Occupational Therapist Team / Psychologists
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Children’s eating (or not eating) can cause parents lots of worry and stress. Good nutrition in childhood is important for so many reasons. It supports children growth, overall health and learning. Yet some children are very fussy about what they eat. This may look like only choosing some foods, refusing to try new foods and skipping some food groups all together! I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve come across children and the only thing they will eat reliably is chicken nuggets.
Why are children so fussy?
Children become fussy eaters for a range of reasons. Sometimes it’s due to habits, strong wills and/or sensory difficulties. On this last point, some food textures and tastes can cause distress. While most children grow out of their fussy ways, some will need some help along the way.
What can you do to improve eating?
The following are eleven tips to help improve your child’s eating:
- Model good eating: Children learn so much about the world from their caregivers and modelling eating the type of food you would like them to eat is an excellent start. It is also great if they are surrounded by other children eating different food types.
- Make eating fun: Why not create a fruit face or cut vegetables into cool shapes? By making eating healthy food fun, children are going to be more motivated to try some. There are lots of great websites that you can try for recipes for children. For example: https://www.parents.com/recipes/familyrecipes/
- Have realistic expectations: Don’t expect your child to finish the plate or try new food everyday. Set small but achievable goals such as trying 1 bite of everything on the plate. Also keep meals friendly. It is better to put a small bit of new food alongside a larger amount of food that your child likes.
- Make mealtimes happy & social: Try and make mealtimes an important time for the family to sit down together. Avoid distractions such as having the TV on. Try not to worry about anything that goes wrong during dinner (such as spilled drinks or food). Meal times as positive as possible.
- Praise your child for trying: Its very important to praise and give attention to your child when they try new foods. For some children, a reward chart may be appropriate. However, do not make the reward a different food. This will teach your child that one food is more desirable than another.
- Do not give attention when your child is refusing: It is similarly important not to give too much attention to your child when they are refusing to eat. This can act as a motivator for children to refuse more. Try and ignore the behaviour as best as you can.
- Do not make special meals for your child: Tying in with the previous tip, by making a special meal for your child you are giving them special attention when refusing. This can encourage them to refuse more as they know they will get food they prefer.
- Give your child some say: Refusing food is often a response to wanting greater independence. You can give your child that independence in allowing them to choose their food from a range of healthy options. This way children still feel in control and are more likely to try the healthy option that they choose.
- Choosing new foods with a similar texture: If your child has a sensory aversion to a particular type of food due to it’s texture, try and think of some healthy options which have a different texture. This is particularly relevant if your child has ASD or another developmental disability.
- Offer the new food repeatedly: Your child will most likely have to see the food quite a few times before they will try it. You can also set smaller goals such as touch, smell or lick the food before trying it.
- Involve your child in cooking: You can also involve children in the preparation of a meal (e.g. chopping vegetables) which increases their engagement as well as giving them a chance to feel the food out before eating it.
Still need help? Then feel free to call the Centre on 9274 7062 for more information about how we can help. Our occupational therapy and psychology team can parents with fussy eaters.
Written with help from Ruby Simms-Cumbers (Behaviour Therapist).
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A very natural response to anxiety is to try to avoid the thing that makes us feel anxious. For example, if being near dogs causes makes you feel anxious, then it makes sense to cross the road to avoid the dog sitting patiently at the neighbour’s gate.
Children are no different.
However there is a problem with avoidance. Yes, in the short term, it relieves anxiety. In the example above, the further you move away from the dog, the less anxiety is experienced. However in the longer term, avoidance actually strengthens anxiety. The child who stays home from school because they are worried about a test, is only going to be anxious (or more anxious) the next time there is a test at school. And if they stay home every time there is a test, their anxiety about tests may even grow.
What’s the alternative to avoidance?
We need to teach children how to cope with anxiety.
- Children need to learn positive coping strategies to help manage unpleasant feelings and thoughts.
- Parents need to model positive coping strategies. Children learn so much through observation of how their parents and peers cope with worry and stress.
- Children need to have the opportunity to practice their coping strategies a little at a time in a supported way and experience success.
- Children need praise when they try to beat their worries and recognition for the big steps they are taking.
When you are stuck for ideas…
There are a lot of great resources written with parents in mind that gives lots of great ideas for how to do this. A favourite of mine is “Helping Your Anxious Child” by Rapee, Wignell and Spence. Your local library should be able to order this one in for you if they don’t have it in stock. Many online book shops sell it too.
And of course there is the Psychology Team at the Centre to help with therapeutic approaches.
Please call Tracey on 9274 7062 for more information about our services.
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It’s not enough to like your therapy team, parents should also have the means to evaluate their effectiveness. In other words, know whether therapy is being effective. There are 7 dimensions of an Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) program that any good intervention should include, these are that they are: Applied, Behavioural, Analytic, Technological, Conceptually Systematic, Effective, and Generality.
Some of the key points from these dimensions are that ABA should always focus on skills that are socially significant for that child. And the best way that we can work out what skills are significant is by working with both the child and the family to set meaningful goals. Programs should teach skills that will help improve day to day life for the child (and family). For some children this might mean focusing on communication, learning to learn skills (e.g. listening and attending), social skills and independence.
ABA is behavioural, and always looks at measurable behaviours. If we can see and describe a behaviour, then we are in a position to be able to teach it. By being able to measure behaviour, we are also in a position to check progress and to identify what is working and what isn’t.
Generality is a key idea in ABA too. This is the concept that skills must be able to continue, with new people and new environments, after formal intervention has ended. There is no point teaching the skill if the child is only able to show it in therapy!
As you can see ABA is focused on working with people, to create practical, independent skills for their futures. Whether this is academics, learning to talk, daily living skills, or social skills it is about what is important for that individual, their family and their local community.
If you’d like to learn more about what principles guide ABA interventions and how they can help you please contact Jenny Lin, Program Manager on 9274 7062.
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Most children experience worry and/or fear about a range of things growing up. For example many children will go through a phase of fear of the dark only to grow out of this. Some children though develop worries and fears that seem to stay put and start to impact on their quality of life.
No one really knows why some children experience anxiety more than others. Some children are born with an anxious temperament which makes them vulnerable to worrying. Some children unfortunately are exposed to life events which teach them that the world can be a scary place. And for some, it may simply be about a need to be taught how to cope with worries.
There are all kinds of anxiety disorders in childhood however they have a few common elements. Firstly the child will have a re-occurring and persistent worry or fear about something that lasts for at least six months. Anxious feelings are often accompanied by complaints of sore tummies, headaches and other physical symptoms. For some children their worries affect their sleep with some finding it harder to fall asleep and/or some finding it hard to stay asleep.
Children’s thinking can also change, with children spending a lot of time engaging in “worry” thinking. Parents often find themselves spending a lot of time providing reassurance.
And lastly, children will at some point want to avoid the thing that is causing them concern. For some children this may involve wanting to stay home, rather than go to school. For others it may look like refusal to do things that they normally would and could.
The key to breaking out of this pattern is to help the child develop positive coping strategies. There are a lot of great online resources that can help parents. Our team of psychologists at the Child Wellbeing Centre are also able to help children overcome their anxiety.
Please call Tracey on 9274 7062 for more information.
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I was a school last term observing a young client of mine during recess when an education assistant came up to me and asked whether “8 years old” was too late for an autism assessment.
As some of you will know, I will see children and families at the Centre for autism assessments. I often get asked this question. The good news is that it is is never too late for an autism assessment. Children, adolescents and adults can be seen for assessment at any time. Research compels us though to advocate for early assessment as this usually leads to early intervention. It also gives us a chance to talk to families of children who don’t receive a diagnosis about next steps and supports.
An assessment can happen at any age. The advice that I give to families though is that if you intend to seek an assessment it’s best to time your assessment before the child turns 12 years of age. Aside from an easier assessment process, it also allows time to plan for issues such as transition to high school.
Whenever a parent decides to request an assessment keep in mind that parents play an active part in the process. You know your child better than anyone else and the assessment team will want to partner with you in understanding your child strengths and weaknesses.
Referrals for assessment usually start with seeing a paediatrician. Your GP will need to refer you to either the appropriate government service or a private paediatrician. Wait-lists will vary according to the age of the child – which is another reason not to leave assessments too late!
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Explaining ANZAC Day to Children
ANZAC Day is an important day for many Australians, when we recognise the service of defence personnel past and present, and in particular the anniversary of the troops landing in Gallipoli.
Children may learn about ANZAC Day at school through specific lessons and remembrance ceremonies. At home, children may want to talk about ANZAC Day further, which might include aspects of war. Answering their questions can be tricky. We want to tell the truth but at the same time not give them so much information that we take away their sense of safety about the world.
It is important to consider how much your child might be able to cope with both intellectually and emotionally. This is going to vary from child to child, and with children of different ages.
For young children (around 4 to 8 years), we want to encourage questions but keep the messages simple and reassuring:
- It’s a day when we remember and thank everyone that has helped to look after our country
- It’s a day when we are say thank you and are grateful that we live in a such a great country
- It’s a day when we remember that we have to look after everyone that lives in our community, including our older people who helped make it so great.
In these discussions we want to gauge how our children are managing this information, and not provoke or exacerbate any feelings of anxiety.
If they are very concerned, keep reflections to past or offshore events, and discuss how in Australia we are now safe. For tender hearts, the details of death and destruction can be postponed until it can be better managed with maturity. Remember that anxious and sensitive children can generalise their fears, and it is best to not avoid but hear them voice these concerns so that they may be addressed specifically.
Our children will continue to process these concepts as they grow older, and develop their own opinions with influences from many sources, including your values as their parents.
If you ever need assistance with any of this, you have the support from our Psychology Team. Just call our Receptionists at the Centre on 9274 7062 to make an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists.
Naomi Ward and Sharon Jones
Child Wellbeing Centre
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Ever wonder why your child, who you know is so clever, might be struggling in school or to pay attention to others? They might need to work on a set of skills called “Learning to Learn”! Learning to Learn skills are the foundation skills a child needs before they can learn effectively in places like a classroom or in therapy sessions.
ABA can help children to achieve these skills by breaking them down into small, achievable parts, and scaffolding them into a whole skill set for your child. Skills like sitting on your bottom with still feet, making eye contact with a teacher, and waiting for a peer to finish speaking before asking a question are all a part of this group. Without some of these skills, children are not able to experience the full benefits from their daily experiences.
Because ABA is always focused on being applied, generalised and effective, we can work with your child 1:1 or provide training and interventions to teachers or carers who can support learning these skills in the context they need to be used.
If you have a child who might benefit from these skills, or are a professional who would like to learn how to foster them please contact Jenny Lin, Program Manager on 9274 7062.
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Last week (while on holidays) I sat in a food hall with my family admiring the way another parent was managing their four year old’s temper tantrum. I wasn’t there for that purpose but these things happen when you least expect them.
As far as temper tantrums go this was a good one – kicking, screaming, crying, and shouting out loud “I hate you”. The trigger? The family were at the bakery and the parent (after much negotiation with two children) bought a ginger bread man to share between two. As soon as she went to buy it, the child in question started telling the mother that he wanted his own. From there it escalated…
What I admired about this mum is she held the line. She didn’t give in and buy two ginger bread men as it would have been so easy to do. She told the child “no” and dealt with the consequences. She ignored the impatient sales assistant and stuck to her guns. The child could be heard screaming all the way to the exit and on a couple of occasions made a break from his mother and ran back towards the bakery. She calmly picked him up and hustled him to the car. I don’t know what happened in the end but I admired her calm response (when under considerable fire).
Temper tantrums are stressful in public (and at home too). Staying firm and consistent is so important no matter where you are. Here are some thoughts about how to stay strong:
- Start as you mean to go. Do you really want your child behaving this way as a 16 year old? It’s important to start early to help children learn both how to self-regulate and to accept disappointment. You’re not going to hand over your credit card to a demanding 16 year old are you? At least I hope not!
- Remind yourself that no matter how bad it is, it will be over soon. For some of us that might mean 20 mins for some, longer. The longer you hold the line, the shorter the temper tantrum becomes over time…until there are few to no tantrums.
- Ignore the hurtful words. The four year old screaming “I hate you” doesn’t mean this – what they are communicating is “I’m angry and I don’t like your decision”. What they’ve learned is that those words hurt and might cause mum and dad to give way.
- Ignore the onlookers or at least only look at the ones that are sympathetic. People forget how tough parenting is. That parent would never have known but my husband and I were quietly cheering her own and praising her for being such a great mum.
Lastly, if you’re stuck in a recurring pattern of temper-tantrumming – call in the “Calvary”. That’s the psychology and behaviour team in the Centre. Having others to problem-solve with you and support you while you make changes can get you across the line.
Please call Tracey on reception to tell you more about our services on 9274 7062.
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Making friends are important skills for children to learn. Social skills are the things we develop that allow us to confidently make and keep friends with our peers. For some children a little extra social skills training is all that’s needed to get kids back on track with their friendships.
In Term Two, the Child Wellbeing Centre will be running a social skills program for children between 6-9 years of age. These sessions are run once a week after school.
Registration are now open for the Term Two program.
Please contact reception on 9274 7062 (or use the GET IN TOUCH link on the website) to express your interest in this program and to receive more information.
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Well we’re half way through the school holidays with a week or so to go. For some, you will be wishing time would slow down, and for others, you will be counting the days!
Keeping children entertained can be challenging during the holidays. Finding time to fit in all those other things (work, cleaning, caring for other relatives….not to mention self-care) can be challenging too!
Some tips to get through the next week:
- Don’t sweat the little stuff. When the kids are back at school, there will be time to catch up on all the tasks you couldn’t get to during the break.
- Plan activities but don’t overcrowd the agenda. Too much fun can be tiring too. Instead spread out activities with free time or down time.
- Get that sleep routine back in place. The children will be better for it once they start school next week plus you need your quiet time.
- Outsource if you get desperate! If you need a break call in help from your social and family networks. There are many websites where you can book a baby sitter for a few hours – just so you can have some free time to catch up or chill-out.
And lastly, when the holidays are over – take the time to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t. It’s all useful information to help plan for the next school holidays.