Monday, 27 November 2017

A New Year - Are you moving house? Keeping a lid on anxiety

Leading up to the end of the year some of us find ourselves having to move house. As renters, we often had to suddenly move at the end of the year, right at Christmas time!

Kids and moving - why is it such an upheaval?
I was always an anxious kid and we moved a LOT. I attended 11 schools in 12 years. For the 'average' child who doesn't suffer overtly and consistently with anxiety, moving this much would be a bit of a trial, but they would settle into the new environment and make friends pretty quickly. But some of us weren't that lucky. As a child, my anxiety manifested in different ways. Sometimes I got angry at the lack of control over my life. At other times I was so overwhelmed I hid in my room for hours or wandered around in the bush for hours, alone with my thoughts, and the dog. At other times I'd burst into tears suddenly or weep privately at night in my bed, struggling to get to sleep.

Anxious kids are all different in their little quirky ways but they all have one thing in common - circumstances, for whatever reason, become overwhelming and they aren't equipped emotionally to deal with it in a practical, sensible, calm manner.

So how do we help?
Routines are so important to anxious kids. Not that you want your child totally dependent upon having things run smoothly and predictably all the time. But you can make their life so much easier by making what is able to be managed stay pretty much the same, most of the time. Have mealtimes and bedtime at the same time each day. Expect your child to get up at the same time each morning and be ready for school at the appropriate time. Your child should also have the same chores each day. Responsibility and predictability go hand in hand. A child soon learns that the dog/cat/chickens need breakfast too. Make sure you continue to read a story to them at night, even when you're dog tired from packing and organising.

The rest of the time your child needs to learn to adapt to the situation and be flexible in their thinking. We can make lots of plans, trying to think of every possible outcome and put contingencies in place for perceived disasters, but in the end, we all must find ways to cope, because life isn't orderly. Its chaotic and unpredictable.

The talk
Just saying this to your child won't work. You need examples. So before you have the conversation, jot down some family stories, or your own experiences or preferably your child's experiences, to help get the message across. For instance, I asked my daughter if she thought a friend's three year old would understand the things she, at ten years, would. Of course she replied emphatically, 'NO!' and looked at me like I had gone mad, right there in front of her. And so I was able to explain that my life experience meant I understood things she wasn't able to understand yet.

A visual chart - properly displayed
In our house we use the calendar a lot. I photocopy two months, the current one and the next, and put them up on the fridge. This way we all know what is happening. Everyone fills in the relevant information about events, appointments etc. This way we all know what is coming up and can be prepared for it, practically and emotionally. So a visual chart of some kind is very helpful.

So what's this got to do with moving house?
Moving, relocating, is a huge upheaval in your family life. Just close your eyes and imagine all the boxes you will have to pack, the junk you have accumulated all these years,the cost of the moving van etc. Feeling panicky? So keep it organised and teach your child how to organise themselves. Lists are great. My daughter now writes her own whenever she is going somewhere like a sleepover, day trip or school camp. Having a list takes the anxiety down by many notches. Start writing the moving house list weeks before the moving day so your child can add items to it as they go. They are less likely to forget something this way!

So, some tips:
  • with your child, make a list of clothes and toys no longer wanted to be donated to charity
  • a list of items definitely needed immediately on moving day (PJs, toothbrush, clothes for the next few days, favourite toys, books, pillow and bedding, etc)
  • a calendar to show how many days left
  • a special treat that happens the night before
  • a new responsibility, to show they are ready, grown up a little more, have your confidence, such as helping you pack the laundry stuff, getting things from cupboards etc.
  • show your child HOW to pack a box properly. Let them pack their own stuff.
  • discussions about what is scary about moving and what is super fun about moving
  • if possible, driving to look at new house, or on google maps and satellite photos
  • google the new school and look at photos of it, learn the name of the principal and deputy
  • google local attractions such as the pool, library, skate park, shops etc.
  • write letters/cards to best friends giving them the new address details
  • choose something new for the new place, such as a colour to paint the bedroom or a new school bag or lunch box or some item of clothing they need
  • encourage your child to keep a journal and write down their thoughts. They may need some help getting started
  • take photos of everything they love about the old place and put it in a special book or album to take with them and treasure. Take photos of friends too. 
  • on moving day, let them play in spare boxes 
  • have an emergency moving day package, with coloured pencils, books, audio stories to sit and listen to (or just use its free!) a yummy HEALTHY snack, etc.
  • start a new reading book the first night at the new place
I'm sure you could come up with loads more ideas too! The main thing is to treat this new chapter like an adventure that is manageable, not too exciting, not overwhelming. Be prepared for tears and outbursts. Its normal for any child to be afraid of the unknown. They will need you even more than usual, so be patient.

My book, 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety is packed with practical and easy ideas for kids and parents to make anxiety manageable. We want our kids to be resilient, to survive out in the world on their own some day and be confident adults fulfilling their potential. It all begins with the simple things we do in times of change in their lives.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Christmas stress for children - Why does it happen? What can we do?

In the lead-up to Christmas, which is supposed to be a happy time, many children begin to experience anxiety. Why? You ask. It's the best time of year! Here are some reasons you might want to consider:

  1. Lost loved one - Christmas happiness hinges on being around those you love. Has your family lost a loved one this year? Is this the first Christmas without them? Your child may be missing that person and not know how to express this. 
  2. Parental problems - money. If Mum and Dad are arguing over money, how much to spend and on whom, this stress trickles down to the kids. Be aware that children don't understand that you're trying to make it nice for them and to be fair to all members of the family. 
  3. Parental problems - contact visits. If Mum and Dad are no longer together, the Christmas visitation rights can be fraught with unhappiness and stress. Make sure you both try to get along, for the sake of your child. Step parents too. This isn't about scoring points against your ex with the biggest present.
  4. Parental problems - arguing. The vast majority of us don't live in luxury and yet we want Christmas to be special for our kids. But what if striving for that perfect present or lunch/dinner causes more stress than it's worth? Remember what is most important to children is your approval and your TIME. Neither cost money. Encourage your kids to make presents and cards for family members. These are treasured for decades and far more meaningful than fancy bought items. Christmas is about giving from the heart.
  5. Christmas Day is coming! Oh no! Some kids find Christmas too much to cope with - all the noise, people talking, music, kids running around the house and the expectation that he/she will be 'happy'. Just the thought of this major event may cause stress in the weeks and days leading up to the day. Be aware of this. Put together a time-out strategy for Christmas day, so that no matter what happens, your child knows you will understand and help them cope.
  6. Too many people, too much noise! Christmas Day itself can be very overwhelming for kids with built-in anxiety. Make sure there is a quiet place, safe from intrusion, to which your child can hide away for a bit if things become too much. Don't take it personally that your child doesn't want to run around like a mad thing with the other kids. He/she isn't being ungrateful or rude, just overstimulated. Be mindful also that there may be tears for a couple of days after the big event as your child winds down again and processes everything that happened.
  7. My gift isn't good enough - Some kids watch TV and can't separate the glamourised version of reality there with their own more humble existence. Perhaps there are no grandparents living nearby. Perhaps there is a parent missing. And perhaps your child is concerned they don't have enough pocket money to buy you something amazing, causing them to feel depressed or worried. Make it easy for them by giving them a list of things they could do that would be awesome as a present, such as a voucher to do the dishes, clean out the car, make you a cup of tea every day for a week or similar. Acts of kindess are presents too!
So here are some thoughts for your to ponder. Its difficult to get into the minds of our children sometimes and see the world how they perceive it. Just be aware that anxiety can creep up or crash over them and that Christmas can be that trigger. 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Hands off FAMOUS FIVE! The constant push to silence Enid Blyton's legacy

There are some things which are sacred to me, and one of them is Enid Blyton's books, particularly Famous Five series. I wasn't good at sport. I wasn't interested in girly things. I loved being outdoors but I dearly loved reading above all else.

Unfortunately there are people in this world who persist in denigrating Blyton's work, focussing on the contextual issues, such as her use of the term 'golliwogs' and other racist references along with the sexist attitudes. But being focussed on the PC issues of books begun in 1942 is pointless, because Enid Blyton was a woman of her time. These characters reflect kids of their time. Doesn't mean they are perfect or right in every way. The PC brigade can't go back and fix everything they don't like. I am Anglo-Celtic and this was my culture, for better or worse. Doesn't mean that Julian, Anne, George and Dick didn't fight for what they thought was right in their world. And that's what's important to me.

These books are inhabited by characters whom I found entertaining, inspiring, and real to my experience as a child growing up in the 1970's. Timmy - what a dog! I loved him and his relationship with George as her best friend. OK, so Anne was a bit whiney and annoying sometimes. So was my sister, so what the hey. In her defence, Anne was often genuinely afraid, as are lots of kids, but she was also loyal, brave in her own way when it counted, organised, sensitive to others and so on. 

When George blundered in, Anne stood back and observed, picking up on things George missed. George was a tomboy, like me. She wasn't scared of anything. I lived through her. Julian was a born leader, but he had his moments where he could be quite pompous, however he took his job a eldest seriously. He felt the burden of leadership, the responsibility of keeping them all safe. And sometimes that makes you less likeable. Dick was always Robin to Julian's Batman, but that's how it is in families. Dick had his moments to shine too. We all find our own niche. And the Famous Five were like siblings to me.

The inspiration for the illustrations of these characters came from the four children belonging to Blyton's illustrator, Mary Gernat. 
read here

So, what did I learn from Famous Five?

Famous Five taught me a lot - mostly not to be afraid of hurling myself into new experiences, having faith in myself, and for a child who moved around a lot, (11 schools in 12 years, 3 different countries) this was a life changing lesson that has stood in good stead throughout my adult life too:
  • Life is tough sometimes - get in there and cope with it. 
  • When life is good - stop and notice, appreciate and love those around you. 
  • When adults do things which you know are wrong, find a way to tell them or someone else. 
  • When wrongs are done to others, get in there and fight for them. 
  • When mysteries lie waiting, seek them out bravely. 
  • Whether your family is perfect or not, love and appreciate them.
  • Get outside as much as possible
  • Enjoy good, comforting food that is home made
If you're going to look at these stories through the lens of 2017 of course you will be somewhat disappointed and find things you disagree with. But Blyton never apologised for her strong moral lessons in these books. Nor should she. The alternative in 2017 is that your kids get their values from TV, movies of dubious moral message, sexually explicit and violent video games, and don't get me started on the perils of social media.... None of that is contained. It's too open slather and kids can end up wandering down some very dark paths if you're not there to supervise. Click bait traps are deliberately set for them on the net. Is this what you want for your kids?

The war. There is no doubt to me that most kids nowdays have little concept of what living during war time is actually like. In WWII Britain was under constant threat of invasion, besieged. As a nation they had to pull together, make-do, use ingenuity, keep their young children safe, sacrifice their young men and women to the cause. This is why the film adaptations of Famous Five have been so popular and redone so many times.

So HANDS OFF Famous Five! Let them be a moral beacon or just an entertaining series of childhood adventures. They are simple stories kids love, even today. Adults reading them may struggle to grasp the appeal, but that's because it's a kids' world. That was Blyton's genius - to understand what kids wanted to read about.

And what are the values therein?

Be loyal. Be brave. Be assertive. Be kind. And above all - enjoy lashings of good food!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Angry, sad boys - How can mums help their sons? Dr Kevin Leman's book is a winner

The gender gap
So, your little boy was born and he was the cutest little man in your universe. He grew strong, he pushed through the boundaries of walking and talking. Now you have a mini-man in your house, but you seem to clash some times. Does he respect you? Is he going to respect other women? Are you running around doing things for him all the time but want him to be independent? Does he seem lazy? Unrepentant? Too impulsive? Easily angered? Too sensitive? Argumentative? Depressed?

Where does all this anger come from?
Just yesterday was my first day back with some of my students after being away for two months on long service leave. It seems they missed me. One boy in particular refused to work with the replacement teacher, which is lovely for my ego, but meant he went backwards in his confidence. He suffers badly from high expectations of himself and just shuts down when he doesn't think he can do something. This affects his home life (his parents have tried everything but sometimes he just refuses to cooperate) and school, (he struggles with friendships. He's difficult to be around). He dragged his feet inside the room, didn't make eye contact. I got the monosyllabic answers and plenty of 'I don't knows.'

He was angry and he was depressed.

Lots of people only see the anger. They don't see the acute sadness in boys that lies underneath. Boys strive to be what their biological imperative drives them to be - strong. Brave. Independent. Clever. When a boy feels like a failure he's not angry at the world, he's angry at himself.

The importance of Dads and Mums in a boy's life
Most of us reason that a father is the most important figure in a young by's life, especially from the age of 5 or 6, as they start to think about themselves as men of the future and wonder how they should behave and think. Of course, boys need their dad. Its absolutely crucial. And if Dad isn't around a good, reliable male role model who is there a lot of the time. Someone to bond with.

But what about mums?

An excellent book that will help you!
Dr Kevin Leman, one of my absolute all-time favourite authors has written a book specifically for mums, because you know what? Mums play a crucial role in how their sons turn out. What you do and say affects the kind of man your son will be. What kind of man, husband, partner do you want your son to be for the future woman in his life? Well, you want him to be kind, practical, respectful and loving of her. You want him to be confident as he strides out into the world. You want him to take good care of his own health, and so on. How you interact with him, what you expect, what you teach him is vital to his success.

So I urge you to get your hands on this book. You won't be disappointed. Kevin gives you the straight facts and with so much love and humour. What a Difference a Mom Makes

Thursday, 3 August 2017

6 Steps to calm your anxious child TODAY

I sometimes receive emails from parents who have bought my book or who are part of a group who have recommended it. In reading it, they sometimes want more - more information, more suggestions, validation for their concerns, which are, believe it or not, apparently not legitimate according to some doctors and counsellors.


As parents, you know when your child is on the edge of hysteria. You've seen the signs many times and may feel powerless to stop it progressing to that irrational point of no return.

But help is here! With my 6 easy steps to bringing down the anxiety, settling the nerves, achieving a level of peace. Today.

step one -
High levels of stress means your child's cortisol levels remain on high alert constantly and she may not know how to 'come down.' This may result in poor sleep, which in turn makes things worse. To reduce cortisol levels you need to introduce your child's body to the 'feel good' chemicals that are naturally produced in the human body when we exercise. Trampoline, bike riding, skipping with rope, jogging, playing a ball game, running races, climbing trees - anything that gets your child's heart rate up and makes them puff. This has the effect of releasing a lot of pent up anger and frustration, releases endorphins and allows for better sleep.

step two -
Eat fruit and nuts. And by that I don't' mean fruit juice, fruits smashed in a juicer, I mean fresh, lovely fruit that you have to chew! And a variety of raw nuts. (not coated in sugary stuff or salt). The act of the jaw chewing has been found to improve mood, reduce anxiety as well as improving digestion.

step three -
Get your GP to make a mental health care plan, if you are in Australia. It's covered by Medicare. This entitles you to free visits to counsellors or whatever health professionals you choose. Ask your GP which counsellors are recommended regularly by clients at their practice.

step four -
Remove all access to screens of any kind. By this I mean ipads, ipods, laptops, desktop computers, video games, movies etc. Instead, read aloud to each other, play board games, groom the cat/dog/guinea pig, go for walks. Research is showing that screen time and social media have harmful effects upon a child's growing brain and mental health. She doesn't need to be entertained by TV/DVD/video games. She has you. Personal interaction is far more soothing and meaningful.  Don't get caught in the trap of letting your child dictate the terms, saying watching a movie calms him/her. Your child does not need this kind of stimulation!
step five -
In a state of high anxiety your child needs low lighting. Darken the room, keep sounds to a minimum. Make sure 'quiet time' is built into every day. 

step six -
This is in the book too, visit your local health food store and let her select an essential oil she feels makes her calm. Add drops to her pillow and put in oil burners in the home. She can even put drops on a hanky and take to school. When she feels stressed, she can pull out the hanky and take deep, calming breaths.


So there are my 6 steps to a calmer child today. Exercise, diet, a mental health care plan, no screens, less noise and light and essential oils. try it! And please let me know how you fare.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Understanding your anxious child - books that help!

I have an anxious child.
I was an anxious child.
And I have a huge library of books that have helped enormously, so I thought I would share a small selection of them with you.

1. is of course the book I wrote  12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety.

This book teaches children what anxiety is, how it manifests in the body, how they can learn to ignore pesky, negative voices in their head that stress them out and not let anxiety stop them achieving their dreams and goals.

Here is some more info about the book, why I wrote it for my clients and where else to buy it. more info

 Note that some of these books are not directly about anxiety, but more about understanding the sort of person you are, your tendencies, quirks and ways of thinking. understanding that and how you think goes a log way to reducing stress, because we all see the world in our own unique way.

 2. Helping your anxious child by five PHDs and an MD.

3. The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen

4. The Birth Order Book (why you are the way you are) by Dr Kevin Leman
here is a PDF version

  5. What to do when you worry too much by Huebner and Matthews.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

ANXIOUS KIDS - Why does it happen? What can we do to help?

My background
So, I've worked with lots of different types of kids over 27 years as a high school teacher, Special Education Teacher, Childrens Counsellor and childrens author visiting  schools.

Types of kids
Some kids are obnoxious, but suffering with poor confidence underneath. Some are highly anxious and get into conflict with everyone. Some are hyperactive and no one knows who they truly are. Some struggle to make and keep friendships going and yet are sweet little people. Some walk around in a daze, oblivious to what is going on around them. Some function well and seem happy. Some seem happy but suffer crippling depression and stress that they are incredibly good at hiding from others, including their parents.

See the world through their eyes
For an anxious child the world can be a scary place where they feel ill equipped to deal with what happens. The main thing to remember with any child is that their experience is unique to them. They sometimes feel they are the only person in the world who feels this way and that no one else understands. Accept that this is how they feel, no matter what your thoughts on it. It's important that you say, "So, what you're saying is.... Hm. That sounds difficult." And build from there.

That's why it is so important to LISTEN, even if you don't understand or don't know what to do with the information they give you. To get a snapshot into their world you must first open your eyes. Stop telling yourself that its just normal kids stuff and will blow over, because for this child, it might not. Don't take the risk that it develops into something far more serious than bedwetting or tummy ache before school. Get to the bottom of the problem. It may just be how your child sees the world that is causing confusion and thus anxiety. Are they a bit quirky? Do they have very specific talents and a narrow range of interests? Is their learning style visual, auditory, kinesthetic or multimodal? (see more on that here: Learning styles)

Anxiety is not a cause
Don't look at anxiety as THE PROBLEM. 99% of the time it's something else and anxiety is A SYMPTOM. At the base of all anxiety are thoughts, often very intrusive thoughts that replay over and over and become almost like an unwanted mantra. If your child is naturally anxious, that is, they catastrophise over what might happen and feel sure it will, there are lots of ways you can help! It is not a life sentence to always be at the mercy of your fears or worries.

Books that help
In order to do this you may need help. Some excellent books I have come across are:
12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety (yes, I wrote it, especially for these kids)
10 Things your student with Autism wishes you knew
The Whole Brain Child
What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What to Do Guides for Kids)
Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Powerful, Practical Solutions to Overcome Your Child’s Fears, Worries, and Phobias
Anxiety-Free Kids: An Interactive Guide for Parents and Children