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Category Archives: parenting

Terror Levels and Anxiety in Children

London Bridge memorial messages and Union Jack flag posted after terror attack - credit ChiralJon on Flickr,

Tributes at London Bridge after the 2017 terror attack. Credit: ChiralJon, via Flickr (

The results of a recent YouGov survey have revealed that a third of children in the South East aged 5 to 18 worry about a possible terror attack. 35% of parents interviewed have said this fear is causing anxiety in their children. The YouGov survey, which saw more than 1800 parents included nationally, was commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation to uncover the impact that world events were having on children.

Worrying about unpredictable events is very understandable. Reassuringly, it is easy for parents to reduce this fear to manageable levels. Children fear the things that they can’t fully understand; that said, they are also resilient.

It is really important to be able to reduce a child’s fear before it interferes with their mood. Anxiety left unchecked tends to get worse, rather than the old and false belief of ‘ignore it and it will go away’.

MCR heart with bees symbol of Manchester painted as mural on wall after Manchester terror attacks

David Dixon’s photo of the Manchester bee symbol, used heavily in the wake of the Manchester attack, shows the community coming together. Credit: David Dixon (

Helpful Tips to Reduce Anxiety about Terror Levels

1. Talk in an age-appropriate way to your children about the unlikely probability of a terror attack in their immediate world.

This will quickly reduce their distress. Simple maths and probability with older children works well, demonstrating that the likelihood of a terror attack happening to them is very small. Last year, a Maryland University study found that, across Europe, you were more likely to be a victim of terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s than you are now. Remind your child that you lived through these times.

Fables, myths and made up stories work with younger children. For instance, a young child quickly grasps that Father Christmas only visits in certain circumstances and at certain times: if they are good, and only at Christmas. Young children don’t need to understand time and frequency to hold this in mind, as they know Father Christmas doesn’t visit every day.   

2. Teach your teenager about some sensible precautions they can take to remain vigilant about their surroundings.

Be careful not to swamp them with too much information, and stick to practical things they can do that make sense in everyday life. For instance, to always have their mobile charged when going out (perhaps carrying a charging cable or lightweight emergency power pack) and being very aware of emergency exits.

In contrast, a younger child is greatly reassured by being told that parents and teachers are there to look after them. This frees them from the burden of worry. Older children feel safer when they feel involved and in control, but younger children need to know that parents and carers are in control.

3. Reassure them that it’s okay to speak to an adult or teacher at any time that they feel a genuine fear.

Do not make fun of them when they do confide in you. If they can’t tell you for fear of ridicule, the anxiety simply stays inside and grows. Should your child be bottling things up unnecessarily, and you’re struggling to get them talking, they might wish to express themselves through drawing, writing or similar activities.

Their school may also be able to encourage them to open up, either as part of PSHE lessons or in school assemblies, perhaps using the Red Cross’ resources for teachers on how to discuss disasters and emergencies. Schools will be aware of the need to teach pupils not to judge other children because of their race or religion, especially in the wake of terrorist incidents, when intolerant opinions can often be voiced louder than ever before.

4. Remind children that it is okay to trust their judgment – if a situation looks suspicious, it may be suspicious.

They need to get away from the situation, if it is safe to do so, and alert an adult who can take the necessary action. If these steps are taken, fear will reduce.

The ongoing public transport campaign, ‘See it. Say it. Sorted‘ (launched in 2016) can also be reassuring, as children will realise the British Transport Police takes reports of suspicious activity seriously and that you can simply send a text message to 61016 to report something suspicious.

5. Images of terror surround us, but it is important not to produce a false picture by blacking out all media representations.

Children will always find out about life events, either through friends, family members or at school, and we shouldn’t expect them to stay ignorant.

We cannot pretend terror attacks never happen, but we can reassure children of any age that they are still rare. What’s more, when they do happen, many people will be on hand to help and, just as the unfolding coverage can upset us, there will also be stories about acts of kindness and bravery from the public during and after an upsetting event.

Talking About Terror Threats if Your Child Has Autism

If your child has autism, there are a range of very specific tools that can be used to reduce their fear. At our psychology clinic, we often use Social Stories: a concept developed by teacher Carol Gray in 1990 to help her autistic pupils.

The use of Social Stories is a very specific way of teaching, via the use of stories with your child, which introduces the concept of anxiety about terrorism in a character or subject in a made-up story. Using this technique, the child is able to understand the concept through the eyes of the character. This is really important when a child is unable to make sense of simple explanation.

Written by a guest contributor for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (

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Child Poverty: Is a Child’s Success Dependant on a Parent’s Income?


Children in doorways: one standing in front of ornate wooden door, the other sitting in front of smaller door, showing child poverty comparisons

Who says the child with the bigger house and affluent lifestyle must automatically achieve more than a child in poverty?

The surge in child poverty has hit the headlines recently, and rightly so.

According to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, there were 4 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2015-16. That’s 30 per cent of children, or 9 in a classroom of 30. Much has been reported in the media that appears to assert without exception that poor children do not reach the attainment levels of their richer peers.

While this may be true in many cases, it is not an absolute fact. It also insults low income parents who tirelessly make sure their children can access sufficient opportunities.

It is a fact that children succeed, (within their individual cognitive ability levels), largely because of the attention and input of their parents. This is true whether a parent is on Universal Credit or drawing a large corporate salary.

It is undeniably much more of an unenviable struggle for parents on benefits, but it is not a given that the better-off child will reach a higher attainment level.

There are major factors that position both of these parents’ children on an equal platform after the balance weights are adjusted. What propels children to future success is the ability of their parents or caregivers to provide a safe, loving and consistent environment, in which a child is stimulated and given the scaffolding needed to move forward.

Let’s not be under any illusion: poverty is often a significant barrier. Much more should be done to help families lift themselves out of poverty. However, the constant one-sided coverage about the lack of opportunities for poorer children slaps many diligent parents in the face. Parents who with limited funds provide their children with everything they need and more to propel their children forward – socially, educationally and cognitively. We must acknowledge that many poorer parents are resourceful, committed and multi-skilled in every sense of the word.

Parents who can stay positive while going to a food bank: that is a skill worth praising.

Parents who scour through innumerable charity shops, as many of our clients do, to provide stimulating toys to their children: that is selfless.

Parents who sift nightly through eBay listings to source a second-hand laptop for the kids: that is resourceful parenting.

Raising a child on benefit or a low income relies on skills that many successful executives would find a challenge if performed day in and day out without respite.

What these parents are modelling to their children is resilience and how to find solutions to life’s challenges. It is this resilience and determination that gets us all through the hard times. Many poorer parents have this in spades.

I was at breakfast in a hotel recently, and was struck by an obviously affluent couple. Mother, wearing a white fluffy bathrobe and slippers (presumably in readiness for the Clarins spa) was impatiently adding soya milk to a bowl into which she had carefully measured, several varieties of grains. Dad had his head bowed over a newspaper while absent-mindedly spooning porridge in the direction of their infant’s head. Their child, a boy, perhaps 4 or 5 months old, was propped up with an iPad for company, seemingly being entertained by a cartoon. The animated dog on the screen was getting more porridge than the child.  Neither parent noticed. There was no communication between the couple or interaction with the child.

Seriously, can anyone with a grain of cognition really believe that this child of better-off but distracted parents has a more favourable future than a child of the involved parent on benefits or a low wage? A child who receives a book or laptop from the charity shop and has an involved parent to interact with has a flat advantage over the Armani-dressed ignored child raised by a cartoon dog.

While poverty must be eradicated by assisting people to help themselves, it is also crucial that we applaud those parents who struggle and succeed every day to maximise their children’s chances. We need to be cautious about the black and white assumptions we make without considering the other variables that are in operation.

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 (

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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 ( 

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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 ( 

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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?


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 ( 

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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 ( 

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

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Parents: Are you Nagging or Scaffolding?

Nagger or scaffolder? Parent is asking a child to do something but they are being ignored through a wall put up by the child.

Are you a nagger or a scaffolder? Find out what ‘scaffolding’ means, in parenting terms.

Have you heard about the ‘nagging or scaffolding’ parenting debate? It’s several decades old, but a constant challenge for parents. Here’s a tale that explores nagging and scaffolding – two different parenting strategies…

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 the 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?!

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

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 ( 

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Bird’s Nest Parenting – Friend or Foe?


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.


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Sleep Problems and ASD: Can CBT Help?

sleep and ASD

Sleep, or lack of it, can really affect people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Sleep problems are an all too common headache for parents of a child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).  A lack of sleep in any child usually cause distress, but when a child has a diagnosis of ASD, the impact of poor sleep is usually much more of a problem.

If your child has autism, you may have noticed that when they go through a period of sleep difficulty, their symptoms often get worse. During these times, you may have also found that the trusted strategies which usually work well to manage ASD are much reduced. Sometimes, they don’t seem to work at all.

Could CBT help improve sleep in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Experts from the University of Missouri believe that a simple course of CBT may be really helpful in breaking free from the horror of sleepless nights.  They want to ease the misery of the ramped up behavioural issues that usually appear the next day.

Christina McCrae, the lead researcher in the study, maintains that CBT is the most effective way of improving sleep patterns in children with ASD.  Normally this involves keeping a sleep diary and working with the therapist to root out the issues that are interfering with sleep.

Despite this knowledge, the researchers feel there is still some uncertainty about how exactly to achieve more benefits for autistic people through the use of CBT.  They are eager to maximise results.

To better understand this process, McCrae and her colleagues are conducting a research study through the research core at the MU Thompson Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopmental disorders with children aged between 6 and 12 years old.

This is an exciting project and one that holds much promise. We eagerly look forward to reviewing their publicised findings, and hopefully incorportating them into our existing CBT protocol.

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 (

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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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