Recently, my father gave me an old textbook he had used in the ‘70s when he was studying as an extramural student at Massey University. The textbook was on developmental psychology. I’ve been browsing through this text book with much interest and sometimes amusement. One section jumped out at me in particular. In the ‘70s academics were already concerned about the over abundance of high calorie food easily available in the western world and the possible consequence of obesity becoming a more widespread problem. The authors proposed that perhaps parents were overfeeding their children due to the mistaken belief that more food would create taller and more robust adults. The wider discussion in this section was about some new insights into the importance of nutrition to healthy development in children and young adults.
When we fast forward to 2018, it seems that the concerns of the 1970s academics were certainly justified. Childhood obesity rates in New Zealand and internationally are soaring. I suspect, however that many educated western parents are well aware that children require not just quantities of any food but the right quantities of high quality and diverse foods in order to grow to their full physical potential and develop into healthy adults. Whilst knowledge is a powerful tool, in this case it is clearly not enough. Parents often mention to me difficulties around feeding their children. The whole issue of eating can become emotionally challenging and guilt inducing for parents.
When my children were very little we saw a wonderful paediatrician, Bess Gold, who had this advice for me.
Wal’s book is suitable for parents who are just starting the journey of feeding their children and those who are in the middle of this journey and would like to understand how to improve their children’s eating habits. It is also suitable for parents who are struggling to feed a child who has developed some difficulties in this area. Wal’s style is very matter of fact and down to earth. She removes some of the fear of getting it wrong by sharing her own mistakes, acknowledging that none of us are perfect parents. She also emphasises that in our modern world information about the nutritional value of foods and what quantities we should eat is widespread. Governments have nutritional pyramids, dividing plates up to show proportions of foods and companies such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig have other ways of calculating and measuring intakes of particular kinds of food. Wal proposes a simpler measure, she divides foods into, real food/alive food which should be eaten first. Real/alive foods are fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and unprocessed meats. Now and again foods, these are lightly processed foods such as yoghurt, pasta and breads. These foods can be eaten daily and should be eaten after real foods. Finally, processed foods, these are foods that are heavily processed and should only be eaten occasionally and only after the other two categories of food. I thought that these three categories were simple enough for even a young child to understand and they take the emotional load out of discussions about types of food. Instead of terming a certain kind of food ‘bad’ we can discuss where it fits in the three categories and why it might be that it should be only an occasional part of our diets. Wal’s book also asks parents to reflect on their own beliefs and behaviours around food. She points out that children will look to their parents as role models around food and that an awareness and honesty about our own behaviour is a good place to start when looking at how to support our children to develop a healthy relationship with food and eating.
In the end eating together and enjoying each other’s company whilst eating nutritious and delicious food is one of the joys of being a family. Bon Appetit and happy eating.
Psychologists can provide insights about how to teach children to manage their behaviour in ways that are socially acceptable. It’s a bit of a minefield to blog about this topic as there are so many questions that arise from even simple statements. As I wrote socially acceptable I suddenly thought, hmm, socially acceptable, to whom?
OK, so let’s define what I mean by socially acceptable. I mean socially acceptable for whatever environment we are in. The photo in this blog of a pinata is a perfect example of this. There are few times when it's socially OK to hit an object with a stick until it breaks. At a party with a pinata it's just fine. If the environment is home, relaxing and watching TV, socially acceptable could mean lying on the couch or on the floor, eating popcorn using hands from a shared bowl, not talking much to anyone else aside from possible one or two word utterances or laughter. If the environment is a special occasion visit to a fancy restaurant, to celebrate mum and dad’s wedding anniversary, very few of the previous behaviours would be considered socially acceptable. What is likely to be socially acceptable is sitting upright on a chair at a table, making eye contact with other people at the table, using a fork and knife and eating only from your own plate, unless explicitly invited to share, responding to questions in sentences and initiating some conversation with the other people at the table.
So, who defines what is socially acceptable? The answer to that is the society in which we live. Our family background, culture, the country we were raised in, and or live in all contribute to this sense of what is socially acceptable. If we look into the distant past of human history there hasn’t been much that has never been considered socially acceptable at one time or another, up to and including eating other people! If your child is doing something that has been termed socially unacceptable you can quietly think to yourself that it’s likely that at some time in the past, in a different environment or in some other culture this behaviour has been completely socially acceptable and it’s really just a socially defined construct!
While (hopefully) this thinking might make us feel a bit better about what our child has just done, it doesn’t take us any way toward changing the behaviour in order to make things go better for our child. It does help us to understand where things might start to go wrong for a child. Children are still learning about what is and isn’t socially acceptable. It’s a huge learning task for a child as the ground rules keep changing depending on the environment. In addition to this, children are also growing and developing physically so that they are also learning what is socially acceptable for someone of their age. What is OK for a child of two is at times not OK for a child of five.
The question remains, what do we do when our child behaves in a way that is considered socially unacceptable. Prevention is always better than cure. One way to support children and young people is to explain to them in advance what might be expected in a social situation. It’s always good to do this in a casual way so that you minimise any pressure. Driving in the car is a great place to have these conversations. Another is while you are doing something together, or just in the same place together. My kids used to congregate in the kitchen while I was cooking or sorting stuff out from the work and school day. Just casually drop into the conversation that some new situation is coming up. Ensure that you talk about the new experience in positive terms and describe what might happen.
It’s good to talk about variations in the general rule. These are the moments where things can go wrong for a child who is learning about a new situation. Consider teaching a child about a formal dining experience. You may tell your children they will need to stay sitting at the table until everyone is finished eating. You might want to also explain that there will be a few reasons that you might need to get up. Going to the toilet is one. Explain to your children how they might politely excuse themselves from the table. Give your children a chance to come up with their own ideas about how they might manage the situation. At times it can be fun and useful to take time to practice the new skills. Perhaps the children are meeting some new adults at a parent’s workplace, and you think it’s likely someone might offer to shake their hands. It’s a good idea to have a practice first. Give your children lots of praise and positive feedback as they provide their ideas and practice the new skills. Keep this up as they try the new experience and even after they have finished the new experience. If something doesn’t go according to plan reassure your child that they did their best and are learning these new skills. The next time they try it’s likely that things will go better.
Resilient Grieving: Finding Strength and Embracing Life After a Loss That Changes Everything LucyHone, foreword Karen Reivich
Author Lucy Hone and forward writer Karen Reivich provide an academic credibility to this book so that readers can be confident that the strategies discussed in the book are credible. Lucy is a psychologist who works in the field of understanding and developing resilience. She has written a book about applying her knowledge of resilience to her own experience of significant grief and loss. Lucy currently works as a researcher in resilience and well-being at the Auckland University of Technology. The forward to her book has been written by Karen Reivich who is the Director of Training Services at the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania.
In the course of travelling to a family holiday destination, a horrific car accident caused the death of Lucy’s daughter Abi, her best friend Ella and Ella’s mum who was Lucy’s close friend. Lucy has written this book partially to make meaning of what has happened to her, her family and community and to offer support to others faced with similar situations which, as she points out early in the book, is all of us. Part of the human reality is that we all face grief and loss.
Lucy discusses honestly and openly the decisions she made faced with an unthinkable situation. As a psychologist, armed with knowledge and experience, she was able to look to the research. She has also been able to question and reconsider some of what is often part of the landscape of grief and loss theory. One of the assumptions common in grief and loss literature which Lucy challenges is that grieving is in some sense a passive experience which happens to you and takes as long as it takes. While Lucy doesn’t discount this as a process appropriate for some people, at some times, she asks how this might apply to someone like herself who has two other young children and a husband who are depending on her to support them and help them to continue their lives. She points out that it is important to make choices in the areas you are able to. The death and loss of a loved one is not a choice available to any of us, however, there are many other choices still open to those who are suffering grief and loss. Lucy points out that these choices give us a measure of control. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief is discussed and its limitations examined. A key criticism of this model is that the model implies that grief is somewhat linear. Grief comes in stages and you work through each stage until you are ready to move on to the next stage. Lucy’s lived experience, she explains, is more like a game of snakes and ladders in which you move up, down and back and forth in a somewhat random way depending on your own emotional state and the environment you find yourself in.
After an initial preface which sets the scene for Lucy’s credentials for writing about resilience and why she has selected grieving as the focus of her book, she structures the book into two parts. The first two through twelve chapters provide a range of strategies to support recovery from the initial loss and resultant, at times, overwhelming grief. The final chapters focus on how to continue life in a meaningful way which includes honouring and remembering the lives of the deceased. Throughout the book Lucy points out different sections which readers can skip to if they have a particular interest or need to read that section first. She frequently reiterates that grieving is an experience that is as unique as the person going through the grief and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. At the end of the book she provides ‘The Resilient Grieving Model’ which is pictured as a puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle is labeled with strategies and are labelled with the page in the book where she fleshes out the strategy listed. Lucy writes that the pieces can fit together in whatever order is useful to the bereaved person and that each piece is a signpost or key which provide tools to manage the experience of loss.
This is a book which will find a wide audience with parents as they look for ways to manage their own experience of grief and or their children’s experiences of grief and loss. It is written in an easy to read style and it does have the backing of academic research and is fully referenced which is useful for professional readers. Lucy’s relating of her own personal experience adds weight and credibility to the strategies.
I was asked recently to speak to a group of community social workers
about working with children and young people who have been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. This agency has noticed that they are working with a greater number of children and young people in school settings with this diagnosis. They wanted to know how best to work with these young people/children. Below is the information I shared which also includes suggestions for supporting behaviour and a list of helpful resources.
What are some of the features of a person with a diagnosis of ASD?
Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts. This could be:
If an individual diagnosed with ASD is having a good day they may be more ready to accept things they find difficult, if they are having a bad day they may be less ready to accept things they find difficult. Just like the rest of us!
Basic principles of behaviour do still apply. There are only two functions of behaviour, to get something or to get away from something. Teaching of new or replacement behaviours and reinforcement of desired behaviour is much more effective at bringing behaviour change than punishment and depriving a child or young person of what they need.
The key is figuring out what the function of the behaviour of the child/young person is. In other words, why are they doing what they are doing? Given what we know about the general diagnostic features of ASD we have a head start on figuring out what the function of the child/young person’s behaviour is. We can then think about supporting the child/young person in a few different ways.
We can adapt the environment so that behaviour is not causing them or others difficulty.
We can minimise or create more socially acceptable ways of coping with sensory needs.
Noise can be a problem for many children - using sound cancelling headphones at times, can help. To ensure inclusiveness use a set of headphones. Light or colour can be a strong interest or a challenge, think about this when looking at the seating arrangements in a class.
We can teach students some new behaviours which would work better for them.
Social stories can be very helpful. For example: https://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/
Images of either photographs or symbols to show a student what to do or where to go or to label something can help. Schedules made up of photos or symbols are useful. A very helpful image is ‘not available’. Choose an image such as a circle with a slash through it and explain to the student what it means.
We can provide some reinforcement for behaviours which work better for the student.
For example: As soon as the student behaves in a way that is better for the environment provide praise, or access to a highly desired behaviour.
We can (sometimes) change what is happening before the difficult behaviour so that the child/young person is better able to manage challenging situations.
For example: If a child is finding the transition from home to school difficult perhaps the actions taken at home could be changed so the child is more open to coping with the school day. This could include looking at the morning routine at home, how the student is dropped at school.
We can change what happens after the difficult behaviour happens.
For example: If a child is being sent to talk to the principal after constantly shouting out in class rather than waiting to take a turn. This may be increasing the shouting out behaviour as the child may have a strong preference to talk to an adult. Adding opportunities for adult interaction within the classroom or inviting other adults to the room to chat with the child may prevent the shouting out behaviours.
To understand the perspective of someone living with ASD:
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.