Without a doubt, as soon as I get a chance, I’ll be signing my kids up. In our latest lock-down, I noticed for myself the improvement in my own mental health and well-being knowing that at least I was vaccinated; and that if one of us had to go to the shops, I could take one for our team.
I have watched over the past 18 months as my two kids, who live in one of the least-impacted places on the planet, have had to incorporate loss after loss. They are not having the tween and teen years that we imagined. They are resilient AF and I’m constantly in awe of what they’re learning about their capacity to be flexible, for sure. But I know that the plans for our state to relax its borders, and our country to open up as a whole, are all based on the statistics of how many people are vaccinated.
I trust the expert opinions that have led to this pathway out. When it comes to vaccinating my kids: We are already THERE, just tell me WHEN.
As a clinical psychologist, I will not be recommending the vaccine – here’s why:
Because I am a psychologist.
I am not a doctor.
It is outside of my scope to tell my clients what is medically right for them. I do not have the training. I am not a virologist. I am not an epidemiologist. I have studied exactly zero units in molecular biology, biochemistry, or microbiology (for the record, I also wouldn’t recommend talking to a virologist or epidemiologist about the best way to foster mental health and well being).
What I will be recommending is this:
We live in a world of misinformation. Everyone from the Barista to the Barrister will have an opinion on this, and as humans we are definitely all entitled to them.
When my clients come to me for support with their mental health and well being, I am in my freaking element. Oh my gosh, I have spent years at university, nearly triple those years actually delivering services, and I’ve-lost-count-of-how-many-thousands of hours and dollars on continuing education. Hell yes, psychological health and well being is my JAM.
When deciding what is right, I will be recommending my clients turn to the people who have spent their careers specialising in this field. For people that are not settled after reading the publicly available advice from these specialised scientific experts, I’ll recommend they go and talk with their GP, who has specialist medical knowledge and training, and can apply that to the specific health details of their young people and advise them on whether or not, in their individual case, the vaccine is safe for their children.
When to listen to casual opinions:
If you don’t have a good GP, accountant, psychologist, physiotherapist, barista, barrister, hair-dresser, vet – I do thoroughly recommend asking friends and family for recommendations on who to see that has the knowledge and skill-set you’re looking for.
And always be kind
No matter where you sit on this issue, be kind. The level of distress and fear on every side is very real. We build more bridges, deepen understanding, nurture connection, and change lives, whenever we are kind. Even if our casual, non-expert opinions are different.
My career has always been woven around working with complex families navigating tricky paths. For around the past seven years, this has involved supporting co-parents involved with the Family Court system trying to find their way through to smooth, low-stress, high-thriving co-parenting after separation and divorce.
My experience with these families is that they are stressed and strained. At a time when they are going through one of the most difficult, painful life transitions, they also have to somehow find the resourcing to show up for their little people. There are sleepless nights, aching hearts, a roller coaster of emotions, including hurt, anger, fear … right alongside making school lunches, doing the washing; and figuring out where on earth the children will sleep and live; how to help them make those transitions; and when and how often exactly is it reasonable to expect them to call the other parent???
There is no one sharing the parenting cognitive load with them anymore. If there ever was.
If this sounds like you, then you are the person I’m writing this for.
The Co-Parenting Companion Partners with You to:
Predict and plan your way around the common stumbling blocks that lead co-parents back to the court room and therapy room.
Free you to live a life that is less about conflict with the person who is no longer your lover, and more about enjoying your fabulous kids.
Build your amazing new life as you refine your role of co-parent.
With time-sensitive weekly reminders, tips and skills, grounded in research, and based around the West Australian school year, including:
Managing all the nuances of visitation and contact – reducing the stress of handover; and supporting your child to have a healthy relationship with both parents.
Communication skills for nurturing connection and support with your young person, and collaborative parenting with your co-parent.
Self-care strategies to manage the times that are more painful as you raise your children across two homes.
If you say yes to any of these, it’s written for you:
Sole parents wanting to co-parent effectively and efficiently, who don’t have a therapist and/or any ongoing court proceedings
Separated Parents whose children are attending therapy (with any therapist)
Separated parents attending individual therapy (with any therapist), who would like some additional low-cost supports specifically around post-separation co-parenting
Co-Parents attending or wait-listed for Family Therapy (with any therapist) who want to achieve more outside of the therapy room
How long should I subscribe for?
Co-parents need more money in their own pockets; and more clarity/affirmation that the steps they’re taking are developmentally-sensitive around the best interests of the child. A single session with a psychologist can be $260 (APS recommended fee), and an hour with a lawyer anywhere from $250-$600. The Co-Parenting Companion is designed to be consumed as a once-off 12 month subscription, so long as you add your own recurring diary prompts in throughout the year. However, you may find having a companion for the journey so helpful that you choose to stay on for longer. Stay as long as you’re finding benefit.
Do both parents need to subscribe?
No, though that is the ideal. Even if your co-parent never subscribes, and never attends a parenting or communication skills course, there will be plenty, plenty, plenty here just for you.
Does Tiffany need to be my therapist?
No. There are loads of really brilliant therapists! Not all therapists are court-informed, though, and that means that sometimes the way to best help you navigate a co-parenting issue might not be their immediate go-to. The idea of this service is that you can keep seeing your brilliant therapist, and this will give you a heads-up on any co-parenting related topics. You can share them with your therapist if you’d like individualised support for how to apply the skills and tips in your specific situation.
I’m not in Western Australia – is there any benefit for me?
In putting this resource together, I have a particular time-sensitive focus around the West Australian school year; and significant dates in Australia. However, each week is jam-packed with tips, resource links, and simple parenting and communication strategies that work at any time of year. I would expect the value for any co-parent around the world will out-weigh the West Australian focus.
There are plans to expand the time-sensitive aspects to other Australian States and Territories, and then perhaps more global – but I’m just starting closer to home, to give a bit of nurture and support to my own community.
Yes. When you sign up, you’ll receive a two-week free trial. If you get more benefit in that fortnight than two cups of coffee, then it’s probably the right service for you.
Can I use this in Court?
I mean, honestly, the intention of this service is to keep you out of the court room as much and as often as possible!! But, yes. I can provide you with a simple report to present to court that includes:
A brief overview of the material covered by the Co-Parenting Companion
How long you have been subscribed for
The percentage of times you’ve opened your emails
A rating for how much you’ve engaged with linked content.
An additional administrative fee is charged for production of this report, and three weeks notice is required.
I read a news article recently. It wasn’t too different from many I’ve seen over recent years. It was a good news story. A four year old girl with autism had been found and returned to her parents.
A four-year-old girl “with autism.”
I wondered, did she pop it in her backpack and carry it along with her? Did she look around at the big wide world and think “oh, today I’ll take my autism out for a bit of a spin.”
Why is it important to tell me this part of her identity? What should I infer? Is it more or less important that she was found with her autism? Golly, I’m glad she didn’t lose it in her adventure.
“A four-year-old girl had autism, but lost it in the desert. Devastated parents offer reward for its return.”
I’d offer that reward.
Why does it not say “A person with girliness, childhood, and autism has been found...”
She’s allowed to BE gendered. She’s allowed to BE four. Why can she not BE autistic?
Which part of her is not autistic, I wonder. Is it only her left brain, the right ventricles of her heart and maybe a little bit of her liver? I look at my gin and tonic and I think: Where does the gin stop and the tonic begin? At some point they became one, and the combination is delightful – why on earth would I want to distinguish the two? “Tonic with gin / gin with tonic“.
When I choose to declare parts of my identity, I am not a person with womanness. I’m a woman (and cisgendered at that). I’m not a person with qualifications in clinical psychology, I’m a clinical psychologist. The things I have are backaches, headaches, colds, blisters, thoughts, feelings, children and the dog.
I am not a person without autism. I get to BE “neuro-typical” (whatever that actually is).
Many of the autistic people who sit on my couch carry shame. They hold their identity like a closely guarded secret. Because they have been told by the world that they have autism, and to have it is a problem.
Just for the record, obviously it isn’t.
“Ableism in discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities and/or people who are perceived to be disabled. Ablesim characterizes people who are defined by their disabilities as inferior to the non-disabled.” Wikipedia
I can sit in a busy park or coffee shop and over hear:
the hushed, pitying tones of mothers discussing their friend raising “the child with autism.”
the well-meaning friend who says, “yes, but you wouldn’t even know your child’s autistic – they’re doing so well.”
Obviously the autistic population hear it too. All the Time.
The people who sit on my couch hear in the classroom the jokes about other kids “being SO autistic“. They come to see me to unpack the roller coaster of being delighted to see autism represented in a TV show, only to discover it’s been included as the gimmick, the tragic back story, the joke, the inspiration porn.
If you’ve ever said something like “Oh, you’d never guess you/they have/has autism,” I have no doubt you were (in a non-intentionally ablest way) trying to be supportive and kind. You’re a good person. I know this, because you’re taking the time to read this post. You’re compassionate, warm, thoughtful, and are probably feeling deeply sad that you have, without any intention at all, hurt someone, and contributed to the shaming and silencing of autistic people and their families.
Maybe next time, try “My awareness of autism is limited and you don’t fit my narrow stereotype. I’m so excited to know this about you.”
Like any population, autistic people are not a homogeneous collective. Autistic speaker and author Chris Bonnello surveyed 11,000 people regarding (among many things) how they describe themselves. Just over half of the respondents said they only use “autistic person“, 11% preferred “person with autism” and around a quarter were happy to use either. If you’re not sure what words to use – just askhow the person would like to identify. If it’s a young child, ask their parents. Accept that this may change with time. Read his whole article – the analysis of the data is fascinating and telling.
I seek to be an ally. But I do not need to speak for autistic people, they are quite capable of speaking for themselves. If you are interested in a broader awareness of autism, and how to be a good ally, start by reading and sharing the autistic-authored blog and books below. Search “Actually Autistic” on Facebook and find some great articles to read and pages to follow. You’ll be so glad you did.
I have a stack of books and journals on my bedside table that glare at me, longing to be read. They know how awesome they are, and they just can’t believe I haven’t made time for them yet (it’s not you, it’s life, I’m sorry!!).
One looked mournfully at me for so long that I downloaded the audio book instead (good choice) just to find a way to squeeze it in.
I never want to ask people in my therapy room to do something (even read a book) that I’m not willing or able to do myself.
Here we go again, I thought. Except we didn’t. We went somewhere else instead.
Winters had told me his book was “reassuringly small.” At first glance, it appeared he may be right.
I have a case of too-many-balls-in-the-air just at the moment (hello, sound familiar), which I’m currently addressing but it’s not quite under control just yet. I don’t have time or space to make myself a pot of tea, pop up the “Do Not Disturb” sign, and immerse myself in a dense read just now.
So I could say I decided to read the book the same way I imagine the clients I might choose to recommend it to might read it, as a good test of its robustness. The truth is, that was the only option I had if I was to have any chance of reading it at all.
This. Book. Is. Perfect.
In the acknowledgements, Winters pays tribute to his great teachers, and writes, “I’ve taken your ideas, mangled them and misrepresented them.” Winters is my kind of guy, I think to myself. He’s given himself permission to be imperfect as he summarises and disseminates their works, pulling together many themes from many great minds into a clear, cohesive package (so that you don’t have to). It feels liberating.
Winters promises a book that gets straight to the point and avoids “excess padding”.
It’s fair to say, he definitely delivers.
I’m a science-geek-nut that loves to know all the history of the research and development of the concepts we apply in the therapy room (and with varying levels of success, in our own lives). But we are living with all the balls in the air, people, and if I’m going to be recommending a book it has to pop fuel in our tanks NOW and FAST (but just in case you’re wanting a deeper dive, Winters finishes each chapter with easy-to-access references and links).
Each chapter is the approximate length of a blog post. Easy to digest, Winters gently slides into place foundation blocks for building “a bolder life with fewer regrets“. As I read each chapter – squeezed into moments of taking the children to extra-curricular activities, a quick snippet over my morning cup o’tea, a brief 15 minutes before bed – I find myself making subtle but impactful changes to my daily habits.
I walk with my phone in my pocket instead of my hand.
I make some different food choices.
I give myself permission to go to bed a little earlier.
I feel connected to the reasons I would want to gift these to myself – and it feels easy. It feels – honestly – delightful.
Foundations in place, Winters gently weaves together simple, achievable steps for caring for oneself and moving towards a life of “courageous authenticity.”
I find myself thinking of people I will loan the book to. Perhaps this client? Perhaps that friend? No, first my partner. Wait, I think my teenage son.
It’s that kind of book. It has a little something for everyone, and reading it in today’s mad world is something that is even achievable.
In my crazy, busy, fabulous, life I finished it in a fortnight without it once feeling a chore, and often feeling like a gift. But if I added all the time it took to make my way through, it was maybe the length of two generous pots of tea on a relaxed Saturday afternoon.
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Let me tell you a little something about me. I bet you’ll recognise a piece of you too. When I was 18 I moved back home. I had been a Big Independent Adult for 12 months, but my parents had returned to the city, and I returned to the nest. There were some agreements in place about the division of chores.
Now it’s possible, at 18, that I was not the world’s best communicator, but I DID take my responsibilities seriously (yep, I’ve always been a rule-follower). There was this recurrent pattern of conflict in our home – I’d be thinking about when I’d get to the dishes, and then my dear mum would holler at me to go and do said dishes, and instantly, 0-100, I was like
“Screw you, I am NOT doing the dishes!”
Fast forward a couple of years and I had a gorgeous new boyfriend. I really liked him and I wanted him to be so impressed with me (not quite the fierce feminist at that point, sorry mum). We’re at this party and, okay, it’s possible I’m tipsy and he suggests maybe I should stop drinking.
I should Maybe. Freaking. What?!
“Bring me more drinks. Bring me ALLLLLL the drinks!!!”
Let’s zip past a couple more years, and I’m married to that rather gorgeous boyfriend. I’ve had a crappy day at work and I’m debriefing with him. He offers some suggestions about how I could’ve handled things better; or maybe what I could do when I get to work the next day.
Okay, so he’s lucky that he still has his head attached to his shoulders at this point. But it takes him a good few more explosions before he finally understands why I keep firing up (spoiler alert: we both mostly have much better skills now, but this was 20 years ago).
It turns out there’s this little, rather innocous-looking button I have. I’ve put a picture of it below. Look how sweet and unimposing it is:
And when you PUSH it – say, by telling me what I should do, it comes with a bit of a reaction. A fairly knee-jerk, near-automatic bit of:
I do not like to be told what to do.
Even if what I’m being told to do is what I had been thinking I should do.
I don’t mind disclosing this to you because I’ve been catching up with people inside the therapy room for over 15 years, and I’m well aware – I’m not the only one with this button 😉
The iconic 90’s protest song about authority abuse of power (particularly in relation to racism) taps into something primal in each of us. Indeed, it was a theme captured over 200 years ahead of Rage Against the Machine by the poet William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), who penned:
“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
William Ernest Henley, Invictus
People do not like being told what to do. Who knew?
In the therapy room, I’m often helping well-meaning, loving, kind, befuzzled and distraught people. They have inadvertently pushed the Rage Against the Machine button of someone they care about – their partner, co-parent or friend. They tell me, almost invariably, a variation of:
“I was just trying to help.”
Other days, I might be helping someone process why they had such a strong, adverse reaction when their own Rage Against the Machine button has been triggered.
A teen is planning to get a head start on her homework, and her mum walks in and says, “Get a move on with your assignment!” The teen flips her the bird and heads out on her bike. Her mum is flabbergasted, and asks me what happened to her hardworking, dedicated daughter.
A dad is doing his level best to co-parent collaboratively with his ex. He sends her a text message, “I don’t mean to tell you want to do, but you need to actually spend 15 minutes a day with our son on his sight words.” He comes to see me to try and unpack her rather terse reply.
A gentleman is really concerned about the impact his husband’s weight gain is having on his health, especially given the husband’s family’s health history. He says, “I bought him a gym membership, and I’ve arranged my schedule so that he can go three times a week while I watch the kids – I thought he’d be grateful.” Spoiler alert: He wasn’t.
(They are all, of course, fictional clients – based on years of therapy sessions)
People are awesome problem solvers
Humans are very good problem solvers. It’s one of the reasons we’re top of the food chain. And therein lies the problem! We are so good at it, that we try to solve the problems of others when they don’t need us to solve them; and other people try to solve ours when we’re quite capable of doing that all by ourselves. What a conundrum!
Five Top Tips that will ACTUALLY help – and avoid triggering the RATM Button
The great news is, there are some simple ways we can avoid triggering the Rage Against the Machine button.
When someone is sharing a problem, assume they want you to listen, not fix. We often solve problems better when we talk them out loud – that doesn’t mean you’re being asked for your advice or opinion. It means someone wants to be heard.
Once we’ve been heard, we are often open to the perspective of others. If you have advice or an opinion to offer, just ask if it’s wanted first: “I’ve got some thoughts about that – would you like to hear them, or do you want me to just listen?”
If you need something to happen (my mum sure needed those dishes done; and if we hadn’t reached a solution around drinking at parties, that lovely boyfriend would not be raising kids with me now): let the person know what the problem is, and invite them to help solve it with you, rather than solving it for them.
Remember that people are more likely to follow through with an action or idea if they had some part in determining it.
If you want to help people avoid triggering your button, give them a heads up: “I just need to vent, I don’t need you to solve this, can you just listen?”
Most of Australia is just past two weeks (or more, for private school families) into our long summer break, and now is around the time that parents often start evaluating how much time their kids are spending on their screens. Often this takes the form of parents getting out their metaphorical big stick and beating themselves up about all the very many ways they’re failing at parenting based on screens. Oh, if only we knew prior to children how much we would beat ourselves up about them once they’re here!! Alternatively, some parents get the same metaphorical stick and use it to beat at their kids, berating them to get off their damn devices. Of course, some of us try both approaches 😉
First, put down the big stick. I promise you, it’s not helping.
Next, while your kids are busily occupied by those darn screens, fix yourself a nice cold beverage and give yourself permission to read this in a leisurely manner. On a screen.
Three-Step Plan to Manage Kids’ Screen Time (#Hint – it’s actually two steps)
If you are currently under pandemic restrictions, now is probably not the time to be sorting out screen limits. Do the best you can. Bookmark this to come back to later. You have enough on your plate.
Evaluate your own screen use (the linked article shows you how to do this on your phone) – include TV, phone and computer. Look at how your time is used on these devices. Like most people, my phone is my address book, social calendar collaboration point, diary, newspaper, book, radio and on it goes. Knowing how you spend your time, and where your data goes will (a) give you a quick chance to check if this balance is right for you; and (b) give you a starting point when deciding what limits are right for your child.
Talk to your child and come up with a plan together. How much you have to guide this plan will depend on the age and stage of your kid. Do this WITH and FOR your child, not TO them. Every app and game on your phone, computer and tablet are designed to draw you and your child in and hold you there. They play with the reward centres of your brain, and resistance is hard work.
You and Your Child are a Team
Remember that you and your child are a team against the army of super clever developers that are working to keep you glued to those screens. Your child needs you to captain their team, not be the referee. Captains sometimes have to make tough calls, even unpopular ones – but they are always working in the best interests of the team.
If you haven’t yet watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix, this documentary gives a fabulous overview of what your team is up against. If you have tweens or teens, get them to watch it too – it will help as you plot your team strategy. If you have little ones, you get a head start – and you’re going to need it. This article on Business Insider also gives a quick overview of some of the main strategies employed by some of the most popular apps.
Now that you know how you are spending YOUR time on your devices, consider what your views are on the different usages your child may have. If my kid is mindlessly watching rubbish on YouTube, I lose my sh– (please read: I handle this in a very controlled, stable manner like all good parents). But if he’s watching clips that will help him with a project he’s interested in; watching a movie with all of us; or messaging his friends, then he’s doing something far more productive and I’m likely to hold back before I pop in and ask him to please unpack the dishwasher.
Screen Withdrawal and Boredom
Your children WILL have withdrawal effects when they come away from screens, and they will give you ugly behaviour at times. Expect it, be compassionate and patient with them. Screens give easy hits of dopamine, and finding that in the real world is harder work.
It’s fine for your kid to get bored – this is the springboard for creativity. They won’t discover their new, expanded interests if you don’t help them carve out the space and time for that to happen.
Screen Time Apps
Once you have your plan, use technology to help you implement it. Because it’s a team strategy, you’ll be doing this with your child’s assent/consent, so you won’t need to worry about them finding ways to work around the system. If, instead, you fall into the trap of being their referee, I promise you they are smarter than you when it comes to tech, and they will work around every barrier you put in place.
In our house, we use Google Family Link to set unlock and lock times on phones, as well as to set limits and permissions for individual apps. My teen’s phone unlocks at the agreed time in the morning, and locks half an hour before bedtime. Within that he has an agreed total time that his phone can be active for, after which the whole phone locks; and time limits for some specific apps (YouTube, for example), which locks the app but not the phone when the time allocation is exhausted. We have a similar arrangement on the computers for both kids, using Microsoft Family Safety, which additionally sends us a summary of their search history each week. By negotiation and agreement, we can give bonus time at any point on any device.
This article on the Educational App Store gives an overview of other apps that work on both Android and Apple platforms.
Other Screen Hygiene guidelines we use in our house:
No devices in bedrooms, ever.
All devices are charged overnight in the main living area.
We never go through our children’s emails or chats without permission; but we do have agreement that we always have the right to if we have reason to be concerned; and we know the passwords.
No social media accounts before age 13.
Any post anywhere must be something they and we would be comfortable with the Whole World knowing. Incidentally, that’s my own personal rule of thumb for when I post on social media too!
What strategies have you had success with in your family team?
Managing co-parenting and parent-child relationships through and after the process of separation is complex and hard. At a time when you are often full of fear, rage, hurt, and disappointment, you are called upon to also somehow uphold the relationship between your child and your co-parent, and navigate the tricky steps in protecting the healthy development of your children at the same time as figuring out what your own new lives are going to look like. Maybe you’re doing this in the context of excellent social support (and yet still find friends and family give conflicting, or well-meaning-but-not-useful advice). Or maybe your context (particularly in a pandemic year) involves stepping this through whilst isolated from family and friends. Whichever way you’re traveling, this is a journey you don’t need to do alone.
Increasingly, courts are recommending Family Therapy as a first-line intervention to support families in achieving healthy co-parenting and supporting children to have healthy relationships with both parents. In the years that I’ve been working with court-involved families, this has been an exciting transition to see. Family Therapy at one point seemed to be the last-ditch option that courts would throw at families they didn’t know what else to do with. Now, they recognise that there is much that can be achieved in the therapy room that is outside the capacity of the court room.
Years and hundreds of thousands of dollars can be shaved off a court process by using Family Therapy as a first line intervention.
Parenting Orders can have blunt statements directing that parents “be restrained and an injunction granted restraining the parties from denigrating the other party“; and “use their best endeavors to reach agreements” – but what does that look like on the ground? How do you actually do that? That’s a skill-development process, and belongs in the therapy room, not the court room.
Working with separated families to achieve healthy co-parenting is a specialised area of work. It requires a clinician who has solid training and experience in working with complex, conflicting family systems.
If you have a lawyer assisting you, or a Single Expert Witness or Family Consultant appointed, they may be able to give you some recommendations
The following private practices in Western Australia have mental health professionals who regularly provide family therapy to separated families. Inclusion on this list does not represent my endorsement, and is not exhaustive.
Are you taking a deep breath? Are you feeling like you and your kid are about to step onto a roller coaster into the great unknown? Hell yes, oh my word, you are in for a ride. A wild, hilarious, stressful, teary, awe-inspiring, year-long ride. Buckle up! Here’s some super quick tips that I hope you’ll find useful as you go.
Year 7 is a fabulous year to fail
This was my mantra through our kid’s entire first year. Are 11 year olds too young to be in high school? Of course they are! In my experience, teachers treat year seven a little bit like the kindy year, and I encourage you to do the same. Celebrate that your kid has dressed themselves, vaguely remembered all their gear, and eaten their lunch. Their greatest tasks in first term are to turn up to class on time and figure out some kind of homework schedule. Bonus points if they remember to charge their laptop! Moving from class to class, adjusting to different teaching styles, learning how to be the small fish in the big pond again – these are all huge developmental learning tasks. It is not uncommon for grades to slip in first semester during this adjustment. It is normal for kids to fail at least one assignment or test, or forget to hand things in on time. These are fantastic learning experiences that teach them to care about their own efforts, not because you (or anyone else) is nagging them. It might take them the whole year to learn this. Be patient. They’re little.
Be their guide, not their boss
This is an adventure that your family is all on together. Talk with your tween/teen about what they think will work for them. Help them figure out when and how they want to do their homework, and what support they do and don’t want from you. Review regularly – what’s working, what needs tweaking?
What your child needs may be different from any of their friends. Some kids need parents to guide them to work less, de-stress more, and get out of the house. Other kids need support to set up a clear, structured routine. Others need a bit of both. There’s going to be plenty of complex social dynamics for your kid to wade their way through, too. Stay on their team.
Communication with the school
Most public schools now use Connect or SEQTA to stay in touch with parents and students. My advice – for the first year sign up for all the updates. Help your young person keep track of what assignments they have and when they’re due; when the free dress days are; what opportunities are on offer that they might want to pursue. Use this as a tool to help you in guiding them – not to check up on them 😉 They are learning how to use a homework diary effectively, and checking that they’ve popped in items from Connect/SEQTA is a great way to help them learn this skill. Try not to lose the plot at them when they lose their homework diary (note to my past self… sigh…). Be kind, clear and concise if you’re emailing the teachers, and don’t worry if you don’t know the the “right” person to contact – maybe start with the year coordinator, or any teacher whose name you know, and they will direct you from there.
Electronic devices and social media
Electronic devices are designed to be addictive, and it is unreasonable to expect your kid to have sufficient self-control (do you??). Help your kid. Many parents (us included) have a signed contract with their kid regarding use of electronic devices, specifying expectations and consequences for transgressions. Know their unlock code on all devices. My advice – never breach your kid’s trust by reading through their messages without their knowledge or permission. But in advance, have an agreement that you can request to read their messages if you have reason to be concerned, and that in the event of refusal you may need to override (I consider this similar to when, as a psychologist, we would breach client-confidentiality: If we believe there is a real and significant risk of harm to self or others). Use tools such as Google Family Link and Microsoft Family Groups to set restrictions you and your kid are comfortable with. For example, you can set the amount of active phone/computer time you are comfortable with them having over a course of a day; and have the phone and laptop auto-lock overnight. Keep devices out of bedrooms.
If at all possible, have the homework space set up outside of the bedroom, for healthy sleep hygiene. Bonus points if it’s somewhere that’s easy for you to monitor whether they’re on task and can be on-hand to provide assistance. If your child likes listening to music, be aware that music without lyrics is often okay, but music with lyrics is likely to slow them down. It takes people around 25 minutes of uninterrupted time before they enter their most productive “flow” zone – so help your kid by minimising distractions, and help them to turn off social media and keep their phone out of the space. Every time they are interrupted, that 25 minute internal clock starts again.
A recommendation I heard last year was that you are better off agreeing to let your kid have an hour of uninterrupted social media time after homework, than permitting them to be distracted by social media during homework. I like to emphasise with my kids that we are looking for efficiency – the more efficient you are, the less time doing homework, hooray! In my opinion, an hour a day, five days a week is the most that it is reasonable to expect of kids this young. I will fiercely defend my kid’s right to leave homework unfinished if he has been focused and on task during his homework time. Help them have half an hour of screen-free, homework-free time before bed to help with their sleep routine.
Sex and drugs – yes, in year seven
Your kid is going to be exposed to all kinds of concepts you and they are not necessarily ready for. Get comfortable talking about sex, masturbation, consent, and all manner of drugs. You want them getting this info from YOU first, and coming to YOU with their stories and questions. Prep them for exposure to porn, it is going to happen, and you want your kid already equipped with how they are going to skillfully manage that moment.
There will be tears
At some point in first term, probably around week three, your kid will burst into tears and possibly hate school. This is normal. At some point in first term, you may also burst into tears. This is also normal. In our family, we recommend the kitchen floor as the best place for a good cry. There is no research evidence that I’m aware of that supports this claim, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Your kid is going to blow you away!
This is the final thing. Your kid is embarking on the most incredible growth journey this year. By the time the first year of high school is over, you’ll barely recognise them from the one you farewell on Monday. They are going to surprise you in the most delightful ways. My eldest, who has just finished proofing this for me, chuckled a lot when he read that. From one parent to another, best of luck for the ride!
With grateful thanks to my school mum network who keep me sane. What other survival tips would you add to the list?
There’s a range of narratives I could tell about this year. 2019 has been the year of some immense career highlights, with presentations at national and international conferences. A sensational year of being a proud mother and partner, complete with a bunch of glossy instar-worthy photos to add punch to my points.
I could tell the narrative of a brutal year, full of intense professional and personal moments of pain, stress, grief and loss. I could bravely share with you the moments that weren’t social-media suitable, and tell you how I long to tie a bow around this year, neatly packaged, and tell it:
Across my professional and personal networks, I have watched 2019 be brutal, unforgiving, unrelenting, and the largest undercurrent pulling us on has been the dreadful realisation that the apocalypse-style future scientists have been predicting for decades is here. For sure, I am filled with fury at the lack of inaction of governments across the globe who could’ve followed the science many years ago. For definite I am, at times, paralysed with a sense of hopelessness in the face of the tiny drops in the ocean any of my concerted efforts might actually be. But also, I remember that no drop in the ocean is alone, and this has been a year of seeing humanity mobilised; understanding our existence is at stake, and showing up with words and (more importantly) actions to show our mother home that we’re up for the task of healing our planet.
I am loving the change in conversations that are happening at dinner tables and coffee groups. I love that we get to inspire each other, and challenge each other, with steps small and large as we figure out how to work the solution together. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, and we have saved our planet once before. The narrative I want to tell is that I am completely confident that we will do so again.
I have kept this post short as I have chosen the linked articles carefully and I’d love you to spend time reading those instead. But I can’t finish this post without a deep bow to Greta Thunberg. A passionate 16 year old who did not set out to lead a global movement; who possibly never envisaged speaking to the United Nations; nor being chosen as Time’s Person of the Year. Thunberg could not have predicted where her steadfast commitment to her values would lead her, she just knew that it mattered to keep speaking her piece. For 2020, my hope for us all is that we will act with the same dedication in the face of uncertainty as Thunberg. Let’s not wait for hindsight before acting with 20/20 clarity.
A note about me for 2020
As part of my own continual commitment to do more to care for our planet, I am relocating from The Charles Street Clinic in North Perth to join Three Waters Psychology Clinic in Leeming. When I moved to Charles Street over five years ago, we chose each other carefully and deliberately. It matters to all of the team of dedicated clinicians at the clinic that we can stand behind the therapy that happens within each therapy room. However, I have sat with an increasing values-clash by navigating the narrows on my daily commute. I’m a South of the River Citizen, catching public transport was not a viable alternative, and I had reached a point where I could no longer justify the sole-passenger travel.
I have taken the same care and dedication in choosing a clinic to relocate to that holds this same uncompromisingly high standard for professional excellence behind every therapy door; while better meeting my environmental goals. Established by Clinical Psychologist James Paisley and Counselling Psychologist Jamie Stanton, Three Waters Psychology Clinic provides evidence-based assessment and psychotherapy across the lifespan. With our shared passion for working with complex families and complex needs with wholehearted compassion, it seemed an easy, natural fit for a great team. I am confident that the highest level of care and attention is being given to every client that shares their journey with us. I am thrilled that such a high quality centre of practice has welcomed me to value-add to their team.
I will be joining Three Waters Psychology Clinic in their new rooms in Leeming – a five minute walk from Murdoch train station, with multiple frequent bus routes stopping right outside. Not only can I choose a public transport commute to work, so too can any of my clients if it matters to them to do so.
In 2020 I will also expand my provision of supervision to early- and mid-career psychologists passionate about the application of contextual behavioural science to their clinical practice; and increase my offerings of training opportunities. This blog, my dear pet-project, has suffered through an 18-month hiatus whilst I focused on volunteer commitments to the Board of the Australian and New Zealand Chapter for Contextual Behavioural Science. I have missed writing for you, and I am glad to be back.