Why listening is powerful

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Have you ever been in a conversation where you’ve felt ignored by someone who is distracted by another conversation, or worse yet, their darn phone? How does it make you feel? Pretty unimportant, I’d say. I’m sure you had the same experience as a child – it can really damage a kid’s self-esteem when they’re not listened to. That’s not to say you should interrupt your own conversation to meet the demands of your child, but when it’s their time to talk, really make the effort to listen to them.

5 stages of listening

Let’s get a bit techy and breakdown what real listening looks like…

  • Receiving – stop what you’re doing and give eye contact
  • Understanding – FOCUS!! (that means put down your phone and concentrate on what’s being said)
  • Evaluating – Think about what has been said and what you think about it
  • Remembering – Try hard to remember the key points of what has been said
  • Responding – Ask a question to get more details, give your opinion, your take on the topic

Real life kid example

Ok, so that’s the techy side, let’s get practical with a kid example. ‘Tom’ has had the most amazing dream and he wants to tell you about it first thing in the morning with all its crazy details. Poor bleary-eyed mum takes a deep breath, focuses on her dear son and start the huge effort of listening…

  • Receiving – stops making a coffee, sits down, holds her son’s hand (perhaps – if he’s not acting out what happened!) and looks him in the eye
  • Understanding – Mum then listens to every word, trying super-hard to take it all in – the twists and turns of this action-packed dream
  • Evaluating – Mum thinks about each part of the dream and about how it may have made her son feel
  • Remembering – Good old mum picks out a few main events in the dream, tries to remember what order they happened in
  • Responding – Now it’s time to show off the awesome listening skills by asking probing questions – perhaps who, what, where, why, when! Mum watches her son’s eyes light up, his mouth curl up in a smile because he feels valued because his mum has listened to him.

When it’s ok not to listen

We all have those moments when our kid is tugging on our sleeve, wanting our attention while we’re deep in conversation with another adult. Is this the time to listen to a long story about our kid’s day? No. Respect goes both ways and by showing our kids that in the appropriate moments, we’re happy to really listen to them, they need to respect that we need to listen to other people as well. This may mean they have to wait for our attention. Or they may need to put a mental bookmark in to tell us about some long story later.

A great way to show your child that you’re acknowledging them without interrupting an adult conversation is to put your hand on their hand. In this way, they’ll know that you’ve are aware of their needs without being rude to your friend. It’s great for kids to learn to wait for their turn to talk. Kids will learn to be a good listener if you model it, even if it means they have to wait for your attention. It’s another way boundaries are important because it teaches them how to be respectful and great listeners which is so valuable.

In a nutshell

Listening isn’t easy! Let’s face it, some stories told by kids and adults can be pretty long and boring, so you’re not going to get it right all the time and that’s ok! It’s hard to fake interest but find something you think is a little bit interesting and you’ll be able to give authentic feedback. Listening is a generous thing to do and will often have its rewards because your relationships will be deeper, people will love spending time with you and, hey, maybe you’ll learn something!

Would you call yourself a good, medium or poor listener?

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My story

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My name is ‘Sally’. This is my story of how I ended up seeing a psychologist, even though I didn’t want to. It all began with a whole heap of stress caused by family conflict, full-on financial stress and a couple of kiddos. This all lead me down the path of depression – something I had never thought I’d suffer from because I was ‘tough’, strong and a pretty private person.

But one day, after yet another deep and meaningful conversation with a very close friend the truth quite literally burst out of my eyes. The stress had caused the blood vessels in my eyes to, I guess, explode! I had crazy red eyes and my dear friend pointed out that perhaps it was time to see a professional someone. And seeing that my finances were dire, my amazing friend handed me a $50 note with a string tied around it and said “This is the only string attached to this money, please use it to talk to someone!” That’s friendship in action right there!

So with trembling hands I made the phone call and soon found myself on a lounge in a room, facing a friendly but professional psychologist face! I nearly ran out but it was the best investment of my life. Over the next few weeks I cried, I shared stuff I would have never told a complete stranger. I had amazing breakthroughs because she was brilliant! She saw through my ‘pleasant’ external demeanour and she was very kind with the things I had to work on. Most of all I discovered she was my champion and gave me skills I have used almost every day! And these skills I have passed on to other friends who have similar struggles – as well as the encouragement to not be afraid to see a ‘professional’.

Am I 100% perfect now? No, never but I’m ok with that. I’ve grown up, I’ve faced my demons and I’ll keep working on them every day and that’s fine with me. I now have the skills to cope better with stress and the people in my life. Which is great for them and for me! I highly recommend getting help if you need it. Find someone you click with, the right professional to see you through.

Disclaimer: ‘Sally’ is not a past client of themindspace

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Boundaries and kids

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There’s so much advice around parenting these days that it would make any person’s head spin. From controlled crying and co-sleeping for babies to freerange and helicopter parenting – is there really one ‘right’ way to bring up a kid?

Throughout time, there’s been one ‘technique’ that is almost guaranteed to work on almost any child! You’ve heard it before, it’s called boundaries! Some may think this is limiting to a child but when they understand their limits, they actually feel a lot more liberated. It’s weird that way!

What are boundaries?

Put simply, limits and expectations coupled with consequences. For example, you might say “If you don’t clean up your room before bedtime, you’ll miss out on the iPad in the morning.” Then the big challenge is to follow through if they don’t get it done. This is not a form of behaviour control more than teaching kids to take responsibility for their own actions which they’ll have to do as adults eventually anyway. It’s about also giving them skills for later in life when expectations of bosses and consequences are a lot more serious.

How to follow through

This is a tough one. It always helps to have your partner on board with this if possible. Firstly, make sure the consequence you’ve created is fair and achievable. It also has to impact the child otherwise they’re not going to take it seriously. For example, if you child loves TV then taking that away will have more impact than banning them from outdoor play. If your child is a visual learner, it may be a good idea to write down expectations/consequences so they remember. This is especially handy when it’s an issue that’s been going on for a long time or if they’re a little vague.

Will boundaries limit their development?

Some parents are worried that setting limits will stunt their child’s creativity or personality. The truth is actually the opposite. Boundaries free children to be the best version of themselves. They need their parents to be in control so they feel safe to explore, learn and challenge themselves without worrying about when to stop. Of course, as kids get older, it’s helpful to teach them to how to set their own limits and stick to them but don’t start this too early.

Flexible boundaries

When is it ok for a boundary to be pushed or broken? There are times when consequences actually aren’t appropriate. If you’ve set harsh boundaries or expectations that are too high for your child, it’s ok to change them. Kids need to know that their parents make mistakes too! The important thing is consistency – so if you’re often setting boundaries then taking them away, your child may not trust the boundary. Of course kids are going to push and try and break through or negotiate their way out of a boundary but remember that these limits are actually an act of love, not a mean controlling roadblock.

Which part of boundaries do you struggle the most with?

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Dangers of comparison

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Picture this, you’ve had one of those days – the kids have been ratty, you’ve made a mistake at work, friends aren’t talking to you and you just want to roll up in a ball and hide in a dark room. But then, you have to face the dreaded pick-up time at school. So what do you do? Pop on some sunnies, paste on a smile and head through those gates with a pretend bounce in your step?

Meanwhile the other parents seem to look like they’ve just rolled out of a fancy salon, genuine smile on face, perfect makeup, hair, demeanour – all is well in the world of the ‘other’ parent. Or is it? I saw a great meme the other day that said “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

The truth

What I love about that quote is it’s honesty, because whether you’re on social media or just walking down the street most of us compare ourselves to others by what they ‘look’ like. We can all put on a brave face and look the part but feel terrible about ourselves, about our lives, about others. We’re the ultimate pretenders.

The truth is that no one has a perfect life with perfect relationships, perfect children and a perfect home. We are all broken, all struggling with hidden issues – some perhaps more than others but there’s not one person in your suburb that is perfectly happy 100% of the time.

How to break the habit of comparison

Take some time out to think about why you compare yourself to others – whether it is what you look like, how you dress, what you say, how successful you look to another person. Perhaps list all the things you like about yourself, what makes you a unique person and embrace the fact that you are different. Think about what’s good in your life and how you can use it to encourage or help others. The happiest people are those that give out to others!

Place notes around your bedroom, bible verses, inspirational quotes to remind you about what’s true and what’s not. It’s easy to put on a happy face, wear the ‘right’ outfit and appear to fit in but you’ll be surprised how much others actually value honesty and a bit of vulnerability because it makes them feel like they’re not alone in being imperfect.

Comparison-free life

So what does this look like, this comparison-free life? Well, getting dressed in the morning will be a heck of a lot easier, you’ll be one of those ‘real’ people that others can trust, someone who can handle deeper conversations. You’re anxiety levels will make a hasty retreat and you’ll enjoy the things that make you the one-of-a-kind person that God has made you to be! Then you’ll be free to give and bless others with that energy that would have been taken up replaying conversations in your head or working out what’s hot and what’s not for winter fashion!

Do you struggle with constantly comparing your parenting, appearance, personality or finances with others? Contact us for an appointment if you need a chat!

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10 mood-boosting foods

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We all feel a little low sometimes, whether it’s because of hard things going on in our lives or because of the food we’re eating. Did you know that alcohol, processed food and refined sugar can all make you feel a bit down? So what ‘should’ you eat to give yourself more energy and help you to feel positive? Here’s a handy list!

1. Fish

High in omega-3 fatty acids  are good for your brain and may help with feelings of depression.

2. Eggs

Good ole eggs have the choline nutrient that can boost your mood!

3. Multigrain bread

Low-GI carbs help regulate blood glucose ultimately helping with energy and mood

4. Dark chocolate

Yep good, dark chocolate has heaps of antioxidants so it’s healthy and makes you feel happy!

5. Seaweed

A weird one but with its high levels of iodine, seaweed can increase energy and therefore, mood.

6. Legumes

Soy, kidney beans and the like contain slowly digested carbs that make you feel more positive.

7. Red meat

If you’re low in iron, you’re going to feel run-down, tired and perhaps a bit blue.

8. Greek yoghurt

A bowl of yoghurt has probiotics bacteria that can reduce depressive feelings.

9. Oranges and papaya

High in Vitamin B6 & folic acid – effective mood boosters in those suffering from depression.

10. Green leafy vegetables

What’s not to love about super-healthy greens? Just like fish, these superfoods are packed with omega-3 that has been shown to be an epic mood-booster.

I think we can tell when we’ve eaten the ‘wrong’ thing – you feel heavy, a bit down, perhaps and not a happy camper. Food has more influence on our mental health than we realise! Give it a go and shake up your diet a bit and see how you feel.

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Do you have a problem with alcohol?

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Alcohol is one of those things that our culture doesn’t want to demonise. It’s part of our Australian DNA but when does it become a serious problem? When should you worry?

Last year, the Northern Beaches was once again top of the table when it came to drink driving offences. Almost two people are booked every day with a total of 600 offences committed in 2015 and that’s just the people who were caught. We’re a pretty smart bunch of people, why do we keep doing this, putting each other in harm’s way?

It’s a good questions to ask ourselves. So how do you really know if your drinking has gone too far?

Uses for alcohol

Here are some questions to consider – do you use alcohol to:

  • relax?
  • for social courage?
  • to forget difficult experiences/issues?
  • to get through a painful situation?
  • to celebrate?

When is it a problem?

On the surface, we can look at that list of questions and think, “well fair enough!”  but when does it become a problem that we really should address? themindspace Psychologist Greg Powell says,

“Alcohol is a sneaky one.  It really comes down to the reasons that people drink.  If I am drinking purely because I like an occassional drink, generally with friends, and I can enjoy a drink in moderation, then it is probably not a problem.  But if I am honest with myself and I know that I drink to feel brave, to relax, to forget, or to escape, then I need to keep a close eye on myself.  Alcohol is sneaky because it can creep up on you and before you know it, the thing you thought was helping you, is now a problem on its own.”

Help is at hand

If any of these points cause make you concerned for yourself or someone else there’s a range of organisations who are there to help.

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7 ways to reclaim joy!

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Our world can be a difficult place to thrive in. Each day we’re faced with terrible stories on the news, sickness and conflict in our communities and then there’s our own brokenness to deal with. With all this darkness around us, it’s important to look around at what is good in our lives, to reclaim joy even when everything feels hard.

In Romans 12:12 (in the Bible) it says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” How does that look in your day-to-day life? Here’s some practical ideas for you to reclaim your joy.

1. Give

Even when everyone around you is keeping to themselves, not looking out for anyone else, be the person who gives and expects nothing in return. It is so true that giving makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re contributing to society and it doesn’t have to always be money. You can give time (have a coffee with someone), send an encouraging text or dare I say a letter! Make a meal, be a shoulder for others. By focussing on others you’re choosing to be joyful and patient!

2. Get out and about

We live in a beautiful area but sometimes we’re so busy with our daily routines that we forget to look out and look up. Take time each day to look for shapes in clouds, take a walk on the beach, have a swim, sit on a headland and ponder. Enjoy the little things that are just outside your front, back and side doors. It’s about choosing to be joyful, changing your perspective and enjoying the little things.

3. Live simply

Simplify your life by cutting back on have-to’s – we all have some things that aren’t necessary to do. Are the kids too busy? Cut out one activity per week. Have you taken on too much? Say ‘no’ to something, even one thing a week will make you feel more joy. Is there too much clutter in your home? Give things away to friends/family, the Salvos or have a garage sale. Decluttering your to-do list and your home will help declutter your mind – I find handing your ‘mess’ over to God is another great way to find peace in your life.

4. Take time out

Take time out to pray each day connects me with God, gives me a greater perspective on life. Daily down-time is an easy way to give you more energy to be patient, even when things are hard and it doesn’t have to take a big chunk out of your day. Our brains can be just as busier (if not more so) than our bodies so taking even ten minutes out of your day to rest is really important.

5. Find the fun

Even mundane chores can be enjoyable if you can find a fun angle. Pop some music or a movie on while you’re doing the old housework, take a friend food shopping with you, whatever you like! You could even cancel your afternoon activities for a trip to the beach. Mix up your routine a bit if you can and seize the day!

6. Get active!

I know not all of us are sporting legends but exercise is so important, not only to your body but your mind. Exercise releases endorphins that lift your mood and make you feel on top of the world. It also gives you more energy to get through your day with less effort. It’s so hard to start exercising but once you do, you won’t go back. Find something that you will enjoy, so that you’ll keep going.

7. Banish guilt

Mums especially are good at feeling guilty when they take time out for themselves. It’s ok to go to the movies once in a while in the middle of the day instead of being ‘productive’. It’s ok to head to the beach and rest, read or chat to a friend. Enjoy me-time because the majority of our lives are often spent serving others which is great too but sometimes you need to have some time doing things you love so you have the energy and grace to spend on your family and friends.

 How do you reclaim joy when you’re feeling overwhelmed?

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Domestic violence – what to do?

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In 2015, 372 incidents of domestic related abuse were reported to Northern Beaches Police but that’s just a fraction of actual cases that go unreported.  Throughout Australia, domestic abuse is impacting more and more men, women and children. So what should you do if you encounter a domestic abuse situation?

Witness account

A friend of mine recently took her family to McDonalds. She noticed a young couple having an argument which quickly turned incredibly violent. Staff and customers were shocked but no one intervened and the man left after physically assaulting his girlfriend. My friend waited until the man left and then approached the girl, asking if she was ok, letting her know there was CCTV if she needed it as evidence while others called the Police. My friend then quickly left with her shocked children, taking them home and explaining the situation as best she could. She later followed up the incident with the Police.

It’s so hard to know what to do in a case like this. What would you do in this situation and is there a ‘right’ thing to do?

According to our Psychologist, Greg Powell:

“There is no neutral position in domestic violence.  We need a culture shift that moves beyond ‘minding our own business’ or ‘it’s not my place to get involved’ to one of recognising that this is our community and there is no place for domestic violence in it.  When we stay silent or watch from a distance, we are really saying that it OK for the violence to continue.  This is an area where we have to roll up our sleeves, risk getting messy, and get involved in the lives of others.”

This active style of response wouldn’t always involve direct intervention but perhaps engaging with some available services (see below), instead of sitting back and just watching the situation play out.

Finding help

The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria has advice for people suspecting loved ones as being victims of Domestic Violence:

  • Listen
  • Believe what they tell you
  • Take it seriously
  • Help them recognise it as abuse
  • Help them to see that the abuse isn’t their fault
  • Help them to protect themselves
  • Offer practical assistance
  • Maintain regular contact
  • Tell them about available services

It’s important to note that Domestic Violence isn’t just physical – it can also be emotional (including verbal, bullying, put-downs and rejection) and social (keeping someone isolated from friends and family).

If you or a loved one is involved in a Domestic Violence situation, there are many organisations with highly experienced professionals ready to help, including:

  • Police 000
  • 1800 RESPECT – a national counselling hotline (1800 737 732)
  • Lifeline – 13 11 14 (24/7 confidential helpline)
  • Domestic Violence Legal Advice Line  on 1800 810 784
  • Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491
  • White Ribbon – whiteribbon.org.au (loads of information/advice)

Be aware!

In order to raise more community awareness of Domestic Violence, NSW Police has just released this incredible video – grab the tissues, it’s a tear-jerker and make sure to share it with your friends. It’s an important message.

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Can’t you control your child?

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We’ve all been there – the middle of a shopping centre, restaurant or playground and your child loses the plot. But what happens when you’re a child psychologist and parenting expert? How do you respond? Read themindspace’s Greg Powell’s story. 

I recall a recent trip to Bunnings (yes I am a slow learner…) with my own father, my two girls (4 years old) and my little man (18 months) that went horribly wrong. But it all started so well. It was late afternoon (possible mistake…) and I was on a mission, list and all. The three children all managed to get their own mini shopping trolley and they seemed content to follow me around the shop, happy for me to put things into their trolleys so they could ‘help’ me out. But then, of course, I needed a bit of time to think and make a decision about which light globes to buy – an important decision that required delicate research and careful consultation with the elusive Bunnings helper.

The children became a little restless, not content to stay still looking at light globes. So they began to make their own fun. Creative critters. They started a smash-em-up derby in the isles, running and screaming, and crashing into each other, having an absolute ball. But I could feel the eyes of other shoppers. I did my best to ignore my children, pretending they weren’t mine, until of course someone got hurt and I had to intervene. Being a proud male I swooped in to take control and demonstrate my superior child-management skills. I gave them a lecture about behaving well, talked about some consequences, and delivered a few threats. It was a perfect example of parenting expertise, one that any sane child would have responded perfectly to. But not my own children. They responded by running away, in three different directions, screaming and laughing, and pushing their mini trolleys as fast as they could.

What to do?

Feeling completely emasculated, I of course gave chase and managed to catch one. I picked her up and dragged her into an aisle, her still holding onto her trolley, and then set her down to give her another chance to succumb to my intellectual parenting prowess. She looked at me and responded promptly with a scream, became writhing mass of arms and legs, and began behaving like those other parents’ children, the ones who have no control over their children.

So I picked her up and decided to do the only thing left in my repertoire, run.   The only thing I could do was get her out of Bunnings quickly, before she attracted any more attention from shoppers. I quickly handed the responsibility for my other two children to my father, and I began working my way to the exit. As I walked calmly down the aisles carrying this child, she screamed at the top of her voice, grabbing anything she could get her hands on, while continuing to try to get free. I smiled calmly at other shoppers as I passed by, leaving bits of my pride on the floor next to the scattered brooms and rakes she had successfully kicked over, as I made my way to the door.

Reflections

As we all drove home in the aftermath of the great Bunnings debacle of 2015, it struck me how powerless and self-conscious I felt trying to control my out-of-control child. It also struck me how angry, frustrated, and embarrassed I had felt through the process. How could I, a grown adult, clinical child psychologist, parenting consultant, have not been able to control my own child? And then I realised that my child was doing exactly what she was meant to do. With her frontal lobes (the logical and rational decision-making part of the brain) still developing, and her priority in life being to have fun and explore the world, she was being age appropriate and doing it well. The greater problem was my own pride and expectations. I should be able to control my child… shouldn’t I?

There is nothing like a child to teach us how little control we really have in this world. And it’s funny but in that space I get drawn back to God, being reminded that I was never expected to control the world. Being reminded that when life feels out of control, how blessed I am to have God who I can hand my control over to. That in his hands, he calls me to grow and mature in him, and as we work together, He gets to play a more active role in the lives of my children. I become a better parent not as I become more dominating and controlling of my children, but as I become more submissive and trusting of God. As I allow this to happen, God shows me where I need to grow, with less of me and more of Him.

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Kids & school lockdowns

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Many schools across Australia have had an unsettled start to the year with unprecedented lockdowns and evacuations due to a number of threats. This experience has not only been disruptive but has caused distress for adults and children.

So how do we as parents handle this unique situation? What do we tell our kids – especially those who have been involved in a lockdown or evacuation?

Control how we respond

Our resident Child Psychologist, Greg Powell advises that we’re careful with how we respond. He says,

“Our children are always watching and learning from the way we handle our own emotional experience.”

Sometimes it’s better to keep a lid on our emotions and restrict the amount of information we give our kids, so they don’t get overwhelmed. We need to assure children that the adults have it covered, that their teachers and the Police are there to look after them.

Appropriate communication

It’s really important to choose our words carefully when talking about this kind of situation. Greg says,

“If we completely dismiss or avoid talking about the incident then for some children who have questions, this can send the message that it is better not to talk about things.  If we are overly reactive and catastrophise the events then this can teach our children that they need to live in fear.”

Be open but not too open – decide what kind of information would be helpful to kids and what would just make them fearful. Answer your child’s questions with facts, listen to their fears and reassure them that school is still a safe place to be.

Know your child

While adults may be able to handle the uncertainty of this situation, kids react differently. Greg says,

“All children are wired differently and it is the challenge of being a parent to know your own child.  Understand what they need, and separate this from what we need as parents.  Remember that the science of emotional development tells us that our children’s brains are different from ours and they are not yet capable of processing highly emotional information in a logical and rational manner.  We need to make sure we are helping them to do this rather than adding to the emotional minefield in their brain that they are trying to navigate.”

Know the  facts

Holding onto the facts of what’s happening will help you deal with the situation. Don’t get swept up into ‘what-ifs’, just listen to what the authorities are telling you and go through your day like you always do. The worst thing that you can do is become fearful about sending your child to school and getting them worked up about it. Just trust the Police and the information they are giving you.

Our local area Commander, Dave Darcy assured parents with these facts:

“…the kids are well practiced with lock down procedures and are familiar with them. It is not a stressful process… I can reassure parents I have personally seen how staff at the school respond and they are superb, reassuring and very professional and most importantly so caring and understanding. We are working very close with them.”

If you or your children need someone to talk this through with, please don’t hesitate to make an appointment at themindspace.

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