signs of anxiety it is important to seek professional help.

Laura Moresi is a psychologist at the Northern and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development, and is currently 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.

Keeping Kids Busy During The Weekly Supermarket Shop

Something I consistently come across in my work with parents of younger children is the dreaded trip to the supermarket. Whether it is refusal from the child to go, resistance during the shop or the unfortunate event of a meltdown in the middle of your supermarket, shopping can be an incredibly stressful experience for parents. In my practice I often refer to going to the supermarket as a ‘high-risk’ situation for parents, and as such it is important to come prepared.

One quick way to reduce resistance during the weekly supermarket shop is to establish a specific task for your child. Tasks can be adjusted to the age of your child and can be made as simple or complicated as need. Examples of tasks include preparing a shopping list for the child to check off during the shop, allocating specific items that the child is responsible for getting or assigning particular items that the child must work out the best bargain for. While adding more responsibilities to an already resistant child can seem counterproductive, providing them with a sense of purpose and achievement throughout the shop is a great way to keep a child engaged and out of mischief.

child in supermarket

If supermarket shopping is particularly difficult for your child, another helpful way to reduce the pressure on yourself and your child is to have a prepacked small bag of games or activities. These can include anything from activity books, playdoh, colouring sheets or action figures. It is essential that whatever items you pick, these are not something that the child regularly has access to at home. It is also recommended to pick toys that do not have small parts that can easily get left behind during a big shop. Having a prepacked bag that can be stored in the car and easily taken out at the shops is a great to reduce the pressure of a big shop.

Last but not least, if you are feeling particularly creative another great way to keep children entertained during your supermarket shop is to make a game out of your surroundings. Asking your child if they can guess what item is next in the trolley from your clues or to spot which of their snacks has a particular letter, number or colour in the packaging is a great way to entertain and teach at the same time.

Remember, whichever activity you choose, the more fun and inclusive you make it, the more likely your child is to stay engaged during your shop.

 

Laura Moresi is a psychologist at Northern and Hawthorn Centre for Child Developmentand is 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.

How to teach your child to share

‘Sharing is caring’- how often do we say that to kids?! Parents often bemoan the fact that their child seems unwilling to share things with their siblings or their peers at playgroup or day care. Sharing is an important skill that we use throughout our lives- so how do we teach kids to do it with minimal fuss?

children playing chalk

The first thing to remember is that it is developmentally appropriate for children younger than 3 years old to be possessive of their things. They are still in what we term the ‘egocentric stage’- that is, the belief that the world revolves around them and everything belongs to them. It is unreasonable to expect very young children to share, and indeed their play at these ages tends to be ‘parallel’ in nature.

So, what about when they are older then? Here are some suggested tips:

  • Remember that sharing is a skill that is learnt like any other, so your child needs opportunities to practice it, as well as your praise and encouragement.
  • Model sharing and turn taking yourself (in your interactions with your child and with others)
  • Support them in play by talking them through the steps (e.g. “I’ll put the square in first, then you can do the circle”).
  • Before other children come over to play, talk about that they will need to share some things (and put away any very ‘special’ toys).
  • If two children are fighting over a toy, remove that specific toy for a short period of time.
  • Remind them how they would feel if they did not get to have a turn.
  • Use a timer (e.g. they can play with it for 2 minutes before it is the next child’s turn).
  • Use language around ‘turn taking’ rather than ‘sharing’. Also remember that a child may be confused when you say they are ‘sharing’, but then do not get that thing back (e.g. if you ‘share’ their biscuit!). Try to keep your language as clear as possible.
  • Sometimes take a step back and let them develop their negotiation skills- they will get there with practice!

 

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist at Northern & Hawthorn Centre for Child Development and 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. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.

 

Help! I think my child is entitled: Ways to keep your kids’ feet on the ground

Olivia Smith, educational and developmental psychologist at Northern & Hawthorn Centre for Child Development shares some insights for you…

It can be a confronting realisation for parents: you buy your child yet another toy, or clean up after them, and there is not one ounce of gratitude. You might reflect that your own childhood was completely different- why does your child not realise how lucky they are?

Changes over time mean that more children are (often inadvertently) spoilt than ever. Parents tend to be more time poor and lack the energy to ‘fight’ their kids; they want to give their child all the things they did not have as kids; and modern technology, in which everything is available at the click of the button, means this generation is not used to the idea of having to wait. And yet we know that children who are ‘entitled’ usually end up unsuccessful and unhappy as adults. So how do we address this?

 

child in tiara

 

  • First, remember that you are your child’s parent, and not their friend. Your job is to prepare them for life as an adult, which may result in disappointments along the way. It is okay for your child to not always ‘like you’. In the long-term, children feel more secure when clear limits are in place.
  • Be clear in your expectations of your child and stay firm. Do not engage in arguments with them, ignore ‘whining’ and stay calm.
  • It is okay to say ‘no’. Experiencing some adversity allows us to grow.
  • It is reasonable to expect your child to do things they can do themselves. If needed, you can put extra supports in place, such as helping them write a checklist or getting them to pack their schoolbag the night before.
  • Implement some natural consequences. For example, if your child is too rough with something and breaks it, do not replace it straight away.
  • Teach your child the life skill of delayed gratification (e.g. I must wait until Christmas for the toy that I want).
  • Completion of certain tasks should be expected as a ‘contribution to the family’. You can however offer pocket money for additional tasks that go above and beyond this, but this only works if the pocket money is contingent on completing the tasks. This teaches your child that they must ‘earn’ what they want. Older teenagers should be encouraged to engage in part-time work for similar reasons, needing to ‘save’ for big purchases such as a new phone or their first car.
  • Model expressing gratitude and encourage your child to engage in these practices, such as writing thank you notes for gifts. Regular giving to and participating in charity work as a family also teaches your child important life lessons.

 

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and 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. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.

 

Getting your child to understand and express their emotions- what you should know

Olivia Smith – Educational and Developmental Psychologist atNorthern & Hawthorn Centre for Child Development

It goes without saying that for most kids, different events are a BIG DEAL. When it is their birthday, they are SO EXCITED. When they lose their favourite toy, they are SO SAD. And when you tell them they need to turn off the iPad now and go to bed… that is SO UNFAIR. Sometimes these emotional reactions seem totally out of proportion to what has occurred and can seem baffling and overwhelming to parents. How can we help our kids manage these big emotions?

It is important to remember that children’s brains are still developing, and this also applies to their ability (or inability) to manage strong emotions. Emotion regulation is not a skill we are born with, but something that grows as we mature over time. Importantly, it is largely a learnt skill, and something we must explicitly teach kids. What does this look like?

neon smiley face

 

Well, first of all, we need to help children identify what emotion they are feeling. Kids will often respond that they are feeling ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and lack the emotional vocabulary that adults have. As adults, they need us to label their emotional experience, e.g. “I can hear that you’re really disappointed that we can’t go to the playground today”. This act of naming an emotion is powerful for a child as it makes it a tangible thing they can manage. Acknowledging what your child is feeling does not mean you are necessarily agreeing that it is a justified response but shows your child that you are there for them.

Children often also have difficulty knowing what to do in each moment. It depends on the age of the child, but you directing them towards a calming activity- such as blowing bubbles to support slow breathing, receiving a firm hug, drawing or bouncing on the trampoline- teaches them strategies that they themselves can implement in the future. When your child is highly emotional, the rational part of their brain has gone ‘offline’. As most parents would know, trying to verbally reason with a child when they are escalated is a futile process. For this reason, wait until your child has ‘recovered’ before opening a problem-solving discussion about what they could do differently next time.

Remember, the more your child practices emotion regulation, the better they will get at it. It takes patience as a parent, but you play a vital role in your child developing emotional intelligence.

If you’re keen to learn more about how to respond to your child’s emotions, paediatric psychologist Amanda Abel (founder of Northern & Hawthorn Centre for Child Development) has created an online mini-course jam packed full of tips. It’s called Responding to your child’s BIG feelings and you can get it here!

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and 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. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.