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

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

“It Takes a Village…”

As the adage correctly states, it takes collaboration between various parties to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. This is especially so if a child is going through a challenging time and demonstrating behavioral and emotional distress.  

Research has shown that parental involvement is essential to positive therapy outcomes for most children, regardless of age. Typically, the younger the child the more involved a parent should be. Parental involvement is especially important in the translation of therapeutic skills from the clinic to real-life situations in the child’s life.

In short, it is crucial that parents act as drivers of prescribed therapy at home. Active participation is key. As a parent, how can you actively contribute to your child’s therapeutic journey? Here are some suggestions:

  • Be engaged in your child’s therapy session where possible. Take notes and ask questions when in doubt. It is appreciated when a parent shares concerns about various skills or strategies taught in session and provides honest feedback about their child’s responses to the therapy. This enables the therapist to accurately pinpoint issues and appropriately adapt the therapy sessions to better accommodate the unique needs of the child.
  • Be prepared to do “homework”. One of the most important roles of a parent in therapy is to ensure that their child practices the skills learnt in session and to facilitate generalisation of these skills while in a home environment. This may involve parents taking some time out of their schedules in order to engage the child in some exercises. In addition, the parents should note any questions which may arise and document progress so that it can be readily addressed at the next therapy session.
  • Facilitate necessary communication between your child’s therapist and other stakeholders. Sometimes, it is important to engage other stakeholders in the child’s therapy such as the school and teachers. It is very helpful if parents take the initiative and open up the communication between all stakeholders. This will help everyone better understand the child’s strengths and weaknesses and how to better support in various settings.  
  • Finally, while it is encouraged to be involved, be careful about being over-involved and attempting to dictate the direction of therapy. As a parent, one might experience anxiety or impatience and feel the urge to act on these emotions. Should this occur, it is important to address these concerns with the therapist and work together as a team.  

Remember, while the therapist is the expert of the relevant theoretical knowledge and therapy process, the parent is ultimately the expert of the child! When parents and therapists collaborate, progress and empowerment inevitably results.

Written by:
Jamie Ong
Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself!

I often write these blogs in a light-hearted way. I try to think of you, the reader (hopefully more than one, but you are important enough) – not necessarily an expert but perhaps someone with more than a passing interest in mental health. In trying to engage you, I offer something of importance while remembering that we all have other things in our lives too. So here is a quick question for you: which word links the 2 points from the APA Dictionary of Psychology below?

  1. a pattern of unnecessarily engaging in activities or behaviors that are dangerous or highly subject to chance.
  2. accepting a challenging task that simultaneously involves potential for failure as well as for accomplishment or personal benefit. 

Did you guess? Oh, well done. Yes, the word is risk.  Did you notice how they sounded different, but actually talked about the same thing? They are 2 sides of the same coin. Risk is a game of chance; it might be fun, but it might not. And it may be preoccupying more and more of us. 

A couple of years ago, you might have been less consumed by this topic, but along came a pandemic to adjust your thinking. Now we all regularly assess risk in a very overt way. It may not just be that, though. Perhaps it simply did what a virus does – reveal and feed off underlying conditions. You can’t get very far in daily life now without being accosted by a set of instructions; and 10 people lined up to tell you how to do it. Whatever happened to Lego? Didn’t you just build it? Not anymore – use the manual. Creativity is being increasingly managed.

Along with creativity comes risk. There is a chance something may not work, but you have the freedom to develop things that might. Yet much of life now is trained, instructed or more subtly guided. How many ‘gentle reminders’ have you had lately? Incessant calls you get to confirm an appointment are perhaps part of a concerted effort to eliminate risk. It may be something to guard against.

Risk has a very necessary role in life. At our core, we are curious beings and this is what fuels our development. Some of us do more with this than others, depending on our life circumstances and temperaments, but we all encounter it. Perhaps noticing how often we do is important; ever run down the stairs, or should I say escalators now – you could hurt yourself! Have you ever watched the fear that some people have when stepping onto them? We may all have very different approaches to balancing risk; I say balancing rather than managing, as to manage something may take the sting and the life out of it. 

This is very tempting to do with children. Armbands and stabilisers are very necessary to a point – which is always determined individually – but they also detract from the reality of an experience. It is frightening to give young people a role in their own experiences – you can usually smell the impending disaster from a long way off. This can encourage a desire in the grown-ups to control things. This is sometimes wholly necessary but when it doesn’t fit the child or the situation, it may encourage more than it prevents. It can be very difficult to work out the danger or benefit of an experience without involving your children in the thinking. If the level of risk may be determined by the context and the nature of support available, thinking about it together may be vital.

Written by:
Robert Leveson

Psychotherapist & Counsellor
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC & APACS)

SACAC Counselling

References:

American Psychological Association; APA Dictionary of Psychology.  https://dictionary.apa.org 

Wider Reading:

Zuckerman, M. (2007). Sensation seeking and risky behavior. American Psychological Association.

https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2913.long

When to turn, turn, turn? Let them tell you

I’m not prone to quoting biblical phrases too often, so I shall take these from a song instead:

To everything

(Turn, turn, turn)

There is a season

(Turn, turn, turn)

And a time to every purpose

Under Heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down

A time to dance, a time to mourn

A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

Seeger, P (1959)

There is something very settling and yet unsettling about these words. They suggest perhaps a sense of order and of sequence, something which can ground us and orient us. This is surely a comfort when we try to navigate the seeming unpredictability and randomness of life. Yet, it is not always clear when the time is, especially when you live in a place with less defined seasons; is it a time to build up or to break down? Is casting away such a good idea? In many ways, perhaps, these are not things for us to know – as the song suggests. But there is, it seems, a stronger pull to provide answers in our currently abnormal world. It is something we may do well to caution against.

You don’t have to go far at the moment to find someone with an answer to life’s questions. Despite a growing tendency to denigrate established thinking, everyone seems to be an expert (even me for some reason). Consultants abound, and people seek to ‘influence’ others on all aspects of life. News can sound more like opinion than fact and in an age where you can study Klingon at university, the act of building knowledge may seem increasingly trivial. 

However, for your child, it is a developmental process which should be allowed to take its course – and not just at school. Curiosity is at its core, and never more clearly expressed than in play. I spend much of my time – somewhat to the bemusement of many parents – following children’s play. They seem to take it all quite seriously, which draws me in. To paraphrase Winnicott, a paediatrician and psycho-analyst of deceptive simplicity; it is only in playing that a child is able to be creative, and ‘…it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.’ (Winnicott, 1971, P.54) This experience is an exploration and one which is not known from the outset, even by the most organised of children. Momentum develops and takes it somewhere. This unpredictability has value and is the space for development. It is something to allow, to go along with, to follow and discover – if you try and construct or control it, it loses that value. It’s a bit like a conversation. You have to listen to do it properly.

So when your child asks you to play, get stuck in. And the next time they ask whether it’s a time to lose or a time to keep, perhaps consider seeing what they think before saying more. They may well surprise you. 

References:
Winnicott, D. (1971) Playing and Reality. London, Routledge.

McGuinn, R. The Byrds. (1965) Seeger, P (1959) ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ Los Angeles, Columbia Records.  

(Adapted from; King James Version. (1611) The Holy Bible; Ecclesiastes (3:1-8))

Written by:
Robert Leveson, 
Psychotherapist & Counsellor, 
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC)

Let it go

The virus-which-shall-not-be-named is a most tempting topic for a blog. Although I am tempted, I am looking for something we all may have in common in our current experience, rather than squarely at the culprit. And I think I may have found it.

Imagine your child with an ice cream in hand. They are perhaps smiling and cherishing the thought of it. As they lift it to their mouth, you notice the blob shifting. Then, oh dear, it slips and falls to the pavement with a sloppy splat. Even with the enhanced cleanliness of Singapore’s constantly mopped pavements, I doubt it can be licked off. You may even have to stop them trying. So in the end, there it will sit, shrinking away like the Wicked Witch of the West. Oh, what a world.

What your child then experiences is a sense of loss, a sensation of having something taken away, something they liked. As well as the thing itself, it was the hope and the joy that was stolen, the associated experience. And though that experience took place in the outside world, it was also an internal loss. To mourn this loss – any loss – is a process, one which Freud (1917) long ago described as letting go of the individual memories, one by one. It is painful, but also part of development and our common humanity. It is necessary for recovery and the development of resilience. Kessler (2019) a century later, similarly sketched out a process of grief, noting how people move through stages which end with making meaning.

There perhaps is where your role as a parent comes in. Freud, and many since, also pointed out that there is a difference between this process of ordinary mourning and one which he called ‘melancholia’, what we would now call depression. In this state, it is less clear what is felt to be lost and the feeling becomes more personal – to paraphras in e Freud, a feeling that they themselves are poorer and emptier ( Freud, 1917 P.45). This loss of self-regard or esteem, or a growth of self-reproach in your child would be greater cause for concern. But it may not be immediately apparent, or distinguishable without some exploration.

So if you feel that your child is down, perhaps think with them about what they may be feeling sad about. They may need help in articulating the things they have lost, as well as the associated feelings. You do not need a psychology doctorate to do this. In fact, your own expertise as their parent will serve you well. Perhaps the main thing to consider is how much room to give them to explore, and how much to hold their hand while they do so. While listening and thinking out loud with them, you will help them to share their feelings, as well as be their company. Having feelings thought about with someone trusted is the essence of the therapeutic role but the heart of a parental role. And if you decide they, or you, may need some further support, you will do so with insight and a feeling of partnership in your next step.   

References:
Freud, S. (1917 (1915)) ‘Mourning and Melancholia’’, in Freud, S. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 14: 1914-1916. On the History of the Post Psycho-analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. London: Hogarth Press, 1958, pp.237-258.
Kessler, D (2019) Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Simon and Schuster, Scribner Imprint, New York.

Written by:
Robert Leveson
Psychotherapist & Counsellor,
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC)

 

Home schooling

How do we approach it so it doesn’t become a nightmare?

How do we make the most of it so it can help us reconnect as a family?

How do we take it seriously- enough but not too much to ensure it doesn’t completely disrupt our adult life to avoid burn-out?

Some tips:

1. Make a daily schedule
The more it is visual and co-decided by the child, the more it will empower them to feel responsible in applying it. They will more take ownership on what has been done and what is left.

2. Preferably do school work in the morning
Wake up your child at the same time school starts. A child’s cognitive capacities function better in the morning- he will be concentrated and work better. Then, playtime and relaxation comes as a reward well-earned. Avoid using too many e-resources to keep it a dynamic shared learning moment.

3. Establish a new ritual
Ensure you can transform the learning into a fun and shared moment in family and that it shows you are happy to contribute. Doing a 10-minute activity to recap the learning of the at the end of the day on a slate can be fun and experimental.

4. No nap time doesn’t mean no calm time
Modelling the idea to pause during the day is important. A lot of parents think that their child is too old to nap  and therefore they can do whatever they want. Whether they are lying down on their bed reading or listening to music, it is key for them to disconnect and learn to be by themselves.   It is called calm time and can apply to everyone in the family. Boredom is welcomed.  Silence is gold. It also allows parents to have a break and ensure they get a ‘blank space’.

Written by:
Saveria Cristofari
Counsellor

The Power of Attention

Have you noticed how hard it is to walk behind someone playing with their phone? Dancing unpredictably with themselves and generally getting in your way, they move like they are treading on an ant colony. If only they were paying attention to you. 

Attention is central to our world. Everyone and everything competes for it; from TV screens in bars which draw your eyes from your friend’s, to social media and advertising shouting at you from any device. In school, teachers despair at children who simply will not pay attention. Soldiers are ordered to ‘attention!’ Yet few hold it for very long. Indeed, at times it is conspicuously missing, or occasionally in ‘disorder’. Perhaps it would help to look at it from a different angle, one where attention is very much present.

On becoming a parent, you are attentive to your baby’s every need. Your awe-inspiring little bundle of noise, mess and love is attended to like an unexploded bomb. Over time, this attention develops in line with your experience and interests, but also in response to your child; you learn together as you get to know each other. The dictionary describes a parent as the mother or father of a person; you have a position. From your position, you have a view of – and a perspective on – your child. What you attend to will help shape your relationship. 

Some parents attend particularly to their child’s appearance, or their education; others to their leisure time or family relationships. Your child will develop a sense of the importance of the things which receive attention. They may take them on for themselves, they may adapt or reject them, but they will not go unnoticed. The attention you give is therefore powerful and will colour your child’s responses to you and others. 

It is also important to attend to yourself; to look after yourself, but also to catch yourself and what you are focusing on when you are with your child. You then have a sense of what they may see in you. It is a reflective position, where you think about how you may be understood by someone else.  It is something akin to Mindfulness. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally.’’ (Kabat-Zinn, 1994 p.4) If you are looking for ways to understand your child, look no further than where you direct your – and their – attention. 

References:
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever You Go, There You Are. Piaktus, New York

Written by:
Robert Leveson
Psychotherapist & Counsellor,
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC)
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

The Power of Play

The importance of play shouldn’t be underestimated. It has a number of benefits for children and can help to build the parent-child relationship. Play helps children to learn who they are, learn about the world around them and what they are capable of. Playing with others also teaches social skills, such as turn taking, and helps to develop emotional understanding, such as empathy. In particular, play with parents can have a special role of building a strong relationship or attachment which can fill the child up with positive feelings.

At times of stress, when the parent-child relationship is not at its strongest, the child can draw from the positive feelings that they have stored up. Through play, you can build the self-confidence and self-worth of your child, you can help them to solve problems and develop their imaginations as well as vocabulary.

Here are some ideas about how you and your child can get the most from playtime:

  • Follow your child’s lead: it’s the one time they can be in charge and make the rules, so let them be the boss of playtime.
  • Praise and encourage your child’s ideas: hold back on the criticism and encourage your child’s creativity and imagination.
  • Provide support for your child’s emotions: label their different feelings (e.g. excitement, frustration), and help develop their emotional regulation skills (e.g. being calm, waiting their turn).
  • Be sensitive to the level and pace of your child’s play: choose age appropriate toys and play at your child’s pace, not yours.
  • Set aside a regular (daily, if possible) 10 minute play time with your child.

Play can have a positive impact on children’s social, emotional and cognitive development, as well as strengthen your relationship with them, so what are you waiting for, get on the floor and start playing!

Written by:
Dr Kanan Pandya-Smith
Clinical Psychologist