Am I a good parent?

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As the school year and all kid-centred activities kick off, it’s tempting to look at other parents and feel inadequate in so many ways. But our Child Psychologist, Greg Powell, has other ideas! 

I am increasingly concerned about the pressure that parents are being placed under. The pressure to be the best parent in the world, to provide everything our children need, and to make sure we minimise every risk out there that could make life difficult for our children.

In one sense it almost sounds right – this should be the job of a parent. But in the midst of, at times trying just to survive as parents, we are constantly being bombarded by slick marketing campaigns, convincing online content, bloggers galore, and those perfect Facebook families…

Fear of failure

It takes a pretty tough parent to stand in the face of all these expectations and ‘noise’ and feel confident in their role as a parent. Am I failing if my child is not attending extra-curricular activities each day of the week? Are they disadvantaged if they aren’t attending extra tutoring classes? Am I guilty of neglect if they aren’t eating Michelin Star, organically grown on a mountain-top, ‘Super-foods’ for each meal? And am I rotting their brains by letting them watch ABC for Kids while I prepare their gourmet meals instead of having a pre-prepared educational craft activity for them to complete?

The facts

Now I am not saying that all the things mentioned above are a waste of time, but I can honestly say that in my clinical work with struggling children and families, I have never come across a case where the cause of the ‘struggle’ was due to a parent not doing some of the things mentioned above. And in fact, I have worked with clients where there have been ‘too much’ of some of the above and it has not been beneficial.

Stop & reflect

But is it enough just to love my children? The short answer is ‘no’. I have met many parents who obviously love their children but they are also functioning in destructive ways as a parent. I believe that the starting point is not to look at what we are doing as parents, but to look at who we are as parents. I also think a better starting point is to think about who we want our children to be in 20 years. What qualities and traits do we want them to have. And then to look at ourselves as parents and ask ourselves if we are equipped to guide them there. And if we aren’t, then we have identified a good starting point. Us.

If I want my children to grow up with healthy self-esteem, then how do I feel about myself? If I want my children to not struggle with anxiety like I do, then what am I doing to deal with the anxiety in my life. If I want my children to grow up being generous, then how do I live this in my own life. And if I want them to grow up learning to serve others, then how do I model this.

The ‘Perfect Parent’ trap

I don’t believe that we have to be perfect. We can’t be. But I also don’t believe that we should parent from a position of fear, fear of our children missing out or us not providing everything we should. I do believe that a good parent is one that is able to honest with themselves. To look in the mirror and make decisions about what ‘I’ need to work on in ‘me’ in order to continue refining myself because I love my children and I want them to have the best of me.

 What practical things can you do to simplify your life?

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10 signs of depression

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Following on from last week’s post on men and mental health, aptly called ‘Big boys ask for help’, I thought I’d look at some of the signs of depression. Sometimes you just have a bad run of it, you can feel stressed and a little bit down but does that mean you’re depressed?

Although these can vary somewhat, here are 10 general signs to look out for in yourself or a loved one.

1. Withdrawing

This could mean not going out at all or avoiding close family or friends. If you know someone who is spending an unusual amount of time at home, maybe it’s time to check up on them.

2. Alcohol /sedative abuse

If someone you know is relying on a drink to get them by or a sedative to get them to sleep, this could be a sign that all is not ok.

3. Scattered thinking

A person suffering from depression may have lost the ability to concentrate on a task or in a conversation. They may seem scattered and constantly distracted.

4. Inability to finish tasks

Molehills may look like mountains to a person suffering from depression. This results in unfinished tasks that they would usually finish without any trouble.

5. Lethargy

Have you noticed your loved one (or yourself) struggling with energy lately? This is always a sign that something in the body (or mind) isn’t working properly and professional advice is needed.

6. Changed appetite

This is another sign that something is wrong, either mentally or physically. A reduction in appetite that’s unusual or a sudden burst of over-eating may signify a change in their mental health.

7. Weight

Have you or a loved one recently and dramatically lost or gained weight? This is another general sign that something may be wrong.

8. Sleep issues

Struggling to fall asleep, or to stay asleep? Get it checked out, talk to a professional – help is always available.

9. Overwhelming emotions

Are you struggling with feelings of guilt, frustration, sadness or low confidence and can’t seem to handle it as well as you used to? It always helps to talk about these things, not let it build up.

10. Indecision

If fairly simple decisions are overwhelming or seem impossible to make, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional and get checked up!

Depression checklist

If any of these points cause you concern for yourself or someone else, head over to Beyond Blue and complete their confidential checklist. Or feel free to make an appointment with one of our caring Psychologists!

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‘Big boys’ ask for help

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Australian men are suffering silently, leading to all kinds of serious issues including suicide, domestic abuse and depression – just to name a few. Our resident psychologist, Greg Powell, takes a look at this growing problem and how men can find real freedom. 

Men and women

We have a problem, us men.  The research tells us that, as boys, we have a higher prevalence (a 2:1 ratio) of mental health problems compared to women. The suicide rate for adult males is DOUBLE that of females, substance abuse rates up to SIX TIMES higher than females, and yet females are twice as likely to access professional help when needed.  Why don’t we ask for help when it is clear that we need it?

A recent research study by Beyond Blue investigating the help-seeking behaviour of men concluded that, although the community stigma related to mental health and seeking help had shifted positively over the years, self-stigma remained alive and well.  For men this self-stigma often relates to being perceived as weak for needing to access help.

Is seeking help weak?

So are you simply weak if you struggle with mental health difficulties and choose to access professional help?  I have to say that some of the strongest people I have met in my life have been the people I have met in my professional work as a clinical psychologist.  Some of these people have battled hardship that would have crushed me.  Some of them manage life with mental health difficulties that make each day a battle.  Some of them have taught me what it means to fight on in the face of huge adversity.  These men are the ones who have said ‘enough is enough!’, refusing to let their struggles define their lives.

As a male clinical psychologist, I am well-aware of the challenge accessing psychological help can present for men.  As well as getting past the barriers of perception, there is also a general lack of male clinicians working in the field.

The solution

At themindspace we have worked hard to build a clinic that works for men.  We currently have three male clinicians working at themindspace as well as recently having introduced a strengths-based coach into our practice.  We are passionate about helping men to thrive.  We believe that society is calling for us to be effective husbands, fathers, sons, employers, workers, and friends.  And it is by working together that we can address our areas of weakness, utilise our strengths, and become significant contributors to our local community and the wider world we live in.

‘Big boys’ are the ones who ask for help!

Did you know that you can book an appointment at themindspace online?  Click here to book! 

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Make NY resolutions easy

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We always get to this time of year and all the ‘talk’ is about New Year’s resolutions and how this next year will be different. While it’s a great idea to have goals to work towards, New Year’s resolutions can often leave us feeling like a bit of a failure, especially when they’re too BIG!

So if you do want to make a change for the better this year, we have a few tips on how to make it a positive, fruitful experience.

1. Achievable resolutions

Don’t aim directly for the stars, so to speak, but aim just a little higher. For example, if you want to read more go for one book every two months if time is tight or if you want to eat healthier, ease into it with one super healthy meal a week.

You don’t have to be Superman by the end of the year just a little bit further along the road of life.

2. Fun resolutions

However it works for you, try and make your resolutions enjoyable because then they will stick! This could be anything from starting a gym class with a friend, creating healthy recipes with the kids or giving up smoking with someone else struggling with an addiction.

The good thing about involving other people is that you’re accountable to someone and you can influence the people you love for the better!

3. Important resolutions

Assess how crucial the resolution is to your life. Will it make your life happier, healthier, more productive? If it’s a goal that will cause you a mountain of stress, perhaps you’re taking on too much. Think about working on a part of the resolution instead of the whole chunk. Give yourself a longer time frame to reduce the stress or focus on a different part of your life.

4. Have a resolution

Many may scoff at a New Year’s resolution but they can actually be a great thing in your life. It’s always important to be working towards something, growing in areas you need to grow and having something to achieve.

It’s always a great feeling when you have done something you may have thought you would never do; run/walk a marathon, climb a mountain, learn a language, retrain in a career you love, get fit, learn to surf, plan an overseas holiday.

5. Resolution ideas

Resolutions are often self-focussed which is ok to a point but how powerful would it be if goals impacted others in a positive way? Here are some ideas you can work on this year if it takes your fancy:

  • Make or buy a meal for those struggling around you
  • Write a letter to a different friend/relative every month
  • Tell people what you love about them on a regular basis
  • Think positively!
  • Take nanna to the movies
  • Make/bake/buy a present for someone when it’s not their birthday
  • Invite the neighbours over for dinner!

There are so many ideas that don’t really take that long to do and others that do! It doesn’t have to be a weekly thing, just something in the back of your mind that you can launch into when the time is right!

What are your New Year’s resolutions?

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Tips to enjoy a stress-free Christmas

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Christmas is a great time of year, there’s so much excitement about the BIG day! But we all know that it also brings a fair amount of stress and busyness. Most of this comes from fun things like Christmas parties, end of year concerts and shopping for presents but it does make us feel a tad frazzled.

Just look at the crazy way people drive, the tooting of horns, the impatience at the Target checkout, we all have places to go in a nano second. So how can we make this pre-Christmas time stress-free?

Here are our 5 tips for a stress-free Christmas:

1. Seize the day

Each morning make a choice to take it easy and enjoy the build-up craziness. It may still be a busy time but starting your day with a positive attitude will make all the difference. You may like to make a cuppa and just sit in relative silence (if you can) for a few minutes before launching into your day.

2. Make a list, check it twice

Yes, Santa has the right idea! Even if you aren’t a ‘list person’, jotting down a few to-dos is a great way to relieve stress this time of year. Don’t forget to cross off those jobs you’ve done or presents you’ve bought. Bit-by-bit your stress levels will be released! And you won’t have to keep track of everything in your mind!

3. Ask for help

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and you simply can’t hold on to your Christmas joy, then reach out and ask for help. Don’t be shy to delegate tasks to others (ie give someone part of the Christmas meal to bring) or open up to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. Hit the shops at night to avoid crowds or shop online.

4. Say ‘no’

There’s always a temptation to over-commit to things at Christmas. It’s ok to say no to parties or BBQs if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s ok to do nothing once in a while and just sit and watch a Christmas movie or sit on the beach and relax. Things that need to get done will get done even if you take a morning off by yourself. It’s good for your soul and your stress levels will be dramatically reduced.

5. Get active

Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress levels. Take a walk, hit the gym or go for a swim! It doesn’t need to be an all-day thing, just get your heart rate up and your mind will thank you. Grab a friend and enjoy a chat while you walk if you like. When you exercise, your body will release Endorphins that will make your mind and body feel energised. It actually blocks pain and gives you a positive feeling.

These are just a few practical things you can do in the lead-up to Christmas. Remember it’s supposed to be a happy, joyful time of year and while it can be difficult, it’s important to look after yourself and keep your mind healthy and positive.

Have a great Christmas and a very Happy New Year from all of us at themindspace!

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How to beat anxiety

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What happens if your child is plagued by anxiety? It can be a scary moment for parents – it’s hard to know where to turn. Child Psychologist, Greg Powell reveals how parents can help their kids actually beat anxiety. 

Not all children are built in the same way. Some of them are outgoing, some of them are a little more reserved, some are brave and fearless, and others seem to be fearful of everything. For children who are particularly fearful, and this fear makes life more challenging for them than it should be, there is often an underlying anxiety disorder that needs to be addressed.

We all have the ability to feel fear. It is an important response within the body that has been put there to protect us from danger. When our brain senses that we are in danger, it automatically makes the body respond. This typically involves increasing the heart-rate, increasing muscle tension, narrowing our focus, and generally getting us ready to run away fast or to stay and fight – the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is normal.

Anxiety is when the brain begins to think that situations are dangerous, and so it starts the fight or flight response in the body, even though there might not actually be any danger present. For example, it is common and normal for children to experience some uncertainty when they are apart from their primary caregivers. Over time, they generally become less fearful as experience tells them that there is nothing to fear. For children with anxiety, their intensity of fear can be so high that they cannot tolerate the physical and emotional experience of the fear, and so they resist any separation from their primary caregiver. This prevents them from engaging in ‘normal’ child behaviours such as playing with other children, going to school, or being able to sleep in their own bed.

As parents, we can be the most effective therapists for out children. We know them the best and we often see them more than anyone else. We just need some specific knowledge and skills. So how do we help our children to beat anxiety? Here are a few ideas:

1. We need to encourage and reward ‘BRAVE’ behaviour

When we see our children doing something that we know they feel a little fearful about, then we need to acknowledge their brave actions and reward their efforts.

As adults we sometimes fall into the trap of rewarding the absence of anxiety in children, believing that this is the goal. But it isn’t. By rewarding the absence of anxiety we can accidently send the message to our children that what we want is for them to look like they are fine, to not show any fear, and this isn’t helpful.

Instead, we look for and reward the times when we can see that they are feeling anxious, and even though they are anxious, they choose to face the fear, being brave, and not let the anxiety stop them.

 

2. We need to talk with our children about their feelings

We need to help them identify when they feel anxious. One of the best ways to do this is to give them our own personal examples of when we have had to be brave. We should also give them examples of times when we were not able to overcome the fear as this helps them to know it is OK if they just don’t feel brave enough all of the time.

 

3. Research tells us that anxiety can often be inherited

This means that when there are anxious children, there is often an anxious parent. If we are an anxious parent then it’s important that we are also working on beating our own anxiety. By doing this we will gain additional therapeutic skills, as well as being able to model healthy and proactive approaches to dealing with anxiety.

Are you or your children struggling with anxiety? You’re not alone. We are here to help. Please don’t hesitate to make an appointment with one of our caring professionals today!

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Is pornography really harmless?

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themindspace Child Psychologist, Greg Powell, looks at the real impact of pornography on our society. Is it really that harmful? Read on…

There has been an ongoing war within the world of research around the impact of pornography. Although there is some limited research suggesting it may be harmless, there is a growing literature that speaks in fear of a pornography tsunami that has the potential to reshape society.  Of particular concern, is the impact that frequent viewing of pornography is having on our children and
adolescents.

For the past 20 years brain researchers have been using terms such as Neuroplasticity and Synaptic Pruning, telling us that the brains of our young people are continually rewiring themselves based on their exposure to the environment.  With online pornography having entered the environment, we are
now not-so-eagerly awaiting the results of this horrifying social experiment.

We now know that around 90 percent of children have watched online pornography.  That boys aged between 12 and 17 are the largest consumers of online pornography, and that access to extremely violent and disturbing content is more freely available and accessible than the latest Disney movie.  We also know that up to 60 percent of teenagers have been asked to post sexual images of themselves online, and we fear that parental monitoring of children’s online activity is a lost-war.

In terms of long-term effects, there are concerns about increased difficulty with developing of intimacy in relationships, the possibility of addiction-type behaviours, increases in sexual dysfunction, and the normalisation of sexual violence.

As parents, I believe that we have to have a voice that can be heard above the noise of popular culture. We have to be vocal in expressing what we think about the sexualisation of children, the use of sexualised language, and the use of pornography.  If our own struggle with pornography keeps us silent on this issue, then we need to manage our struggle in order to show our children what we
want for their lives.  We need to esteem others, move beyond the importance of physical appearance, and show our children that consuming people for personal satisfaction is not a recipe for a fulfilling life.

As a parent I believe that there is increasing evidence suggesting that this is an area that we cannot be complacent about. I want my children to grow into adults who can experience fulfilling emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical relationships and so I’m prepared to risk being a prude.  I’m prepared to talk with my children about healthy sexuality and I’m prepared to present an
alternative perspective, and even to suggest that life without pornography might be beneficial…

Whatever you’re struggling with, themindspace psychologists are here to help. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment. Click here to book a time online. 

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Should kids watch the news?

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There’s been a whole heap of bad, disturbing news coming through our TV sets, on the radio, online – everywhere. The terrorist attacks in Egypt, Paris, Lebanon and Mali have shaken our world up and it’s not feeling very safe anywhere.

For adults alone, this can make us feel afraid, insecure and angry. But what about our kids? There’s been a lot of talk in the playgrounds and at school about the Paris attack especially. Is it really good for our kids to know about these events? Should we shield them from ‘real’ life or let them see the world for what it is?

Our resident child psychologist, Greg Powell says as a general rule “news is not for kids…some of the most disturbing imagery on television comes from the news broadcasts. Just because it is real (hopefully…) doesn’t mean that it is ok for children’s ears and eyes.

“Children are not cognitively capable of understanding that the news is driven by viewer demand and is not an accurate reflection of the state of the world.  They are not aware that we as consumers have a biologically-based ‘negativity bias’ that tends to draw our attention to bad news, and that this is why the news is dominated by badness.”

So what should we do if our kids have accidentally heard about news stories or if we have already exposed them to these events? Greg says, “We need to listen to their concerns, help to correct unhealthy information (at an age appropriate level) that they have collected, and reassure them so that they don’t carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

“We need to work at building compassion, hope, and resilience in our children and not reinforce hatred, fear, or hopelessness.”

This advice is also great for us ‘grown-ups’. We can react to the latest news with intense fear, paranoia or even hatred but as Martin Luther King Jr said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

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Tough love or too tough?

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I had the opportunity to spend time working under Professor Mark Dadds, a world-renown researcher in the area of parenting difficult children. I recall a conversation with him about the worst-of-the-worst children, the ones that seemed broken, lacking in empathy, and often damaging in their relationships with others, during which I asked him what the solution seemed to be for these children.

Quite surprisingly, he responded “love”. But then it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. I had been working in the clinic he supervised, using a treatment manual he had written with a colleague, and as I reflected on the treatment program, I realised that it was at the core of the program.

Discipline issues

Most of the families that came into the treatment program were seeking discipline strategies and yet the starting point of the program had always been not to focus on dealing with the misbehaviour, but instead to start with the affirmation and encouragement of positive behaviours.

There was no point in teaching discipline and management of difficult behaviours, if this was going to be applied in a context where there would be a lack of warmth, affirmation, and encouragement. It simply wouldn’t work. It became extremely difficult, if not impossible, to discipline in the absence of love.

The Magic Ratio

Dr John Gottman’s research around the ‘magic ratio’ of relationships (the research being largely related to marriages) has suggested that a healthy relationship needs to have FIVE TIMES as many positive interactions as there are negative interactions (a ratio of 5:1).

The key to the relationships between children and their parents was not simply related to the ability to manage difficult behaviours, occasionally giving some warmth or encouragement, but in fact the act of practically living out the love in the relationship with children was central to the ability to deal with difficult behaviour.

Love is key

I often meet with parents who are struggling with managing child behaviour and I often find myself having conversations with parents who explain to me that they were not affirmed or encouraged when they were growing up, or that love and affection was conditional on good behaviour.

They don’t want their children to be spoilt or to grow up being arrogant or ‘soft’ and unable to handle the big bad world, discipline helping their children to toughen up and prepare for the challenges of life. The trouble is that the research is pretty clear on this one, discipline doesn’t work without love.

Tough love

Although the world may be a confronting space, I don’t believe we should be preparing our children as soldiers in order to protect them from this world, but instead preparing them to be patient, kind, faithful, gentle, self-controlled, able to experience joy, peaceful, good, and above all, loving, so that they can have an impact on this world.

There are times when I hear people talk about ‘tough love’ and yet the sense I get is that it is more a case of ‘love is too tough’.

The solution

If the research is right, then we need to work as parents at staying warm, affirming, affectionate, and encouraging. We work on ourselves to get better at expressing our emotions, and being verbal and physical with our affection. We understand that this is the essential key to effective discipline, and that it has to be a louder experience for children than the voice of correcting misbehaviour.

Greg Powell – themindspace Clinical Psychologist

If you’re struggling with any parenting or personal issues, please don’t hesitate to make an appointment with one of our qualified psychologists.

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Teaching kids to handle life’s challenges

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Parenting can be a tough gig. Sometimes it’s hard to get the balance right between letting your child ‘fall’ and shielding them from negative experiences. Our resident child psychologist, Greg Powell talks about how to let your child fail without feeling like a failure.

Protecting our children from disappointment doesn’t allow them to learn how to handle the emotions associated with failure.  Parents often ask about building resilience in children.  How do we help them to cope with the challenges life throws at them – and let’s face it, it certainly will throw challenges at them.

Children cannot learn to handle challenges in life without facing them down and working their way through them.  This means they need to feel the sting of disappointment, the fear of failure, the emptiness of grief, and come out the other side.  But they also don’t need to do this alone.  

No one was ever meant to handle disappointment alone.  It is life in community that helps to sustain us through these times and so we need to help our children to work through challenges in life, by turning to family and friends for support.  Not to avoid the challenges, but so they know that there is someone with them as they make the difficult journey toward learning they can cope with difficult emotional experiences.

If you or your child is struggling with any kind of issue, feel free to make an appointment with Greg

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