Being Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind to beat anxiety

Kids love rules.  We think they don’t, but they do – even if they don’t know it! Confused? Think for a minute about times when your kids have shown signs of anxiety (nail biting, teeth grinding, ‘meltdowns’, controlling behaviours and clinginess can sometimes indicate feelings of anxiety). What was going on environmentally at that time? Sometimes, a lack of boundaries, rules or expectations can leave kids wondering “who is really in charge here?”,  which can lead to less sophisticated versions of these kinds of thoughts: “if my caregivers aren’t able to stick to rules or set consistent boundaries, how can they protect me and keep me safe?”. This can create some pretty big feelings for kiddos, often feelings they can’t label which causes further uneasiness. When we as adults feel uneasy or anxious, we often try to reduce these feelings by increasing our sense of control. The same kind of thing happens with our kiddos who might show a need to gain some control over their environment in an attempt to get rid of their “yucky” feelings. Enter tricky behaviours that are rooted in ‘control’.

To steal a phrase from the Circle of Security founders, we need to be “bigger, stronger, wiser and kind” as caregivers if we are going to create secure little beings. Sometimes we need to make ‘grown-up’ decisions and be the parent even when our inner-child is screaming out to join in and have a laugh with our kiddo at 3 am when they are being funny and refusing to go back to bed. Because, chances are, tomorrow night we won’t be in the mood to have a laugh and what kind of message are we sending if one night we are happy to engage in frivolity in the dead of night but the next night we are not? Our kids can’t read our minds.

To be proactive, we need to be comfortable ‘taking charge’ and being the adult while balancing this with being kind. We need to be clear in our own minds about the rules we value and how we are going to communicate these to our children – and what the consequences will be for when these rules are broken. Often consequences are natural and logical, like when my daughter didn’t follow the “we look after our belongings” rule and her hoola hoop broke. In these instances, I don’t need to apply another consequence because this was really meaningful for her, and she understood the sequence of events that lead to her devastation thanks to the hoola-that-is-no-longer-a-hoop!

But how do we respond in the moment when we have tricky control-based behaviours? We need to welcome our children when they come to us with big feelings. We need to provide support for our kiddos to help them organise their feelings. What does that look like? It’s about labelling their feelings and acknowledging that all feelings are valid and worthwhile. And while we do this, we need to show them how to make themselves feel better. This might be about working together initially to take some deep breaths, or offering space, or giving a pillow to scream into or punch, or grabbing out some sensory toys if there are some biting or scratching behaviours going on.

Our job as parents is to provide the scaffolding for our kiddos to be able to self-regulate. The aim is not for independence, but for children to come to us for help and feel comfortable expressing their emotions in a safe and supported way.

If you’re keen to get ideas on how exactly you can set clear and consistent boundaries, stay tuned for our posts about reward charts and house rules to help get you started.

Amanda Abel – Paediatric Psychologist MAPS

10 ways to use a Time Timer

I love Time Timers. If you are a parent or educator and you haven’t used a Time Timer before, you need to get your hands on one! These visual timers differ from your digital clocks and timers because they demonstrate visually that say, 5 minutes is half as long as 10 minutes. They’re not cluttered like clocks used for teaching the time to young children, and they don’t tick like the timer on your oven. The Time Timer is simple to use – as time lapses the red disc disappears actually showing that time is passing. You can also set it to ‘beep’ when the time is up if you want to. The Time Timers come in various colours and sizes (we stock them in our shop – give us a call or email, or drop in to buy one)

Here are just a few ways to use your Time Timer at home:

  1. Shorten endless mealtimes – if you have a littlie who takes their time to eat, get the Time Timer on and as they watch the red disc getting smaller and smaller they will guzzle up their dinner (hopefully!). Explain that once the timer is finished, the dinner plate goes away.
  2. Streamline morning routines – set the timer to your preferred time limit and explain that your kiddo needs to do X, Y and Z before the timer beeps in order to get a special treat in their lunchbox.
  3. Teach your child to wait – the visual timer can really help the decrease the anxiety for children anticipating a desirable activity or item. Set the timer, explain that they will get their TV show in 20 minutes and bob’s your uncle.
  4. Reduce homework horrors for older children – set the timer to the preferred time, let’s say one hour, and explain that it’s only okay to come out of the study once the red disc has disappeared/one hour is up.
  5. If your child has another non-preferred activity, like waiting in the car for his brother’s music lesson, set the timer for the 30 minute music lesson so that he can see time passing.
  6. Sort out sharing – if each child is to take a turn of something, set the timer for it and teach them to hand the item over (usually the TV remote!) once the disc disappears.

Did you know you can use your Time Timer for yourself as well?! Try using it in these instances:

  1. A quick workout – you need to keep working out until the red disc has disappeared.
  2. To manage your time at work – I use mine to keep my report writing within hour-long blocks. The visual really helps keep me on track.
  3. To limit house-cleaning – set the timer to the full hour and stop cleaning (woo hoo!) once the timer beeps/the red disc disappears.
  4. Keep showers short – use the timer in the bathroom to give a visual indication of how much time is left in the shower. Great for when we have water restrictions.

Stay tuned for more creative ways to use your Time Timer in the classroom and at work!

Written by Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development.

How to answer the flood of “why?” questions – Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist

I have a new ‘thing’. It’s called “the rules of the world”. It’s a bit of a throwback to my mum’s “because I said so” in response to my endless childhood questioning “why? why?”. I suppose Karma has a way of finding us and boy has Karma found me. I have a three and a half year old who is determined to get to the bottom of EVERYTHING! SHE DOES NOT MISS A THING! And in desperation on the weekend when my answers for why we can’t go in the pool at 7.20 am or why we can’t eat icy poles at 7.30 am (“it’s too early” didn’t suffice FYI), I devised “the rules of the world”. “It’s just the rules of the world sweetheart” I responded to question upon question. And it worked! For about half a day. Until she started questioning the “rules of the world” and then we were back at square one.

But it got me thinking about childhood cognitive development and the inevitable “why” questioning that pops up around 2 or 3 years of age. Granted, it has been going on for a year or so at my place so I’m either getting sick of it or the questions are getting harder! As kiddos’ brains develop, they start to make meaningful connections between things. They start to develop a ’cause-and-effect’ style of thinking that leads them to want to know “why” things happen or “why” we do things – it’s their inquisitive nature and interest in the world around them emerging. But don’t be too quick to assume that a 2 or 3 year old’s definition of “why?” means the same as ours. Sometimes it can be more of a “tell me more about this interesting topic”.

So how to answer “why?” questions? Each child is different, but I am now finding with my own kiddo that replacing “the rules of the world” with some expanded information about the topic is helping. This morning, to answer “why does daddy go to work?” I explained that he goes to work because it’s fun and he gets to talk to lots of people and that makes him happy. I explained that he also earns money at work which means we can buy a train ticket on the weekend to go to the city.  Through my work I am mindful of not giving long-winded explanations and trying to keep things simple so I find that offering a small chunk of information, like my explanation above, gives a child time to process and understand what I’ve said.

No magic cures here for the seemingly endless stream of “why” questions, but rest assured it is a positive sign of on-track language and cognitive development.

Written by Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development.

Photo credit:


Reverse Art Truck

In a bid to get myself organised for some school holiday creativity, I went on an adventure last week to check out Reverse Art Truck. Much to my 3 year old’s brief dismay, our drive through the back streets of Ringwood landed us at a large tin shed and not actually a truck. Boy, this place was amazing though. For $30 you can fill a huge garbage bag to the brim of factory off-cuts and seconds (think barrels of containers, pump packs, fabric, fake turf, timber, you name it!). Apparently kinders and other community groups stock their centres from this place. My husband even recalls nailing through a similar vinyl flooring off-cut at kinder, which as odd as it sounds is entirely plausible as the Reverse Art Truck has been around for 42 years.


The lovely lady who guided us through the process explained that Reverse Art Truck is a not-for-profit organisation who collect these factory rejects which would otherwise be destined for land-fill.

The shed is broken up into aisles of larger stock (like containers, spools, timber, fabric and carpet off-cuts) of which you can load up to your heart’s content. There’s also a section of smaller items including buttons, stickers, ribbon, paper, boxes, wallpaper cut-offs etc., which you need to take more sparingly so there’s enough to go around.

RAT small amounts


Reverse Art Truck 1

The three year old loved just walking along and throwing things into the bag explaining how she would re-purpose the items into some sort of elaborate car and race track situation. Getting the bag home and hearing it emptied out onto the floorboards was akin to that oh-too-familiar cringe-worthy sound of an entire tub of Lego being tipped out. Having said that, the hours of entertainment of just sorting through buttons, furry fabric, old door mat pieces and wooden cones has been well worth the mess!

So if you’re after some crafty materials and don’t want to re-mortgage the house for a trip to Spotlight, get yourself out to Reverse Art Truck. The place is cash-only so take your $30, your GPS and your imagination and you’re on you’re way to some messy creative awesomeness! You’ll find them at 17 Greenwood Avenue, Ringwood and here is their facebook page.

RAT exterior

School holidays: 5 ways for families to stress less

If you have school-aged kids, chances are you have a love-hate relationship with school holidays. Of course we all love hanging out with our kids, especially with the reduced demands that come with holidays. But sometimes exactly these reduced demands are what can wreak havoc on our littlies’ emotional regulation. Which translates to tricky behaviours and meltdowns. If your kiddos get a bit stressed when the everyday routine of school is removed, you probably find school holidays can be a bit of a drag for everyone involved at times.

A good way to understand this is to think about how much a child might rely on the structure and predictability that going to school every day offers. As adults, we might see toddling off to school every day as a bore but your child might see it as a safe-haven where the routines and rituals of timetables, specialist classes, recess and lunch provide predictability and thus calmness.

If this is all sounding familiar consider some of these ideas to try replicating the sameness that school provides in a bid to decrease your littlie’s (or biggie’s!) anxiety:

  • Get a schedule. Sort out what your child is going to be doing every day of the holiday period. For younger children, just make a visual schedule with a picture (or pictures) depicting what will happen each day of the week. You can whip something up quickly like in the picture below or you can get fancy and take photos etc. The important thing is that you talk your child through the schedule/calendar and explain what the week is going to look like. Older children can probably just refer to a calendar with written activities.

visual schedule handmade

  • Schedule some down-time for your child to just be at home. The benefits of this are that he or she has time to process information and not be in an overstimulating/overwhelming environment. Depending on the child this might be something that needs to happen every day or every couple of days.
  • Set up clear house rules so your kids can have a reminder about what is/is not appropriate. Pair this with a reward chart to increase structure and have clear expectations – just like at school. Be consistent and follow through with rewards and consequences.
  • Plan for each day to fit into a vague routine – for some families this might look like: breakfast, outside play, morning tea, inside play, lunch, rest time, go to the park, dinner, bath, stories, bed. Children who know what to expect each day will show less symptoms of anxiety.
  • Be proactive and talk with your child about appropriate ways to express their feelings. You might talk about things like “in the holidays you might have some big feelings because things are going to be different. If you have big feelings that you don’t know what to do with, it’s cool for you to go into your chill-out tent and have some down time. It’s not okay for you to hit or hurt anyone”. Sit down and think about ways your child can express themselves safely.

The general theme here is preparing your child for what’s going to happen over the holidays, increasing structure and giving them a way to express their feelings. Lots of acknowledgement of emotions and teaching appropriate ways to express feelings will never go astray.

Good luck!

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist and founder of the Northern Centre for Child Development in Preston (Melbourne). She is available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for client consultations.

Our new resources shop

I’ve always dreamed of having my own shop. Something about buying products to sell makes my shopping ‘problem’ a little more socially acceptable. Although the shop we now have at NCCD isn’t quite the little boutique I’ve dreamed of, it is pretty awesome. One of the major hurdles I’ve seen over the years, particularly for families engaged in early intervention for their child with ASD, is the sourcing of appropriate teaching resources. Sometimes not having the right materials for use in an ABA therapy session, can really hold back a child’s progress.

So, we now have some terrific stock to help solve this problem! Think seat wedges and discs to help sensory-seeking kiddos to sit still; or chewy necklaces for littlies who are mouthing or chewing on items not intended for chewing! We also have 8″ Time Timers which are hands-down one of the most helpful aides in helping children learn to wait, or understand that a preferred activity is coming to an end (amongst other things). And of course some lovely sensory toys and pencil grips.

Coming soon will be some of our recommended books and picture cards.

Pop in or drop us an email if you’d like to explore some of this gorgeous stock.

You can find us at 155 Plenty Road, Preston, 3072 Tues/Wed/Thurs between 10 and 3.30. Have a look at this video if you’re not familiar with Time Timers…

Preschool Social Skills

Do you know the secret to improving your child’s quality of life, thinking skills and language skills? I’ll give you a hint – it’s not attending extra-curricular classes or sitting at the table to learn academics. It is in fact, play! And socialising! Fancy that. ‘But what about the children who lack social and play skills?’ I hear you ask. Good question. This is where we need to intervene to make sure they have the play and social skills they need.

How? Evidence-based social skills groups are a great way to teach age-appropriate social and play skills in a supportive environment. At NCCD we use an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) approach to teach social skills, which fosters relationship development while teaching skills in a systematic, motivating and rewarding setting.  Each child has individualised goals which are set by their parent(s) and the group facilitators. These goals are worked on in each session while being tracked and evaluated so that outcomes can be measured. Our approach is evidence-based – which means people have researched the strategies we use and they’ve been found to be effective.

We’re currently taking bookings for our social skills sessions for preschoolers – facilitated by Dr. Georgina Cox (provisional psychologist) and Amanda Abel (paediatric psychologist). If you’d like more info about our current group see below or get in touch!

Social Skills Sessions
Term 3, 2015
Wednesdays 10.30-12.00

When: Wednesdays 10.30-12.00
Where: Northern Centre for Child Development – 155 Plenty Rd, Preston, 3072
Cost: $600 for term (FaHCSIA/HCWA funding available)
Dates: 12/8; 19/8; 26/8; 2/9; 9/9; 16/9
Bookings: Please email or call us on
9079 8043 or 0498 648 515.
Confirmation: Your child’s place is confirmed once we receive full payment for the term.
Eligibility: If needed, your child will be screened to ensure they are allocated to the correct group to meet their developmental needs

Is your child ready for school?

Australia has one of the youngest school-starting ages in the world. Yet we shouldn’t really think about school-readiness in chronological terms. Little Ava next door who will be 5 in April might be just as ready to run through the school-gates as Johnny who repeated 4 year old kinder and will be turning 7 in Prep. So what’s the difference between Ava and Johnny and how do we know if they are really ready for school?

Well, my experience working with many Prep teachers over the past 15 or so years has taught me that social-emotional skills are really important. A child who can read all their ‘golden’ words and write the alphabet upon school-entry is great, but if they’re unable to maintain composure when they don’t get their way or resort to aggression in response to having to share the monkey bars, then the school day is going to be tricky for all involved.

The National Childcare Accreditation Council highlights the social skills our children need to have before starting school:

  • Positively approach other children and make friends;
  • Participate in play;
  • Participate in play;
  • Express emotions and deal with conflict appropriately;
  • Show interest in others and form friendships;
  • Epress their needs and wants appropriately;
  • Separate from parents or primary carers;
  • Take turns in games and activities;
  • Share toys and equipment;
  • Follow some directions and understand some rules;
  • Participate in groups;
  • Cope with transitions between routines and experiences

How does your littlie go with these skills? If you think your child might need a helping hand to get ready for school next year, give us a call for an individualised, school-readiness behaviour skills program, or to discuss our school-readiness groups.

There’s actually no evidence to support the idea that starting school earlier is better. So for children who are in the grey area, with parents anxiously deliberating whether or not to send them off to Prep or keep them back for another year, there is a general consensus that there is no rush to starting school. Anecdotally, you may have heard of the term ‘Redshirting‘, or the practice of postponing entrance into school to allow extra time for socioemotional, intellectual, or physical growtha movement apparently popular with the Upper East Side mums of Manhattan.  Or, if you’re like the rest of us without the vintage Hermès Birkin, that means another year up your sleeve to keep reading, going on excursions together, playing with letters and numbers, singing songs and arranging play dates to work on those ever-evolving social skills!

Happy playing!

Amanda Abel – Paediatric Psychologist MAPS

Photo credit: Phil Roeder

Social Skills Groups Term 3, 2015

Learning appropriate play and social skills are absolutely critical for children’s quality of life, cognitive development and language skills.

Our amazing team members – Cara Small (psychologist) and Fiona Herbu (ABA supervisor) are facilitating evidence-based ABA social skills sessions for primary school children in Term 3. The group will have a maximum of 4 children and will target individualised goals for each child. During the sessions, the group will address social skills theory and will then have extensive opportunities to practise the new skills in a supportive but highly motivating environment.

How are our groups different?

We take an Applied Behaviour Analysis approach which while addressing the essence of authentic social competence and relationship development is also systematic and analytic. Our program is evidence-based meaning there is significant research to support the types of strategies we use. This ensures your child gains new individualised and relevant skills by attending our groups.

When: Fortnightly Saturdays 12.00-1.30 starting July 25th.
Where: Northern Centre for Child Development – 155 Plenty Rd, Preston, 3072.
Cost: $625 for the term.
Dates: 25/7, 8/8, 22/8, 5/9 & 19/9 – Attendance at all sessions is required.
Bookings: Please email or call us on 9079 8043 or 0498 648 515.
Confirmation: Your child’s place is confirmed once we receive full payment for the term.
Eligibility: If needed, your child will be screened to ensure they are allocated to the correct group to meet their developmental needs.

What’s on in Melbourne for the school holidays?

Winter holidays can be a bit of a nightmare in Melbourne with out crazy weather! I’ve been on the look-out for some cool (no pun intended), free ideas to keep littlies entertained out and about in Melbourne. Here’s some of my inspo so far…

  • The Victoria Government Tourism page has a heap of great ideas at varying price-points across Victoria. Some of the highlights include the Grug show at the Arts Centre and the Alice’s Wonderland exhibition at Scienceworks (we went to this last week and my 3 year old loved it)
  • The City of Melbourne has some interesting offerings like being in the Family Feud audience!
  • The Melbourne Kid has some FREE ideas to keep the kids entertained

Happy Holidaying!

Amanda Abel – Paediatric Psychologist MAPS