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On her recent Australian tour, hosted by Maggie Dent, registered child psychologist and founder of Wishing Star Lapointe Developmental Clinic, Dr. Vanessa Lapointe disclosed her ultimate formula for parenting. Offspring shares her advice.

If you’ve ever wished your baby came with an instruction manual, you are not alone. Parenting can be overwhelming and there’s so much conflicting advice it’s hard to know how to best parent your children. Thankfully, Dr. Vanessa Lapointe dispels common myths in her guide to laying a healthy foundation for the baby and toddler years, Parenting Right From the Start. She asserts that there is a way to successfully navigate the struggles of parenthood whilst fostering a sense of wellbeing in your children. It’s all down to a simple parenting formula:

1 – Make sense of who you are

2 –  Understand your child’s needs

3 –  Step in.

Let’s break it down step by step:

1- Making sense of who you are

Dr. Vanessa Lapointe makes it clear that you will parent as you were parented. This means you need to assess your own upbringing and evaluate the parenting patterns that dominated your own childhood.

Typically, these are not comfortable revelations. However, Dr. Lapointe is quick to point out that all parents do the best with the tools they have – in the era in which they were parenting. She argues that most adults these days will have been parented according to ‘behaviourist’ principles.

This way of parenting was focused on manipulating a child into behaving well. This was because ‘good’ behaviour was considered equal to ‘good’ parenting. You can still hear the hangover from this style of parenting in today’s parenting pop culture: How often do you hear, “Good boy” or “Good girl”? Often, strategies such as ‘consequences’ were devised to encourage children to adhere to the rules.

One such strategy is the principle of a time-out. In a time-out, a child is removed from a situation because they are behaving poorly. It’s the equivalent of making a child stand in the corner. The parent does not make eye contact, the parent does not give the child their voice and instead removes all connection. The problem with this model is that the most important thing for a developing child is connection.

Reward charts do not fare much better. Dr Lapointe is quick to point out that a sparkly gold sticker might be great to praise a particular behaviour, but the flip-side is it quickly becomes the ‘not-star chart’ meaning that all other behaviours do not get a star and so the child feels punished.

So traditionally we have coerced our children into ‘behaving’ by removing the one thing they need the most: connection. These old methods do usually get results, at least at first, but Dr. Lapointe cautions that it comes at a cost. To highlight this point, Dr. Lapointe refers to the ‘still face experiment’ where a mother engages with her baby as she would at home, before turning and clearing her face of all emotion. When she turns back to the baby she has a completely ‘still’ face. She has disconnected. It’s not easy to watch. The baby becomes very distressed until the mother re-engages and connects.

Thankfully, Dr Lapointe says, “Now, we know better”.  By understanding and making sense of who we are, we are in a better position to parent differently.

2 – Understand your child’s needs

The second part of the parenting formula involves understanding your child’s individual needs, and not setting the bar too high.  Most children need time to develop and grow. If we choose to rush childhood in order to make our lives easier, it can have a long-lasting negative impact.

Dr. Lapointe highlights our need to grow children who are capable and independent without stopping to consider what is really age appropriate. She likens this rush to pulling on the top of a plant. A plant will not grow faster or better if you are pulling on the top of it; instead this will uproot it and cause damage. It’s the same with child development.

One area that parents are keen to rush (for obvious reasons) is sleep training. Sleep training is a key area of tension, conflict and comparison among new parents. Many new mums find themselves sneaking the cot back into the main bedroom or cuddling their child to sleep every night but feeling guilty that the child will never learn to ‘self-soothe’. Dr Lapointe reassures new mums that being attentive and fostering that intimate relationship with your new baby is absolutely the right thing to do. Babies who feel loved, connected, safe and secure will develop as nature intended and will eventually learn to settle on their own when the conditions are right.

She suggests that sleep training is in fact for adults. It is adults who need to learn to create the right environment for a secure and settled child, everything else will follow on if they have the number one thing that all children need: connection.

 

All children progress through various stages of brain development as they grow. Psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld shines a light on the way children make sense of their relationships and how parents can tune in to support them:

Year One

The attachment relationship is understood in sensory terms: Babies want to taste, touch and smell you.

Year Two

In the second year of life children add to their sense of attachment through sameness. They want to see the similarities between you e.g. Mummy likes apples just like me!

Year Three 

A child makes sense of attachment in their third year through as sense of belonging and loyalty. They are likely to become very possessive at this age e.g “My Mummy!’ A secret handshake and saying, “My boy” or “My girl” will help a child of this age feel connected.

Year Four

This year a child wants to feel significant. They want to feel that they matter.  Typically they will show you every drawing they do, seeking attention and to feel important. Try to give them this attention and stay one step ahead by thinking of ways to show them they are special.

Year Five

The feeling of love truly resonates at this age. Expect lots of drawings of love hearts! Reciprocate this new feeling of love to help your child feel connected to you at this age.

Year Six

Although falling in love with you seems like the most profound connection, in their sixth year they will feel truly known. They understand that every aspect of them (the good, the bad and the ugly) can shine through in the restful knowledge that all will be accepted.

3- Step in.

This is about being the parent. Offspring recently shared a free excerpt from Dr. Lapointe’s new book in which she discusses ‘parental swagger’. This is about being ‘large and in charge’ whilst being respectful of what your child needs you to be in any given moment. Children need to know that you’ve got this.

Dr. Lapointe describes the parenting mountain, where every parent wants to sit at the peak and enjoy the spectacular views.  The problem is that it is easy to slide off of this peak and fall down one of the sides: Either down a bullying, emotionally distant and disconnected slope or conversely down an overly kind, pandering and ‘jellyfish’ slope.

The first slope sees us so determined to enforce rules that we forget to connect with our children. It is the remnants of the behaviourist parenting theories. However, the other side is no better. This side sees you reluctant to maintain control and be in charge, it sees you lacking ‘parental swagger’ and is equally harmful for child development.

What your child needs, at any stage of development, is a balance of both. Everyone has off days but if you can provide an environment where your child feels seen, heard and connected to you then you are on the right track.

Your child needs to be able to lean on you as they navigate their childhood. If you are yelling at them or shaming them for behaviour you don’t like, are they likely to want to lean in to you and to show you their most loving side? No, of course not.

Conversely, if you agree to everything they ask and let them do as they please, are they going to feel that you are strong enough to guide them through life’s challenges? No, they won’t.

So what does parenting ‘right’ really look like?

Let’s use the formula on a real-life scenario:

Imagine your child is having a meltdown in the middle of the supermarket because you won’t let them have a cookie right before dinnertime.

1- Making sense of who you are

In this case you need to check in to understand your response to their meltdown. Are you feeling stressed about the judging eyes of other people around you? Do you feel like you just want to give in to make this behaviour stop so you won’t be embarrassed?

Acknowledging these feelings is the first step in being able to break the cycle so that you can parent better.

2 – Understand your child’s needs

No matter how old your child is, they need to be seen and heard. They need you to get down on their level and calmly tell them that you understand it’s disappointing that they got a ‘no’ when they were hoping for a ‘yes’. Disappointment is a tough emotion to regulate, and they need to learn these skills from you. Acknowledge your child’s emotional response. It’s a normal part of healthy development!

3 – Step in

Now step in with your parental swagger and be the parent. Use your ‘large and in charge’ voice to firmly reiterate that, “No, they cannot have a cookie before dinnertime”. Note that you do not have to justify yourself. Getting into a battle about whether or not they will eat their dinner is starting to have ‘jellyfish’ tendencies and is not helpful. Young children are not at a developmental age to rationalise consequences of eating a cookie now and its impact on their appetite. That’s your job.

Just step in and be the parent.

Cultivate an intimate relationship that is kind, caring and connected whilst maintaining a good degree of parental swagger. Do that most days? You’re getting it right.

Despite affecting an estimated 5 to 10% of the population, there’s a learning disability lacking much needed awareness – the lack of which is leaving children to fall behind their peers. This condition is known as dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia is a mathematical learning disability known as a Specific Learning Disability (SpLD) – a group of learning disabilities which usually involve mathematics, spelling, listening, speaking or writing. People with dyscalculia generally have difficulty with arithmetic, numbers and mathematic reasoning. The most common components include:

  • Trouble understanding numbers
  • A delay in learning to count
  • Difficulty connecting numerical symbols with words
  • Losing track when counting and
  • Struggling to recognise patterns

As maths education often involves a series of ‘building blocks’ that become incrementally more complex over the years, children who miss out on some of the foundational ‘blocks’ of maths are put at an intense disadvantage to their peers when it comes to more advanced applications of mathematics.  It’s especially difficult for children with dyscalculia as they may fall behind due to a lack support and recognition from the adults around them.

This can negatively impact their mental health, school marks and their options when it comes to higher education and their future career. Some of the main predictors that can indicate a child potentially has dyscalculia include:

  1. Difficulty adding single digit numbers
  2. Difficulty identifying numbers
  3. Inability to understand the relation numbers have to each other.
  4. Having limited working memory
maths
Photo Credit: Keren Fedida on Unsplash

Dyscalculia is not something to be ‘fixed’ or that children will ‘grow out of’, with studies showing that the condition is generally lifelong and that a mentality of ‘fixing’ learning disabilities has been extremely damaging. However, there are techniques that can be used to manage difficulties, cope with challenges and improve their maths skills. If children lack the proper support, this can be a major source of distress for those with the condition, especially in a school setting.

There are fun ways parents, guardians and teachers can help children improve their mathematic skills. These can include playing counting games together, offering homework help, playing online maths games or apps and using maths memorisation cards. Board games are also an excellent tool for improving mathematic reasoning skills.

games with children
Photo Credit: Adam Winger on Unsplash

With 1 in every 10 Australians suffering from a learning disability, research shows this lack of education is a major inhibitor to effective treatment. Children with conditions like dyscalculia and the more well-known dyslexia, often go under the radar, especially if teachers aren’t adequately trained to look out for the signs.

With the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy report finding only 5% of the curriculum in Bachelor of Education training courses is dedicated to teaching reading, there is concern that many kids who are struggling may go unnoticed. Some of the most common conditions include:

  • Dyslexia, which is considered the most common learning disability
  • Dysgraphia, which relates to writing and spelling difficulty
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dysphasia, which relates to speech difficulties

Depending on the age of a child with dyscalculia, the signs to look out for can be different, although they may overlap:

Primary school-aged children

During primary school years, the condition may go unnoticed or symptoms may be attributed to another cause. Unfortunately, this puts children in a disadvantaged position with the consequences to continue for years. The signs that a child in primary school is dealing with dyscalculia usually include:

  • Difficulty keeping count in games or activities
  • Difficulty making sense of numerical value
  • Trouble writing numerals legibly
  • Struggling with fractions
primary school
Photo Credit: Michal Parzuchowski on Unsplash

Secondary school-aged children

Although the signs among high-schoolers may include the same as those listed for primary school, these signs are more common to find among secondary school students:

  • Struggling with maths relating to finance, for example understanding how to make change or to take a percentage off of a price
  • Difficult with understanding graphs or other visual representations of numbers
  • Has difficulty understanding measurements for recipes or science experiments
school
Secondary school students may show different signs of dyscalculia

If you’ve noticed these signs in your child or student, the next step is for the child to get a proper assessment and rule out any other possibilities, such as eyesight or hearing impairments. Dyscalculia can be diagnosed by a psychologist who will assess the individual’s unique situation. It is generally required that the child being assessed receives 6 months of intervention involving mathematical assessment and instruction before a diagnosis can be made.

While all children may struggle with maths at some point and will learn at different speeds, they can usually improve with time and practice, but for those with dyscalculia, the problems may remain despite regular and intensive practice. If a diagnosis is made, the psychologist will recommend the best course of action for the child based on their strengths and weaknesses.

 

Teenagers are visiting emergency departments for intentional self-harm in record numbers since the pandemic, with some as young as primary-school ages.

The stress and pressures that lockdown has had on children and teenagers have seen reports of self-harm increase by 47% in NSW alone. In the year leading up to July 2021, there were 8489 instances of children and teens up to 17 years old presenting to emergency centers in NSW. This number had increased from 6489 in 2020.

Throughout March, June, July, September and September in NSW, VIC, TAS and the ACT, paramedics responded to 22,400 incidents involving suicide attempts or thoughts. The majority of this number was for young girls ranging from ages 15-19.

Statistics have shown that these numbers were already increasing before the pandemic; however, lockdown seems to have driven the numbers even higher.

The chairman for Lifeline Australia, John Brogden, confirmed that the daily average number of calls nationwide peaked at 3100 per day and has remained at this level since the start of the pandemic. Most of these phone calls are from people of all ages struggling with self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Federal Treasurer Josh Fydenberg called the mental health crisis a ‘shadow pandemic,’ caused partly by the impact of ongoing lockdowns and the research seems to suggest it is impacting young people the hardest.

Schools provide children and teens with face-to-face learning, interaction with peers, extracurricular activities, friendship, and social skills building, and, in most cases, access to mental health and resilience programs. However, with school-aged children already going through a crucial and sensitive time in their development, the added pressure of isolation and stress that is inevitable in lockdown has exacerbated the difficulties they already face.

Living through an unpreceded global event can be stressful for adults, and it is a lot for kids to take in as well. Meanwhile, things like school sports, dances, school performances and graduation ceremonies have seen teenagers lose access to many of the outlets that provide them with stress relief and fun.

Yourtown CEO Tracy Adams says, “The upheaval and stress Australian children and young people are experiencing from the pandemic is a cause for concern. Over the past six months, we have identified that 1,610 contacts to Kids Helpline were from young children aged 5-9 years of age up from 1,588 for the first six months of 2020.”

Adams confirms that Kids Helpline answered 1788 more calls for children and young people than ever in the first half of 2021, compared to the first have of 2020 and that, “Children and young people are increasingly experiencing mental health concerns, including suicidal ideation/behaviour and self-harm”

Self-harm is an issue that has been prevalent for decades and is becoming a predominant coping mechanism for young people.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is the act of injuring oneself by either cutting or burning to achieve a momentary sense of calm or release of tension of emotional pain. Often, people will self-harm to gain a sense of control again or to momentarily be distracted from mental distress by the sensation of physical pain.

While not classified as a mental illness on its own, it is often symptomatic of a range of other mental illnesses or emotional suffering.

The physical signs of self-harm may look like:

  • cutting, burning, biting, or scratching the skin
  • picking at wounds or scabs so they don’t heal
  • pulling out hair, punching or hitting the body
  • taking harmful substances (such as poisons, or over the counter or prescription medications).

Motivations for self-harming could stem from trauma, anxiety, depression or overwhelming feelings of stress and pressure.

Sometimes children who are self-harming may be fascinated with the topic and spend time online reading about other instances of this. They may attempt to cover their bodies or exhibit a desire to hide their skin such as wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts in warm weather.

Other behaviors might look like mood swings or becoming withdrawn socially and could be potentially triggered by a traumatic event or upsetting circumstances like bullying or difficulties in a peer group.

How to help

If your child or teen approaches you and tells you that they have been self-harming somehow, the most important thing you can do is have a compassionate response. According to Melbourne Child Psychology, the most common misconception about self-harm is that it is a form of ‘attention-seeking or ‘acting out.’

However, in most cases, nothing could be further from the truth and chances are your child is experiencing guilt, shame and genuine psychological distress and confusion. The best thing to do is provide support and be their anchor by acknowledging their feelings and letting them know you are here to help them.

It is crucial to fight the urge to have a shocked or angry reaction and say things like ‘why did you do this?’ or ‘you need to stop this – this is such a stupid thing to do!’

Instead, remain calm and let them know you are here to help by asking open-ended questions that encourage them to talk about why they did it or how they were feeling at the time.

Once they are emotionally assured, ask more open-ended questions such as what they used to harm themselves and where they got it. Be sure to ask if it’s ok to assess their injuries and appropriately dress them or bandage them.

Lastly, seek professional help

As a parent, watching your child self-harm can be heartbreaking, and it is ok to feel that you are out of your depth and need to seek professional help or advice. However, it is essential not to make the mistake of thinking that just because you have addressed the issue with your child, it will go away or get better.

Get in touch with a psychologist and communicate to them what the issue is before an appointment, so they know best how to help.

A child psychologist will provide your child with a safe environment to express themselves and learn effective coping mechanisms and strategies.

 

 

 

 

 

Over 45% of parents feel the effects of parental burnout. The crippling exhaustion, overwhelming stress, and the feeling that everything is just a bit too hard, is a shared experience with nearly half of all parents. Here is what you need to know about this common phenomenon – and the steps to take to feel like yourself again.

Many parents have come to realise that having children is exhausting… And even more exhausting when a pandemic, working from home and recurring lockdowns are thrown into the mix. The overwhelming feelings of stress and exhaustion associated with trying to juggle both life itself and the lives of their children too, can sometimes feel like a bit too much to handle. If you, as a parent, felt this too, don’t worry – you are definitely not alone.

It’s important to realise that these feelings are completely valid and parental burnout is more than just general tiredness or irritability. If left unmanaged, the all-consuming sensations of burnout can have significant consequences on not only parents’ mental health, but the sense of equilibrium within the family itself.

The first diagnoses of parental burnout dates back to 1983, but more extensive research was carried out in 2017, by Belgium researchers Dr Isabelle Roskam and Dr Moïra Mikolajczak – who really delved into the prevalence of parental burnout, especially in the 21st century.

They found that since previous studies, society has placed more pressure on families to raise high-performing, healthy and stable children – as well as a shift in gender norms – especially during COVID – which has generated an increase in more working mothers, and less who stay-at-home full time. These subtle changes can make the act of parenting more difficult and stressful and thus, emerges the patterns of parental burnout.

Beyond the initial feelings of exhaustion, parental burnout can also manifest in:

If these symptoms are left untreated for too long, the damage to parents’ mental health, hormones and relationships with both partners and children, can be significant. Research has found that parents who experience parental burnout, are likely to be more coercive or neglectful towards their children – despite the initial burnout often resulting from putting too much time and energy into your children and neglecting your own needs.

Other common factors that can lead to the development of parental burnout are:

For parents experiencing this level of burnout – despite how difficult it may seem – there are several ways that this burnout can be alleviated. Here are some common and scientifically proven ways that parental burnout can be reduced:

  • Establish a routine: by creating a set schedule within the family that allows time for everyone’s respective activities and obligations – as well as carving out time to be together as a family – parents can set boundaries between work and home and lessen the expectation to be doing everything at once.
  • Communicate your feelings: whether it is with a partner or a friend, telling someone how you are feeling is the first step to treating parental burnout. As this condition is often provoked by bottling up stress and exhaustion, the first way to fix this is to let someone know you need support.
  • Go to a support group: support groups for parents are a great way to feel like you’re not alone. By talking to other parents who may be sharing the same struggles, feelings of isolation that may be contributing to the burnout can be alleviated.
  • Exercise: it’s a well-known fact that moving your body releases endorphins and, for many, provides an outlet where you can release pent up stress. This doesn’t have to mean killing your body in the gym six days a week. If you are starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed, even a ten-minute walk or stretch can help release the feel-good hormones to make you feel more relaxed.
  • Consult a therapist: regardless of if you think you don’t need it – everyone can benefit in some way from talking to someone professional about your everyday problems, or perhaps past trauma that has led to burnout. There is no shame in getting help, and if you feel you need to talk to someone, a psychologist may be able to provide the informed guidance that you need.

The chance of developing parental burnout doesn’t go away as your kids grow up. As parents, it is likely that you will always put their needs above your own at points in time. But it is the acknowledgement that you are struggling, communication that you need help, and the seeking out of support that will help you on your journey to feel like yourself again.

 

 

 

 

Anxious Mums author, Dr Jodi Richardson, offers advice for mothers and children experiencing anxiety.

One in four people will experience anxiety within their lifetime, making it the most prevalent mental health condition in Australia. Statistics determine it is twice as common in women, with one in three, compared with one in five men, diagnosed on average.

Having lived and studied anxiety, Dr Jodi Richardson  is an expert in her field, with more than 25 years of practice. In addition to her professional background, it was ultimately her personal experiences and journey in becoming a mother that shaped the work she is passionate about. 

Jodi’s books, Anxious Kids; How Children Can Turn Their Anxiety Into Resilience,  co-written with Michael Grose (2019), and her latest release, Anxious Mums; How Mums Can Turn Their Anxiety Into Strength (2020), offer parents, in particular mothers, advice on how to manage and minimalise anxiety, so they can maximise their potential, elevate their health and maintain their wellbeing.

The more I learned about anxiety, the more important it was to share what I was learning.”

Jodi’s first-hand experiences have inspired her work today, stating, “The more I learned about anxiety, the more important it was to share what I was learning.”

Jodi’s first signs of experiencing anxiety appeared at the early age of four. Her first symptoms began in prep, experiencing an upset stomach each day. Her class of 52 students, managed by two teachers, was stressful enough, on top of her everyday battles. Jodi recalls, “There was a lot of yelling and it wasn’t a very relaxing or peaceful environment, it obviously triggered anxiety in me, I have a genetic predisposition towards it, as it runs in my family.”

Twenty years later, the death of a family member triggered a major clinical depression for Jodi. She began seeking treatment however, it was in finding an amazing psychologist, that helped her to identify she was battling an underlying anxiety disorder. Jodi discloses, “It was recognised that I had undiagnosed anxiety. I didn’t really know that what I had experienced all my life up until that point had been any sort of disorder, that was just my temperament and personality.” 

After many years of seeing her psychologist, Jodi eventually weaned off her medication and managed her anxiety with exercise and meditation. Offering advice on finding the right psychologist Jodi states, “For me it was my third that was the right fit. I really encourage anyone if the psychologist you were referred to doesn’t feel like the right fit, then they’re not and it’s time to go back to your GP. Having the right professional that you’re talking to and having a good relationship with is really important for the therapeutic relationship.”

Jodi highlights the importance of prioritising mental wellbeing, affirming, “The more we can open up and talk about our journeys, the more we encourage other people to do the same and normalise the experience.”

Anxious Mums came into fruition after a mum in the audience of one of Jodi’s speaking engagements emailed Jodi’s publisher stating, “Jodi has to write a book, all mums have to hear what she has to say.”

Everyday efforts new mothers face, consign extra pressure on wellbeing and showcase the need to counteract anxiety before it subordinates everyday lifestyles. While Jodi’s children are now early adolescents, she reflects upon the early stages of new motherhood, “Ultimately when I became a mum with all the extra uncertainty and responsibility, as well as lack of sleep, my mental health really declined to a point where I ended up deciding to take medication, which was ultimately life changing.”

When I became a mum with all the extra uncertainty and responsibility, as well as lack of sleep, my mental health really declined to a point where I ended up deciding to take medication, which was ultimately life changing.”

New mothers experience heightened anxiety as they approach multiple challenges of parenthood; from conceiving, through the journey of pregnancy, birth and perpetually, thereafter. Becoming a mother provided Jodi with insight into new challenges, in particular struggles with breastfeeding and lack of sleep. She shares, “It’s something that we don’t have much control over, particularly as new parents. We just kind of get used to operating on a lot less sleep and it doesn’t serve us well in terms of our mental health, particularly if there have been challenges in the past or a pre-existing disorder.

Research suggests women’s brains process stress differently to men, with testosterone also said to be somewhat protective against anxiety. This, along with different coping mechanisms of women, highlight statistic disparity between gender. For early mothers in particular, it is a time of immense change, as their everyday lives are turned upside down. New schedules, accountability and hormonal changes increase the likelihood of anxiety and depression, which are also commonly triggered in the postpartum period.

Jodi elaborates on important hormonal timeframes that shift women’s mental wellbeing stating, “Anxiety is heightened during times of hormonal changes as well as in the key points in our reproductive lives. Through having children and menopause and alike. It’s more disabling in that it impacts our lives in different ways to men, particularly I think, because we’re usually the main carers. There are stay at home dads, but predominantly that’s what women tend to do.”

Normal anxiety is infrequent and settles down, but when someone suffers a disorder, they can have incessant worry and avoidance. This can include anxiety around not wanting to participate, attend a function, for example, try something new or step up in a work role. Anxiety disorders can be crippling, leaving sufferers feeling as though they are unable to live their best life.

There’s no harm in going and asking the question because the gap between the first symptoms of anxiety and seeking help is still eight years in Australia.”

There are many telling physical signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Some indicative signs to look out for include a racing heart, trembling, sick stomach, frequent perspiration and dizziness that accompanies shortness of breath. Jodi says, “If you think that your anxiety might be a problem, that’s absolutely the time to go and make an appointment to see your GP. There’s no harm in going and asking the question because the gap between the first symptoms of anxiety and seeking help is still eight years in Australia.”

“Half of all mental illness comes on by around the ages of fourteen. Most adults who have anxiety can track it back to when they were teenagers or children.”

Just as anxiety is common for mothers, it’s also important to observe and be aware of in children. Jodi reveals, “For parents it’s important to know that half of all mental illness comes on by around the age of fourteen. Most adults who have anxiety can track it back to when they were teenagers or children. 75 percent of all mental illness comes on by about the age of 25, with one in seven children [4-17 years old] being diagnosed with a mental illness, and half of those have anxiety.”

“75 percent of all mental illness comes on by about the age of 25, with one in seven children [4-17 years old] being diagnosed with a mental illness, and half of those have anxiety

These pre-covid statistics highlight significant numbers of anxiety in adolescents. However, with the current climate prevalent of immense loss of control, many are facing new heightened emotions and increased numbers of anxiety. Early research coming out of Monash University is showcasing significant growth of adults with depression and anxiety, including statistics of children in the early ages of one to five experiencing symptoms.

Similar research has given light to evidence portraying children mirroring stress responses of their parents. Jodi further explains, “They can pick up the changes in our own heart rate, in our stress response — we are told that as new mums aren’t we, that our babies can pick up on how we are feeling but the science proves that to be true as well.” Parenting is a consequential way in which children receive cognitive biases and behaviours, “Just the tone of our voice, the expressions on our face, the way that we speak, what we say, certainly can be picked up on by kids and mirrored back.”

Noticing these early signs in your children is essential to alleviating anxiety before it progresses, Jodi lists some signs to be aware of, “Avoidance is a hallmark sign of anxiety — I don’t want to go, I don’t want to participate, I don’t want to deliver that oral presentation in class, I don’t want to go to camp and so watching out for that sort of thing. Other signs and symptoms to look out for include big emotions. If your children seem more teary or angry than usual, are feeling worried or avoidant, can’t concentrate, having trouble remembering or difficulty sleeping.” It’s important to be aware and help counteract anxiety when you see it. 

Jodi offers parents, who are struggling coping with their children’s anxiety some advice stating, “It’s an age old question, how much do we push and when do we hold back; I think as parents we are constantly answering that question. We don’t always get it right, but the thing about avoidance is it only makes anxiety worse. So for the child who is anxious about going to school, the more they stay home, the harder it will be to front up on another day. Sometimes, we need to nudge them forward in small steps and that’s a technique called step-laddering. It’s about making a step in that direction.”

Jodi encourages parents to observe their children’s symptoms and to never feel ashamed to go see a GP.  She urges, “Sometimes we get that reassurance from a GP, it might just be developmental, but the sooner kids are getting the help they need, the better, and it’s the same for us as mums.”

There are simple everyday steps we can take to combat anxiety. When someone is anxious a threat has been detected within the brain, this part of the brain is called the amygdala, one of the most powerful strategies for managing this stress detection is regulant meditation. 

Jodi explains, “What meditation does is it brings our attention to the present, so we are paying attention to what’s happening in the moment.” Meditation recognises deliberate breathing with a focus equally on exhalation as inhalation, proven to be calming to the anxious brain, using the relaxation response. 

Commending the importance of the practice and its effect on functioning, Jodi describes, “Meditation is more that sort of seated and formal practice of focusing the breath. What we know this will do over time, is it reduces the size and sensitivity of the amygdala, so it’s less sensitive to threat which reduces long-term anxiety. For the average person, our minds wander around 50 percent of the time, when we can bring our attention back to the present we are much more likely to be able to settle our anxiety, and feel happier as well.”

Another everyday strategy for combatting anxiety is exercise. Jodi shares her experience and routine stating, “Exercise is something I’ve used my whole life to calm my anxiety. Even now, I do cross-fit, karate and walks every week. I think naturally I was managing my health and wellbeing without really understanding why, I just knew that it made me feel good.”

The fight or flight response tied to anxiety powers us up to fight physically to save our lives or to flee. So often, when someone is anxious, they are powered up in this way, but not doing anything about it. Jodi shares, “When we move, it’s the natural end to the fight or flight response. Not only that, when we exercise we release serotonin, which is a feel good neural transmitter, among with gamma aminobutyric acid, a neural transmitter that puts the breaks on our anxiety response helping to calm us down.” 

Jodi’s practice in physiology, working with clients using exercise to help them with their mental and physical health has led her to her understandings, “One of the things I can 100 percent tell you is that it’s best not to wait until you feel motivated — the motivation will come once you get into the routine of it.

Dr Jodi Richardson, anxiety & wellbeing speaker, bestselling author & consultant

I’d just like to say, anxiety isn’t something we need to get rid of to really be able to thrive, to do what we need to do and accomplish what’s important to us. But I really encourage to anyone, that there are lots of ways to dial it back. I think it’s very easy for us to wait until we feel 100 percent to do something, but doing anything meaningful is hard.

So don’t wait until your anxiety is gone because you might be waiting a long time.”

 

 

 

 

Anxious Kids Penguin Books Australia, Author: Michael Grose, Dr Jodi Richardson RRP: $34.99 Anxious Mums Penguin Books Australia , Author: Dr Jodi Richardson  RRP: $34.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help now, call triple zero (000)

Lifeline:  Provides 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14, text on 0477 13 11 14 (12pm to midnight AEST) or chat online.

Beyond Blue: Aims to increase awareness of depression and anxiety and reduce stigma. Call 1300 22 4636, 24 hours/7 days a week, chat online or email.

Kids Helpline: : Is Australia’s only free 24/7 confidential and private counselling service specifically for children and young people aged 5 – 25. Call 1800 55 1800

To learn more about Dr Jodi Richardson’s work, watch the full interview below or on our YouTube channel.

 

 

Sydney family GP and TV Personality, Dr Ginni Mansberg, discusses the challenges of parenting teenagers and offers parents advice on how to guide modern adolescents, in her latest book, The New Teen Age, co-authored with Jo Lamble.

The exhaustion that comes with raising infants and toddlers is an age-old tale – but the emotional toll so often experienced by parents of teenagers can be even more challenging, especially now with potential perils around technology.

As kids transition into the world of teenager-dom, they’re exposed to a myriad of new risks like vaping, pornography and sexting – and as parents, it can be difficult to know when and how to step in.

High-profile Sydney family GP and TV personality, Dr Ginni Mansberg, stresses the importance of facing these issues head on and without judgement in her new book, co-authored with clinical psychologist Jo Lamble, The New Teen Age: How to support today’s tweens and teens to become healthy, happy adults .

A compilation of science-backed evidence, anecdotal advice and strategical conversation starters, the book hones-in on contemporary and previously overlooked issues like porn consumption, sexting, screen time, social media and sleep; all whilst promoting a judgement-free and practical space for parents seeking guidance.

Ginni says that many parents were coming to her and Jo’s clinics, overwhelmed by the pressures associated with raising their developing children.

“There was a lot of tension, a lot of love, a lot of fear, a lot of blaming themselves in guilt and a lot of anger from the kids”, Ginni shares.

“It just seemed that quite a few things had changed since more dominant parenting books were around.”

Authors Ginni and Jo combine knowledge, not only from their own practice in raising tweens and adolescents, but their 40 years of medical and psychological experience, providing readers with an updated perspective on how to navigate that turbulent time between childhood and adulthood.

Ginni says the key motivation toward the creation of the book was the desire “to bring everyone up to speed and close the gap to bring parents and kids together.”

‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts’

Like many parents of teens, Ginni understands the tumultuous experience of trying to effectively parent through puberty, and the physical and psychological shifts that come with that. She highlights that the more obvious physical changes, such as body hair and breasts, are not the most significant change these teenagers experience, rather it is the increase in hormones and subsequent changes in the brain that are the most daunting.

She reveals that as early as seven years old, children are “hitting that percentage of body fat that’s required to make sex hormones.”

Ginni also discusses the valuable role of Oxytocin, the “love hormone”, which is released primarily in response to experiences of trust, social bonding and, most obviously, love.

“Teenagers have very sensitive oxytocin receptors,” she explains. She maintains that due to this, teenagers are in fact “primed to be quite intense in their feelings. They are so devoted to each other, the friends are so intense, their first love is so intense – even if it’s a person they’ve just met on Instagram.”

In this, Ginni urges parents to acknowledge the reasons behind their teenager’s mood swings and melodramatic tendencies. Rather than consistently clashing heads, it’s important to understand that it’s in a teens nature to be a bit ‘over the top’ sometimes.

Your teens are not getting enough sleep.

Another question Ginni and Jo probe parents to think about, is the amount of sleep your teens are getting. Evidence show us that teenagers need 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night to function at their highest capacity. Ginni explains that because teenagers continue to go to bed later – then get up early for school – a “conga line of horror” can ensue.

Did you know how many issues can arise from lack of sleep? When teens consistently stay up late (more often than not at the clutches of a smartphone) and rack up large amounts of sleep debt, they become susceptible to “increases in anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, massive amounts of risky behaviour – whether its drugs, sex, sending a dick pic, taking a nude picture or saying something bitchy – decreased academic performance, decreased sport performance, acne and weight gain,” Ginni warns.

The New Teen Age author explains that these potential consequences, albeit scary, can be used to the advantage of parents trying to get through to their teens.

“In some ways,” she says, “the conga line of horror [from lack of sleep] is your ‘line in’ with the kids.”

If staying up late on phones is the issue, explaining the effects that lack of sleep can have, will provide them with an incentive to get more sleep themselves, without having the proverbial fight about leaving their phone downstairs.

Sexting and Porn – How Do I Bring it Up?

A newer conversation in the parenting world – and a necessary one – is how to navigate sexting and pornography consumption in teens. Sexting and sending nude photos, in particular, are a more recent development in teenage behaviour, exacerbated by the increasing reliance on social media to communicate and flirt with potential romantic partners.

“It is incredibly common,” Ginni says. “A lot of these kids aren’t seeing each other in person and especially during the pandemic, they aren’t seeing each other at all, so their way of flirting can be sending a pic, and they are biologically programmed to be into risk taking.”

In response to the influx of risqué photos and sexts being sent between teens, Ginni advises parents to reject protective instincts to ban teens from doing this or confiscate their phones, and instead lead with compassion and understanding, having conversations that say, “if you’re going to sext, at least do it in a safe way.”

Teenage porn consumption follows the same pattern. It is inevitable that your teens will either stumble across, or actively seek out, pornography – but it is the conversations that we have surrounding it that will limit its harm.

“Surveys have shown that what they are looking at is a video that usually preferences male pleasure,” Ginni explains. She maintains that they probably “don’t really understand the difference between what healthy, consensual sex is, and what they’re seeing online.”

Ginni persists that the only way to fix this, and help teenagers understand the implications of the risky behaviour they are attracted to, is “to be having these conversations with our kids.”

However, it doesn’t have to be the uncomfortable, grimace-inducing conversation that parents often imagine. Ginni provides readers with resources to help facilitate difficult conversations, one being ‘It’s Time to Talk’, which exists to encourage conversations about what constitutes healthy and safe relationships – a particularly important topic for teenagers who are forming unrealistic perceptions of relationships that are perpetuated through pornography.

Ultimately, Dr Ginni’s philosophy doesn’t advise controlling or limiting the actions of teenagers, rather influencing their decisions and thoughts through conversation, and in doing so, creating a safe passage for communication between the parent and the child.

“They need to push boundaries and they need to make mistakes, because otherwise they are spectacularly ill-equipped to face what is coming to them,” she says.

“We, as parents, need to use a certain amount of judgement – by knowing our kids and also understanding that they’re going to have to make some mistakes – to slowly take the training wheels off the bike.”

Watch Offspring’s exclusive interview with Dr Ginni Mansberg below or on our YouTube channel.

Attachment styles are how you have learned to love and communicate with others from early childhood, and it could be affecting you more than you know.

Attachment styles in relationships can be the root cause of arguments, abandonment issues, toxic behaviour, a lack of intimacy and poor communication, to name only a handful. They can be the result of the demise of relationships or repetitive bad habits that seem impossible to break. All of this can result in a sense of hopelessness or confusion as to why these negative feelings or situations keep arising.

The basics of attachment theory are that an infant must form a secure bond with a responsive parent from a very early age. If the infant’s physical and emotional needs are met, they will create a ‘secure’ attachment to their caregiver. This sense of security is essential in early development as this will stay with the child into adult life. A secure attachment style provides the security to form healthy relationships, communicate and navigate the world with a sense of confidence.

The kicker is, only 60% of parents provide infants with a genuinely secure attachment style. A lack of secure attachment can lead to difficulty showing vulnerability, asking for help, receiving affection, or trusting a partner.

So, if you’re struggling to open up to your spouse or frustrated with your best friend for asking for help, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s just your insecure inner child.

So, what is your attachment style?

a couple sit cross legged next to one another one the road

There are four major attachment styles. Learning which one is yours may be the key to a healthier you and healthier relationships. People who identify and work with their attachment styles often have an easier time correcting negative behaviours. Your style is either:

1. Secure

As already mentioned, secure attachment styles generally have an easier time trusting and communicating their emotions. Therefore, giving and recieing affection usually isn’t an issue for secure types. As a secure type, chances are the lines of communication are pretty open for you in your relationships, and arguments do not easily arise.

2. Dismissive-avoidant

Perhaps you hate the feeling of relying on others, and when others are dependent on you, you think of them as ‘needy.’ Maybe over dinner your spouse has tried to peacefully resolve an unfinished argument from the week before. Instead of listening, you angrily accuse them of not letting go and shut down the conversation by leaving the table. It could be that you prioritise your career over your friendships, and as a result, you find yourself increasingly alone in life. These are self-preserving behaviours that can become toxic.

3. Anxious-preoccupied

Anxious attachment styles are often plagued with fears of abandonment. For example, you may wonder why your partner is being distant and moody, be convinced they are dissatisfied and worry that they are planning to leave you for something or someone better. These negative thoughts can quickly erupt into an argument. Maybe you are jealous and read your spouse’s text messages when they are asleep and later feel ashamed of your behaviour,

4. Fearful-avoidant

This attachment style is a combination of an anxious and avoidant attachment. For example, you might crave love and affection but feel uncomfortable receiving it. This can sometimes result in high-risk behaviours such as substance abuse and difficulty maintaining relationships.

Maybe you struggle to become close to people and can only maintain relationships under the influence of alcohol. You might self-sabotage by distancing yourself from others and look for affection in places you know you will not find it.

Doing an attachment style quiz might help you develop a sense of which feels more like yourself.

a couple sit next to one another on a couch

Attachment styles in relationships

At some point, you’ve encountered the term ‘law of attraction.’ The idea is that our positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative people into our world. Well, your attachment style may have more to do with this than you think.

If you fall into an anxious-avoidant or fearful-avoidant attachment style, maybe someone secure and dependable feels a little dull. Subconsciously, you can crave the unpredictability and chaos that you are used to receiving. Your caregivers might have been angry, dismissive of you, or made you feel like a burden, and yet, you loved them. Because this is what your internal blueprint of love is, it’s what you seek out in another partner.

For example, suppose you are an anxious person who craves love and fears abandonment. In that case, you may spend months or years waiting on an avoidant person to be committed in your relationship with no change. As a result, avoidant and anxious people frequently end up together. On the other hand, two highly avoidant people might spend time apart throwing themselves into their respective jobs and lack communication.

If unaware of your attachment style, it can be easy to enter relationships and friendships on autopilot and often not identify why the same problems are constantly encountered. It’s possible to repeat the same emotional habits throughout your life subconsciously. For example, anxiety, fear of abandonment, or a general lack of care can contribute to turmoil in friendships and marriages.

a couple sit next to one another outside. One is texting while the other tries to read over their shoulder

You can correct your attachment style

If this is all sounding a little depressing, don’t worry; attachment styles can be corrected. The best way to do this is by mindfully identifying how issues in relationships may be rooted in both party’s attachment styles. This gets to the heart of the problem and increases compassion and awareness for each person’s emotional needs.

The first step is to educate yourself and take an attachment style quiz, then read literature, self-reflect, and speak to a psychologist.

Other helpful tools are;

 1 . Meditation

Practices that increase mindfulness are invaluable in high-stress situations. Set aside time each day to do a mindfulness exercise or some breathwork. In the midst of difficult conversations, using these techniques helps regulate emotions to reflect on the issue properly.

2 . Journaling

Journaling is a great way to reflect on the past, your childhood, and things responsible for your stress, anxiety, or fears.

3. Practice self-care

Practicing self-care and learning to nurture yourself is crucial. Provide yourself with the love and care that may have been absent as a child, and you will be more equipped to provide this for others in your life.

4. Therapy

Lastly and most importantly, health care professionals recommend that you address your attachment style through therapy. Some psychologists specialize in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or trauma therapies. But, again, being open with a healthcare provider or doctor is the best way to find what you need.

Be gentle with yourself and the people that you care for. Often, unresolved trauma or neglect can be the root of obstacles in any relationship. Addressing this and healing can take time, patience and be hard work. Pushing through this to the other side will lead to more harmonious relationships and greater inner happiness.

a women sits on a therapists couch talking while the therapists hands are seen taking notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story of how my drinking caused my life to spiral into chaos and my journey back through sobriety.

“My name is Paul, and I am an alcoholic.”

I don’t remember much about my first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. I put it down to being so mentally and physically broken that all I have is a vague recollection: a group of people sitting in a large circle, lit by candlelight. What I distinctly remember, though, is hearing those present speak their truth and knowing, immediately, that I was in the right place.

I was a successful lawyer, well-respected by clients and peers alike. Work was my life. It was also, in retrospect, the environment in which I was able to best practise my alcoholism. I just enjoyed a drink, I can’t be an alcoholic, I thought. Alcoholics were homeless and unemployed, drank first thing in the morning out of brown paper bags. I was none of those things, so I kept drinking. And drinking. It took me about fifteen years to get to that first meeting, at the age of 41.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when my drinking changed from social to problematic. Drinking socially became drinking on weekends became drinking a few days during the week became a daily habit. I drank to celebrate, and I drank to commiserate. My drinking had started out fine – fun, even – but, after polishing off an entire wine rack of Tasmanian reds in a week, I wondered if I had a drinking problem.

The last few years were the worst. I counted the hours, then the minutes, until I could drink. I craved it, needed it. I continued to work but took more and more sick days. I left work earlier and earlier, going home via the bottle shop where I got into bed and started drinking. I rarely ate. I was drinking two litres of cask wine a day out of a blue plastic wine ‘glass’ because I had broken all the glass ones. I was dogged by a constant and painful obsession: did I have enough alcohol to get me and keep me drunk?

I was drinking two litres of cask wine a day out of a blue plastic wine ‘glass’ because I had broken all the glass ones.

I regularly cracked ribs falling off chairs, was covered in mysterious bruises. I started having blackouts, unable to remember things I’d done or said. I later learned they were caused by drinking too much too quickly, impairing judgment, coordination, and memory. Because of the blackouts, my first morning ritual was to check my phone to see what nasty things I’d texted to friends, trying to piece together the events of the night before. I’d apologised so much that “I’m sorry” no longer meant anything. My second morning ritual was vomiting and diarrhoea. And I kept drinking.

My rage grew exponentially. Plates and cups were broken, cutlery thrown, computer keyboards smashed. My dogs actively avoided drunk me, terrified of my yelling. I cut people off, including my partner and family, retreating into isolation to drink the way I wanted to. Seeing the way I drank, my closest friend – one of the few I still had – told me she knew someone who had stopped drinking by going to AA and suggested I do the same. I told her to “Fuck off”. I still didn’t consider myself an alcoholic despite my unmanageable life. Or maybe, somewhere in the sensible part of my brain, I did.

I had tried to stop or, at least, reduce my drinking in the years before I entered Alcoholics Anonymous. I saw doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists and lied to all of them about how much I was drinking. I was prescribed drugs to reduce alcohol cravings and washed them down with booze. I read self-help books, books on spirituality. I gave Buddhism a crack. I switched red wine for white and clear spirits for coloured. Going days, sometimes weeks, without drinking, I relied on a willpower that was so fragile it was easily broken watching someone on television sip a martini. None of these methods curbed my drinking. It took hitting what is referred to in AA as ‘rock bottom’ for me to make a change.

My rock bottom involved me, in a blackout, assaulting a taxi driver. I ended up with a broken wrist, the clear loser in that encounter; the taxi driver was unharmed. Cut to me laying on an emergency department trolley, my right forearm plastered, in a great deal of physical and emotional pain. It was what I needed. I reflected on where my life was headed, without the fog of alcohol. Terrified I would be charged with assault, which might mean the end of my law career, my best friend’s words – “you need to go to AA” – circled around in my head. It was the only viable option I had left; I’d tried everything else. It was either jail, a slow death, or Alcoholics Anonymous. I left hospital resolved to give AA a try for a month.

It was either jail, a slow death, or Alcoholics Anonymous.

My understanding of AA was minimal, informed by media portrayals of alcoholics. I searched online for a local meeting and dragged my partner along for support, not knowing what to expect. Although I sat in the corner, not speaking, I felt instantly understood. Importantly, I realised that I was not alone in this, I was not the only person in the world with this problem. The next day I went to another meeting, then another, and another. I did 90 meetings in 90 days as suggested. I learned that alcoholism is a disease that can be treated by attending meetings, getting a sponsor, and working through the twelve steps that underpin the AA program.

And I didn’t drink. One day at a time, I clocked up a week of sobriety, then a month, then six months. I kept going back. I started feeling more human. My obsession with alcohol left me after three months. For the first time in a very long time, I didn’t argue; I listened. What I heard was versions of my story voiced by people from all backgrounds. The myth of the stereotypical alcoholic I had, for years, used to justify my drinking was exploded. Alcoholism can affect anyone, regardless of age, cultural background, or socioeconomic status.

Socialising with people outside of AA was tricky to navigate at first. Australia is renowned for being a nation of drinkers. The National Drug Household Survey reported that 77% of Australians over the age of 14 drank in 2018, with 29% using alcohol to a harmful extent. So, it is unsurprising that I was often asked, “Why aren’t you drinking?” My response – “I’m doing it for my health” – satisfied most people.

Persistent questioners were met with, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m drunk” or “I’ve had enough booze to last me a lifetime.” I directed those who wondered out loud whether they might be an alcoholic to Alcoholics Anonymous’ quiz, they had to arrive at that decision themselves.

AA is a spiritual program but let me correct a common misconception. It is not a religious cult. Yes, God is an integral part of Alcoholics Anonymous, but it is a god of my understanding. Growing up areligious, the idea of a DIY god, whether that be a burly, white-bearded man who lives in the sky or the beauty of nature, fit perfectly with my concept of spirituality. I readily put my faith in a power greater than myself, someone or something that could guide me; a spiritual buddy that took the focus off me and my ego.

For me, Alcoholic Anonymous worked. I’m not sure how, and I don’t care. Over time, I came to understand what drove my behaviour, why I reacted poorly in certain situations. Alcohol had been my anaesthetic, an escape from myself and a way of avoiding the feelings that are an inevitable part of life.

AA gave me a blueprint for living and the tools to address feelings in a non-self-destructive way. Now, I am honest with myself and others. I’ve made amends to people I had hurt and repaired relationships with family and friends. I am reliable, able to show up for people instead of making plans and then ditching them at the last minute.

Soon, I will celebrate eight years of sobriety. I still go to meetings a few times a week, where the stories of newcomers, as broken as I was when I first entered AA, remind me of where I was and where I am now. I regularly speak to my sponsor and other sober alcoholics. Four years ago, I paid off a $40,000 credit card debt I’d racked up during my drinking. Three years ago, I married my partner of 20 years who, by some miracle, had stuck by me despite often bearing the brunt of my alcohol-fuelled rage. Being sober does not mean living a boring life. I have done things in sobriety I never dreamed of doing while I was drinking. Today I can laugh – really laugh – again.

Being sober does not mean living a boring life. I have done things in sobriety I never dreamed of doing while I was drinking.

Alcoholics Anonymous can stop you drinking and give you tools for living but it is not a cure-all. I have had to seek help outside of AA for mental illness. But what AA has given me, and continues to give me, is a great deal of serenity and a wonderful support system. I am now the best version of myself.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been rainbows and unicorns, but neither is life. I have lost friends and family during my sobriety; I have been laid off from jobs and suffered financial hardship. The difference is that now I am present, can contribute, participate, help and support others and myself without turning to alcohol.

Renowned countercultural writer Kurt Vonnegut, not an alcoholic himself, once said that Alcoholics Anonymous was America’s greatest gift to the world, and I must agree.

 

The adoption process is not easy, but for some parents adoption it is their last chance at a family.

After 10 years of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatments, plus two and a half years of waiting in the adoption program, hairdresser Pina and her husband John were finally able to have that chance.

The Melbourne couple, are one of the lucky sets of parents who were able to adopt a baby boy 20 years ago. Both had wanted children since their mid to late-twenties and after exhausting all their options to have their own biological child, they turned to adoption.

The 10 years of IVF treatments had taken their toll on Pina physically and mentally, seeing her future continuously taken away from her, made her feel like the adoption process would be just another form of torture and in some respects it was.

Still, she felt she had nothing to lose and if IVF had taught her anything, it was that she was willing to risk it. Thankfully, luck was on her side and after 13 years of waiting, Pina and John welcomed a baby boy into their family.

Pina explains how the IVF treatments hurt her. “We kept making beautiful embryos, through IVF,” Pina shares.

“For whatever reason, they never stuck to me. However, I think there is a reason in life, why things happen – I was meant to have Damien.”

IVF is an intrusive procedure that has a success rate per fresh embryo transfer of 38.8% for live birth and 44.9% for clinical pregnancy (ages 18-34) and 32.2% (live birth), 41.7% (clinical pregnancy) for ages 35-38, ages greater than 38 it drops even further.

“They kept saying to me that there is absolutely nothing wrong, my husband had the low sperm count that’s the reason we went on it. As the woman, I had to go through a lot,” Pina recalls.

I was at the point where I thought, I’m not meant to have kids and that’s it, end of story.” It was then, Pina’s husband, John mentioned adoption.

Although adoption seems like a great back-up plan for a family, in reality, it’s a very complex system with the average wait time being between five and seven, if one passes the qualifying stages. Between 2018-2019 there was a total of 310 adoptions Australia wide, 82% were Australian born children and 67% of the 310 adoptions were from their foster parents.

With the increase in women’s rights and family planning and the resulting drop of children in the adoption system, means there are more parents waiting to adopt than there are children needing to be adopted.

Australia’s adoption policies differ depending on the States. In Victoria there are three kinds of adoption systems: local adoption, inter-country adoption and permanent care.

There are also only 13 partner countries with Australia for adopting children, each having independent rules and regulations which can restrict options. Factors such as being married, single, male or female, in a de-facto relationship, one’s age, gender orientation and sexuality can all affect one’s chances of adoption.

The local adoption requirements are less strict, for example a persons’ orientation or relationship status does not matter but there is a demanding application process which examines a person’s life in minute detail.

The biological parents learn everything about the adopting parents as well has gaining many rights, one of which is the right to visitation.

Even though we would be adopting their children, they still get to see them,” Pina says.

Pina didn’t have a problem with this requirement because she believes it’s important for a child, any person for that matter, to know their heritage to better understand oneself.

To be qualified and placed in the adoption program would take two years for Pina and John. As Pina says, “They wanted to get to know us better than we knew ourselves.”

Answering endless questions fuelled a gruelling and extensive qualification process. It was also yet another period of trying not to get their hopes up in fear of disappointment.

The final step, after 2.5 years of the application process, was an intimidating interview with a panel of lawyers, doctors, psychologists and Department of Human Services (DHS) staff.

Pina says she thought they were successful because of her view of it not mattering to her who or where the child was from, to her a child was a child and if she could supply the home then she would gladly do it.

Two months later, they got the call that they were to be the parents of a 4.5-month-old baby boy, whom they named Damien.

The first time I lay eyes on him, I just thought he was the most beautiful little baby ever,” Pina recalls.

However, their adoption story did not end there, it has always been in the background through Damien’s childhood, adolescence and even into adulthood.

Damien has known he was adopted from an early age. Pina took the approach to start filling him in as soon as he could understand.

Pina strongly wanted Damien never to question where he belonged, she made sure he knew he was a part of this family and nothing could change it.

I told him little bits and pieces and as he got older,” Pina says.

“He knows that he has biological siblings, and yes that was a bit hard, I did not know how he would take it. I suppose growing up he knew nothing other than us; we are his parents- this is his family. He never really questioned it and had no interest in meeting her (his biological mother) or his siblings.”

Although Damien never questioned who he was and where he belonged it was still difficult to understand why his biological mother gave him up, especially when she had children already.

Even though Damien’s biological mother hardly used the visitation rights, as she wanted a clean break, she has been in contact with Damien over the past 20 years.

In some ways it was more detrimental than good for Damien. Each time would raise his expectations, to have some sort of relationship and understanding, only to be rejected all over again.

Damien does not know who his biological father is, although he knows it is where he gets his aboriginal heritage. While having no information on the biological father has been challenging in having real access to the Australian Indigenous community for Damien, both Pina and John made sure he was in touch with his cultural heritage.

“Adoption is a gamble. Any child is a gamble. Whether you adopt or whether you have one biologically. They can grow up to be the best, they can grow up to be the worst they can grow up to be anything,” Pina explains.

It has nothing to do with whether you gave birth or not. In the end it’s all the same.”

Adoption and its process are not for the feint hearted but if fate is on side it’s the best chance at having a family.

ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood disorders, yet for many women it isn’t until they reach their twenties or thirties that they finally receive a diagnosis.

By: Harriet Grayson

“You don’t realise that other people don’t feel like you do in your mind, where it’s all very, very busy, quite noisy, sometimes irritatingly so.”

For many young girls, the terms “daydreamer” or “window-gazer” are commonplace. They may have trouble paying attention in class or focusing on a task, but it is just because they have over active imaginations. No one would stop to think that this daydreaming could in fact be a symptom of ADHD, that while everything might seem normal up close everything is “chaos”.

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is one of the most common neurodevelopment disorders that arises in childhood and lasts well into adulthood. In Australia alone, it is estimated that one in 20 children suffer from ADHD. While ADHD is often perceived as a child who simply can’t sit still, there are in fact two very different types of ADHD. 

One is the hyperactive-impulsive form, the most commonly recognised form of ADHD. Children with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD typically squirm or fidget regularly, are overly talkative, have trouble taking turns with others and find it difficult to focus on one task at a time. 

The less common form is the inattentive form of ADHD. Children with this form often daydream a lot, regularly forget or lose things, and make careless mistakes more often than most children do. 

According to child and adult psychotherapist, Fran Walfish, boys tend to exhibit the hyperactive form of ADHD while the inattentive form is more common in girls. Because its symptoms are not as easily observable, inattentive ADHD is often hugely undiagnosed in children, especially amongst girls and young women. Boys are over three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, and even in adulthood they are still twice as likely to be diagnosed.

Little girl daydreamingThere are a number of reasons for this, one of the main ones being ADHD in women remains significantly under-researched to this day. Women weren’t included in findings from studies on ADHD until the late nineties, and weren’t given their own long-term study until 2002. 

Another crucial reason, and one that has no doubt contributed to the lack of research into ADHD in women, is the way gender norms in society to this day have created a sense that women are inherently sensitive, emotional and passive, while men are more serious and active. When girls and young women exhibit symptoms characteristic of inattentive ADHD, they are dismissed for being silly daydreamers. If they act impulsively, which in boys would be identified as a symptom of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, it is simply because they are a bit of a tomboy. 

Girls and young women are also more likely to cover up their ADHD symptoms by adopting the behaviour of those around them. Maddi Derrick, a clinical psychologist who directs an ADHD specialty clinic in Hobart and who herself lived with undiagnosed ADHD for much of her life, says that ADHD can also be under-diagnosed in girls and young women because they mature socially and emotionally more quickly than boys. 

According to Derrick, this means that they are “probably a bit more aware and focused on how others are viewing them” than boys with ADHD. Girls and young women with ADHD often try very hard to concentrate to hide the signs of their ADHD, so that in school teachers see someone who is just talkative or “daydreamy” rather than someone struggling with ADHD. 

Derrick describes experiencing a sense of “internal hyperactivity” throughout her school years, getting easily flustered or blowing up as her ADHD made it difficult to control her emotions. Yet she says it took her many years to realise not everyone felt the way she felt, and that not everyone’s mind is all “very, very busy, quite noisy, sometimes irritatingly so”.

While ADHD tends to be diagnosed early in boys, it is often overlooked in girls and young women until much later in life. Once women with ADHD reach their early to mid twenties, or their university years, their lack of self-regulation and self-management becomes more noticeable. Anthony Rostain, professor of psychiatry and paediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says that in university, women with ADHD have more of a risk of being susceptible to negative pressure from sororities or getting involved in things like recreational drugs because they have trouble managing impulse control. 

For many women, it isn’t until their thirties or forties that they are finally diagnosed. Noelle Faulkner, a journalist for the Guardian, has lived with ADHD for most of her life. As a child, she recalls being repeatedly told to “stop daydreaming”, “slow down” and “act like a lady”, while she herself felt “overwhelmed by the world” to the point where she disassociated from it to cope. 

After six visits to her GP in the space of two years, each one for the same unexplained exhaustion, she saw a psychologist who responded to her complaints by asking her if she was simply aiming too high. Her exhaustion was put down to the pressure for perfection faced by all women in her industry. It took experiencing numerous severe burnouts from feeling chronically overwhelmed and countless visits to various GPs and psychologists to finally get a diagnosis in her thirties.

Her experiences are similar to those of many women struggling to live with an illness they do not know they have, battling symptoms they cannot explain or seem to overcome. This struggle is multiplied for women with ADHD who are also mothers, juggling the never-ending demands of childcare as well as those of their career while their disorder wrecks havoc on their mental health. The medications many use to treat ADHD may get them through the day at the office, but tend to wear off by the time they get home, meaning that they have to manage the various demands of organising the house and taking care of their children with their ADHD at its full force. 

Mother at computer with children

For any woman with ADHD, managing their disorder so they aren’t completely overwhelmed can seem utterly impossible. It can be challenging, but there are a number of simple yet crucial steps women can take to make life not merely bearable but enjoyable. Medication, psychotherapy and mental health counselling are a few of the most common treatment options both for coping with symptoms of ADHD and for offering support for those with the disorder and their loved ones. 

Terry Matlen, psychotherapist and author on ADHD in women, offers some easy survival tips that women, especially mothers, with ADHD can employ to improve their lives. The first, and possibly the most important, is that women accept that they have ADHD. Matlen says it is hard for women to acknowledge that they aren’t perfect, and particularly that they need help, but that it is essential women just “accept (their) ADHD and go with it”. The second is to ask help from their family members in whatever way they need it. 

Matlen states, delegating tasks around the house not only gives mothers with ADHD the help they need but also helps teach their children responsibility. She also recommends that mothers explain their symptoms to their family, keep a calendar with colour coded schedules for each family member, and establish quiet zones free of technology to minimise distractions during quality family time.