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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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For some children on the autism spectrum (and other children with developmental needs), learning daily behaviours and routines can be challenging. Brushing teeth, getting dressed, putting shoes on or preparing snacks are all examples of daily independent living skills where children may need extra help.
Some children need help breaking down the parts of the task into smaller chunks and learning step by step. Knowing the steps involved in the task are important. You need to be able to identify the skills your child needs to be able to teach them.
What is Task Analysis?
Task analysis is breaking down a complex task into a sequence of smaller steps with specific instructions and the expected responses.
Let’s take the example of brushing teeth. For many of us this behaviour is so automatic now that we don’t even think about what we’re doing. Imagine though trying to teach this behaviour to someone who has never done this or done this by themselves before. To help you work out how to explain brushing your teeth, you might break it down into the following steps:
Go to the bathroom, then find the sink
Find toothbrush and tooth paste
Squeeze tooth paste onto tooth brush
Put toothbrush away
*Note teaching children the actual art of brushing teeth, might be a whole separate lesson, with its own sequence of steps to follow.
Performing an action yourself (e.g. brushing your own teeth) or watching someone else do it will help you identify the steps in the behaviour. Try and note as much detail as you can as this can help you later to work out where to start.
So I have my steps identified, what next?
Now to the fun part. After a task analysis is developed the next step is to teach the steps or skills that make up the sequence. In ABA speak we talk about “chaining procedures”. This is the process where the sequence of skills/steps are taught one after the other…building up until the whole behaviour can be performed independently by the child.
Don’t worry! In the next ABACAS Tuesday the team will be talking about how to use chaining techniques at home. However you don’t have to wait. If you have a particular behaviour that you’d like to teach your child, why not grab a pen and pencil and see if you can’t start breaking the behaviour down into steps.
Want more help?
Jenny Lin, Program Manager and the team are available for consultation. All you need to do is to call reception on 9274 7062 for further information.
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Parenting can be stressful and all parents will feel stress at some point of their parenting journey. Stress can start in pregnancy as the body experiences change. Then in the process of caring for babies, stress can be triggered by lack of sleep, competing demands and changes in routines.
Later as children get older, stress can come with the many demands of parenting….a bit like trying to juggle many balls in the air at the same time.
How do you know you are experiencing stress?
The most common signs of stress include physical symptoms of tiredness, low energy, aches and pains. We can find ourselves more susceptible to the colds, flus and bugs going around. Mentally we can have difficulty concentrating, remembering and being organised. Emotionally we can feel sad and depressed or find ourselves quicker to anger than usual.
What can you do about stress?
Some simple steps to start you managing stress includes:
Identify your triggers. Knowing is half the battle. Identify your triggers for stress. Things like relationship issues, work and and coping with illness can add to the stress of being a parent. Some of these triggers can be predicted – and when this is the case – you can aim to support yourself during these periods.
Notice your symptoms of stress. Knowing your symptoms of stress helps you to identify them early on. Irritability, interrupted sleep, headaches and changes in appetite may signal that you are becoming more stressed. The following strategies should help to reduce your symptoms.
Lifestyle. Eating regular meals, attending to your sleep routines and exercising regularly are important lifestyle factors that improve mood and decrease stress. Make time for yourself in your busy routine to engage in these activities.
Socialising with other adults. Find some time to meet up with friends or family members. Compassionate friends can make all the difference.
Relaxation. Developing a relaxation routine or even brief techniques to calm yourself may reduce your stress. Deep breathing, muscle relaxation and guided meditation are some examples. Mindfulness and grounding can be used to stay connected to the present.
Address unhelpful thoughts. How we think affects how we feel. If you have having negative thoughts you may like to speak to a friend or a counsellor. It is possible to train your brain to dispute negative thoughts and find balanced alternatives.
Of course if you are feeling stress it may not be anything to do with the children. Other things cause us stress too – relationship difficulties, financial strains, having to care for others in the family. The list goes on!
Always feel free to talk to you consultant in the Centre. If we are not the right people to help, we can help you find other professionals who may be able to help.
Please contact Tracey on reception for further information about our services on 9274 7062.
Occupational Therapist Team / Psychology Team
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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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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 are ever need assistance with any of this, you have the support from our Psychology Team. Just call Tracey 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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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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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.
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Going to hospital for most of us can be a stressful experience. Aside from finding ways to manage day to day responsibilities, we also have the procedure/surgery to look forward to. As adults we have our previous experience and knowledge to help us adjust to being in hospital. For children, especially young children, this may be their first experience…and it may be a little overwhelming.
Children look to their parents for support and follow their lead. So it helps to have a game plan. Here are some ideas to think about in preparing your child for hospital:
1.Be honest and open with them about what’s happening but think about the child’s developmental and what they can understand.
2.Encourage lots of questions about what will happen. Often this is a way that children can rehearse the steps involved.
3.For children with developmental disabilities (and young children) a social story outlining key steps can be useful too. Use pictures of the hospital and any equipment in your story.
4.For surgery which might require longer stays, ask the hospital if they have any pre-admission programs. These are where the child can come into the hospital and look at where they will be, meet staff and have a look around.
5.For younger children, “playing hospitals” with them and using a doll or Teddy Bear as the patient can not only be fun but also help to rehearse what will be happening.
6.For older children – ask if there is someone (e.g. a nurse or social worker) who can meet with the child prior to admission to walk them through what will happen.
7. And lastly, take a deep breath… children going to hospital can be anxiety provoking for parents too! Sometimes we have to take time to prepare ourselves as well as our children.
Hope this helps! Please feel free to talk to your consultants for support and other ideas on how to help your child and family prepare.