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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.

Can we simply obtain Self Love from a beauty makeover, buying a new outfit or reading an inspirational self help book? Is Self Love is not simply just “loving yourself more” or a state of “feeling good”?

Some may say that without loving yourself, you will never be able to genuinely love others.

Popular singer, Lizzo, who regularly refers to her own process of loving herself, recently told fans to “give your growth time – it took me 10 years and I’m still not 100 per cent there.”

Whilst Queer Eye’s, Jonathan Van Ness, said on Channel 10’s The Project “Everyone is always on a journey to Self Love and self-acceptance” and it’s a continued relationship we have with ourselves. Here are some simple ways we can incorporate more self love into our daily routine.

Face masks

We should all take the time to do a face mask at least one a week, because we’re worth it. There are all sorts of face masks on the market from cucumber to charcoal, clay and mud varieties, to the sheet and creme options, but what are the actual benefits? Tyler Hollmig, MD, Director of Aesthetic and Laser Dermatology at Stanford Health Care suggests face masks are good are moisturising the skin saying “even if you were to just put a mask on top of the skin with nothing in it, it would naturally moisturise the skin”.

A rule of thumb from Shilpi Khetarpal, MD, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, “Just because a product is expensive, doesn’t mean it’s better.” Some do-it-yourself at-home masks can deliver great results too, she says. Ingredients like milk and yogurt for example, contain lactic acid, which exfoliates the skin and can make it appear brighter. Aloe vera contains antioxidants that can brighten skin, too. And coffee, because of the caffeine, can minimise the appearance of pores by drying out the skin.

Lighting a scented candle can boost energy, relieve stress and even enhance mental clarity.

Take a Nice Bath

Signs that we can be depressed are that we stop showering regularly. Draw yourself a nice hot bath and pour in some Epsom salts, you might like to also add some sort of bubble bath soap or a bath bomb and light some candles. You can also add some drops of your favourite essential oils. Essential oils can improve our physical and emotional wellbeing, for example relief from anxiety and depression, improved quality of life, particularly for people with chronic health conditions and improved sleep.

10 popular essential oils:

Peppermint: boost energy and aid digestion

Lavender: relieve stress and reduce pain

Sandalwood: calm nerves and help with focus

Bergamot: reduce stress and improve skin conditions like eczema

Rose: improve mood and reduce anxiety

Chamomile: improve mood and relaxation

Ylang-Ylang: treat headaches, nausea, and skin conditions

Tea Tree: fight infections and boost immunity

Jasmine: help with depression, childbirth, and libido

Lemon: aid digestion, mood, headaches, and more

Eating Well
There is a strong link between what we eat and how we feel. Eating well can help improve sleep, energy levels, concentration and you are also less likely to crave sugar, salt or fat. New research suggests if you eat Colourful fruits and vegetables, Wholegrains, Fermented foods and Fish whilst cutting back on Sugar, Alcohol and Saturated fat, you will feel good. – Headspace

Drinking Two Litres of Water Every Day
Minor dehydration can have effects on our mental and physical performance. The body is made up of between 50 per cent and 80 per cent water and relies on water to function properly. We need water to absorb nutrients, for digestion, to lubricate our joints to help us move, get rid of waste products and to regulate our body temperature. Drink around two litres of water everyday.

Meditate
Mindfulness meditation often takes just a few minutes and there are a wide range of apps available. Meditation is one way to help manage anxiety and depression. Sadhbh Joyce, Senior Psychologist and PhD Candidate at the Black Dog Institute, says “When freed from the task of processing so much external stimuli, the brain has the opportunity to focus its resources differently. For this reason, meditation can often lead to us to experience greater creativity. Meditation allows us to take advantage of our brains’ neuroplasticity and effectively rewire it to enhance things such as concentration, focus and memory.”

Light a Scented Candle
Lighting a scented candle can boost energy, relieve stress and even enhance mental clarity. The smell of the scented candle is said to stimulate the part of your brain which is connected to memory and mood.

Lavender: relaxes instantly both mind and body

Clary sage: lifts mood

Cinnamon: makes you feel refreshed
Pine: relaxes

Orange: reduces stress

Lemon: improves mood

Apple: controls anxiety

Peppermint: wakes up your mind and enhances focus

Frankincense: helps battle anxiety and gives a great stress relief

Sandalwood: relaxes and calms body and mind

Vanilla: increases happiness levels, uplifts your mood and stimulates feelings of relaxation and joy
Rose: makes you more likely to have happy dreams

Get a Massage
Getting a massage is one of life’s many pleasures and has so many physical and emotional benefits. Studies of the benefits of massage show that it is an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension. Studies have also found massage may be helpful for anxiety, headaches and insomnia related to stress. Take time out for yourself a book a massage.

Eat a Cinnamon Scroll
Danes are the happiest people on earth, and experts think a philosophy called Hygge that encourages the savouring of everyday pleasures could be the secret. One thing Danes like to do is eat baked goods, especially cinnamon scrolls. There’s something special about the smell of the cinnamon, the warmth of the dough and its delicious sticky goodness.

Call a Loved One
When were feeling depressed we tend to withdraw from close family and friends and we don’t want to go out anymore. Usually we’re left feeling overwhelmed, guilty, frustrated and unhappy and what we really need is to reach out to someone. If you’re feeling down or distressed, call a friend or family member or alternatively you can see a psychologist or call lifeline on 13 11 14.

Listen to Music
Make an empowering playlist on Spotify, with music that really uplifts you, something upbeat for example a track by Lizzo. Although one song that might calm a person down may irritate another. So you may choose something sombre for example have you ever felt better after crying to a breakup song? Or maybe a happy song brings you a sad memory? Go with what makes you feel most comfortable.

As Australia’s cosmetic surgery rates surpass America’s, our obsession with social media and the current COVID-19 pandemic creates a minefield for those who struggle with disordered eating and body image issues.

 So far, 2020 has been a lot to process. In what will most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime historical event, the world has been totally affected by COVID-19 – a virus which has so far killed more than 264,000 people.

As Australia combats this, most of us have found ourselves on leave, unemployed or working from home. As the lockdowns have progressed many businesses have shut down and the nation’s gyms have not been immune.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of content online focused on exercising from home, especially on Instagram, which has become flooded with posts about ‘body goals’, losing weight and becoming ‘healthier’ in quarantine.

The COVID-19 pandemic offers numerous triggers for those who are struggling with an eating disorder or those with distorted body image and low self-esteem.

“We understand that the prevalent discussions around stock-piling food, increased hygiene measures, food shortages and lock-ins can be incredibly distressing and triggering for people experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder,” states The Butterfly Foundation in relation to COVID-19. 

When you combine these triggers with an increase in spare time to spend scrolling social media, such as Instagram, this can create the Perfect Storm.

Instagram and its tribe of entrepreneurs and models is no stranger to criticism from body positivity advocates, largely because the app is focused on images, a majority of which are highly edited. The concept of Instagram is the ideal social media app- share images and see images of your family and friends – plus your favourite celebrities, bridging the gap between fan and friend.

Instagram launched in 2010 and had 1 million users within two months, it has since been purchased by Facebook and become one of the largest social media platforms in the world.

The New Yorker journalist Jia Tolentino has talked extensively concerning the phenomenon of Instagram models, and their strikingly similar looks in ‘The Age of the Instagram Face’. 

She writes, “The gradual emergence, among professionally beautiful women, of a single, cyborgian face. It’s a young face, of course, with pore-less skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips.”

The commodification of women was once selling the products to make us beautiful, but as ‘Instagram Face’ rises and social media continues to excel, cosmetic surgery becomes more commonplace than it ever has been before.

Presently Australia’s cosmetic surgery numbers have surpassed America’s; in 2017 Australian’s spent more than 1 billion dollars on plastic surgery, surpassing America’s procedures per capita numbers, a feat considering America is often considered the ground zero for enhanced beauty.

Since when did this new prototype of a woman, a mish-mashed version, a high light reel built to bend over; a tiny waist, big lips, no blemishes- become the new standard of beauty, and how achievable is this?

Claire Finkelstein has been a clinical psychologist for fifteen years and is co-founder and co-director at Nourish.Nurture.Thrive, a multidisciplinary practise based in Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula that specialises in helping young people who struggle with eating disorders and body image.

Claire and fellow clinical psychologist, Ainsley Hudgson, started Nourish.Nurture.Thrive after years working in the public health system and seeing how overwhelmed it had become with a “growing population with eating disorder concerns,” says Claire.

Isolation, quarantine and an increase in social media can be very triggering for not only those who struggle with eating disorders but anyone who finds themselves feeling out of control in this stressful time.

“Everybody is showing their exercise routines at the moment, everybody is making those jokes about putting on weight during lockdown and I think it’s just incredibly triggering even for people with a fairly robust sense of self-confidence and body image but particularly for people who are in the eating disorder space,” says Claire.

The showing of exercise routines is found on Instagram amongst other social media, promoting diet culture.

Diet culture is defined as a system of beliefs that worship thinness and oppress people who don’t meet this beauty standard and idea of health. The one underlying fact for nearly all diets and wellbeing programs is that thin is best, demonizing certain food groups and body types, all while promoting the most important idea of them all; if you weren’t so lazy you’d have the body of your dreams.

“It feels like you can control your weight, so in a time when you feel out of control you try and control your weight and what we know is that your weight is biologically determined within a set point and that’s one of the difficulties – all these messages around ‘this is something we can do’ and if you’re not doing it successfully you’re inadequate and that is such a damaging, damaging story that is part of diet culture,” says Claire.

The infamous ‘beauty is pain’ mantra handed down to young girls from their mothers has a whole new meaning, the pain having grown from a waxing strip full of pubic hair to a surgery scar or a vigorous training regime.

Earlier this year glamour magazine Girls Girls Girls collaborated with Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon to create a video titled ‘Be a Lady they said’. The piece included various clips from movies, news, and glamour shots to tell the story of the myriad of requests and expectations women are meant to be adhering to, ironically the women featured in the video are beautiful, thin and passive.

One of the most impactful lines reads,

‘Be a size zero, be a double zero, be nothing, be less than nothing.’

Cynthia Nixon spits these words at the screen as it turns dark and the sound of someone’s heart flatlining takes up the darkness. It is powerful commentary on the notions behind our desires for female perfection and the gruesome control it creates.

As Naomi Wolf states in her classic, The Beauty Myth, published in 1990, obsession with beauty and thinness is a form of control and oppression.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one,” says Wolf.

The US health and weight loss industry is worth an estimated $72 billion and Australians are estimated to spend $452.5 million on weight-loss counselling services (and the low-calorie foods and dietary supplements that go with it) in 2019-2020.

These figures show what has been in the shadows all along – this business is big money built off the back of diet culture. A truth hid underneath the bright lights of Instagram, the ‘life updates’ and the relatable posts – the influencers who make you feel like a family, like you could look like them if you had the grit – when you’re just a customer.

 Resources and coping mechanisms

For those who are spending a lot of time online and feel triggered by the change in routine, there are ways to seek help, guidance and support.

The Butterfly Foundation suggests that stretching, light exercise, talking to a loved one, drawing, being creative and mindfulness techniques can help you support your health and wellbeing during this crisis and stop negative body thoughts.

Their Helpline is also open on webchat, email or phone from 8am-midnight, 7 days a week.

Claire Finkelstein from Nourish.Nurture.Thrive admits boycotting social media is unrealistic, especially as it is one of our main sources for communicating with the outside world, however, she does recommend an ‘audit’ of who you follow.

“Use social media to connect rather than compare, use it to engage with people who are important to you, who you feel supported by, who give you a laugh who make you smile, who make you more connected and less alone and try to engage less with social media that leaves you feeling terrible afterwards,” says Claire.

Unfollowing accounts that make you feel inadequate or leave you feeling unhappy and starting to follow body positive accounts instead can stop that downward spiral of self-loathing many of us find triggered by social media.

“Research shows if you have a diverse imagery, diverse bodies, diverse beauty, or other images like architecture, animals or whatever makes you feel good – that that can really dilute the impact, the negative impact of imagery that doesn’t make you feel good,” says Claire.

Below are resources for those who need help.

The Butterfly Foundation:

T: 1800 33 4673

W: https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/

Beyond Blue:

T: 1300 22 4636

W: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/national-help-lines-and-websites

There’s been a sizable amount of overt fat shaming during the COVID-19 pandemic which adds pressure to the great number of people with a Binge Eating Disorder in Australia. People make jokes casually to their friends, family and co-workers about how they’re going to come out of this a lot fatter or how they’re avoiding ‘ISO-ARSE’.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is one of Australia’s most prevalent eating disorders but perhaps the most under-recognised, and the extreme uncertainty of COVID-19 has exacerbated the symptoms for many.

For example, seeing photos of supermarkets filled with empty shelves, home isolation’s increased exposure to food, disruption to food shopping, increased focus on our bodies and the inability to receive face-to-face or group support are all triggers for people with BED.

BED is a psychological illness thatis characterised by a person frequently eating excessive amounts of food and feeling that they’re unable to stop, often when not hungry. In Australia around 913,986 people have an eating disorder, of those people 47 per cent have a binge eating disorder.

BED can be triggered by an inability to cope and process emotions such as stress, anger, boredom, distress, traumatic experiences and genetic predisposition.

Psychologist and Manager of the Butterfly National Helpline Juliette Thomson says during isolation, stress and a change in routine can cause anyone with BED to have increased behaviours and thoughts about their illness.

Ms Thomson says eating disorders thrive on isolation environments and that people with BED should turn to crafting, journaling or reaching out to friends to distract them from their eating behaviours and thoughts.

Perth Psychologist, Sherry-Lee Smith says that people with BED may have increased behaviours at this time. “As people with Binge Eating Disorder often use food as a way to soothe emotional distress and boredom,” say says.

She says “We know from data from other outbreaks, such as SARS and Ebola, that the psychological impact of quarantine, including isolation and loneliness, is likely to increase the incidents of acute stress, post-traumatic stress, depressive symptoms, low mood, irritability, insomnia, anger, fear, sadness and grief.”

Many people who suffer from an eating disorder have suffered psychiatric comorbidity whereby linked additional conditions co-occur with a primary condition such as anxiety or depression.

Research shows that women with eating disorders have a higher prevalence of anxiety than men.

Jerita Sutcliffe is a 25 year old young woman from Perth, Western Australia who has BED and says it has affected every aspect of her life.

“It’s a vicious cycle of a poor and unhealthy coping mechanism,” she says, “I then get depressed about my weight and appearance and binge eating then transforms from an unhealthy coping mechanism to a method of self- harm.”

Jerita Sutcliffe and her husband Ash Sutcliffe on their wedding day.

Due to a weak immune system from her chronic illness, Jerita is in a high-risk category and hasn’t been seeing her friends or her family during COVID-19 which, she says, has negatively impacted her mental health.

As a result she has turned to food to numb the pain of isolation and loneliness, although this is only a band-aid solution.

Not everyone recognises BED as a serious condition and in fact the condition only received formal recognition as a distinct eating disorder in 2013, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5.)

It is no wonder people with this condition feel this illness is misunderstood as it has only been accepted as a formal illness in the last decade.

Jerita feels people don’t take an eating disorder seriously when one is overweight, she says “It’s just easier to see a person as ‘lazy’, ‘overweight’, ‘a slob’ or ‘a glutton’ rather than see the truth that this is a serious mental illness.”

Contrary to popular to belief, having BED does not necessarily mean someone is overweight, but it is a serious mental illness affecting a large proportion of our population.

People with BED often have feelings of shame or guilt about eating, and eat in private or avoid social situations, particularly those involving food.

“I don’t enjoy eating out in public or even simply being in public because I am constantly worried about the opinions that strangers have of me, based solely upon my appearance.”

Lucia Picerno, a designer from London took to Instagram with a powerful message; “the pandemic is not an excuse to fat shame” she continues, “A lot of people are posting memes that make fun of fat bodies … is it really your worst nightmare in this pandemic to end up looking like me?”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the behaviours and thoughts of BED for many, treatment has become less accessible.

Ms Smith says the pandemic has created barriers for people to seek usual treatment including group programs, and “inability to attend even telehealth sessions if their significant others are unaware of the eating disorders.”

If you need help with your Binge Eating Disorder here are some tips:

https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/blog/stop-binging-and-start-building-a-healthy-relationship-with-your-food-2/

An edited excerpt from Canadian psychologist Dr Vanessa Lapointe’s new book, Parenting Right from the Start: Laying a Healthy Foundation in the Baby and Toddler Years. Dr Lapointe is touring Australia in March 2020 running seminars based on her book in Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, hosted by Maggie Dent.

My youngest sister recently got married. She has a six-year-old bonus daughter from her husband’s first marriage. Lucky me, I was assigned hair and tiara-positioning duty for sweet little Chelsea on the day of the wedding. This is possibly the best thing you could ever ask of me (as the mom of two boys, I never get to do that sort of thing in my home!).

I have an unwavering belief in a couple of things: first, I know I have big swagger as an auntie; and second, I am a rock star when it comes to hair and makeup and, of course, tiaras.

So it didn’t faze me when my sister said, “By the way, she hates having her hair done. I can never get near it with a brush. Good luck!”

On the morning of the wedding Chelsea was dropped off, and she and I began prepping and primping. So little did it concern me that she hates having her hair done that I forgot about my sister’s warning. I had no worries that this wasn’t going to go well.

I didn’t say things like “What do you want me to do with your hair,” or “What colour of elastic do you want me to use,” or “You just let me know if I’m pulling too hard.”

If you read carefully between the words of those statements, you can sense hesitation and deference.

Instead, I said things like, “I know exactly what is going to be perfect for your hair,” and “Pink or blue elastic, my love?” and “That was a little ouch, but here we go, I’ve got you.” Chelsea sat there and loved it. Why? Because I had no self-doubt about how this was going to happen.

That is swagger. That is being large and in charge, and never losing touch with kindness.

Later in the evening one of Chelsea’s cousins bumped into her as they were playing around, and her tiara was knocked askew. Chelsea burst into tears and a frantic groomsman came rushing over to my table to let me know they were having a tiara emergency.

I scooched over to see her while she was in meltdown mode. Crouching down, I was already saying things that would let her feel heard, because that’s what big people do when they are truly kind and in charge.

They don’t minimize or brush off. They step in and see and hear with swiftness and certainty

I said things that stated the obvious, but I said them with compassion—such as, “Oh love, your tiara got knocked” and, as she raged on about her awful, mean cousin, “You don’t like it when he makes your tiara go sideways,” and “That made you really upset,” and “Of course you are angry.”

Then I started to walk her through the meltdown: “You can be angry. You are allowed. That makes perfect sense,” and “I am right here. I know what we will do. I have extra hairpins with me, and I am going to get it sorted out.”

Within a minute Chelsea’s tears stopped. I settled the tiara into place and told her she was gorgeous.

A smile replaced her anger, and she darted off to find the cousin that she really likes.

I stood up to walk back to my seat and happened to catch the gobsmacked expression on that groomsman’s face. As I walked away I heard him say, “That was amazing!”

You know what that is? That is swagger. That is being large and in charge.

This is a small-scale example of what kind of energy backs the sort of big person who is full of confidence in guiding their child through life.

Your challenge as a parent is to find it within you to bring that sort of energy to the moment-by-moment reality of your little person’s everyday world.

Unfortunately bullying is an issue that many will face during their lifetime. In order to help fight against it, a better understanding of it is necessary

We hear so much about bullying these days, and particularly the kind of vicious, anonymous cyberbullying that can have terrible consequences, that it’s no wonder schools are making an effort to teach kids to be nicer to each other. But we also have to be careful to not create such emotionally fragile kids that even a bit of good-natured ribbing between friends is something they can’t cope with. If kids walk away from anyone who gives them a bit of a stirring, never to speak to them again, it may not be the best outcome.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that kids should have free reign to say nasty things and everyone else should just harden up. But if we can teach kids to cope with a bit of gentle teasing, there is a side benefit: they will also be learning to react in a way that can stop potential bullies in their tracks.

We hear so much about bullying these days, and particularly the kind of vicious, anonymous cyberbullying that can have terrible consequences, that it’s no wonder schools are making an effort to teach kids to be nicer to each other. But we also have to be careful to not create such emotionally fragile kids that even a bit of good-natured ribbing between friends is something they can’t cope with. If kids walk away from anyone who gives them a bit of a stirring, never to speak to them again, it may not be the best outcome.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that kids should have free reign to say nasty things and everyone else should just harden up. But if we can teach kids to cope with a bit of gentle teasing, there is a side benefit: they will also be learning to react in a way that can stop potential bullies in their tracks.

 

IS THERE INTENT?

Firstly, how do we know what’s bullying and what’s teasing? Well, a lot of it depends on the intent. Are the comments designed to hurt and upset? Is there repeated and hurtful name-calling? Is a child being ridiculed in a nasty way? Is one child being singled out and socially isolated?

All of these indicate that we’re talking about harassment and bullying of children.

That can be very distressing, and have long-term consequences. It’s not something a parent should turn a blind eye to — but at the same time, children can’t control what other kids say to them. What they can learn to manage is their own reaction to it.

(As an aside, if there’s any physical element or the threat of physical harm, then this isn’t something kids should be trying to handle on their own. Speak to the school and make sure they follow through with any plans to prevent the problem from recurring. Your child may need extra help to gain skills to handle the situation and prevent it from getting worse.)

But returning to the grey area of teasing that may cross over into being hurtful, especially to a sensitive child, we need to think about the banter that goes on within peer groups.

HOW TEASING CAN HELP BUILD RESILIENCE

Depending on the group, there may be a bit of what we might call mutual teasing or ribbing; a bit of a gentle dig, or a laugh at one’s own or someone else’s expense.

But as long as it’s not causing distress, and is seen for what it’s intended to be, which is a light-hearted and equally shared around the group, then it’s probably a good thing. It can build resilience, and can even be part of healthy friendships, where everyone knows they’re not perfect.

There’s always room for it to go too far, and it’s important to be aware of and sensitive to how others may feel. But at the same time, most of us have had to learn to cope with a bit of this kind of thing at school and in the workplace. What we need to remember is that some kids, especially if they’re naturally sensitive, will need more practice than others to successfully manage their emotions in such situations.

As tempting as it is to rescue a sensitive child any time they’re upset, this doesn’t help them to build resilience. And ironically enough, if a child only knows one way to react if someone calls them a nickname or has a laugh at their expense, and that is by going into emotional meltdown, they risk becoming more of a target for teasing.

WHAT MAKES A BULLY?

One of the things that tends to perpetuate teasing — and this is where it starts to become a more abusive kind of behaviour — is that, unfortunately, there are some kids who enjoy watching the bite or reaction their words can cause. These are the kids who will up the ante and start teasing more frequently if they can see that they have the power to upset or distress someone. This is probably because they have their own issues and need to deflect that distress onto someone else. But whatever the reason, these are also the kids who are most likely to become bullies in the future.

For this reason, it’s worth keeping an eye and an ear on what goes on between siblings and friends and doing something about this behaviour early on. So don’t always assume that the version of the facts your child is giving you is all you need to know.

LITTLE ANGELS?

Not all kids who are on the receiving end are 100 per cent little angels and sometimes it’s a situation that’s been allowed to escalate over time. It might be worth having a conversation with your child about what happened and what they could do instead that might lead to a better outcome.

For the child being teased, parents can help kids to understand that while light-hearted banter is part of life, when it spills over into comments that could be hurtful, learning how to handle it can make it much less of a problem.

TIPS FOR LITTLE KIDS AND BIG KIDS

If we’re talking about pre-school or little kids, it’s important for them to learn that a lot of the teasing in their peer group doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not meant to be hurtful or upsetting when someone laughs if your sandcastle collapses, for example. And youngsters who learn to not only respond with a laugh when they’re teased but also give a little of it back, without the intent to hurt, do much better socially.

If an older child is being “picked on” at school, for example because of something to do with their physical appearance, while it’s unfair and unpleasant, it may be best for them to learn to have a ready response to it. So they may reply with something like: “I’m glad you’ve noticed my glasses. I like them.”  Or “Yes, you’re right. It’s not a big deal,” or a sincere “thank you – thank you so much!”, no matter how odd this may sound in response to something like “you’re fat” or “gee, you’re ugly”.

What you’re teaching your child to do is flip it around. They’re neutralising the comment and giving a message to the teaser to say: “This is not working. It is not having the intended effect. I can even have a laugh about it”.  You might also look on the internet for resources to help your child learn to make an assertive — not passive, nor aggressive — request for the problem behaviour to change.

We’re helping kids to learn different ways of reacting. The person who is doing the teasing isn’t getting their desired result of seeing their target distressed or upset. Often this alone will be enough to stop these kinds of comments, although the child may have to be prepared to persevere a little before the strategy works.

(It may not be a bad idea if at the same time, the school gives a general reminder to all the kids about not making hurtful comments. You might also need to ask for some stronger supervision in the playground for a while if there seems to be a particular problem with one or two children.)

Preparing kids to cope with life (on their own) 

If the problem continues, you may need to get some professional help from the school counselor or a psychologist. The aim of the game is not to take over and fix the problem but to help your child develop the necessary skills and strategies to deal with the situation.

Because when it comes to teasing, there is one very important message as parents we do need to get across to our kids: you can deal with this. That’s a message of empowerment. It’s a message that the solution is within their grasp.

Ultimately, that’s going to help them cope with life’s little unpleasantries later on, without becoming upset or aggressive…and without needing your help.

http://www.triplep-parenting.net.au/au-uken/triple-p/?utm_source=offspring_magazine&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=bullying_blog

Prof Matt Sanders is the founder of the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program and Director of the Parenting and Family Support Centre at The University of Queensland.  Triple P is widely available throughout Australia and is offered free of charge in some states, including New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

Gender reveal videos are the latest social media craze for expectant parents looking for a fun way to disclose the gender of their baby-to-be. However, an increasing number of couples, including many celebrities, are opting to forgo this trend in order to raise their children gender neutrally.

In 2019, the leading children’s entertainment company, <a href=”https://news.mattel.com/news/mattel-launches-gender-inclusive-doll-line-inviting-all-kids-to-play”>Mattel</a>, launched ‘The Creative World’ doll range, enabling children to choose from a range of skin tones, hairstyles, clothes and styling options.

“Toys are a reflection of culture and as the world continues to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity, we felt it was time to create a doll line free of labels,” says <a href=”http://www.barbiemedia.com/bios/executive.html”>Kim Culmone, Senior Vice President of Mattel Fashion Doll Design.</a>

Is now the time to embrace the progressive initiative of gender-neutral parenting?

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>So, what does ‘gender-neutral’ actually mean?</em></strong></span>

The term ‘gender neutral’ relates to avoiding the assignment of roles and expectations based on someone’s gender.

The goal is to move away from stereotypical assumptions and encourage increased creativity and freedom for individuals to choose who they want to be.

Many feel growing up in a gender-neutral environment increases one’s tolerance of others.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>Why should we encourage gender-neutral parenting?</em></strong></span>

Encouraging boys to only play with trucks when they really want to play with dolls, for example, conveys a message that their true desires are not valid. Growing up in an environment where a child feels they need to hide their true self could lead to problems later in life as the child faces an ongoing internal emotional battle.

Many feel growing up in a gender-neutral environment increases one’s tolerance of others.An understanding that people can choose how to dress and which sports they enjoy, regardless of gender, can mean they meet  with acceptance rather than judgement.

Some argue that a lack of diversity in the workplace begins in childhood when gender is often assigned to certain hobbies and interests – girls dressing up as nurses and a boy dressing up as a builder, for example – conveying a message these jobs are gender specific. Increased exposure to the possibility of male nurses and female builders could enhance a child’s freedom when choosing a career.

The way in which we respond to our children when they are scared or upset can reinforce gender stereotypes<em>. </em>When boys cry, some parents feel they need to show less compassion to encourage resilience, whereas girls are often shown more affection. Perhaps if we removed these gender specific responses, we may encourage our sons to grow up unafraid of expressing emotions.

Supporting children to express themselves authentically and make choices based on what feels good to them could help nurture increased creativity and strong self esteem.

Some argue that a lack of diversity in the workplace begins in childhood when gender is often assigned to certain hobbies and interests.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>How can we create a gender-neutral environment?</em></strong></span>

For many, creating a gender-neutral environment means no longer buying blue for boys and pink for girls and choosing colours and images that do not enforce a particular gender stereotype.

It may mean ensuring household chores are gender-neutral, encouraging children to learn it is not just their mother who cooks the meals and it is not just their father who takes the rubbish out.

We could encourage children to play with all kinds of toys, have various hobbies, play a variety of sports and read an assortment of books. Enabling children to see that girls also play football, boys can practice ballet, girls play with trucks and boys play with dolls, for example, helps children develop a mixture of interests and skills.

For some, raising children in a gender neutral environment can take a more extreme approach. In 2010, a Swedish couple opted to keep the sex of their baby, ‘Pop,’ a secret to discourage stereotypes being placed on their child. Many are following this example and choosing to not use the pronouns ‘him’ or ‘her’ at home, opting for ‘they’, which is deemed more gender inclusive.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>Could gender-neutral parenting cause harm?</em></strong></span>

<a href=”http://lindablair.co.uk/?LMCL=uvrFql”>Clinical Psychologist, Linda Blair</a>, feels parents may be doing a disservice to their children. Linda argues that ‘between the ages of three and seven, children are searching for their identity, a part of which, is their gender.’ Children want to feel a sense of belonging and ‘fitting in’. Avoiding the assignment of a gender may make a child feel confused about who they are and where they fit in a society where gender roles remain prominent.

There is a concern that once a child starts school, their gender-neutrality may open them up to ridicule and bullying. Most children grow up in traditional households where gender is assigned at birth, which could make school years incredibly difficult for those who do not identify with a specific gender.

Many worry that children will grow up without a strong sense of their own identity and will never truly feel they belong. This may impact on their emotional wellbeing as they grow into adulthood.

The way in which we respond to our children when they are scared or upset can reinforce gender stereotypes.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>What does the future hold?</em></strong><em> </em></span>

Many feel it will not be long before gender-neutral education systems are introduced. A preschool in <a href=”https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14038419″>Sweden</a> has taken the lead on this, being the first of its kind to create a gender neutral environment, offering a variety of gender inclusive books, toys and sports; the use of pronouns that assign gender is also not allowed, opting instead for the term ‘friends’, ‘they’ or the genderless pronoun ‘hen.’

While some feel raising children in a gender-neutral environment will support their emotional wellbeing, others still worry it will create a childhood of confusion. When one of the largest doll making companies in the world introduces a more inclusive doll range, it is reflective of our ever evolving society in which gender identities are becoming more fluid.

As parents, it can be challenging to find ways to support children experiencing fears about the future of the planet while managing our own worries about an uncertain future. Psychologist, author and broadcaster Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, a specialist in parenting and child/adolescent mental health, in conjunction with SchoolTV, guides parents on how to best respond to a child experiencing eco-anxiety, irrespective of varying personal views on the climate change debate.

The Australian Curriculum on Sustainability addresses the ongoing capacity of Earth to maintain all life.

Primary schools are immersed in school gardens and recycling initiatives. Teenagers across the globe are striking from school in protest to leader inaction on mitigating the effects of climate change.

Extreme weather events such as drought, fire and flood regularly dominate news reports and popular media revels in polarising debate.

Our children are more environmentally aware than ever and with this awareness can come fear and anxiety as children grapple with notions of disaster, with some experiencing it directly amid bushfires and drought stricken rural areas.

The World Health Organisation regard climate change as the greatest threat to global health in the 21st Century, due to results of extreme weather events and a recent survey by YouGovGalaxy for UNICEF Australia reveals that children are most worried, on a world level, about the environment.

What is Eco-Anxiety?

Eco-Anxiety refers to the fear felt about the threat of ecological disaster, leading to feelings of disempowerment, helplessness and apathy.

A brief report by Millennium Kids through the University of Western Australia, found 60 per cent of children surveyed believed the Australian Government does not adequately acknowledge climate change as a serious problem and is not committed to tackling the issue.

They also felt their personal actions to mitigate climate change were inadequate.

How to Respond

Finding ways as a parent to allay a child’s fear on the issue without being disingenuous can be confusing, particularly when a child is very young.

However, Dr Carr-Gregg believes early intervention is critical when addressing the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing issues which are now impacting our children at a much younger age.

In a recent special report with SchoolTV, a resource used to support schools and parents in addressing the modern day issues affecting today’s children, Dr Carr-Gregg outlines ways to best respond to a child’s eco-anxiety.

Building Hope

Dr Carr-Gregg believes, as adults, we have a responsibility to give hope and must be careful not to terrify children into a state of hopelessness, fear and panic.

He encourages instilling faith that our society has the capacity to solve big problems, and by working together, taking positive action and maintaining honesty, positive change can happen.

Parents are then best positioned to respond to the fear experienced by our children about climate change and the sustainability of the planet. How to

Protecting Innocence

 

Under 5’s

This is a tender developmental stage and children need to believe the world is a safe and secure place.

However, Dr Carr-Gregg recommends answering questions, if they are raised, in honest, yet gentle terms such as, “The earth does face some challenges but many people, our schools and leaders are working to solve them.”

Dr Carr-Gregg explains, cocooning Pre-Schoolers from catastrophic thinking about the fate of the planet is very important and if they seek further reassurance, it can be helpful to focus on the environmentally friendly practices of the family.

He says, “Help them learn to appreciate and care for their environment.”

Positive Action

 

Primary school aged

Dr Carr-Gregg suggests being guided by your child’s curiosity at this age, to answer questions honestly, in accordance to your beliefs, being mindful to not focus solely on problems.

Instead, emphasise positive initiatives being implemented worldwide. He says, “Talk about renewables, emission reduction and that human beings do have a history of being able to solve, what has often been seen in the past, as intractable problems.”

He encourages involving your primary aged children in Community Gardens, Recycling Programs and other initiatives which can give them agency over their future.

Deep Fears

For children experiencing extreme anxiety, Dr Carr-Gregg explains this can be diffused by encouraging them to talk.

He says, “Gradually introduce them to known facts. Then ask them how they feel, before acknowledging that the ultimate outcome is uncertain.

Finally, parents should agree to practical steps to make a difference such as cutting down on non-recyclable waste and by choosing food with a better climate footprint.

Working Together

 

Adolescents

Older children are perhaps, more well-versed on the effects of climate change than their parents and views may vary, however, Dr Carr-Gregg recommends dissuading narratives of doom.

He encourages parents to welcome conversations around the issue but to keep reminding teenagers that many people are working together to help solve the problem.

He says, “Big problems have been solved in the past by people working together.”

Solution Based Thinking

Dr Carr-Gregg says, “The most important thing a parent can do to allay eco-anxiety, while still encouraging realism is to tell children that solutions do exist and if we implement changes now. In the future, more people will be living in cleaner cities, eating healthier diets and working in resilient, buoyant economies. When a child sees a parent acting to make things better it shines an entirely different light on the problem. Young people see their parents as Superheroes and our actions speak louder than words.”

“We can work to find solutions to serious problems without giving way to despair and impotence.”

Keeping the Faith

Dr Carr-Gregg’s special report on SchoolTV asks parents to look to practical and positive responses to their children’s fears about climate change and to implement positive action whilst acknowledging the positive actions of others.

Hope is an essential component to not only assuaging anxiety but also in overcoming the problems faced by the world.

Albert Wiggan, a Bardi-Kija-Nyul Nyual man from the Kimberley and Conservationist of the Year at the 2019 Australian Geographic Society said, in his acceptance speech in November, it was time Australia and the world looked to Indigenous cultures for the answers on how to sustain the earth.

He said, “I still have a lot of belief that we can turn things around in this great country. And we will turn things around. And we are going to instil the strength in our children who are out there fighting for their future and every single one of us, who are accepting these awards, are doing it for you. And we are doing it for you so you can maintain your vigorous conviction. And you maintain your faith in your future. And you maintain the faith of who we are as human beings.”

In her new book Mind Kind award winning child psychologist, Dr Joanna North, advocates for a new approach to parenting that has kindness and self-compassion at its heart.

The experiences and information discussed in this piece are an edited extract from Mind Kind (Exisle , 2019) by Dr Joanne North, which you can find here.

Over many years of practice with families and my own experience of parenting, I have concluded that love is not, in fact, enough to make you a good parent. I have seen many parents, who without doubt have loved and adored their children, have their children taken out of their care by local authorities.

This is, of course, extremely sad but parents who love their children don’t necessarily help them to develop in a healthy or psychologically coherent way and may take their eye off the task sufficiently that their children are in danger or lose out and are disadvantaged. Conversely, I have met parents who have everything imaginable in their lives in terms of privilege, financial security and status, but this is not the same as offering love and good parenting, and so their children still lose out in terms of feeling secure and loved, despite all these other resources. There are many parents who have very little materially but are able to provide secure and commendable parenting to their children so that they grow up to seek advantageous opportunities.

Many parents, who…loved and adored their children, have their children taken out of their care by local authorities.

So what are the forces at work that guide parents down the right or wrong road and what are the goals we are heading for? Along with commitment, I advocate a more mindful approach to parenting. .

While I don’t want to prescribe a framework, I have put together a set of principles and concepts that I have learnt are of importance to the task. These principles and concepts could be broadly termed as leading to ‘mindful’ or ‘mind-minded’ parenting that is focused on the developing mind of the child and can be corralled under the term ‘Mind Kind’. I want parents to learn the skill of being kind to their child’s mind I intend to make it easy for you to think about these things and have developed the acronym of PATACCAKE, which describes the desirable emotional/feeling states or qualities in parents (rather than a desirable set of prescribed behaviours) that combine to make for Mind Kind parenting. PATACCAKE stands for:

Patience

Acceptance

Tolerance

Attunement

Commitment

Compassion

Awareness

Kindness

Empathy.

We can’t come up with these constructive emotions and states of mind all the time and we are going to have days when we can only just get through living in an accepting way. We all have to live with our reactive emotions and soothe them as best we can, and really, what would life be if we did not have this reactivity to deal with, and how would we teach our children? Polarity is very much part of the world in which we live. But PATACCAKE is a reminder of where we can be, what is hopeful and as an ideal to aim for when we can.

Love is not…enough to make you a good parent.

Sesame seed

I have also built the acronym SESAME SEED. The themes of ‘sesame seed parenting’ form the cornerstones of being a Mind Kind parent and offer the major clues to achieving parenting that makes your children feel good.

Secure

Secure parenting can be achieved by parents who want to know how to support children to feel stable, secure and able to cope with life. This means the child feels good from the inside because they acknowledge their emotional life, including thoughts, feelings and emotions. They will also have some sense of how to organize, manage and regulate these very real forces that flow through their lives for the rest of their lives. Thoughts and feelings affect behaviour and wellbeing, and they represent the workings of our mind. This means that by paying attention to the inner world of children as well as the outer world, parents are offering enduring skills and support through their relationship with their children.

Emotion

The neuroscientific reality is that our emotional lives deeply influence our mind, brain and wellbeing and are a force for survival and contentment rather than an annoying human tendency to be ignored.

Emotions are a communication to us about our sensory response to our environment, our experience of it and our security within that environment. Parents who are mindful of emotion will help their children experience the broad range of their emotional lives and manage these emotions as a flow of energy and information about themselves, their relationships and their environment. Emotions can range from the depths of despair to the heights of joy and we are made to travel through this range, rather than get stuck in one predominant state.

 

If we can help our children to understand that minds can change, and to be patient with moods and tolerate uncomfortable states of mind, we will be truly helping them to successfully survive.

Symbolic behaviour

All behaviour is a communication about life and a set of symptoms of what is going on for a child in their environment, and their thoughts and feelings about this. We have to help our children become aware of and manage their own behaviour and channel into positive outcomes the natural energetic impulses that are part of life.

Most behaviour relates to human need. Therefore, behaviour is likely to be a map of our child’s needs. If we don’t like it we shouldn’t blame them for it. Instead, we should look at why it is happening and what we can do to change that. We could remember the five basic needs; the need to belong, the need to achieve, the need for fun and enjoyment, the need for freedom and independence and the need to have a sense that we will safely survive. If parents are not fulfilling the totality of these needs, their children will act this out. We need to learn the craft of understanding emotion, thought and behaviour.

Five basic needs; the need to belong, the need to achieve, the need for fun and enjoyment, the need for freedom and independence and the need to have a sense that we will safely survive.

Adversity

Life is never going to be without challenge or change. You have to be prepared for periods of adversity and ‘mend the roof while the sun is shining’. This means that parents have a grip on the realities of life and are prepared for how to cope when children need more of their help than usual.

It is a certainty that life is going to happen to you, just as it does to every other parent around the world. The cycle of life, death and birth, growth and regrowth is just about the only reliable cycle that we can be sure of.. So it is not a case of if you will meet something difficult in your life but when. While we face up to how difficult life can be, we also face up to how resourceful we can be as humans and what we can do when the going gets tough. There are few magical solutions, but we can put in imagination and effort to finding real solutions.

Mindfulness and mental health

Mental wellbeing for children could be described as helping them to organize their minds, along with organizing your mind. You will be making that journey to recovery with your child. Your reaction and response to any condition is going to contribute to their recovery. They will need you to feel stable, informed and sure-footed. They don’t need your anxiety about them to be added into the mix. It is hard for loving and committed parents not to feel panicky about their children at times — this is only natural. We need to attend to our fears and then move forward. Parents and carers need to understand what is happening in their own mind so that they can support their children from a position of strength and security.

Errors in parenting

You will make errors in your parenting. It is not so much the error that you make but the way you put it right that will mean something to your child. So after you shout and overreact (which we have all done) try to understand the situation and talk with your child about it, explaining your reaction and setting out a new plan for a better result next time — both in you and in your child.

After you shout and overreact…try to understand the situation and talk with your child about it, explaining your reaction and setting out a new plan for a better result next time.

Sense of self and self-image

Regardless of the society we live in, image is important. Archaeology is constantly proving to us that men and women in ancient civilizations (Egypt, for example, some 4000 years ago) were just as focused on what they looked like, as well as what they felt like, spending time on artefacts for themselves and their environments, using make-up and painting their experiences in their homes and temples. It is our creative and social instincts that make us focus on how we choose to present ourselves, but there are psychological issues in play because our self-image is based on our sense of self and how we feel we are accepted within society. We expect teenagers to experiment with self-image while deciding who they are and how they want to be, and we may be surprised at who they want to be.

 

Eating and self-worth

Ultimately you and your children will become what you eat. You have to decide whether you want to feel like a sugar-coated dough monster or a vibrant vegetable or fruit creature. Or maybe somewhere in between. It is almost certain that you will feel like what you eat and that you will eat in a way that is complementary to how you feel. Food as a source of emotion and love our relationship with food as a metaphor for our relationship with ourselves.

Empathy

Empathy is a tool for understanding your children. Empathy might be the nearest substance to magic fairy dust that we humans have. You will have to decide by practice what you think. Empathic responses, rather than immediate reactions, will tell children that you are at least trying to understand them and willing to work with them. Every child and human needs empathy, from when they are the tiniest one hour-old newborn. It is the base for your parenting and love for your children.

 

Development

Childhood is a journey rather than a destination and children are always travelling in themselves as they grow and develop. It is probably one of the most miraculous things to watch as your children grow, but it is also quite subtle, and some parents find this threatening and don’t want their children to explore new pathways of being themselves as their minds develop. It can be confusing as children change dramatically in their outlook and behaviours or it can be a joyful dance to celebrate life — and in reality will probably be a mixture of both. It helps to inform yourself of some of the expected milestones of development so that you can at least have a map of the journey that is being taken and be prepared.

The most important thing we can be to our children (or anybody else’s children) is kind. The term ‘mind-minded parenting’ tells us to think of the child’s mind as we watch them grow. Always try to think about their developing mind and their developing sense of themselves. Minds grow best in positive emotional environments where children feel understood. If there is one idea to take away it is that whether your children are being really naughty or really perfect, whether they are very settled or quite disturbed, at all times they need your attention and your kind attention to the detail of their lives.

 

You have to learn to be kind to their developing mind — Mind Kind — and to do this you are also going to have to learn to be kinder to yourself. You cannot give to your children what you have not got inside. This includes the principles of sesame seed thinking combined with qualities of that lovely childhood nursery rhyme PATACCAKE. We can bring PATACCAKE qualities to mind any time we choose. Instead of coming at a child with frustration and rage we could stop to think PATACCAKE. Without these innate universally positive qualities flowing in the environment of your child’s life they will not thrive and — in my view — nor will humankind.

This is an edited extract from Mind Kind (Exisle , 2019) by Dr Joanne North, available form www.exislepubishing.com and wherever good books are sold. RRP $32.99

Kirsten from NSW, mother of two, shares her personal story on managing anxiety and post-natal depression.

When my son was born 10 years ago I was excessively worried about looking after him, both during and after the pregnancy, to the point where the fear was crippling. The five nights I spent in hospital I hardly slept, the anxiety just kept me awake. I started to obsess over sleep routines for him and for myself. My head was always full of what ifs. I feared being alone with him and didn’t want my first husband to go to work. The anxiety just increased and I started experiencing burning sensations in my back, arms and neck.

The anxiety and worry led to two weeks of no sleep and so I took myself to the hospital to get help. They administered some medication to help me calm down and I stayed there for a week. By that stage, I honestly felt like my body had forgotten how to sleep. The anxiety led to severe depression. I received some psychological help which allowed me to get by. Medication helped me to feel better and to sleep at night.

Eventually over the next few months I think I just got used to being a mum, gained confidence and eventually things went back to normal. I also went back to work part time where I felt safe and confident. When my second husband and I decided to try for a baby I started the process of gaining a better understanding of postnatal depression and anxiety through research. I guess I was doing all I could to prevent going through that nightmare experience again. So in 2014, I gave birth to our beautiful daughter and I felt so much more comfortable and so excited and full of joy.

Over the next eight weeks I didn’t recognise that the anxiety was slowly building. At eight weeks old she had one unsettled night where she wouldn’t drink her bottle and I started worrying so much about it that I couldn’t sleep that night. That triggered everything that had happened eight years before only much more intensely. I didn’t sleep for three nights and the burning sensations were back.

During one of my sleepless nights I was searching the internet for help and found a Mum and Bubs unit for anxiety and depression at a hospital. I booked in as soon as I could. Mentally I felt detached from reality, like I was going insane, like I was in a fog. I was so indecisive about the simplest things like packing the baby bag. I couldn’t believe that I had gone from being a confident capable teacher, who had who had a huge capacity and had achieved a lot of things in her life, so someone who struggled to put clothes on the line or leave the house with her baby and felt fear when she was alone with my daughter.

Mentally I felt detached from reality, like I was going insane, like I was in a fog.

After a panic attack in hospital, the psychiatrist on duty asked me what my plan was for getting out of here. That motivated and empowered me to work on the strategies I needed to get back on my feet. I wrote out positive affirmations and scriptures that challenged some of my irrational negative unhelpful thinking. I worked out what a daily and weekly plan would look like when I got home. That structure and support made me feel more in control and confident to leave the hospital. My faith kept me confident that God was with me and he would pull me through. My husband was my main support. I believe that where I’m at today is due to being proactive in my recovery and the support of my husband.

Today I try to manage my mental health by doing exercise, my faith in God, his word and prayer, medication, relaxation like yoga and mindfulness, attending anxiety support groups, psychologist and psychiatrist sessions. Today I look after my daughter with confidence and competence and I do not get anxious when I am alone with her. I have found looking outside myself to support and educate others about depression and anxiety has helped me stay well. I love my life today and I find enjoyment in my family and my interests but I still need to use the tools I’ve learnt to manage the triggers for the anxiety on a daily basis to stay well.

Republished from beyondblue’s Just Speak Up stories