Monthly Archives: November 2013

Do we really understand the law around sexting?

Web_19A new smartphone app has been launched to help young people and parents better understand the law around sexting, cyberbullying and the age of consent.  Developed by Victorian Legal Aid, the app can only currently be used on Android devices but will soon be available on iphones.  The app is an engaging and interactive way for young people to be more aware of the risks involved in sending and receiving sexual photographs or cyberbullying.

“Below the Belt: Sex, Selfies and Cyberbullying” can help us all understand that our digital footprint lasts a lifetime!

How do I talk to my child about tragedy?

Sadly bad stuff happens in life. In fact every day as the news is broadcast across television, internet and other news media sourcesWeb_14; children are seeing and hearing about events that may have them asking questions.

As parents we naturally want to protect our children from tragedy ,however rather than avoiding explanations, or brushing them off with “you don’t need to worry about that“, it’s important to begin conversations with children by focussing on making children feel safe in their immediate world , rather than their fears associated with the events they may have seen or heard.

Some of the best advice I have heard in this area was by a man called Fred Rodgers (an American educator) who once said , “When I was a boy and would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me ,”look for the helpers, you will always find people helping”.

So following on from this valuable advice – looking for the helpers amidst the tragedy, is a good way to begin conversations with children about bad stuff. Initially try and find out what your children already know, they may know a lot or very little about the event, either way it’s a good starting point for conversations. Children may be experiencing a whole range of emotions ranging from fear, anger, or sadness. Using age appropriate language the focus needs to be kept on building their sense of safety and security and making sense of the world around them, whilst at the same time acknowledging their emotions.

So for example a discussion regarding the recent train tragedy in Spain might be:
“A very sad thing happened in a country called Spain where a train was going too fast and crashed into a wall. People were hurt and some people died. But many people were taken to the hospital where the doctors looked after them and made them better. Trains run all the time and this was a very unusual event. Usually trains are safe and fun to travel on. The police are helping to find out why the train was travelling too fast so that we can be sure it is safe to travel on trains again. The police here make sure it is safe to travel on our trains and even keep us safe in our neighbourhood.”

It’s important to focus on all the people who do help to keep us safe. You could mention police, ambulance officers, teachers, and football or netball coaches, even babysitters all keep us safe in different parts of our life. Talking to children about the people who keep them safe and then doing some “what ifs” there was an emergency, who would keep them safe, can reassure and help your child develop resilience.

Why do people self-harm and how should I talk with someone who is deliberately injuring themselves?

Web_25Self-injury is a maladaptive coping mechanism that some people use:

  • To escape from unbearable anguish
  • To change the behaviour of others
  • To escape from a situation
  • To show desperation to others
  • To’ get back at’ other people or make them feel guilty
  • To gain relief of tension
  • To seek help
  • To die

Self-injury can take many different forms which may include:

  • Cutting, scratching, or pinching skin, enough to cause bleeding or a mark which remains on the skin
  • Banging or punching objects to the point of bruising or bleeding
  • Ripping and tearing  skin
  • Carving words or patterns into skin
  • Interfering with the healing of wounds
  • Burning skin with cigarettes, matches or hot water
  • Compulsively pulling out large amounts of hair
  • Deliberately overdosing on medications when this is NOT a suicide attempt

Adapted from Whitlock et al (2006). Self- injurious behaviours in a college population. Paediatrics, 117:1939-1948.

If you are worried that someone you know may be deliberately self-harming, don’t ignore it. Let the person know that you have noticed their injuries, remain calm without passing judgements.

Self-harming is a coping mechanism, so the focus of your conversation needs to be more on relieving the distress, rather than stopping the self-harming behaviour. Self-harming is not an illness in itself but can often be a symptom of either a mental illness or serious psychological distress which needs treatment. Encourage the person to get professional help or emergency medical help if there is a high risk of permanent harm or death.

Adapted from Mental Health First Aid Australia. Non suicidal self-injury: first aid guidelines. Melbourne: Mental Health First Aid Australia 2008.

Bedtime doesn’t have to be a nightmare

According to the Advertiser last month (T.A. 15/10/13 page 9) children who do not have a regular bedtime are more likely to suffer behavioural problems.  Quoting from a University College London study on more than 10,000 children the paper notes that erratic bedtimes can cause a similar effect to jet lag and the longer youngsters go without regular bedtimes the greater the impact on their behaviour.

So how can we maintain consistent bedtimes?  Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Has your child’s sleep needs changed?  Perhaps cutting out a day time nap will ensure they will be ready to sleep at night.
  • Develop a sleep routine. Some families read a story, put teddy to bed, shut the curtains, turn on the night light, and sing a special song.  Once familiar with the routine let the child be the leader.
  • Ensure pre bedtime activities are peaceful and rest promoting.  Offering books or quiet toys to play with are probably more sleep conducive than jumping on the bed or riding daddy around the family room.
  • Make sure bed time is realistic.  If you can’t artificially darken the room when day light saving kicks in perhaps adjusting a slightly later bedtime might be effective
  • Let your child know it’s OK if they don’t want to go to sleep but they still have to go to bed.
  • Make bedtime a positive ritual.  Tell your child “I really like putting you to bed”.

Of course in any family there will be times when bed time has to be varied.  Accept occasional variations as normal and try to get back to a consistent routine as soon as practical.  I will post next week with information and strategies for parents with older children.

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