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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.
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School holidays can be a great time to hop out of routine and reconnect with children. For many children it’s also a very necessary break after a very busy term. While some parents love school holidays, we also have families in the Centre that approach it with a sense of dread. Aside from keeping one (or a mob) of hungry, tired, easily bored children busy, there is also the challenge of staying on top of all those other responsibilities that don’t stop too.
Some tips to help have a positive experience during the school holidays (in no particular order)
- Set a school holiday budget for activities (and stick to it). Feeling out of control about finances can add to the stress. Rather than have children asking to go to everything that happens during the holidays, set a budget and involve them in the decision making about outings and special events. Aside from teaching good life skills, this will also help to head off some arguments.
- Plan activities in advance so that children have something to look forward to and some structure during the week. This isn’t just about special outings. It can include things like swimming lessons and play dates. Have a calendar up somewhere easily visible so that children can see when things are happening. It helps them to anticipate and make the most of their “free time” at home. There are lots of school holidays activities that don’t cost anything (other than time and travel). Draw on the activities that the council, local shopping centre and libraries have to offer to help mix things up and keep things interesting.
- Set rules in place at the start of the holidays for things like device and TV time. Being clear about expectations helps reduce arguments. Also we want children outside taking advantage of the sunny weather when it’s shining. Think about all that lovely exercise they could be doing during the day, to help them fall asleep at night (and create some quiet time for you!).
- Have other family members help where they can. Where you can involve other family members in school holidays plans. It’s helps make the time fly, gives children other interesting experiences and parents time to have some down time or catch up time.
- Combine forces with other families and schedule play dates or activities. Wandering around Perth Zoo is so much more enjoyable with another adult present to chat to as the children roam. Having a chat with another parent (s) while the kids occupy themselves is a great thing in so many ways. Aside from the kids entertaining themselves, the parents get some down time too.
- Set designated “Parent Rest” times. A miserable stressed parent makes for miserable school holidays for kids too. Give yourself permission to take some time for self-care.
The Centre is open all holidays. Some of the consultants will be taking leave though. Please contact Tracey at reception on 9274 7062 to find out when your consultants are on board or to make at time to check-in with them.
From all of us at the Centre we hope that you and your family enjoy the holidays!
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Temper tantrums are never fun. Children are wonderful things but boy can they challenge us at times. Staying calm as a parent when others around you are melting down into little puddles of anger, frustration and hurt requires skill, patience and practice. Even more so if you have more than one temper tantrum going off at the same time.
We always aim to avoid them where we can but even with the most amazing parenting, temper tantrums will happen. Aside from children not getting what-ever it is they want, temper tantrums can be triggered by other things such as hunger, sickness and tiredness.
What is a temper tantrum and why are they so hard?
Nearly every parent, teacher and therapist who has had anything to do with children will know about temper tantrums. However just to be clear, a tempter tantrum is an emotional outburst which involves a range of different behaviours depending on the child. It can include: crying, screaming, kicking, throwing, spitting, unpleasant words and my personal favourite, breath holding. You may even be able to add a few more behaviours to the list!
The goal when dealing with a temper tantrum is to be firm and consistent. Despite what your child may be doing, we also need to stay clam. Giving too much attention through shouting or being angry back at the child often backfires on us or at least makes the next temper tantrum that bit harder to handle.
What can you do once the temper tantrum starts?
Start by breathing – deeply and slowly. Getting angry or giving the adult version of a temper tantrum is not going to help. The more petrol you pour onto the fire, the more behaviour you’re going to get (which may include an escalation of behaviours or longer temper tantrum). Your job here as the parent is to get your child to slow down and calm down. Essentially we want the child to calm and make wiser choices.
What you do next will depend on the age of the child, what triggered the temper tantrum and how well the child can calm themselves. Some children may need to be held and rocked as they clam down (think little ones), others may need to be ignored and redirected to a more appropriate action. For those temper tantrums that are triggered by physical needs e.g. hunger, tiredness and sickness, your next steps may be more about addressing those needs.
Here are some extra strategies you may find helpful:
Take a deep breath from your stomach. Anyone who has done singing, yoga or pilates will have been taught the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe in while counting to five, then hold the breath. Breathe out slowly, letting the air escape naturally from your lungs. You may need to do this a few times to stay in that calmer place.
Some of us are able to engage our imagination and take ourselves to a more relaxed space. For example visualise yourself at the beach on a warm, sunny day, or any place that you associate with peace or calm.
Walk away – if it’s safe. Time out isn’t just for children. If it’s safe to leave your child for a moment, step out of the room until you’re ready to re-engage. Put some music on (not too loud) and wait until both you and the child are calm.
Need more help?
As mentioned above temper tantrums are very normal. There is help available through our Psychology team if your child starts to have them regularly or it’s getting harder to manage temper tantrums. Please feel free to contact Reception for more information about our Psychology Services on 9274 7062.
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As adults we know what it feels like when we have a poor night’s sleep. We can wake up the next morning feeling like we don’t have energy, grumpy and can even experience “brain fog”. Children also are effected by poor sleep, particularly when poor sleep happens night after night.
Sleep Difficulties in Children
Poor sleep patterns in children can lead to increased irritability, behavioural problems, memory and learning difficulties. While there are different kinds of sleep difficulties, the two most common are sleep onset and sleep disturbance.
Sleep onset difficulties are where your child simply struggles to fall asleep. This can look like frequent calling out or “escape” attempts from the bedroom. Your child will be complaining that they just can’t fall asleep. In the more extreme cases, you and your child may end up arguing and in tears over their inability to settle. And all of this occurs at a time when both you and your child are naturally tired.
Sleep disturbances are where your child falls asleep but wakes up and finds it hard to resettle. For some children this can happen once a night, for other multiple times. In either instance, this causes difficulties for other family members (not just the child) as they go looking for you or siblings in the middle of the night.
Setting up Sleep Routines
A good place to start is to look at how they prepare for sleep. A sleep routine is all the routine actions we take on the way to putting our head on our pillow. We all have a sleep routine but some actions are more helpful than others.
A helpful sleep routine might look like:
- some quiet time (e.g. reading & drawing);
- laying out clothes for the next day;
- getting into PJs;
- brushing teeth and visiting the toilet;
- having 10-15 minutes with a parent reading a story together; and
- lights out.
Some habits are not going to promote good sleep. Try to avoid the following:
- Don’t let your child have sugary and caffeinated drinks before bedtime. Too much sugar and caffeine makes it hard for their bodies to wind down;
- Don’t let them take an electronic device to bed. The light that these devices emit gives the brain the message that’s its day-time, making it harder to fall asleep. Plus, the visual stimulation that comes with video games keeps the brain alert…the opposite of what it needs at bedtime;
- Don’t give in to repeated calls for drinks, cuddles and more stories. A gentle (but brief) reminder that you are near-by and that it’s bed time is all that’s needed. Giving lots of attention at bedtime, only helps to keep your child awake;
- No vigorous exercise for your child before bedtime. Exercise energises us…again the opposite of what we need to feel at bedtime; and
- Don’t spend too much time trying to settle the child (e.g. rocking or cuddling the child) when they can’t sleep. Aside from giving lots of attention, it may be stopping the child from learning self-soothing skills themselves and may actually keep them awake longer.
Some actions which are more likely to promote good sleeping in children, include:
- Making sure that there is sufficient quiet time in the routine…at least 20-30 minutes and putting this in at the start of the routine. Very few of us wind down in 5 minutes!
- Trying to incorporate a bath into the routine (for those children who like baths). A warm bath is an excellent way to relax the body. Be careful with showers though – they tend to refresh us and wake us up.
- Leaving nightlights on. Younger children in particular find this comforting and fortunately we are spoiled for choice in terms of brightness, colours and shapes.
- Reassure anxious children that you will come back during the night and check on them and that you are in the next room etc. This can help soothe any worries.
- Being consistent. Sleep routines take a while to establish.
Need more help with your child’s sleep?
The psychology team in the Centre can help with further assessment and strategies. Please call our Reception on 9274 7062 for more information.
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The Child Wellbeing Centre will be running another Secret Agent Society program for children in Term Three, 2018.
What Is Secret Agent Society?
Secret Agent Society is a small group program designed by an Australian clinical psychologist, Dr Renae Beaumont, to help children ages 9 to 12 to improve their social and emotional skills.
By the end of the 9-week small group program, the junior detectives graduate as secret agents. They would have learned the following skills:
- Recognise emotions in themselves and others
- Express feelings in appropriate ways
- Talk and play with others
- Solve friendship problems and
- Cope with change and deal with bullying
The program uses role play, home missions and a computer game to strengthen the skills learned in the group setting. Parents and schools are an integral part of the program and receive resources and support to help young agents practise their new skills.
For more information about the program please have a look at this website:
When will Secret Agent Society Run?
Club sessions are from July 28 until September 22, every Saturday 9-11am. Parent training session will be held July 21st.
How to register for the program?
To register interest, please contact our reception on 9274 7062.
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One of the saddest things to hear as a parent is that your child has no one to play with at school. For some children making friends is such an easy thing to do while for others, it is fraught with difficulty. At the Child Wellbeing Centre, we often see children with social difficulties – both at the primary and secondary school level.
Some simple tips to offer children struggling to make friends include:
Say hello – It’s such a simple thing to do but so many children forget to start by being friendly themselves. A big smile, eye contact and a cheery hello are a great way to make connections with peers.
Ask a question –“Can I play too?” or “How are you?” or “What is that?” are all good ways to show someone that you are interested in being their friend. But the questions have to be positive and relevant to what the peer is doing.
Share something – Children can share something about themselves or an idea they have. For example, suggesting a game to play. The trick is to make sure it’s on topic – that is – it’s related to what the other child is saying.
Suggest an activity- Suggest playing a game. Asking for play-dates is fine too so long as parents are consulted along the way.
Give a compliment- Tell peers something you like about them. We all like hearing positive statements about ourselves. Compliments always need to be genuine though – merely saying something nice (just for the sake of making a compliment) can sound fake and back fire.
Listen too- Children need to listen to what their friends want to talk about…not just focus on what we want to say. Taking turns is an important social skills in games and in conversation too!
Need more help?
Fortunately friendship skills can be taught. The Speech Pathology, Psychology, Occupational Therapy and ABACAS team all work with children to help them develop the skills they need to make and keep friends.
Please call our reception on 9274 7062 for further information.
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Feelings of grief and loss can be triggered for children by changes such as the death of a loved one, the loss of an important person from their life, parental separation, and moving to a new school or home.
As a parent you will want to protect your child from distress but grief and loss is often a very natural reaction to something very sad that has happened in a child’s life. It doesn’t mean that the child is not coping. Rather it may mean that the child is just very naturally expressing their emotions.
How do children express grief or loss?
Depending on the age of the child, children may express their grief differently to adults. And as with all children, you may notice differences in the way that individual children respond.
Children sometimes do not understand what a loss means. Particularly for young children who experience the death of a loved one they may not comprehend the implications of death. This may mean they act as if nothing has happened. It’s important to plan how you will explain a death or change to your child in a way they will understand.
Some children will respond to feelings of grief or loss by acting angry, oppositional and defiant. This is usually because they do not know how to process their feelings, and feel out of control. This is particularly true for teenagers who may begin to push boundaries in response to feelings of grief and loss. It is important to respond to underlying feelings, be supportive and understanding, and find ways for children to express feelings in safe ways.
Children can sometimes feel despair in response to grief or loss; this may include sadness, crying, hopelessness, anxiousness, being clingy, and being fearful of separating from loved ones. It is important to provide lots of love and reassurance, and model that you can be sad but still live your life.
Some children may feel guilt, blame or responsibility for events surrounding grief or loss. Letting children talk about their worries openly will allow adults to challenge ideas, give more realistic explanations, and remove burden from children.
Tips for responding to children’s grief:
- Gradually children will accept the reality of loss, try to encourage them to also find some hope for the future.
- Let children be involved in rituals around loss such as choosing and decorating their new room, making photo collages of their memory of a loved one.
- Allow children to continue talking about loss and their feelings around that. Give permission for children to express whatever emotions they may have, even if they differ to your own.
- Consistency can help children adjust to changes; having familiar people, places, and things around them can provide a sense of security in a difficult time.
- Model the expression of your own emotions regarding the loss in healthy and appropriate ways.
Our psychology team at the Child Wellbeing Centre are also there to help you if you are still worried about how your child is coping.
Please call 9274 7062 for further information.