Thank you to all the wonderful young people and their families that I have had the enormous privilege of working with this year. 2020 has been a year like no other and yet despite the challenges there have been some amazing demonstrations of resilence and growth. As we move away from formal learning into holiday mode I would like to take a moment to wish everyone a safe and happy school holidays. Robyn
Transitioning students back to school after lockdown. Check out the link below to see my guest blog discussing some strategies to manage the transition back to school after lockdown.
As I’ve been working from home during this lockdown period I recently noticed a rising sense of unease in myself. Once I stopped to think about this feeling I discovered it was linked to the tidal wave of information in my social media accounts, on the news and in my email box giving me advice about how I should be doing life in lockdown. I’m guessing that I’m not the only one. Parents who are managing work, household tasks and the needs of children as well as young adults who have their own social media accounts may be feeling this pressure too. Even young children may be feeling some pressure about what is the right way to feel or things to do.
While social media, the world wide web and emails are fantastic for keeping in touch with family and friends and keeping informed they can also become a measuring stick against which we grade ourselves. As always people present their best selves on social media and it is wise to think carefully about what you are viewing from other people and make conscious decisions about whether what they are sharing is useful or not. Remember that most social media platforms will allow you to stop seeing posts you are finding bothersome without informing the person that you have done so. Feel free to use this feature liberally as needed.
Each one of us will be managing the lockdown under level 4 and upcoming transition to level 3 in a different way. I’d like to encourage you to take a moment to acknowledge and accept the way that you are feeling. There is no right or wrong way to feel. To help support this you may find it is helpful to try out a breathing exercise. A simple one is box breathing. Exhale deeply then take a breath in for the count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4 and pause for a count of 4 before starting the cycle again. If you would like a visual support check out the link to a Headspace video of a breathing exercise https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEqZthCaMpo .
What feels good to you now? Whether it’s going for a long run or sitting on the couch watching TV then that’s OK.
Many parents will be feeling pressure about parenting during the lock down. It's entirely possible that you are seeing social media and emails from friends and family or acquaintances that talk about how well they are and how in fact they are thriving educationally and socially during this lock down period. Many will be proffering advice about how to do all of this in the best way possible. While this is often well intentioned and helpful advice it may not be what you need in your situation. I’d encourage you to take a moment and think about what works best for you and your family.
Some structure is important to maintain while everyone is at home this should be loosely based on a few key areas such as enjoying at least one meal together as a group and everyone engaging in some form of exercise during the day, basic hygiene like showering and brushing teeth and putting on clothes suitable for the day at least most days (pajama days can be fun as long as it’s not every day).
Young children will benefit from reading and talking with an adult and some basic maths and spelling practice regularly and these things can be managed within a loose routine. Older children may benefit from parents showing an interest in their studies and providing some support for the child developing their own study routine.
For the most part, be kind to yourself and adopt the concept of ‘good enough’, there is no need or desire for you to be the perfect parent. Good enough is good enough. If your child spends more time than usual watching TV or on devices, beyond checking that they are accessing appropriate content (age appropriate) then that is fine and feel free to enjoy the ability to get some work done or spend some time doing something you enjoy.
Ngā mihi o te tau hou. Happy New Year to you all. I hope 2020 is a wonderful year full of great learning and development opportunities. I thought for this first blog of the year I’d talk about my role as an educational psychologist and how I work to support parents and young people along with other professionals to ensure education is accessible and enjoyable.
My work as an educational psychologist includes identifying, assessing and supporting children and young people with additional needs. I work across education, social services and health sectors. Educational psychology training is based in human development, applied behaviour analysis, psychological assessment and research, counselling theory and practice and we work to support the learning and wellbeing of young people, whanau, communities and wider society.
Anyone calling themselves a psychologist in New Zealand must be registered by the New Zealand Psychologist’s board. If you would like to work with a psychologist, educational or other you can find their registration details here http://www.psychologistsboard.org.nz/search-the-register. For consumers of our services it can be quite confusing to make a decision on who is the best person to see. There are many people offering support services to children and their families who are in fact not suitably qualified. The annual registration process provides some reassurance that the person is well qualified and they are keeping up to date with the latest thinking in psychology. This is very similar to the registration process for teachers.
I routinely see private clients for assessments of learning and behaviour, I provide support to other professionals including other psychologists, counsellors, and school leadership regarding students who may have additional needs. I also write a regular blog on my website https://www.edpsych.co.nz/helpful-ideas with the aim of providing free support to parents and students/young people who may need some help with either behaviour or learning difficulties.
Wishing everyone a very relaxing and enjoyable summer break. I thought for my final post this year I’d put together a summer resource list for you all. I’ve included websites, books, podcasts, so no matter how you like to access information there is something for you. I hope that you all find some quiet time to check at least one or two out.
Teens and preteens are challenging, changing, fascinating and tremendously fun to parent. Their views on the world are often very different from their parents and they often see situations differently from the adults around them. Last month I wrote about why that might be. This month I’m focused on some strategies that work to support you and your offspring to enjoy this time. The late Celia Lashlie in her book, He’ll be OK: growing gorgeous boys into good men, advocates providing very clear boundaries against which young people can push but not break through. Within these boundaries she suggests allowing children and teens to make their own mistakes so that they can discover their own limitations. Nigel Latta another author of numerous parenting books and a highly qualified clinical psychologist also advocates a not too tight and not too loose approach. During this time, it’s useful for parents to re visit their rules and expectations to make sure they are still fit for purpose. While a younger child might be expected to come straight home from school, if they are independently travelling, an older child might be allowed some extra time to socialise with friends on their way home.
Opportunities for frequent contact with your child can become more difficult to find at this stage. Gone are the night-time stories, bath time supervision and other routines that allowed you to spend time together. Parents of teens need to look for those opportunities and ring fence them. Dinner time as a family may not be possible every night due to sports, cultural or other activities but prioritize at least a few nights when your family eat a meal together and share how your day has gone. Take advantage of those times when you drive your child to a sporting or other event to have casual conversations.
It is important to be very clear about your expectations in terms of social issues that will be coming into focus for your child. What are your expectations around use of alcohol, drugs, and romantic relationships? Some of these conversations can be awkward and difficult to have but if you don’t talk about them your child will not only be getting this information from another source, they may see you as being unapproachable about these topics. We also deprive our children of a tool they can use if they are facing some peer pressure around a behaviour. The, “My parents said that if I do that I’ll be in big trouble” tool. Our kids need to know that in a difficult situation their parents are prepared to take the fall. The “my mum/dad is such a pain they never let me do that/go there/stay there”, excuse. My top tip for having these conversations is to go in and say your piece and then back away and leave it all to sink in. After a period go back in again and repeat or expand your point. This gives everyone time to digest what has been said and come up with questions or clarifications.
On that note it is also very important to be conscious of our own behaviour. A young person will be watching their parents to see how this adulting thing is done so consider modelling or showing them the behaviour, you are hoping to see your child replicate. Of key importance is that if you do something your regret in front of your child explain that you made a mistake and tell them what you have learned and will be doing differently based on this experience. No one is perfect but it’s what we do once we’ve made a mistake that makes the difference.
Enjoy this time and watch with awe as your child, preteen and then teen develop into the wonderful adults we hoped they would.
If parenting your teen is becoming a real struggle look for other resources for support. The parenting place run sessions specifically for parents of teens, https://www.theparentingplace.com/teenage-years/ your GP, school staff may be able to provide another perspective on the situation, an educational or clinical psychologist can also be helpful.
You are all the proud parents of either pre-teens or teenagers and as you will all be aware this is a time of tremendous developmental change. As a psychologist I’m fascinated by this period of change and am curious about the reasons for these behaviours. As a parent I was probably as bewildered and confused as anyone about what was with my teenagers.
Understanding what’s underlying and driving some of these confusing behaviours can be helpful in developing useful parenting strategies.
Developmentally adolescents are on the next stage in their journey towards becoming independent adults. Moving from being totally dependent on their parents as babies and toddlers towards developing the skills that will allow them to live independently. Teenagers are renowned for pursuing excitement, novelty, taking risks and preferring the company of their peers to parents and other mature adults. These traits can make them challenging to parent and war stories of difficult teenagers abound.
Neuroscience has been able to tell us that adolescent brains have already reached 90% of their full size, so it’s not that teenagers are lacking in brain cells. However, during adolescence the brain does a tremendous amount of re organising which slowly progresses over the teen years and into the early 20s. The advantage of this re organisation is that brain processes become much speedier and more reliable, but this comes at a cost of some flexibility, we lose the ability to so easily add to our behavioural repertoire. If we consider language acquisition, we know that babies are born with the ability to learn any language they are consistently exposed to. As we grow and develop our understanding of our primary language/s it becomes more difficult to learn an additional language. We do become much speedier and more efficient at understanding our primary language, but it comes at the cost of flexibility to add new languages.
These behaviours of seeking excitement, novelty and risk and preferring the company of peers are all symptoms/evidence of a much more flexible brain that serves the purpose of allowing teenagers to move into new and challenging situations in a way that many of us adults would hesitate to do. Hopefully with some more insight into why teenagers do what they do we can better choose parenting strategies that can support this transition into adulthood smoothly and with a little less conflict. Parental involvement that allows independence while providing the reassurance of connection is likely to be the most successful approach.
Next post I’ll be talking more about specific parenting approaches that work well.
Last post I talked about defining the problem, setting family/whanau expectations about school attendance and began to think about solutions. This month we can look more closely at how to put a plan together to help.
Starting the night before, ensure everything is organised for school uniform is clean and can easily be located, lunch is planned, homework is completed and packed into the school bag along with sports gear or other items needed for the next day. Parents could check the school calendar and highlight something fun that is coming up in the future. It’s important that parents model or demonstrate to their children that they believe school is a great place.
Get the bedtime routine started so that lights out can happen in time for a good night of sleep. In the morning, ensure that everyone is up in time to complete the morning routine so that getting to school on time is easy.
It’s hard to overstate how important it is for young people to get to school on time. The time before formal lessons begin is critically important for children to get themselves settled for the day. They have opportunities for socialising with their peers and with their teachers, they often have time for a quick game outside so they can get rid of any nervous energy that might have built up in the morning. The school day undoubtedly goes better if you arrive at school prior to the bell to enter classrooms for formal learning.
Some strategies that you might want to consider as you develop your plan are:
· Including some exercise in the morning routine. Exercise especially outside is a great way to burn off any nervous energy that has built up and supports us to regulate our emotional state. This could be as simple as taking the dog (if you have one) outside for a short walk or run around in the garden, walking, biking or scootering to school. If you live at some distance from school think about dropping your child a few streets away from school so they can finish the journey on foot.
· Help your child to plan to meet a friend or arrange to be dropped off at a friend’s house to travel to school with someone else.
· Sometimes a change in the routine can be helpful, especially if there is a bit of a pattern developing which starts at some point in the daily routine. A simple example of this could be that if your child starts talking about not wanting to go to school as they sit down to their bowl of cereal you could start the day with them cooking breakfast or lining up the cereal with milk, yoghurt, dried fruit and nuts to sprinkle over allowing them to create their own tailored bowl of cereal.. Another idea in this line could be that if mum usually does the morning routine you could try dad taking over for a few days or try getting a shower in the morning if you usually do that in the evenings. I like to suggest taking a playful approach to doing this so that if something doesn’t work then you can try something else.
· Another very helpful strategy is to ensure that your child has a plan once they arrive at school or for during the challenging times. If they need help with this, you or your child could ask if the class teacher could provide some ideas and support. This could involve knowing that they can go straight to class and help with a job like taking chairs off tables, opening windows, organising sports equipment then meet with a friend for a game either inside or out or going to the library or a quiet spot in the classroom to read. If the tricky time is during an academic subject, they could talk with their teacher about how they might ask for help in a way that suits them. If the tricky times are lunch or morning tea plans can be made to pair a student up with a buddy or to find activities that suit their specific needs.
School refusal is something that is best managed proactively so if your child says they don’t want to go to school, take a few minutes to chat with your child and help them think through how you can make a change to that thinking so that instead they are positive and even enthusiastic about attending school. Please contact your child’s teacher or me (email@example.com) if this is becoming a bigger issue for you and your child than can be solved on your own.
First step is to clarify what’s going on. Sometimes children are simply over tired or beginning to feel unwell. Think back to the past few days or weeks, has it been very busy or are there any signs that a cold or other is taking hold? Some early nights or a very quiet day at home may be the solution. If there is something else going on, ask your child to explain to you what their thoughts are. It may be helpful at this stage to email the class teacher to see if they have noticed anything different happening that is causing your child to feel reluctant about going to school. Some difficulties that seem to come up frequently are; conflicts with friends, a misunderstanding with a teacher, worries about school work, the journey to or from school or it could be a general worry or anxiety and the young person can’t say why they are worried exactly or it may be a few of the above concerns put together.
Next step is to discuss the reasons why school is important. Parents can use this as an opportunity to share family values about learning, social growth and development. You could talk about the opportunities to engage in sporting and cultural activities and the wide experiences schools offer for personal development in a huge range of directions. Of course, there is also a legal obligation in New Zealand for young people to attend school. This step is important and in behavioural psychology we would say that this is when we become very clear about what the expectation is for behaviour. Young people need to know that their parents expect that they will attend school every day.
Now that everyone is clear about what the expectation is and the reasons for this and the reasons why this is difficult now, we can start to generate some solutions to the problem. A great place to start is to think about when aspects of happily going to school are happening already. Look for those times when school is eagerly anticipated or something great happened at school. Consider what was involved in that situation. What elements of that can be applied more broadly so that school can become something to enjoy rather than avoid.
If you need more support than can be delivered here please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further specific support.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.