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Category Archives: parenting

Easy Back to School Tips

Back to school scene with desk, apple, blackboard and books. Typical school picture.

Back to school, with a new term ahead.

The back to school routine can be a little stressful for some children. Change is often positive, but it is a journey into the unknown. Anxiety reduces in all of us when new things or places become familiar, so the feeling of butterflies in the tummy at the beginning of term is a good example of being confronted with change.

Children are starting new classes with a little-known teacher, new desks, different lockers, etc. The map they had in their head no longer works. They need a little bit of time to create a new mental map of how things work.

It’s trickier when it’s a new school and it is all a little different, but the basics of reducing the anxiety remain the same. These easy tips for ‘back to school’ time will help kick-start a great new term.

Eight Back to School Tips for Parents

  1. Talk to your children about the new term. What are their hopes? How do they see the term ahead? Their concerns will also pop out at this time. Talk about the funny things you remember about first days at school and how you coped. Be positive – Being positive is contagious.
  2. If it is a new school – do a few practice runs so that the journey and lay out of the building is familiar. This might be on foot, on the bus or the train.
  3. Have a few earlier nights during the run up to the new term. It won’t be quite so hard to get them up this way.
  4. Make sure the uniform and all kit is ready, involve the children in the school preparation so they feel in control.
  5. On the afternoon of the first day of term do something they enjoy however simple. This will continue the feeling of summer fun for a while and ease in the transition back to school.
  6. Ask them about their day – what went well and perhaps in cases when it didn’t go so well, what could your child do to make it feel better tomorrow?
  7. Be prepared that your child may be a little grumpier or quieter than normal. This is expected as she or he comes to adjusts to the new routine.
  8. On the first day back, don’t forget a special breakfast and take some photos (younger children love this yearly ritual.)

Going back to school produces very mild anxiety for most children. However, new term anxiety will reduce by talking things through and getting things ready in good time before school starts.

More information about managing the return to school when your child has special needs or autism is available on this site.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

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To Smack or Not to Smack? A Sting in the Tail

Child reeling from parent's smack - physical abuse and smacking debate

Delivering a smack to your child: cruelty or discipline?

To smack or not to smack?  The debate rages on. Max Pemberton, a journalist and NHS psychiatrist, has caused a bit of a stir. He claimed that smacking doesn’t cause deep-seated psychological damage to children.

The issue was also aired on the TV show Good Morning Britain, on Tuesday 15th August. ‘Parenting Guru’ Sue Atkins and pro-smacker Katie Ivens both argued their cases, amidst some input from Jeremy Kyle (read more about the debate here).

In the wake of these opposing media views, I’d like to invite Dr Pemberton and Ms Ivens to shadow me on a working day. A working day where the effects of child violence, often verbally disguised as discipline, are all too poignantly seen. In a few cases, with tragic consequences.

The legal position on smacking: UK, Wales, Scotland and Ireland

Currently, smacking a child is legal in the UK as long as it doesn’t result in visible injury, but some members of the Welsh government and Scottish Parliament are lobbying for change. In December 2015, Ireland removed the ‘reasonable punishment’ exception and made smacking illegal.

In theory, many would agree that the occasional controlled smack, carried out by a loving parent, does not harm kids in the long term.

Imagine a situation where your toddler suddenly runs into a busy road.  There’s no time call him back.  Instinct ensures that you grab him, often roughly, by the nearest part of his body to prevent a tragedy.

This is necessary manhandling, fuelled by adrenaline. Most of us have done this and followed it up with a hug of relief, thankful our child is safe.  When a smack follows, rather than a hug of relief, what is it really about?  Is it to teach? Is it an outward expression of parental rage, a venting of feelings of failure for taking the eye off the ball so to speak? Is it perhaps an asserting of adult control over a smaller individual?  Is smacking for the good of the child, or to soothe the bruised adult ego?

In spite of this argument, there may be a case for smacking, but consider this. If all parents’ had adequate ego control, positive coping strategies and good emotional regulation, perhaps controlled smacking might be acceptable on some occasions.

The line between a controlled smack and physical abuse

The hard truth is, the abused children we clinicians meet up and down the country have never experienced a controlled smack in an environment of care.

The reality is that many children are physically abused daily under the pretence of smacking and good discipline.

When a parent loses control and physically chastises a child (which is often how smacking happens), it is often explained as disciplining an out-of-control child.

The situation is often that the parent has snapped, has in the moment lost parenting skills, and has instead reacted physically to the child’s behaviour.

Smacking would be okay, perhaps, if all adults could remain rational, calm and in control of their emotional regulation in times of stress.

The huge number of physical abuse cases show that many parents have neither the emotional resilience or practical skills to manage their children’s difficult behaviour and resort instead to physical punishment.  A smack in the hands of an angry and out of control adult can escalate into extreme violence. This is often under the misguided notion of discipline.

Physical abuse is one of the primary causes of both attachment difficulties in children, and more enduring mental health conditions. This is a primary reason why smacking is not acceptable. Smacking is the thin end of the wedge.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

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Santa Claus: Myth or Lie?

Santa Claus chocolate figurines in metallic foil, lined up macro shot

Santa Claus: is he a myth or a lie? And should we be honest about him?

Santa Claus is alive and well!  Myth or lie?

I recently reviewed a research report by a psychologist who claims that it may be dangerous for parents to ‘lie’ to their children about the existence of Santa Claus.

The article went further; it adopted the bold standpoint that parents run the risk of taking away a child’s trust in them by lying about the existence of Santa. The argument is, if we lie about Santa and children later learn the truth, how then can we ever be trusted?

Centuries ago, Plato believed a myth is a noble lie. Myth is a concept that unites a culture or tribe. Myth is a process that bonds us together as people. In these difficult times, it’s true to say we need cohesion and connection more than ever before.

It’s true one should never directly lie to a child. Engaging in and enjoying the Father Christmas myth is totally different to the practice of lying. The continuance of age old myths is precisely that which bonds us together through and across generations. Is the tooth fairy a lie? Are Apollo and Neptune lies? Is Hans Christian Anderson a scoundrel? Or is JK Rowling guilty of destroying trust? No – each of these is either a myth or a creator of myth.

There needs to be a clear distinction made between myth and lies.

A lie is an untruth, told to hide the reality of a situation for many reasons. Usually it is to deceive someone or to escape punishment. Sometimes it’s a ‘good’ or utilitarian lie, as described by Kant, told with the intention of preventing hurt. Nevertheless, it is still a lie and, in Kant’s view, wrong. A matter for one’s own conscience perhaps. My grandmother always said, “It’s better to be hurt with the truth than made a fool of with a lie”.

Myth is a different concept. It really does not fit into these categories.

Santa Claus, St Nicholas and Later Myths

Father Christmas, Santa Claus or Papa Noel, emerged from the character St Nicholas of Myra, a bishop believed to have originated from what is now southern Turkey. Popular culture morphed him into Santa Claus in America and then Father Christmas in the UK. He has been visiting children since the 1700s.

It’s interesting to note that in the first illustration of Santa Claus by Nast, in 1883 (during the American Civil War), he is wearing a star-spangled jacket and striped pants.

The myth has powerful social elements. It’s great how talk of Father Christmas bridges the gap between the young and the old, between social class and between faith groups.  Father Christmas is a common denominator between us. He binds us all together.

Myth Binds Culture

If we now remove myth from culture, we destroy common threads that bind us. We throw away imagination and we discard tradition. More worryingly, children lose childhood and memories. They also lose powerful generational models of parenting.

So much of ethics, conscience and morality is contained in myth. Lose a myth and the fun reduces. More importantly, the ability to think abstractly reduces.

Ask any child who no longer believes in Santa Claus whether they felt deceived by their parents over the issue. I think I know their response. What’s your view?

Bibliography

Guyer. Paul, (2006), Kant. New York: New York, Routledge.

Moravcsik.J, (1992) Plato and Platonism: Plato’s conception of appearance and reality in ontology, epistemology and ethics and its modern echoes. Oxford.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

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Autism at Christmas – Top Tips for Reducing Sensory Overload

Silver bauble in hands of woman wearing winter jumper, representing Christmas and sensory stimulation - a worry for children with Autism

Christmas is special, but it’s also full of overwhelming sensory stimulation for autistic children. Credit: Bridget Tohm.

Christmas can be great fun: it’s a time for good old-fashioned family time, when the usual routines follow Santa back up the chimney and melt in the snow.

Yet this is not usually the case if you have a son or daughter with a diagnosis of Asperger’s or Autism. You’ll know managing Asperger’s or Autism at Christmas can be a challenge for the whole extended family.

The change of routine – the carefree get-up-when-you-feel-like-it, and eat-when-you’re-hungry policies – usually cause havoc. That havoc leads to a visit from the Autism bad elves: Anxiety, Meltdown and Sensory Overload.

Kids with Asperger’s and Autism can have a great Christmas, too, but it takes a little preparation. The first consideration is to start planning early; this allows the child to take on board the necessary information that he or she needs to prevent a spike in anxiety as Christmas draws nearer.

How to Reduce Autism Sensory Overload at Christmas

  1. If you visit  friends or family, take food you know your child will like. This also makes you a great house guest, as it minimises effort for your hosts, who will understand the need for you to give your child reliable favourite foods.
  2. Don’t present your child with new clothes during the holiday: only use clothes that are well-worn and comfy. If necessary, bribe grandparents not to buy clothes as presents. Your son or daughter needs familiarity, but a new fabric or pattern will only increase sensory overload at an already stressful time.
  3. Make a mind map of the Christmas celebrations with your child. Design the main days with him or her. Pens, coloring pencils and Post It notes are a must! Explain in full how things will work.  It’s a good idea to devise a strategy for the lack of structure which other family members need. You do this by describing the kind of things that might happen: Grandpa might fall asleep after Christmas dinner. Everyone might plan to go for a walk, but be too tired in the end. Mention that family members may get involved in a range of activities. This allows a mental map to be made in your child’s brain, and reduces anxiety.
  4. Provide a safe space, free of sensory overload. Allow your child to take ‘time out’ there, especially when you notice their stress levels rising. There should be no decorations or trees in this place at all. It is fine to allow him or her to eat cheese straws or jam sandwiches in this den on Christmas Day. 25th December is not the day to press your child to eat different items.
  5. Have a few of your child’s favourite activities ready. This is just as important as chopping the veg in advance. You might think this is boring at such a fun time, but the child will appreciate the familiarity and the routine.
  6. Take your sensory kit wherever you go. This will reduce the chance of overload, whether you’re in a traffic jam on the way to see relatives, or you’re walking in the park.
  7. Scale down expectations. Think: ‘It’s a normal day, with injections of joy’. Christmas can be magical, but it may not be the best day ever, and that’s perfectly okay.

Each of these little things will reduce sensory overload and help you all to enjoy the festive season. Have a very merry Christmas.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

We  are providers of  independent autism assessments throughout southern England, via Treetops.

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Parents: Are you a nagger or scaffolder?

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Parents: Are you a Nagger or a Scaffolder?

I returned my three eldest grandchildren to their parents after their usual Friday tea.  Their brilliant mum’s smile quickly changed to a look of concern. She watched as each child discarded coat and bag to the floor rather than to the colourful child sized pegs in the hallway.

Why”, she asked, “Can’t they remember to empty their lunchboxes or hang up their uniforms. Why must I remind them every day?”  She continued – “Everybody says they are lovely kids – so why do I constantly have to nag them to do these simple tasks?”  This may also sound familiar to you.

Showing true allegiance to the three amigos, I cautiously suggested she might be about to engage in a spot of ‘scaffolding’ instead of a bout of ‘nagging’.

Over half a century ago, the Russian psychologist, Vygotsky introduced the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) or Scaffolding. Scaffolding is a process where an adult helps a child master something that the child could not otherwise manage alone. Tidying up after themselves does not seem to fit the definition or does it?

Emotionally healthy children are usually totally caught up and immersed in the possibilities of their world. They are bubbling over with the potentialities of life, or they should be. In the few hours after school, they made clay fish in the studio, (now drying for firing and glazing). Spellbound, they had silently watched a marsh harrier and two buzzard’s hunting field mice. They had noisily mastered a drum routine and provided the lowdown on Justin Bieber’s newest hairstyle. Over tea they’d debated truth and honesty. Is it ever ok to lie?  Specifically, “if you don’t want to go to tea at a friend’s house, is it better to tell a lie rather than hurt their feelings?”

Yes, they had to be reminded to wash their hands before tea, prompted to  flush the loo and encouraged to wash hands again. They also needed prompting to remember to take their school clothes home. I believe the word ‘scaffolding’ trumps ‘nagging’.

Kids have busy brains. A preoccupation with their immediate interests ensures they lay down the pathways that leads to a rounded adulthood. The downside is that their cognitive and emotional processing can’t always keep up with their appetite for life.

Parents be reassured – your children won’t grow up to be lazy because they forget to put their lunchbox crusts in the garbage. Children’s frustrating forgetfulness usually means they are simply flying with the wonder of life. Parents are both blessed and cursed with having the job of getting their kids to touch down to earth long enough to do the housekeeping of life. Ironically, nagging is folly – a child isn’t primed to respond to a nag- they know a nag is on a loop, so there is no need to comply quickly. Positive reinforcement may be the way to go.

Now, whose are these trainers on the doorstep?

 Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard Chartered Consultant Adult, Adolescent and Child Psychologist

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Bird’s Nest Parenting – Friend or Foe?

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In the UK we are beginning to hear more about a concept known as ‘Bird’s Nest Parenting’.  This practice became popular in the US and in Australia, where it has also been called ‘satellite parenting’, and it’s thought to originate from a US custody hearing in 2000. In the court case, a Virginia judge ruled that a divorcing couple’s two children should stay in the family home, and the parents should take it in turns to look after them.

Bird’s Nest Parenting is also creeping into TV dramas and pop culture, as The Telegraph noted earlier this year.

What is Bird’s Nest Parenting?

Bird’s Nest Parenting is an arrangement where the children remain in the family home after their parents have split up. Mum and Dad each take turns in living with them, and the parents move between the home and their own separate accommodation.

The belief is that the children will experience less disruption and anxiety if they stay in the family home. In practice, Mum and Dad might make an arrangement to stay in the house on alternate weeks. During this period, the resident parent provides all the care to their children.

Advocates of this method view the arrangement as a tool that can provide more stability to the children. In theory, the children do not have the stress of living in two places, moving their stuff around and perhaps getting upset. The goal of a Bird’s Nest Agreement is to cause less stress; less stress means the children will be less affected by their parents separation.  This may be true up to a point.  While there are clear advantages in a Bird’s Nest Agreement, there are also disadvantages that need to be examined.

The cons are that it can be very hard for the adults to find closure in their own relationship when they continue to inhabit space that was once a shared home.  This often causes stress and animosity.  This is distress the children will pick up on.

There are also temptations to use the ex-partner’s possessions as if they were still together. This usually causes resentment, and the children may become unintentional pawns. They can often be questioned by the other parent: ‘Did Mum or Dad do this or that’ or ‘Did Mum or Dad use this or that’.  This is not intended to harm their children, but it does.

A further problem is that as the children are always present in the home they may develop a ‘pseudo adult’ role.  This means they may assume more responsibility for the running of the house than they should.   This may also include keeping the adults informed about the other partner’s movements. This  loads the stress that the agreement was supposed to prevent. Extra distress may lead to emotional difficulties.

Should You Try Bird’s Nest Parenting?

Bird’s Nest Parenting may have a benefit in the early days after a separation – in the short term, it may prevent the children from experiencing too much upheaval.  Children do need time to adjust to their parents’ separation.

In the longer term, it may be more beneficial for children to spend time with both parents in separate houses, having their own room and cherished items in each house.  Children will adapt to this well, and usually without psychological difficulty.

The simple fact is: most children cope well after their parent’s separation.  What distinguishes the copers from the children who feel acute distress is this: the children who fare well are the ones whose parents are able to put aside their own feelings of hate and resentment towards their former partner.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist .  Dr Tizzard works with adults, children and families and is an experienced expert witness in criminal and family law. www.ctpsy.co.uk

 

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Back to School Tips for Children with Autism

back to school

Autism matters – Back to school tips

Autism can cause stress to parents. The return to school after the Summer holidays is difficult for most.  Many pupils experience varying amounts of anxiety as do their parents. Children with autism often find change unmanageable. The return to school is no exception.

These simple tips shared with parents over many years really do help ease autism symptoms.

1. Re-establish a connection with school

Try to set up a meeting with staff where you can build on and develop the existing relationship. Your relationship with the school team is crucial to your child’s wellbeing.

See if you are able to visit school with your child before the official start day.  The purpose is to learn about new things. These might be locker combinations, the timetable, the dining hall, etc.  New ‘things’ and ‘places’ are usually overwhelming to a child with autism.

Buy uniform early and wash many times. Many children with a diagnosis of autism are very sensitive to new fabrics and prefer the feel of worn fabric. Reducing sensory overload reduces the likelihood of meltdowns.

Once you have the ‘knowledge’, you can practice new skills at home with your child. Social stories are a really useful tool.

2.  Start the switch from holiday routine to school routine early

Write the date of the new school term on your child’s calendar, (a visual aid really helps adjustment).  Practice the journey in the car, on the bus or train.   This includes finding a regular parking spot and even an alternative for the days when you are unable to park in the usual place. Make a chart for these patterns/activities and involve your child in the making of the chart. These tips may seem annoying but it is worth it. Once a routine is established and becomes familiar, the stress will reduce.  Attention to the finer details makes for a smoother transition back to school.   The trick is to make the new routine familiar.   This will lessen the possibility of meltdowns on the first day of term.

It is important to allow roughly 10 days to get your child into the school day ‘wake up’ routine.  On the first day of preparation, set the alarm clock for a little earlier in the morning. Get your child into uniform and to eat breakfast. It’s fine for him or her to go back to bed afterwards.   Over several days move the wake up time gradually closer to ‘school morning wake up time’.   A positive reward like a glass of fresh orange juice or his/her favourite cereal will help during this practice period.

3. Help your child’s friendships

Many children with autism have very restricted interests.   Despite this, they are likely to have an interest that is shared by some of the other children.   Do your homework.   Make sure that you send your child into school equipped with something that will draw the interest of other children. If this seems too difficult, it’s worth asking your child’s form teacher for help. Work at maintaining these relationships.

4. Stay upbeat when living with autism

Living with autism often feels overwhelming. It is very easy to dwell on past events and worry about ‘another’ school year. The beginning of term is an adjustment for everyone in the house, especially caregivers. Remaining positive really helps. Spoil yourself a little!

5. Acknowledge reality might not be as rehearsed

Remember that sometimes even rehearsed events don’t go to plan. Talk to your child about this possibility. Develop a strategy with your child which may be used at such times. Share this strategy with your child’s teacher or support worker.  This will provide a sense of base to your child when he or she feels most unsafe.

For more information on autism in school, see the National Autistic Society.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist. To find out about autism assessments and psychological support through Christine Tizzard Psychology, see our Treetops Autism page.

 

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Terror Attacks – Helping Kids Cope

Worried about terror attacks and the effects on children's mental health - upset child in profile

Is your child worried and upset by the recent terror attacks?

It is every parent’s nightmare: despite your best attempts, somehow your 6-year-old daughter has learnt of recent terror attacks.

She is scared and tearful. She asks you if she or you are going to be hurt by bad people. She tells you there are some ‘mean’ people who want to hurt others.

You don’t want her  innocence to be lost so soon; at the same time, you do want to be truthful. This is a scenario that every parent fears. It is also, sadly, one we are having to deal with more frequently. What is the best way of handling it? How does a parent explain terror attacks?

The most important thing, which most adults forget, is: a child who has a secure relationship with their parents already has a fortress of containment. This is the best possible starting point for tackling the unpalatable. You can reduce the fear of terror attacks through everyday parenting.

Parents view terror and trauma from an adult perspective, through adult eyes. We recognise the ugliness of horror and atrocity. Small children have not yet developed this depth of understanding, thank goodness. Their innocence is also a protection. Unless Children are directly affected by trauma, they don’t recognise it in quite the same way as adults, unless we teach them through our own fear. It’s really important that your children do not see your fear, your rage or your feelings of powerlessness in response to a terror attack. If a child knows their parents are scared, they will be too.

Explaining terror attacks to your children: Eight things to consider

  1. For children, a secure and containing relationship with a parent, or another attachment figure, is the most important safety feature that protects them from acute fear.
  2.  Explain that there are a few bad people in the world who want to cause harm but that there are many more good people. Fictional characters can often be used as good examples for younger children.  They are often powerful archetypes of strength and character that children can easily relate to.
  3. Tell them the good people in the world outnumber the bad. Point out all the people who your child knows who help others in different ways. These people could be friends, family members, teachers, doctors etc.…
  4. Tell them that they have no need to worry, as Mum, Dad, Nanny, or another attachment figure, will always keep them safe. Explain to them that it is the parents’ job to protect them from the few bad people in the world.
  5. Never provide more information than needed about a horrific situation. Use factual language, but avoid the over use of descriptive phrases and pronouns.  It’s correct to say ‘Some people were hurt’, rather than ‘Some people had their arms and legs smashed or crushed’.
  6. Always answer their questions truthfully, in a basic age-appropriate manner.
  7. Try to find a positive balancing thought to your child’s concern. In the case of the events in Nice, a balancing thought would be: a) The good and brave people who stepped in to help, or b) The doctors who are working round the clock to make the injured better.
  8. The focus here is to help the child balance their nebulous fear of bad people posing a threat in the world, with concrete evidence of the certainty of many better people in the world. This will help a child to form a mental representation of safely, particularly a young child, where the ability to engage in abstract thinking is not yet developed.

If your child does want to engage with the news, they may find it useful to look at the BBC’s Newsround, aimed at children aged 6-13; find an interview with Newsround’s deputy editor, Kirsti Adair, here.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard Chartered Consultant Psychologist. 

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