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Traditional thinking used to be that sparing young children details about their operation or serious medical procedure was the best course of action. Many parents and carers saw this as a way of avoiding unnecessary stress for the child. Parents would then shoulder the burden of worry. All of which makes a lot of sense, given our need to protect our children.
The problem with this approach is that parents are always left wondering whether this is the best course of action. Sometimes it comes down to working out just how much information is the right amount of information. Medical staff have different views on this issue and often err on the side of less information being better than more.
So what does this research say?
A study earlier this year tried to answer the questions of how much information to give children. The results were really interesting. This study included 91 children and parents of children (between 3-13 years of age) about to have surgery. Prior to the operation, the researchers held an information session which included an interactive video about the specific procedure and a discussion with an allied health member. These sessions involved both parent and child. They then followed up the child and parent after the surgery and compared how they fared on various psychological measures. In this study, the researchers were very interested in symptoms of trauma in children post surgery.
Using all the information collected above, the researchers then compared the results of their participants to the results of children and parents who had been approached but opted out of the study. The results showed significantly higher rates of distress (post-operation) for children who did not receive the full information about their surgery. Even the younger children (3-5 year olds) had more positive outcomes in this study. The researchers noted that the findings in their study were consistent with previous studies focusing on children with HIV and with cancer.
Of course this study, like all studies has limitations. Firstly there was a wide range of surgical procedures that may have been a factor in recovery. The time in hospital also varied greatly. I suspect, level of parental stress and anxiety may have been a factor too.
How can we best help children?
What this study does show is that children are more resilient that we think they are. Even at a young age, they have capacity to process more information than we think they can about their treatment. What the emerging research is showing is that when children understand what is about to happen to them are less likely to experience psychological distress post surgery.
It’s something for us to think about as parents should our children ever need major medical intervention. It’s also something we should be talking through with their medical staff as we help them prepare for up and coming surgery.
As always you are very welcome to contact the Centre for information on our psychology service on 9274 7062.
Ref: Amichi et al (2019) Should parents share medical information with their young children? A prospective study. Comprehensive Psychiatry, vol. 88. Pages 52-56.
ABACAS Team / Psychology Team
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In Term Two, our group social skills programs start up again. Social skills are what we need to be able to make and keep friends. For young children the emphasis is on learning how to play co-cooperatively with other children.
Our “Amazing Amigos” groups is a social skills group targeted at Kindergarten & Pre-Primary students. Children in these groups don’t need to have a diagnosis to benefit. We will teach social skills using modelling, role playing and hands on skills practice. Children will be able to try new skills and polish existing social skills amongst peers and supportive adults. The program is 10 weeks and fits in with school the school term. Sessions are run after school on a Wednesday afternoon from 4.00pm.
The specific skills taught each term will be determined by group needs. In general, we will be looking to teach or refine skills such as: asking for help; sharing; greeting others; turn taking and protective behaviours.
Where: Child Wellbeing Centre at our Tuohy Lane offices, Midland.
When: Wednesday afternoons 4.00pm – 5.00pm during the school term
Who is suited: Children aged between 4 and 6 years old who need help with their social skills. Diagnoses are not essential.
How much: $58.53 per session, to be paid each week of attendance.
How to get involved: Contact our Reception on 9274 7062 to book an initial appointment with Simone or Toni.
At the initial appointment we will talking to you about your child’s needs so we can work out whether the group program is what they need.
For more information about our other social skills programs, please follow the link:
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Aside from getting back into routine, going back to school is great time for children to reconnect with their friends. It’s also another year ahead of learning and fun. For some children the transition back into school can be challenging. Rather than leave that transition to the night before, there is lots that you can do right now to help with getting your child ready.
5 Tips for getting ready for school
If you haven’t already started, this week is the time to start focusing on getting everyone ready for school again. How can you prepare?
1.Sit down and plan out with your children what you will need to do to prepare for school. Create a checklist and timetable of all the steps that are required. This helps reduce any feelings of overwhelm to something more manageable.
2. Talk about the good things that are likely to happen when your child is back at school. The start of the school year is a time to make new friends and meet new teachers. There’s also lots of cool stuff to learn about.
3. Adjust sleep times. During holidays most children tend to go to bed later than they would on a school night and sleep in later. Starting to adjust sleep times gradually before school starts is likely to be more effective then suddenly demanding that your child be asleep at their usual time the night before school starts!
4. For younger children, do a walk around school showing them where their class will be, how to find the toilets and where school drop-offs and pick-ups will be and
5. Celebrate back to school with party or special event. Include one of their friends or classmates for school to make the occasion that little bit more special.
What about the anxious child?
Some children become very worried at the start of the new school year, often imaging the worst is about to happen. As parents its important that we acknowledge those worries. Telling someone not to worry seldom works! Instead the focus needs to be on coping strategies and helping the child find things to help them manage these worries.
For some children, rehearsal strategies like social stories are really helpful. They explain what is going to happen and can reassure the child that things will be fine.
For other children, finding gentle ways to challenge their worry thoughts is what’s needed. For example, reminding them of all the other times they were worried and good things happened.
Being a little worried about going back to school is perfectly normal. However if you feel your child is “too worried” then our psychology team is there to help with strategies to help children back into school. Please call reception on 9274 7062 for more information about our services.
ABACAS Team / Psychology Team
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January is often thought of as a quiet month but not at the Child Wellbeing Centre! It’s our second week back in January and it feels like we have hit the ground running!
We have two new and one returning team member to tell you about.
Toni Schmitz (Behaviour Therapist and Provisional Psychologist)
Toni came to us last year as a Curtin University student on placement. She did such a great job with the children that she worked with that she got a job offer! In her paid role with us this year, Toni will be working as a Behaviour Therapist and Provisional Psychologist on different days of the week. Toni will starting off first learning the ropes as a Junior Behaviour Therapist and picking up a psychology case load towards the end of February. She will be available to work with the families she saw as a student last year.
Penny Ya Fen Wong (Senior Behaviour Therapist)
Penny joins the ABACAS team as a Senior Behaviour Therapist. She will be working with individual families providing therapy and be available for parent and school behavioural consultancy. Penny has over 15 years experience in working with ABA programs and a broad range of experience with children with disabilities, developmental delay and learning difficulties. We’re also hoping that Penny will also have her application for provisional registration as a psychologist approved so she is able to provide psychological consultancy services.
Simone Lombardo (Psychologist)
After having some parental leave last year, Simone returns to the Centre in early February on Saturdays. As a psychologist, Simone has a broad range of experience in working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. She also has a an interest in working with children presenting with social and emotional difficulties. Simone will be be available to see old and new clients. We’re really looking forward to Simone join the Saturday team of psychologists again.
We still have a few more staffing changes to tell you about. The Centre is currently recruiting another psychologist and we are also in the process of appointing a casual receptionist. I hope to have some news about both of those changes in the near future.
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National Psychology Week begins this week with the theme “Connect to Thrive”. Children’s mental health and wellbeing is enhanced by caring and supportive adults in their lives and a positive social network of peers. This is the same for their parents. Feeling that you have a network of others around you that care, that you can talk to and just be with is important for parents overall sense of well-being too.
Why we should be concerned about loneliness?
Emerging research is showing that feelings of “loneliness” not only impact on our mood but behaviour. Too much loneliness can colour how we view the world and others around us. Hence the theme for this year’s National Psychology Week – Connect to Thrive. Developing relationships with others that are positive and meet our social and emotional needs boosts mental health.
Key skills that can help manage feelings of loneliness include positive thinking, stress management and communication. Finding opportunities to meet others is also essential, hence the emphasis on social networking (and not just online!).
The link below will take you to a tip sheet on how to “connect” with others developed by the Australian Psychology Society.
How to help children
Children benefit from positive connections with others too and many of the suggestions in the adult resource above also apply. Helping children develop and become confident in their use of social skills (so they can form positive relationships) is a great way to start. So too, is teaching children about positive thinking and optimism.
We will be looking at optimism in another post this week, both what it is and how parents can help children develop it.
As always though, you are very welcome to talk to any of the staff in the Centre should you have concerns about the wellbeing of your child. Reception will be able to provide information about our services on 9274 7062.
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Nothing is more heart breaking as a parent to hear that your child isn’t making friends. We all want the best for our children. The reality is that for some children (particularly the more shy and reserved variety) making new friends can be hard. Not only do children need some confidence to walk up to others but they also need an array of social skills to draw on.
5 Tips for Making Friends
Making friends (and keeping them) involve using a range of skills. These include being able to recognise when others are open to friendship and knowing how to approach and engage others. Then of course are the skills needed to keep friendships – which can also be tricky. But let’s start at the beginning with how children can make their first approach more successful…
The following are some tips for primary school aged children who have language skills but they can be modified for those a little less verbal:
Look for interest from other children
Imagine being in a park with lots of children running around. Running up to a random child who looks like they are doing something interesting might get a response but it might also lead to rejection.
Instead, encourage your child to look for other children that appear interested in playing with them. Who are these children? The ones that may already be looking at your child (watching what your child is doing) and the ones with a smile on their face. These are the children that are more likely to be positive about an approach from your child.
Children who are heavily involved in a game (particularly in groups) or playing with other children are less likely to give a positive response. They already have someone to play with. Sometimes groups of children want others to join them…especially if it’s a game that involves lots of running around. However if children have already worked out who they are playing with, they may not welcome approaches from others.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? However many children forget to say hello or introduce themselves. And of course, when your child does say “hi” to another child they need to look at them (eye contact) and smile too! This signals to the other child that they are being friendly.
Most of us enjoy it when others show interest in us. Your child asking “What are doing?”, “Can I play too?”, or “What’s that?” are good ways of starting up a conversation. They are also a way of testing the waters to see if the other child is interested in getting to know them too.
When the other child starts talking to your child, this is where conversational skills become important. Your child needs to show interest in what the other child says. They can also share something about themselves too. All of which helps to build a connection.
It’s great for your child to suggest activities that they and the other child can do. However if the other child wants to play another way or differently your child may need to go with the flow initially. Turn-taking with ideas and games can develop once your child works out that this is someone they want to spend more time with.
It’s OK if your child discovers that the other child isn’t that interested or isn’t the friend for them. Children can agree to disagree and part ways too. As a parent we can acknowledge our child’s disappointment but we need to refocus them on all the other children out there that may be the right sort of friend for them.
What to do if things just aren’t working?
The good news is that friendships skills can be taught. Many schools now provide programs targeting social skills and confidence so start by asking what your school may have available.
The internet also has bundles of resources and ideas for parents to access to help their children in this area.
In our Centre we teach social skills one on one in therapy and in various group programs (so children can practice their skills with other children).
Please call the Centre if you would like more information about our services on 9274 7062.
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International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day is on Sunday 9th September every year. Yet many people have little idea of what FASD is and how it is caused.
What is FASD?
We’re very used to hearing in the media that alcohol consumption can cause a higher risk of many health conditions (e.g. cancer & heart disease). Alcohol use is also related to a higher rate of injury such as falls and vehicle accidents. And for some, alcohol is their addiction. It’s also associated with higher rates of depression, self-harm and suicide.
Alcohol use in pregnancy is the primary risk factor for babies being born with something called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are neuro-cognitive disorders that may present with a range of markers, including: unusual facial features; developmental delays; learning disabilities; behavioural difficulties; and health complications. As there is a spectrum of symptoms, FASD is often undetected until the child is older. However we now understand that it is a lifelong condition and children (adolescents and adults) often need ongoing support.
What’s the best thing to do in pregnancy?
FASD is an outcome of parents being unaware of the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Messages surrounding alcohol use during pregnancy in the past have been confusing. Do you remember back when the occasional glass of red wine was recommended for pregnant mothers? What we now know is that any level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can present a risk to the baby in utero.
The tragedy of FASD is that it is avoidable. No one intentionally sets out to harm their baby. Views about alcohol use during pregnancy can vary from family to family, and culture to culture. However the reality is that exposure to alcohol during pregnancy can cause harm and no one knows how much or how frequently alcohol needs to be consumed to cause harm.
The safest thing to do during pregnancy is to cease drinking all alcohol. Just as with smoking (and our knowledge now of the health risks involved with smoking during pregnancy), stopping alcohol consumption is the safest thing to do for the developing baby.
Children with FASD have their own challenges which can vary from child to child. Families with children with FASD need support and often this starts with diagnosis and recognising the problem.
A great resource to find out more about FASD is the NoFASD website at:
And as always you are welcome to come and talk to any of the psychologists in the Centre about any aspect of your child’s development.
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Parents can do a great job of parenting when their children are younger and then struggle when their children hit the teen years. While the house rules may still be the same, the ways in which we encourage teens to make positive choices has to evolve.
What Happens in Adolescence?
From a developmental perspective, adolescence is the stage where young people learn the skills they are going to need to have a successful adult life. This includes things like building and developing deeper relationships with others, independence (both practical, emotional and financial), identifying core values and developing strong problem solving skills.
In addition to puberty and physical development, adolescence is also a significant time for brain development. The prefrontal cortex (which is the decision-making part of the brain) is being reshaped, with changes continuing on into the early 20’s. During this phase of development, the amygdala (which is the emotional and instinctive part of the brain) is used more often. Between greater emotionality and poor decision making it’s no wonder that adolescence can be a bumpy time.
Teens also face a lot more stress in their day to day lives. We all faced peer pressure to a degree when growing up. However this generation has non-stop peer pressure and media influences to deal with through their social use of technology. Uncertainty about the future world of work, the state of the planet and society are also there in the background.
Parent – Teen Relationships
With all this busy work going on in adolescence parents often find their parenting techniques changing. Expectations about behaviour don’t have to change but the goal in adolescence is to help the teen make better choices themselves. Fundamental to all of this is the need for a strong and positive relationship between child and parent. It’s from this relationship that a parent can encourage a positive and healthy transition into adulthood for their teen.
What does a positive relationship look like from a teen’s perspective? If I was to distil down all the feedback I’ve had from teens over the years it would look like this:
- My parents listen to me.
- They involve me in decisions that are going to affect me.
- They still show me that they love me but do it without embarrassing me (e.g. no hugs in front of peers).
- They get involved in the stuff that’s important to me (e.g. sports, hobbies and interests).
- They let me make my own choices about who my friends are but are there to help when I need advice.
- We have “rules” in the house and I know the consequences (even if I don’t like them) and
- They talk to me about the important stuff when I need them to (e.g. sex, drugs and depression).
There is a lot to do to help a teen work their way through adolescence. If I had to recommend a place to start, it’s listening. Listening (when it’s done properly) shows that parents are interested, that they care and are being thoughtful in their responses. Listening also helps parent develop greater insight into their teen’s needs, hopes and challenges.
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We are well used to hearing about the health benefits of exercise and children. It keeps children fit, at a healthy weight, builds up strength and more. Did you know that exercise is also good for children’s mental health too?
How does exercise help?
1. Exercise can help children self-regulate
Some of us need physical activity to help off-load feelings of stress and anger. Moving at a level that makes a child “huff and puff” is one way of resetting both the body and brain to calm. Whether running, power walking, cycling or swimming, exercise provides an opportunity for children to burn off those unwanted feelings.
2. Exercise helps children learn social skills and make friends
Team sports are awesome for this. Playing cooperatively with others gives us the opportunity to learn social skills both on and off the court/field. Most sports teach skills such as sharing, turn-taking, negotiation and problem-solving. While training or playing there is the opportunity to make friends. Having positive relationships with others is a protective mental health factor.
3. Exercise can help us learn
It’s no coincidence that teachers in classrooms will down tools and take kids off for a run or a quick game to get them moving. That movement increases the child’s level of alertness and overall energy levels. All of which is the precursor to better concentration and focus in the classroom. Plus some children just need those breaks to be able to sustain their concentration. Being able to learn and retain information helps children develop their sense of competence. Why is that important? See Point 4.
4. Exercise can build self-esteem
Every child has their own strengths and weaknesses. For those children who have to work harder at their academic subjects, sports is often the area where they will shine. Having a sense of self-competence and experiencing success are the building blocks of positive self-esteem.
5. Exercise can lift children’s mood
Physical activity also releases endorphins in the brain… which means children feel happier. It’s not a coincidence that people will often talk about how exercise helps with depression and anxiety. Exercise, timed well, can also help with improving sleep in children too!
So now you know some other reasons why exercise is good for kids (aside from the physical health benefits). Winter doesn’t have to be a barrier to exercise it just means that sometimes we have to be a bit creative in how we fit it in and take advantage of the sunny days.
And did you know…all of the above also applies to adults too!
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Carl will be joining the team in July and initially will be working as a Child Therapist in the Centre.
Carl has a Masters in Psychology (Professional) and is currently seeking registration as a provisional psychologist. Once approved, this means that he will be fully supervised (by senior registered psychologists) in his work with children in the Centre as part of his internship with us. An “internship” in psychology speak, is a paid placement in an organisation where beginning psychologists are supervised and able to learn from other psychologists.
Carl brings with him to the Centre his previous experience working as a school psychologist. He has a strong interest in working with primary school aged children with anxiety and is passionate about making a difference in children’s lives. His recent study means he has the benefit of fresh knowledge and up to date research to inform his practice.
Carl isn’t able to offer Medicare rebates to his clients yet. As such he will be offering reduced session rates for both private and NDIS clients.
Please contact Tracey at reception on 9274 7062 for further information about Carl or any of our services.