“I can’t do it” - Working with children/teens who lack confidence in their ability to complete academic or learning tasks

“I can’t do it”  - Working with children/teens who lack confidence in their ability to complete academic or learning tasks

How many times have you heard a student say “I can’t do it!” or “It’s too hard?” or “I’m not smart enough?” 

Unfortunately, there are some students who really struggle with anxiety about their ability to complete learning, homework or other study tasks.  We can call this low academic confidence.

Although many students experience a lack of academic confidence at times, statistically it is more likely to be girls who experience it most frequently – and particular girls who are surrounded by “academically high achieving” peers.

Unfortunately when students don’t believe they are capable of learning something or completing a task – then they are less likely to do so, regardless of their actual level of ability.  And a chronic lack of confidence and anxiety about learning is associated with higher levels of stress.

I often talk with families who are really struggling with this issue at homework times.   For students who feel highly anxious about their ability to understand ideas and complete tasks, homework can be a nightmare.  Parents/caregivers have to reassure, cajole, support and mop up tears – and often get really stressed themselves.  Some research on homework has indicated that homework time is the most stressful time of the day for families – with one study showing that mothers daily mood ratings are worse on the days when they spend more time around teens/children who are doing homework.

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Supporting Children’s Social Skills – Good Game Playing without the Drama

Supporting Children’s Social Skills – Good Game Playing without the Drama

As professionals working with kids we know that children learn a great deal from “playing” with each other.   They learn to interact socially, learn about their environment and how the world works.  It is important for children to have unstructured time to play together without adults directing the action.

Unfortunately we also know that there are some children who often struggle with this unstructured play.  Arguments and fights develop quickly and get out of hand.  Some children find it really difficult to resolve problems among themselves.

In my experience, these children really benefit from us supporting them with these skills.  Here are some of the ways I work with children in this area.

1. Ask children questions about their game playing

Given the importance of game playing skills, when I'm working with kids I routinely ask about their recess/lunch/after school play with their siblings and friends.  For example here are some questions which might be useful to ask children (either in a classroom situation, written “playtime quiz” or when working with children one on one: 

Who are you playing with at the moment? 
What games are you playing? 
When was the last time you/your friend got mad during those games? 
What happened?
What are you good at when playing with friends?
When do you need an adult’s help when playing with friends/siblings?

Once we are aware of how kids are going with their game playing, we can then look at the kind of skill development needed. 

2. Helping children generate useful “rules” or guidelines to play

Before working on an area with a child, I attempt to see if I can get their permission.  For example, I might say:

"Could we do some brainstorming together to make playing games more fun?"

I then ask children to think about specific games they play rather than “playing” in general.   If parents are working with me – I’ll ask parents to help identify games they know the child/their siblings play together.

For example: 

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End of Year Learning: Helping Young People Self-Reflect in Class/Counselling Sessions at the end of the school year

End of Year Learning:  Helping Young People Self-Reflect in Class/Counselling Sessions at the end of the school year

These days part of my role involves supporting a team of people to work it with young people.  This means I get to read delightful publications such as the Harvard Business Review - something I never imagined myself doing many years ago!  However it seems I can't take off my "clinical psychologist hat" - while I'm reading these articles thoughts often come to mind about how the concepts apply to working with young people directly.

For instance, I've just been reading about what organisational psychologists call: "Post implementation reviews" which from my (albeit limited) understanding thus far seem to be the process of reviewing a project with a team after it is completed.  From the length of the article I'm assuming there must be more to them than this (?) but apparently doing a PIR (yes - there is an acronym :)) after the completion of a project significantly improves the performance of the team in their next project, even if the projects are unrelated.

This has made me think about the "PIR's" we do as professionals with children and teens about their school year.  As it draws to a close, I regularly spend time with the young people I work with asking them to reflect on what the year was like for them and what they'd like to do next year.  I believe these conversations often help them - socially, emotionally and academically - in the following year.

If you are working with children/teens in a classroom setting, or in a counselling room, it might be worth putting some time aside to help them self-reflect on their year.

Here's how to do your own PIR (see, now it's part of your vocab too) with child/teens you work with. 

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Working with children with anxiety

Working with children with anxiety

’ve just looked at our clinic calendars and despite us seeing 200 young people this week, our waiting lists for new clients are currently stretching out to around 2-3 months.  More than ever, there are children and young people facing challenges – and families who are looking for support and answers.

One of the major issues facing young people is anxiety.  Anxiety is the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition in children – and certainly it makes up a large proportion of the families who work with us.

Unfortunately, services can’t always keep up with demand for services in supporting kids with this issue – and getting help for children and young people who experience anxiety can take some time.

The good news is that supporting children to manage anxiety doesn't always *need* a psychologist.  Parents and carers, teachers and other professionals can be very effective at helping children manage anxiety and increase their confidence.  

Here are a few ideas all adults (including psychologists, as well as teachers, health professionals, parents and carers) might find useful in supporting children with anxiety.

1.      Focus on increasing brave and confident behaviour

The part of our brain which monitors threat takes notice of our body language, how we act, speak and where we go and don't go.  It then uses this information to help gauge how much threat we are actually experiencing.  When we ACT in brave and confident ways, our brain says "huh, everything must be okay" - and gradually we FEEL more confident.  When we ACT in brave and confident ways, we have experiences which tell us we can cope.  Brave and confident behaviour helps us feel less anxious.

This is true for children too.  The more we a child/teen acts in brave and confident ways, the less anxious they will feel.

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Calm Sentence Starter Resource for kids/teens with "big feelings"

Calm Sentence Starter Resource for kids/teens with "big feelings"

This week I've felt disappointed and worried about various situations.  One of my kids was sick and I was worried about him.  I had a disagreement with my partner and felt frustrated. I felt overwhelmed by my task list at work.

In other words, I'm a (fairly :)) normal human being who had a pretty normal week.  As humans, we all experience difficult times - and negative emotions - most of us at least weekly, if not every day.

One of the strategies most adults instinctively use to cope with these negative emotions is to generate calm, reassuring and positive sentences to say to ourselves to give us another perspective on our situation.   

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Supporting children through separation/family changes (handout for professionals)

Supporting children through separation/family changes (handout for professionals)

An article published by the Australian Psychological Society in 2009 estimated that 50,000 children in Australia each year experience separation and divorce each year.  This means as professionals who work with children, we are likely to have many children in our classrooms and therapy rooms who are experiencing this life change at any one time.  

Obviously there is a great deal of variety in how these children manage.  Some of them find the experience pretty hard going for a while. They might feel sad, worried about the future, irritated, guilty or frustrated.  Sometimes these feelings creep out as tricky behaviour, becoming "clingy", crying, "acting out", getting more frustrated than normal, anxious behaviour or struggles at school.

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I'm fine! Working with children/teens who struggle to say how they feel

I'm fine! Working with children/teens who struggle to say how they feel

One of our jobs as professionals is to help young people express their negative emotions clearly and respectfully - to us, and to others.

This isn't easy.  Many children and teens find it hard to tell us how they feel when they are upset, angry, worried or embarrassed.  

This is not surprising.

It is not easy for us as adults to describe negative emotions, what might have caused them and what we would like to happen differently.   It's even harder for young people, with less developed brains - and sometimes bigger and more powerful feelings which interfere with communication skills anyway.

Something to work on.......

While it is normal for young people to struggle to say how they feel AND it's okay for them to choose not to tell us everything they feel upset about - it's also important for them to gradually improve their ability to express negative emotion.

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Working with children who hate loud noises

Working with children who hate loud noises

“AAARRRRKKGGGH”

This was (roughly speaking - I may have got the spelling wrong) the word *Josh yelled when a leaf blower was used outside our office in a session last month.  At the same time, he put his hands over his ears and ran to the corner. 

Josh hates loud noises and gets really distressed whenever they occur around him.  It’s especially hard for him when they are sudden.

And Josh of course is not unusual  – there are many children who are extremely sensitive to loud noise.  Many children I see clinically will report some sensitivity to noise.  Sometimes noise sensitivity is associated with a broader sensory disorder (for example, Autism Spectrum Disorder), but sometimes these are just noise sensitive kids without any further disorders in the background. 

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To The Bone (yes, netflix does it again)

To The Bone (yes, netflix does it again)

Last night, I settled in with my large hot chocolate on the couch to watch the movie on eating disorders - “To The Bone”. 

For those of you who haven’t seen the shorts – this is a movie about a young woman with anorexia who gets treatment for an eating disorder.  She has a short stay in a group home facility, meets others with eating disorders, has some family therapy, a short romantic relationship with another person with an eating disorder and ponders whether she really does want to get “better” and overcome her eating disorder.

Along with many of you - I've worked with many kids/teens with symptoms of disordered eating and struggles with body image for many years - so I was keen to see whether this was going to be a useful movie I could recommend to families.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it is. 

But as usual when it comes to these kinds of issues, I have mixed feelings.  Here are my thoughts.

Here are the four aspects of this movie I like.

1. The movie will raise awareness of the existence and nature of eating disorders.  This is probably a good thing.  Although as professionals working with young people we are often (or constantly - depending on your role) - exposed to eating and weight related problems - society in general doesn't get a lot of exposure to this problem.  Movies like this therefore may be helpful in that people with an eating disorder may watch and feel comforted to be reminded they are not alone.  Those in the general community may learn about these disorders and feel compassion for those who suffer. 

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Sexting: Guide for Professionals

Sexting: Guide for Professionals

Various research reports suggests that 10-20% of teens have sent or received a sexually explicit photo in the last 12 months (some studies estimate as low as 4%, some as high as 50% - depending on how you ask the question).  If we assume around 15%, this means the average sized secondary school will contain 150 -200 students who have recently sent or received a naked or semi naked picture of themselves.

Given the prevalence of this issue, we can’t bury our head in the sand.  Teenagers everywhere are doing this - including the teens we work with.

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The three fundamentals of supporting young people with anxiety

The three fundamentals of supporting young people with anxiety

In our clinics, the most COMMON area of challenge for the children /teens we see is managing anxiety.  This is a reflection of a wider trend - anxiety is the most common psychological symptom experienced by kids and teens in Australia.

Often in my writing, I drill down to the specifics of the work we can do as professionals, teachers and counsellors in helping young people cope with anxiety.  Today, I'd like to take a step back and think about the five broad goals we are trying to achieve when we work with children and young people who are anxious..

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What teachers/counsellors/youth workers can do to help teens at risk of self harm/suicidality

What teachers/counsellors/youth workers can do to help teens at risk of self harm/suicidality

A sad and tragic fact of our world in 2017 is this:  the most common cause of death for young people is suicide (see Australian Bureau of Statistics Leading Causes of Death report, 2015). While this data is somewhat misleading for the simple reason that young people don't die very often (and also important to know that death by suicide is more common in adults than in young people) - it is still distressing and worrying. This is especially true when we know that rates of deliberate self harm and attempted suicide is higher in young people than in any other age group.

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Questions to ask parents/carers of kids with "big feelings"

Questions to ask parents/carers of kids with "big feelings"

"Kids with big feelings" is a phrase I sometimes use to describe children who have a tendency to get more frustrated, worried, embarrassed, hurt and sad than other children their age.  I use this phrase because it avoids negativity and reflects the fact that these kids are often also particularly creative, joyful and hilarious fun!

If you work with children with "big feelings" you know that they can test their parents/carers' resources and frustration.   It's a tough job for these people.  And unlike most other "jobs", they get no training, time for reflection, formal planning processes or team building days...nope, they just have to do the best they can on the fly.

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17 question options to ask gaming/online video “addicted” kids and teens - to help them reflect

17 question options to ask gaming/online video “addicted” kids and teens - to help them reflect

As a professional who works with kids and teens you will know many families who struggle with issues related to gaming and technology use.  You will certainly know plenty of children/teens who are *desperate* to be non stop gaming/watching online video this school holidays.  You will also know many parents who have lectured their kids/teens about the need for a balance of activities until they are exhausted and who frankly want to throw all i-devices/gaming consoles off the edge of the nearest roof.

Thousands of kids and teens all over this country this school holidays are spending hours each day gaming.  It’s not surprising. As a society we’ve introduced a set of humans with partially formed brains (and willpower skills) to a highly addictive, satisfying and fascinating activity and naturally enough they are having trouble turning it off.

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"Moodiness" in kids and teens

"Moodiness" in kids and teens

One of the shocks for parents of the 9 plus age group is how frequently their kids get irritable, sad, stressed and "moody".  

Many of those parents remember how their younger kids were happy-go-lucky much of the time.  Sure, they'd still get upset at times - if they didn't get what they wanted or had a fight with their siblings, or had to do chores - they might have a meltdown - but there were three differences:

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4 Mistakes Parents can Make when their child gets in trouble at school

4 Mistakes Parents can Make when their child gets in trouble at school

Last week I ran a seminar for parents at a local primary school.  I had almost got to the end of the night and we were discussing rules for kids.

As professionals who work with families, we know that an important part of parenting is to set, monitor and enforce rules for children.  Parents have to do this to help them manage life, stay safe, build relationships with others, cope with school and learn skills.

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What are kids watching on youtube?  Four important questions for us to ask in classrooms/therapy rooms

What are kids watching on youtube?  Four important questions for us to ask in classrooms/therapy rooms

UK based research group Child Wise conducted research last year showed that children are watching an average of 3 hours a day watching youtube videos.  Most commonly, they are watching music videos, gaming videos, “funny” real life content, videos showing pets and animals, “how to” videos and sport.    

This raises the question of how appropriate these videos are for children.  It's hard to tell.  None of this content is “rated” as G, PG, M etc in the same way that commercially produced television has been in the past.  And with more than 300 hours of video being uploaded to youtube every minute, my guess is that external ratings guides like this are going the way of the dinosaur.

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