Connecting Parents and Children: What is the Recipe?

One of the most popular bands of all time sang – “All you need is love.” But as a mother of two, I can say that even though love towards your children can be the most intense and beautiful feeling that a human can possibly experience, I strongly believe that in this case, love is not always enough. I hate disagreeing with The Beatles, but even to unconditional love, there is a lot more involved.

As a therapist, I frequently hear that parenting is not an easy task. When the child grows older and starts showing their own desires, it can be difficult for the parents to keep the children and certain situations under control. The tantrums can be frequent and the inability of dealing with it, increases the issues and decreases the positivity in the relationship. Having different perspectives and goals starts in childhood and are intensified as the children reach adolescence. This last is a very critical period in someone’s developmental, with a likely removal from parents’ relationship and some risk-taking behaviour, what can contribute to family conflict.  

Some parents believe that having an authoritarian style is the key to success, as some of them had this type of education and in a sense, they see how it “worked.” But studies indicate that it can lead to distance between the family members, creating a disruption in the relationship instead of a strong bond. So, using control, punishment and verbal aggression may not be the best approach in a parent-child or parent-adolescent relationship.

It is true that children and adolescent need rules, responsibilities and learn with the consequences of their actions. But it can surely be done in a gentle and assertive way. To value your child’s emotions, listen to their wishes and see their perspectives doesn’t mean to let them lead parenting. It means that you can validate their feelings and have the chance to explain yours too. And when dialogue is not possible, mutual agreements can take place. This will surely get you together and the fruits will be seen in the relationship: more harmonious with less misunderstandings and conflict.

Being an assertive parent is the good balance to teach your child responsibilities with love. If you, parent, dare to stop the autopilot and allow yourself to listen, learn and try things from a different angle, your child will react more collaboratively, with a widened repertoire and a better self-regulation and self-awareness skills. To conclude, as I can’t stand disagreeing with one of the most sensitive souls in the world, I can say that if you are battling with your offspring, “Life is very short (…) for fussing and fighting, my friend.” Dare to learn and do things in a different way. And if you fear to dare, or are struggling with the process, we are here to support you.

Written By:
Andrea Fernandes Thomaz
Counsellor & Psychotherapist

SACAC Counselling

How to choose when you are not sure.

It’s the thing which spooks the financial markets. It’s something difficult when prolonged and intolerable on a permanent basis. It’s a general state of being – still! Any idea what I am talking about? Yes, you’ve guessed it – or maybe you haven’t – it’s uncertainty! 

Since children are always growing, they exist in a constant state of uncertainty. As parents, they will often come to you with it. Sometimes, you too may feel that there is something up with your child but you are not sure what. Given that it can be experienced as diversely as corrosive, intriguing or expressive, it begs the question; what do you do with someone’s uncertainty?

Well, in mental health terms, it depends on who you ask. A psychiatrist will often unleash a diagnosis on you, accompanied by medication in an attempt to define and address it. Uncertainty becomes more certain. Similarly, a clinical psychologist will seek to clarify the difficulty through understanding and helping educate you about it. This learning process develops a range of possible treatments, based on the idea of removing (and often replacing) the uncertainty. Counsellors may advise in different ways in order to guide you towards a more certain position, or along a clearer path. Psychotherapists, like me, tend to think about it a bit longer, gradually exploring uncertainty with you until you feel resilient enough to manage it yourself. 

Perhaps your own reaction to these options may help you find a suitable support for your child, should they need one. It might also help clarify your role. Uncertainty underlies all of mental health, since you can’t see it, touch it or even believe in it at times. To address it, we must address ourselves too. Are you like a psychiatrist? Some of us like to vaporise uncertainty, using our minds and bodies like lasers to seek out and destroy it. Others like to be educated and draw strength from definitions, terms or titles – it may be easier to know what to do if you know what it is, as a psychologist might say. Many, particularly children, like to feel that others know best and as long as you can trust them enough, their guidance can be supportive. 

Not so many, if I am honest, are comfortable doing what many psychotherapists refer to as ‘sitting with it’. This openness to difficulty is a brave and somewhat blind step – do you take many of those? Would you have someone work with your child from the presumption that their role is to let the child, in their own way and at their own pace, tell them? This is called listening, which may sound a bit wet in the face of a good paragraph from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) V, but is perhaps the basis of all forms of support. The difference across professionals is in the way they listen. 

Psychotherapists may seem to listen to everything. It is a liberating experience to be offered someone’s complete attention and one which we all had, or hoped for, when very young. Such interest helps to notice what may have become part of someone, or what may hold them back. The relationship itself is therapy and can foster resilience through experience. But it needs to be contained in something solid, otherwise it loses meaning. You pour your drink into a glass, not into the air. Therefore, the structure of psychotherapy sessions – a fixed time, setting and approach, with agreed equipment – is formalised and almost rigid in comparison with our dispensable world. This is so that within it, space becomes very open. 

This is not a plea for psychotherapy but a clarification of the work. Your approach to uncertainty may define your approach to problems in general. Grasping it may help you when choosing support for your children. If they are having a difficulty, perhaps consider what they seem to respond to. Then maybe think about you; what do you value? Between these positions, support may clarify itself. In doing so, you also unlock your own potential to support your child, as well as your current limits. It is from here that support can stand alongside you, where it is best-placed to help. 

PS. As you are still reading this, thank you for sitting with the difficulty. 

Written By:
Robert Leveson
Psychotherapist & Counsellor
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC & APACS)
SACAC Counselling

American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition; American Psychiatric Association Publishing

Sending your Child to Therapy? What to Know about Parent Consultations.

Who and What my Child’s Therapist is About

During your first parent consultation, the therapist will start with an intake interview with you to gather information about your child. This may include current parenting strategies and any difficulties your child has been experiencing that brought them to therapy in the first place. This is also a time where you can ask your child’s therapist what their approach to working with children is and what therapy with a child looks like. Some child therapists specialize in working with specific conditions or utilize specific therapeutic approaches to work with children and if you have specific questions, this would be a good time to ask these questions.  

How Parent Consultations Work

After the initial parental intake session, your child’s therapist may call for subsequent parent consultations. These meetings allow for you to consult with the therapist if you encounter any difficulties parenting your child, and provide opportunities to refine and practice any new parenting skills introduced by your child’s therapist. Similar to coaching, your child’s therapist may help you to troubleshoot difficulties, and more importantly, support and encourage you on your parenting journey.

Does Parenting Work Suggest I am a Bad Parent?

Parents who bring their children in for therapy may sometimes feel guilty and ashamed for their child’s difficult behaviors. Rather, parents who have brought their children in for therapy are investing in enhanced emotional health and well-being for their children and that takes much courage and sacrifice from a financial and time perspective. I am always appreciative of parents who have taken the step and effort to send their children to therapy. You have taken the first step to make things better for you and your child. When your child’s therapist suggests some parenting work, it is not only an invitation for you to oil the gears to be more helpful support for your child, but is also an opportunity for you to enhance your relationship with your child. The child-parent relationship is an invaluable part of life that not only allows both the parent and child to enjoy one another better but also makes it easier for you to parent your child with this foundation that you are building and contributing to.

Parents’ Involvement in Parental Consultations

Although your child is attending therapy, it is crucial that you are actively involved in supporting your child. This collaboration ensures your child has the best chance of getting better. What this involves is actively learning and applying the strategies introduced by your child’s therapist. You may not find yourself successful the first few times but this is perfectly normal and to be expected in learning something new. You can be as involved as you want in parent consultations. However, since you have already invested time and energy, why not try getting as involved as you can to see what differences that can lead up to? Most children may not thank their parents for trying, but like gardening, it takes time for fruits to bear.

Written by:
Isabelle Ong, Ph.D., LCMHCA, NCC (USA)
Clinical Mental Health Counselor for Individuals & Groups, Children, Adolescents, Couples & Families
SACAC Counselling

Attached: To Their Screens?

Attachment is a necessity for human life – across the lifespan. Attachment is connection and compassion, it is the relationships with people you trust and who care about you. This blog post explores how screens (including our own) interfere with attachment behaviours and as such can leave children and young people in an attachment void, increasing their peer orientation and peer attachments. Physician Dr. Gabor Maté and Clinical Psychologist Gordon Neufield help put a context around what is biologically required for children and young people, to attach and the challenges for parents “in the digital age”. 

Screens and our reliance on them is one of parents, teachers and all who love and care for children and young people’s biggest concern for them. We are concerned by what our young people tell us, we are concerned by what we see on Netflix (Social Dilemma anyone?), we notice it in ourselves and our addictions to screens, work and social media. We are most concerned by the behavior changes we notice. Parents and professionals are concerned about increased addictive behavior, increased mental health concerns (Anxiety, Depression, suicidality), and decreased adult and intergenerational connection and influence in their young person’s life, and the reality is – it is complex. There is a tremendous amount we do not know about the brain, brain development, there is luck, genetics, the environment, the peer group, maturational factors, school, sibling order; the list could go on. However, we can take an approach of trying to understand, with some empathy and nuance, why do children and young people sometimes find themselves in situations where they are practically strangers to the people who care deeply about them and want to connect, and they are overly connected to their peers – much of which is online?

There is a never-ending round of discussion in any parenting group you would care to join on how, when, and what media we should allow access to for our children. Furthermore, this may not be solely a family decision – children may be required to have a device for school, parents may feel it is important to have a phone for safety and/ or accessibility. It is very much a case that the “horse” has well and truly bolted from the barn – so how can we help make it safer for children and young people, for their brains, their minds, and their emerging sense of self?

Here is a typical parental concern you may hear at any gathering of parents with adolescents: “I don’t feel as though I know them at all anymore”, “they come home from school (or spend the day during home learning) and then they are in their room, are on their phone/ laptop/ device – chatting, doing homework, YouTube, online gaming from the minute they get home until they go to bed. I barely see them for dinner.” These struggles have been normalized through our culture – however, my sense is that it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, the young people themselves do not like either. They are uncomfortable, scared, lost, and confused and that is why they turn to the screens in a never-ending loop of attempting to connect, to feel safe, and to sometimes numb the painful feelings they are experiencing.

But first – what is the problem if an adolescent is overly focussed on their peers? The problem is that with the never-ending access to screens and expectations young people have of themselves to be constantly available (via Snapchat, Discord, Messenger, etc.) that this can interfere with their primary caregiver attachments and relationships.  Certainly, teens are empathetic, they are kind and thoughtful, they can be fun, delightful, interesting, and intelligent. They however still need an adult, a secure safe trusted caregiver who has wisdom through context, who loves and values them unconditionally, who can help them problem solve, who they are not overly reliant on for their emerging ego development. In other words – we all can benefit from peer relationships, but for a child and a young person, this can become mutually exclusive to the adult caregiver attachment. If at the exact moment when our teenagers need to be held gently, to be contained and celebrated – if they are only left with a culture of fear of exclusion, desperate needs to fit in, to be fulfilling their attachment instinct with their peers rather than a parent or trusted caregiver then we are creating environments that are unsafe for them.

What can we do?

1.) Prioritize family time. Dr. Gordon Neufeld believes that children spend plenty of time with their peers at school. Time outside of school and work (holidays, weekends, etc.) need not to be always socializing with peers. This helps them stay attached to the family and caregivers.

2.) Proximity and connection with all our senses. This means that we adults need to be physically and emotionally available. We as caregivers need to be aware of our own divided attention and screen usage, turn our full attention to them, show and develop an interest in what interests them.

3.) Have shared experiences, both on and off screens. Cultural practices and rites of passage are important for adolescents, it can help anchor them with roots to the community and support emerging identity development.

Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufuld have many resources including “Hold Onto Your Kids” and various lecture series for parents and professionals. 

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin
SACAC Counselling

Gordon Neufeld:
Dr. Gabor Maté :

The benefits of artistic expression in this uncertain time to express what we cannot name

In this time of uncertainty, returning to a creative activity gives us, parents and children, the opportunity to take the time to welcome our emotions, to explore them and to enrich each other. It is useful and recommended to find a few avenues to explore in order to support your child’s voice.

In the context of COVID, children need to express what they are feeling. Exposed to the media and to the conversations of adults, they must be given the opportunity to reconnect with their own critical capacities and to put prejudices, classifications and speculations aside.

The trace

Arno Stern, creator of the Clos Lieu and founder of “le Jeu de Peindre,” insists that drawing, in Italian as in German, means “to show,” “to designate.” A sketch is better than a beautiful speech! Drawing is a means of communication for the child – it has meaning and it leaves a mark. This trace is used to contain emotions without having to verbalize them. It is a way of representing “outside of yourself” what we experience with the environment. This allows us to de-dramatize and defuse, without trivializing.

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The transformative power of writing (narrative practice)

Helping our child to tell his story can certainly contribute to his well-being, in times of crisis like the one we are currently experiencing. Supporting him is offering him the opportunity to transform his emotions and for him to become aware of himself: Where am I? How did I get there? Where am I going? It allows him to situate himself in relation to his relationship to others and to the current context.

As a parent, it is by no means the quality of the drawing that is sought, but the quality of the time spent together recounting what we observe, what we have heard during the day.

It offers us a potential space for:

– To make time for a break

– Accept difficult feelings if there are any

– Find a place of safety, security, serenity, joy to express

– Claiming our voice to tell

– Transform feelings

– Enrich and deepen our understanding of our community

So, how do you facilitate artistic expression?

–  Remain concrete, authentic, and rich in details

–  Listen

–  Do not try to justify or over-analyze when writing, drawing, etc.

–  Recognize and balance negativity with positivity

–  Use metaphors to represent concepts instead of trying to define everything

– Do not worry about grammar

– Do not exceed 1 hour per day

– Enjoy the process!

Written by:
Saveria Cristofari 
SACAC Counselling

Connecting with the feeling and meaning beneath childrens’ behaviour

There is a little and loved book in our house that was given to my children. The bearer of this book declared it a long time favorite in their house, one often requested at bedtime. The children’s book follows a young girl who runs through a series of potential mishaps with her Mother – and asks, “Would you love me?” Finally, running out of scenarios in which to test her Mother’s love the girls asks, “What if I turned into a polar bear and I was the meanest bear you ever saw and I had sharp, shiny teeth, and I chased you into your tent and you cried?” The Mother replies, “then I would be very surprised and very scared. But still, inside the bear, you would be you, and I would love you.”

It strikes me that so often our children’s challenging, explosive, angry, jealous, sad and tricky feelings are waiting to be understood in this way. That when they are most out of control, and most uncontained that this is the exact moment they need us to see the “the real them inside the bear” and help them find a way back to themselves. Janet Lansbury and the RIE method offer many practical and effective ideas for parents to help their children find their way back to themselves in these moments. Here are 3 ideas that can allow children to discharge the emotion they are experiencing and stay connected with their caregiver. For, it is the relationship above all else that is important.

1.) Reflecting Emotions with Empathy: Welcome emotional expression, it is how children (and adults) calm their arousal from stressful experiences, yelling, crying, “tantrums” of stamping feet are not things that a parent can control, and in fact they help the child discharge the emotion they are feeling. Often once the child has the experience of being heard, seen and accepted in their big feelings they are then open to hearing the rational wiser ideas that parents or caregivers can offer. Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Bryson in “The Whole Brain Child” call this ‘Connect and Redirect’. The Whole Brain Child is a tremendous book that I recommend to anyone who is interested in children, the brain and making parenting more enjoyable.

2.) ‘Sportscasting’ (or ‘Broadcasting’): Is the term given to the “just the facts” reflection of the situation. This verbalization of the events is done in a comfortable, non-judgmental, neutral tone. The adult demonstrates understanding and ideally empathy for the child’s position, yet does not accept the invitation to fix, find fault or favor. As parents we all have an instinct to protect and solve disputes for our children. However, just like helping them in other matters that they can resolve themselves we may be taking from them a great opportunity to learn. What children deeply need in these moments is connection. They want to know the adults understand the feeling, see what is going on, they want to know we are there for them, and are available to step in when they really need us. When they do need an adult to step in and stop them is when things are about to, or have already crossed the line into, pushing, hitting, biting, or kicking.

3.) Ground and Calm yourself – take a few deep grounding breaths, the purpose is to dampen down your own sympathetic nervous system,  to bring the calm with you. Children will naturally take on the affect you bring into any situation. Triple P’s (Positive Parenting Program) mantra is “Always be, bigger, stronger, wiser and KIND”. Finding one that works for you can be a lifeline to your parenting intentions in times of daily struggles and stressful moments.

Janet Lansbury:
Triple P:
Barbara M Joose, “Mama, Do You Love Me?”
Dr Daniel J. Siegel and Dr Tina Bryson, “The Whole-Brain Child

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin

SACAC Counselling

Positive Parenting Tips

Positive parenting may seem daunting at first, especially if your child is expressing behavioural, or emotional difficulties. However positive parenting focuses particularly on your child’s good behaviour, helping both yourself and your child identify the behaviours we would like to see more of.

It is however also not a means of ignoring negative behaviours, rather providing additional options to your child, so he or she may learn to choose behaviours that would lead to quicker and more effective results for both parents and child.

One of my favourite parenting books Children Are from Heaven, speaks about five messages for parents to provide to their children which not only helps a child feel safe, confident and in control, but also helps frame behaviours in a positive light for parents to understand why difficult behaviours occur.

These five messages include saying,

  1. it’s okay to be different, unique and who you are,
  2. it’s okay to make mistakes, let’s learn from them,
  3. it’s okay to express positive and negative emotions,
  4. it’s okay to want more, more time, more hugs and more space,
  5. it’s okay to say and hear no, with love knowing mom and dad are still in charge.

By simply saying these five things to your child you can help them see that what they are feeling is “normal” and okay, and that they can express themselves without fear or judgment.

Now that we’ve reviewed five ways of normalising emotion, let’s consider the top five positive parenting techniques that you can implement starting today

  1. Making eye-contact – this not only helps sustain attention but also provides you with an opportunity to talk on your child’s level, crouch down and seem less intimidating.
  2. Make your requests as clear as possible, instead of saying “go clean your room”, you can say “please go to your room and pack away your books, toys and clothes, then we’ll continue to play this game”.
  3. Give positive praise – when the situation calls for it remember to give praise to well-earned positive behaviours, “thank you for cleaning up your room Timmy, you even found all your socks
  4. Express yourself – linking to positive praise and the five messages, allow yourself also to model emotions for your child, let them see how you manage anger, joy, stress, and gratitude.
  5. Use positive phrases – instead of saying “no running” you can say “Sabrina you can walk”, and instead of saying “no hitting” rather say “Brian, we’re using soft/ gentle hands”.

By engaging in these five messages and five parenting techniques with the parenting style you’ve been using it may provide your child with understanding of their behaviours, modifying their responses and meet you halfway.

More resources:

  • Children are from Heaven –  Positive Parenting Skills for Raising Cooperative,Confident, and Compassionate Children by John Gray, Ph.D.
  • The positive Parent Raising Healthy, Happy and Successful Children, Birth-Adolescence by Kerby T. Alvy Ph.D.

Written by:
Alex Koen
Specialist Wellness Counsellor (ASCHP)
SACAC Counselling

Supporting Your Child Through Divorce

Separation and divorce can be the most challenging time for a family. Although the breakup is between parents, it impacts the entire family and emotions can often fly high while trying to navigate through this period. The good news is that the majority of kids whose parents divorce do cope and the impact can be small if it is managed well. The following pointers offer some basic guidance.

How to tell your child

If possible, both parents should be present to break the news. Divorce creates change and uncertainty for children which can be de-stabilising, before speaking with your children have an agreed way forward of how the new situation will work for all family members (e.g. living arrangements, contact with both parents, how parents will continue communication). Speak honestly and admit that is it sad, but spare the child too much detail. Ensure they know the breakup is between the adults and has nothing to do with them, this may need repeating a number of times to offer reassurance.

Expect a mix of reactions

Depending on your child’s age and personality factors (e.g. coping skills, resiliency, communication skills, etc.), your child or children will process and express the news in different ways. It is not unusual for children to express anger, lose sleep, have anxiety, act out, lose appetite, etc. If you feel comfortable enough to share the news with the school, teachers can monitor your child and update you on any change in behaviour. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling about the divorce and legitimise their feelings by showing you understand their perspective (e.g. ‘I know you feel sad that dad doesn’t live here anymore).

Keep your child out of the disagreements between you and your ex

Even though you may be feeling hurt by your ex, avoid speaking badly of your ex in front of your child. Don’t fight or bring up disagreements in front of your child. Avoid confiding in your child or giving your child information about the details of the separation and don’t make them choose sides.

Maintain rules and boundaries

This period will lead to inevitable changes in the family, which can create feelings of anxiety and uncertainty for your child. As much as possible keep routines and boundaries consistent. Maintain similar rules across both households, even if your child is testing boundaries.

Put your child first

Throughout the process, parents can get caught up in what is fair for them. It is important to focus on what is good for the children, even when this may not always be good for the parent. Look after yourself and seek help and support, if you are not managing your emotions then it is difficult to have the capacity to help your child through this period.

Written by:
Dr. Jennifer Greene
Consultant Educational & Child Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

Some further reading and resources:
‘Putting Children First: proven parenting strategies for helping children thrive through divorce’ by Joanne Pedro-Carroll
‘Joint custody with a Jerk’ by Julie A Ross and Judy Corcoran
‘The Invisible String’ by Patricia Karst (to read with children aged 4-8 years)
‘The Suitcase kid’ by Jacqueline Wilson (for children aged 9-11 years)

Body Image And Its Effect On The Child’s Self Esteem And Confidence

Body image is the way that someone perceives their own bodies and how others perceive them. In simple words, it relates to one’s shape, size, and weight. Body image may vary from unhealthy to healthy or vice-versa at the different stages in one’s life. A healthy body image in early years lays the foundation for good physical and mental health.

Some facts pointed out by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

• Body size awareness tends to start around the age of 5 in children.
• 40-60% of elementary school girls and 25% of elementary school boys are
worried about weight gain.
• By preteens, 50% of girls are dissatisfied with weight, shape and start to
withdraw from activities because they feel bad about their appearance
• In middle school, girls start to actively manage their appearance (more than boys), and is particularly stressful for them because of the change in body shape, as a result of puberty.

Research data shows that body satisfaction may hit a low between the ages of 12-15, this means that obsession with “looks”, starts at a much earlier age. The need to look perfect is spreading across most age groups, ethnicity, strata and the influence seems to be strong and impossible to ignore.

Did you know that, 24-year-old double Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington, who was credited to inspire a generation of young swimmers, was reduced to tears, feeling insecure during a conversation about body image after her retirement from the sport, on BBC breakfast?

Family life and culture tend to have a strong influence on the teen’s views about their bodies. Different cultures and families have varied views about ideal body shapes and sizes – some being more encouraging and realistic than others. The family pressures to look perfect, coaches’ expectations of “making weight” for the sports team, body changes during puberty may impact the child’s perception of body image. Interestingly, media has been defining the “ideal” size by bombarding us with unrealistic, airbrushed pictures, creating a negative influence on our children’s concept of body image. Health professionals have pointed out if a teenager is constantly seeking assurance on their appearance, overly obsessed with looks, shows a drastic change in food habits, or a loss of considerable weight, might be struggling with body image issues.

Body image plays a major role in defining a teenager’s self-esteem. It’s hard to feel good about oneself if one is unhappy with their bodies and in turn their appearance. Self-esteem, in other words, is the “real” opinion one has of themselves. It’s something that can’t be touched or seen but seems to be always following us around like a shadow. Some children may try to compensate the way they feel by manipulating (excessive exercise routines, using fad diets, counting calories, etc.) their body images. Parents can play an important role in helping children form a positive body image.

Tips to Help Boost Your Child’s Positive Body Image

• Ensure use of positive statements around food, meal times, body sizes, and shapes.
• Promote and model healthy behaviors, to ensure “fit” bodies with higher levels of self-esteem and healthier body images.
• Avoid practicing fad diets and introduce “Self-Attuned eating”, a concept of learning to pay attention to and trust feelings of hunger and fullness – this will help promote a healthy, normalizing attitude toward eating
• As a parent, appreciate and celebrate your own body for what it can do, not just how it looks
• Teach by modeling to accept and value people for who they are irrespective of their looks and appearance.
• Compliment children on their qualities rather than their physical appearance
• Enhancing the children’s knowledge on the authenticity of the images on screens and magazines projected by media around us
• Educate children on changes in body type and sizes, during puberty

Parents are increasingly concerned at the rate of dissatisfaction among children with their appearances. On seeing signs, they wonder whether they should ignore or be concerned as it could be the start of bigger body issues. If you think your child is experiencing any challenges with body image, start by talking about your concerns with them. If things don’t change, consider talking to a health professional to get some support.

Written by:
Vinti Mittal

Director SACAC Counselling Pte Ltd
Clinical Member SAC
SAC Registered Counsellor
CMSAC, Reg, CLR, MSc (Counselling), Grad Cert. (Counselling)
SACAC Counselling

Supporting your Child with Mental Health Issues

Your child has been diagnosed with a mental health condition. What do you do next? 

As awareness of mental health issues in children and adolescents is increasing, more young people are accessing services and receiving diagnoses. But what happens next? Parenting support is vital for a child’s recovery, but it can be difficult at times to know how to provide support. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and strategies will depend on the individual child and issues, there are some general approaches that tend to be helpful.

  1. Create opportunities for connection and communication

While your child may struggle to communicate with you, it is important to continue to provide opportunities for them to do so. Invite them to spend time with you doing things they enjoy or healthy activities such as exercise or spending time with family friends. If they are resistant, try scaling down the activity such as a quick walk to the shops or even offer to drive them to an engagement – reduced eye contact in activities can feel more comfortable. Use 1:1 time to check in with how they are going, but don’t force the conversation if they don’t want to engage. Simply let your child know that you’re there to support them and that they can come to you at any time.

  1. Listen openly and validate their feelings

When your child does share with you, really listen to what they have to say. Focus on understanding things from their perspective and name and validate their feelings. Remember that even if their thoughts and feelings seem irrational, this is not the time to correct them or minimise their experience. Only offer your assistance with problem-solving once they feel fully heard.

  1. Create a safe environment

Stress and change in the family environment can impact on the child. Maintain regular routines such as bedtimes to help make their environment predictable. Use calendars to mark activities and upcoming changes such as a parent travelling overseas. While supporting a child with mental health issues can be very stressful, it is important that parents can present a calm front in dealing with issues and that arguments are limited in front of the child. If you find that the process of supporting your child is impacting on your own health or relationships, seek your own support. Your child will benefit from seeing their parents model self-care and healthy emotion regulation.

  1. Create a support team

Remember that you don’t have to carry this on your own. It is important that all the supporting adults in the child’s life can communicate and work together to support your child. This may include school teachers and counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and parents.

Written by:
Thea Longman

DClinPsych/MSc, BPsych (Hons)
Registered Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling