The” Good Enough” Parent

Web_17One of the feelings we often have as parents is Guilt. Guilt that we are not spending enough time with our children, guilt about the food we feed our children or even guilt about losing our temper with our children.
As parents we often forget that we are humans too, and that with our humanity comes mistakes. We can’t (and wont) always be the perfect parent that we want to be. Work, relationships, hormonal fluctuations, mental health issues, and financial stress can cause layer, upon layer, upon layer of stress that can impact on our ability to parent at an optimal level.
As a result we can sometimes only parent at a “good enough” level. That is we can only do the best we can do at the time under the circumstances. So, if as parents we are sometimes faced with adversity but the quality of our parenting behaviour is still adequate then our children should not be compromised.
In addition it is extremely powerful to admit to our children that “we got it wrong”.
It models to them that it’s ok to make mistakes, that it’s not the end of the world. In addition it teaches our children how to make amends in relationships and gives permission for imperfection.
So next time you are feeling guilt around your parenting be gentle with yourself and remember that sometimes you can only do the best you can do at the time and that is good enough!!

Parenting in Challenging Times

If you have young people in your family who hurt, intimidate or abuse you there are two parenting programs which may help you regain control in your family and increase your conflict resolution skills.

Centacare will deliver the  8 week Who’s In Charge parenting course for parents of children 8 – 25 years in 2014 in metropolitan Adelaide.  Web_2The course is based on the work of Eddie Gallagher, a Victorian social worker and one of the first parenting specialists in Australia to acknowledge adolescent violence in the home.  The course addresses parents’ feelings of guilt and isolation, clarifies boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, develops family capacity and identifies practical strategies for change in a positive and supporting environment.

The Who’s In Charge course is for parents who feel constantly challenged by their children’s behaviour.  It  also addresses threatening behaviour, emotional and physical abuse, dealing with powerful emotions including anger and rage and builds individual plans for safer families.

If you are troubled by your adolescent’s extreme behaviour this is the course for you.

Contact Centacare for information about the Who’s In Charge course in 2014.

If you want to know more about the work of Eddie Gallagher please click on the link

2014 will also herald a new program to address young people’s violence and abuse in the family.  The Walking on Eggshells Project will be piloting Step Up for SA beginning March 2014.  The group program is based on the successful Step Up – Building Respectful Family Relationships program developed by Lily Anderson and Greg Routt in the USA and has been adapted for South Australia offering young people and their parents a 13 week cognitive-behaviour intervention program.  This program uses a Restorative Practice model of accountability, competency development and family safety aimed a decreasing violent behaviours and increasing pro-social behaviours.  The program has a two-fold focus:

  • to help young people learn about the impact of violent behaviours in the family and adopt pro-social behaviours
  • to assist parents with skills to support behaviour change in the family.

The pilot program starts in early March 2014 at Hindmarsh.  For further information and referral contact Rosalie O’Connor, Step Up for SA Co-ordinator at

If you want to know more about the work of Lily Anderson and Greg Routt go to

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.

Help !!! My child is being bullied!! What can I do?

Sadly bullying is, and always will be a part of life. But when it happens to our precious child who is blissfully unaware that not everyone loves and adores him or her, it is distressing.

As parents we naturally want to defend and protect our child from hurt. However the harsh reality is that we can’t and won’t, always be with our child to do that. So its more about equipping our children with life skills to manage this behaviour. Doing some “What would you do if….” Conversations can give you some insights into how well equipped your child may be to manage bullying behaviour.

The main message to get across is to tell an adult or someone who can intervene. If your child discloses to you then its important that you take them seriously, make an appointment to speak to their teacher and discuss a plan of action. If you do not get a satisfactory response from their teacher then take it further with another staff member but try to avoid going directly to the parent of the bully .

If children feel safe enough to they can be encouraged to stand up to the bully using “I messages” such as “I don’t like it when you say that, please stop”.

Research is showing that the ‘bystander effect” is a deterrent to bullying behaviour. So conversations with your child around “what would you do if you saw someone being bullied” are also important. Talk with them about standing up for someone, or if they are too afraid to do this for fear of recrimination, to at least show the person being bullied in some way that you don’t agree with the bully by smiling , emailing, sharing, texting, or even sitting next to that person.

5 Ways to Stop Biting

No_BitingWhen your child bites another we often react with shock and disappointment and other parents around us are appalled and disapproving.  Biting is no worse than swearing, hitting or pushing however  the parental response is often out of proportion to the “crime” of biting.  Biting is one way young children communicate so if you have a “snappy” toddler here are 5 things to consider:

  1.  Your child might be expressing emotions for which they don’t have words.  Start emotional literacy early giving children words for their feelings and using them in everyday language:  “I feel uncomfortable when you lean on me like that”.
  2. Young children use their mouths to experiment with their world.  Be vigilant and get in early before your child bites.  Know your child’s warning signs and gently remove them from the situation when biting seems a likely response.
  3. Biting is a useful tool for defence particularly when there is competition.  It works.  Reduce competition for coveted toys and parental attention particularly when other children are around.
  4. Your child might be using biting to gain power and control over complex situations they are not developmentally ready to deal with.  Sharing and turn taking are difficult tasks to master; even adults are challenged some times.  Help your child to understand biting isn’t useful and share your skills when you have to wait or share:  “sometimes when I feel impatient and have to wait I sing a little song to myself to pass the time”.
  5. Be positive and watch for good non-biting behaviour.  It’s the old advice:  catch them being good and give them really solid information about how they are being good:  “when you told Jacob that it was your turn for the toy I felt really pleased that you used your words. “

Be patient.  Like most difficult childhood behaviours biting will pass as children grow and enter the next developmental stage of emotional maturity.

How can you tell if someone is feeling suicidal?

Sometimes people will show definite signs that they are thinking of taking their own life, often as a response to ongoing and unrelenting psychological pain for which death is an escape rather than a desire to end life

Some people may show one or many of these signs or none at all…but if you suspect someone you know may be thinking about suicide it’s really important that you ask them directly and in an unambiguous way about their suicidal thoughts for example:

• “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” or
• “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”

Signs a person may be suicidal include:

• Hopelessness
• Rage ,anger ,seeking revenge
• Increasing alcohol or drug use
• Feeling trapped, like there’s no way out
• Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
• Looking for ways to kill themselves :seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means
• Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
• Dramatic changes in mood, both for the better and worse
• No reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
• Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
• Giving away treasured possessions and getting affairs in order
• Withdrawing from friends, family, or society
Adapted from Rudd et al (2006)

Warning signs for suicide: Theory; research and clinical applications. Suicide and Life-Threatening behaviour, 36:255-262

You may think that people who talk about suicide are just “attention seekers” and not really serious, but all talk of suicide must be taken seriously (effectively they are “attention needers”), and this may be the only way this person knows how to communicate how bad they are feeling.

It’s also important to continue to monitor someone for 3-6 months after they receive treatment as this can be a critical time for suicide.

Adapted from Mental Health First Aid Australia. Suicidal thoughts and behaviours: first aid guidelines. Melbourne: Mental Health First Aid Australia; 2008

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Web_20From the moment our child is born we are setting boundaries for safety and well-being. As they grow, we gradually hand over responsibility in line with their developing maturity.

Which boundaries are negotiable and which are not? Are both parents on the same page?

When is my child old enough to have a mobile phone? Go to the park alone?

Often our own experiences growing up affect our ideas about boundary-setting and whether we want to do it the same or differently. Society has changed as well and children have access to the world via technology.

There are no simple answers to these questions, but talk to other parents and share your thoughts. Safety needs to be paramount, but so does allowing our children to make mistakes and learn. Decide what the non-negotiables are (which will need to be renegotiated over time!) and explain these to your child. Some parents find writing up the family rules to be helpful. Discuss the issues with your child that you are prepared to negotiate on and let them know what behaviours you would need to observe that would let you know they are ready for more freedom. When mistakes are made, renegotiate.
Children are much more likely to respect the boundaries if we are in a trusting relationship with them. This respect is earned from our positive role-modelling and honest communication.

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