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2020 is the year that is testing our collective and individual Resilience. As we watch tragic events around the country and world, it’s hard not to feel worry or sadness, and in some instances anger. This is proving to be a very tough year on us all, including our children.
What do we mean by resilience?
Resilience is our ability to cope well with the ups and downs of life. A bit like a rubber band, how well do we spring back after we’ve been stretched by a challenge. Depending on the type and number of challenges we face, our resilience might be quite low, and we don’t’ spring back easily. Low Resilience can result in feeling anxious about the next challenge, feeling down about ourselves, and perhaps not managing the next challenge as well as we would like to. When challenges pile up, like they have been doing this year, our resilience suffers and we might begin to feel overwhelmed.
There are different ideas about how resilience develops. The most common theory is that it is a mixture of personality factors, our environment (e.g. home and school), and our perceived level of support. As a parent, now is a good time to check in with our children and gauge our children’s resilience.
How can we improve our child’s resilience?
Here are some areas to consider…
Mental health research consistently points out that children who feel supported and have strong relationships with their parents are better able to cope. Now is the time for open discussions that provide reassurance and demonstrate care. Simply having a strong positive relationship with your child, all by itself, helps them.
We all need to feel that we are capable and confident. It’s also how we learn to problem solve and cope with failure. Experiences of success at home and school, coupled with your recognition and praise, can really help to improve confidence and resilience. Giving your children challenges, helping them to succeed and acknowledging their success, goes a long way in supporting their resilience, emotional well-being and sense of stability. At the same time, undue or harsh criticism can erode this too.
Managing strong feelings well is a sign of healthy resilience. However, many children don’t manage strong feelings easily or naturally. You can help by showing how you cope positively with challenge and teach your own calming strategies to your child. There are so many resources online about different ways that we can teach our children these skills.
Interested in knowing a bit more about resilience? We’ve included a link to another article that you might find helpful: https://psychcentral.com/lib/10-tips-for-raising-resilient-kids/
If you feel as though your child’s resilience or capacity to cope at the moment is low, and you need some assistance in supporting them, our experienced psychologists are ready to share their expertise. Please call our Reception on 9274 7062 for further information.
Naomi Ward, Director and Sharon Jones, Principal Psychologist
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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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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.
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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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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.