Friday, 8 December 2017

The End of the Year

Regardless of whether you are spending the time with family, friends or yourself; at home, on holiday or at the office, this time of the year is stressful.  The change in routine and more time spent in different circumstances, is enough to rattle most, whether you are looking forward to the upcoming season or not.  And bear in mind that if this rings true for you, it is likely to ring true for at least some of those around you, which means there will be stressed people around stressed people.  Ah, the things movies are made of.

While it may be tempting to slip into the ‘responsibilities’ of the season (whatever they may be for you), ensure some quiet time to yourself over the next few weeks, preferably in between the bouts of activity to allow your body and mind to settle.  This is not the time to make up for all missed social events and holidays in the year.  As with life in general, it is vital to maintain balance.

If you feel yourself becoming frayed along the edges, be kind to yourself and consider that those around you may be feeling the same.  Give some thought to how you can notice the beginnings of becoming frayed and ‘quick needs’ that must be met to bring calm again: specific music prepped on the iPod; favourite tea stocked, etc.

If you will be around children, have nap spaces available.  They thrive on routine and while they may be thrilled that there is no school and there is more flexibility, they are easily overstimulated and overwhelmed.  An afternoon nap will do them wonders.  It works for adults too.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Slow Down

“Mindfulness” is a term that is found in abundance of late, and has become synonymous with another
catch phrase: being present.  Although the one is far more than the other, both can be difficult to implement and maintain long term.  And because of the connotations behind these words – being closer to family, more understanding etc – not achieving these goals can result in feelings of guilt.

I suggest starting smaller, with a simpler process of slowing down.  This is especially important at this time of the year when the end-of-year-brain-drain affects almost everyone.  Attentions are divided between completing end of year projects, children’s exams, holiday planning and general tiredness.  Rather than applying this in an all or nothing way, choose a few areas in your life where control seems to be slipping away.  Something as simple as sleep.  As the to-do list balloons at this time of the year, scheduling your needed hours of sleep can make all the difference to your mood and productivity.

One of the greatest areas to slow down is our thoughts.  Easier said than done (I know), but segmenting your day to allow for time to ponder on your holiday destination, or google that all important end of year recipe will pacify that thought for the mean time and give you the focus to get the other jobs done.  Another way to slow down is to use your daily travel time to listen to music you enjoy rather than the radio, or listen to an audio book; turn your phone on silent so you are not tempted to check if a notification is important, or just sit in silence.  Or use this time to brainstorm ideas out loud and record your thoughts.

None of the above may apply to your life; we all need to look at what works for us, as an individual. But slow down.  Where you can.

Friday, 6 October 2017

School Readiness

It seems that with every passing year December seems to arrive quicker.  Admittedly I too have been caught a bit off guard this year and this post on school readiness should have gone out two months ago.  I am not alone here as there has only now been an influx of school readiness assessments.

The final term is generally daunting as little ones begin to understand more and more the move that will happen in the new year; even if they are staying within the same school, there will be a shift to another part of the school, a new uniform, a new bag – lots of newness.  Which applies to the parents too: whether it is your first child or not, the move into grade one is big.  Apart from all the talk and shopping about the new year, the final term is filled with assessments to ensure the littlies are ready.  What happens to those who are not?

Generally, an independent school readiness assessment is suggested to find out where the underlying pitfalls may be (poor colouring may be due to poor fine motor development, lowered muscle tone, eye sight, motivation or simply just not an activity that is enjoyed). The scoring procedures are used to determine objectively where a child’s current level of development is and options provided to overcome or at least close the gaps between age and performance.

Parents are often upset to be told late in the year that there is a possibility their child will not be ready for grade one the following year.  Unfortunately, it is a difficult course to navigate because a few months makes a huge difference in a young child’s development and areas which may have been identified as weak in April, are found to be within age appropriate ranges in September.

There is a tendency to focus on the academics, however, the emotional and physical development are just as important.  Children who are emotionally young tend to struggle with the volume or pace of work, even if they are cognitively capable; the more structured environment with less free time may also be difficult for them to accept.  Children who are less co-ordinated may also struggle with the pace or volume of work as their little bodies tire more quickly than their peers; they may be less co-ordinated and battle with the games at play time resulting in disagreements or avoidance of the game.  This last example may result in feelings of isolation or not ‘fitting in’ which, if perpetuated, can negatively impact on the academics.

Knowing where your child is emotionally, cognitively and physically can make the rest of this fascinating, exciting, scary time a bit more manageable.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Some Counselling Myths

Counselling still has a bit of a bad rap and I would like to debunk a few myths I have heard of late.

Myth 1: Counselling is (very) long term.
Counselling can be relatively short term – it depends on the issue at hand.  Dealing with a stressful work colleague, for example, needn’t result in months of counselling.  There are different facets to counselling and one of them is termed psycho-education where information is provided within a specific context to enable clients to make more knowledgeable decisions, or better handle similar situations differently in the future.

Myth 2: I have to talk about my past.
This again will depend on the issue at hand, but also on the counsellor’s training and theoretical model from where they operate.  There are theories that focus entirely on the here and now; and on the other end of the spectrum there are those who find benefit in resolving the past in order to resolve the present.  This is something you can ask when first making the appointment.

Myth 3: Counselling is very expensive.
The cost of counselling varies depending on the qualification of the person you seek counselling from.  Psychologists, Registered Counsellors, Social Workers and Lay Counsellors are able to offer a different level of service and therefore charge accordingly.  As with any profession it is important to check the health provider’s credentials.

Myth 4: If all I am going to do is talk, can't I do that with friends?

Absolutely.  Discussing pertinent issues with friends and/or family suggests a steady and reliable support system which is vital to overall mental health.  However, while a good winge or cry often makes us feel better, if the matter is a more serious one, this is a temporary fix and may result in us becoming “that person who always talks about the same thing”.  Counselling involves talking, but it is guided and solution oriented – where you identify possible solutions (and therefore consequences) for yourself.    Which is far more empowering than following a well-meaning friend’s suggestion to put a laxative in your stressful colleague’s coffee.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017


Boundaries can be difficult to establish, for a variety of reasons: for some, the thought of boundaries is selfish while for others defining the boundaries is the challenge.  Once defined and correctly implemented though, boundaries can assist in creating calm as expectations are managed for all involved.  While it may appear the job is done, setting boundaries is not a once off task. 

As relationships evolve, professional and personal, boundaries will need to be adjusted - either relaxed or made more stringent.  Consider a friendship: it would be less acceptable to contact a new acquaintance late in the evening for a chat but more acceptable in a long-standing friendship where this boundary has become more relaxed.  In a working relationship, regular lunch colleagues may need to create stricter boundaries around their lunch time if superiors feel the interaction is becoming inappropriate.

However, even where relationships are in a state of continuation, boundaries must be revisited.  Humans are creatures of habit and we tend to slip back into old routines - sometimes despite our best efforts.  Generally, this decline into the old and familiar is subtle and we are unaware of it, waking up one morning wondering how everything got so out of control.  Again.

It is important to revisit your boundaries regularly and consider whether they need to be adjusted or reconfirmed or even recreated entirely.  

Thursday, 6 July 2017


“Are you listening to me?” 
“Yes! I heard everything you said!”

Nope, you didn’t.  Hearing is done with the ears, but listening is done with so much more.

As a simple example, listening allows us to understand sarcasm.  The phrase – “how wonderful” – can be interpreted very differently because of the tone of voice and the smirk that may accompany the phrase.  Because sarcasm is usually harmless and forms a common part of our day, many of us are well tuned to it, so missing the facial expression (if our back is turned) doesn’t mean we miss the sarcastic comment as we recognise the tone of voice.

Unfortunately, when it comes to more serious matters – which are tackled less frequently – we are not as in-tune and miss much of what is being shared.  These serious matters tend to make most people uncomfortable so we tackle the issue while doing other things, cooking for example.  Even if we are brave enough to request a talk without distraction, the paintings on the wall or the coffee cup in-hand, suddenly become a far easier focus.   Averting our eyes results in poorer listening as those subtle facial expressions are vital because they are less easy to control than the tone of voice. 

Communication between people is very complex.  However, practising listening by looking at the person who is speaking and acknowledging their tone of voice, facial expressions and body language may result in greater understanding of the emotion and intention behind what is being said.  With greater understanding comes an ease to how to respond – make a joke, say how sad that sounds, or simply nod your head.  Apart from making us a better listener in those difficult-to-have important discussions, actively listening can make even light chit-chat flow with greater ease.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Time Management

We never seem to have enough of it.  And that which we do have is often underutilised.  Of all the resources we have to manage, time is the most difficult, partly because we have to utilise the very resource we are trying to manage, to manage it. 

Perhaps one of the biggest time-wasters is a tool which claims to help with time-management: the to-do list.  While it seems perfectly logical, to-do lists can quickly evolve into something anxiety provoking as the number of items increases as the day or week progresses.  The thought that crossing an item off the list would provide a sense of accomplishment is seldom true as most people are in a constant state of catch-up, adding more items than are crossed off.

As “the list” comprises tasks that need to be completed today, or this week, they are done in spare time (but we make the list to manage our time…?)  Imagine a day full of meetings and a to-do list (in those helpful side columns of a diary) consisting of ten items: there simply is no time to do those tasks on that day.

The to-do list should be a start of a plan, not the plan itself, because simply knowing what tasks need to be done does not help if they are not scheduled into the day.  And with most people fulfilling multiple roles in a day, chunking those tasks is equally as important as scheduling them into the day.

Chunking and scheduling tasks to maximise the time in the day will take some practice; however, if after a few weeks those tasks are still being passed on to the following day, it may be time to reorganise – or reprioritise – the multiple roles one is expected to maintain.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Seeking Counselling

As progressive as we consider our society to be, there is still a perception that things must be really bad to seek counselling; after all, if it wasn’t you could fix it on your own (which is really difficult when you are not too sure what it is).

Let us apply that to an analogy shall we: if your fridge develops an odd hum, or leaves a puddle at the foot of the door, you would call an electrician.  Would you wait to see if it fixed itself?  Unlikely.  Would you attempt to fix it yourself?  Maybe – what could possibly go wrong with Google by your side.  Failing a DIY fix, you’d call someone out to look at the fridge, because ignoring the problem might result in a greater one and potentially a dustbin full of perishables.

Counselling is much the same: we can try a few DIY fixes (which would probably be more than you would attempt on your fridge), but the longer the problem is left, the greater it can grow and instead of a dustbin of perishables there may be damaged relationships or self-esteem.  Neither of which can quickly be replaced by a trip to the shops.

Things do not have to be really bad to seek counselling.  Doing so, earlier on, can provide you with coping strategies to better manage the next up-hill, and gain more enjoyment along the way.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Consequence Charts

Following on from last month’s newsletter of the Star Chart, this month takes a look at its cousin: the Consequence Chart.  This should work on a visible removal of an item as opposed to the placing of a ‘black mark’ or similar as this tends to be a permanent visual reminder of when a child was ‘bad’.  Keeping this score can damage self-esteem. 

As with Star Charts, the Consequence Charts are often unsuccessful but for different reasons: Consequence Charts are often incorporated into the existing discipline toolbox when it should be replacing some existing tools, particularly the shouting tool.

The premise, as with the star chart is simple:  there is a set number of stars, pegs, fridge magnets etc. and one is removed when the child does something s/he shouldn’t, or does not do something s/he should.  A warning can be offered before the magnet is removed, but only once. If it becomes a threat that is not followed through, it is no longer effective, which is often the first way in which this system falls.  The magnet is not a bargaining tool.  It is also not to be accompanied by the shouting or lecturing tools: if it is, the child may perceive the parent as being mean as there is a “double punishment”. 

Once all the magnets have been lost, a privilege is lost for that day only (every day starts afresh).   There may well be a melt down at the fact that a privilege (such as TV or playing on the iPad) is unavailable, and this is another area where errors are made: The typical instinct is to launch into a lecture of why the privilege was lost which often results in a greater argument.  Should a melt down occur, it can be ignored; or sympathy can be offered at the fact that the child is sad (no, you are not going against what you are trying to do).    Offering sympathy (“I am sorry you are sad about this”) allows the child to express him/herself and both parent and child can move into a good space quicker, because there is no argument (resist the urge to speak more). 

It is imperative that the child knows beforehand what the do’s and don’ts are.  Remember to be kind to yourself and select a few behaviours to change – as they say, Rome was not built in a day.  

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Star Charts

The Star Chart is an age old reward system revered by teachers and often tried by parents, but with very little success.  There are three main challenges to the successful use of a star chart:

The first common reason for its failure is the lack of explanation provided to children.  It doesn’t seem very complex: behave=star, but herein lies the problem.  If children knew how to “behave”, a Star Chart wouldn’t be needed.  “Good behaviour” is far too broad a term for children to cope with; they need specifics.  This leads to the next problem, this time for parents: have you ever sat down and made a list of “good behaviours”?  It is a daunting task, never mind trying to explain that different settings may require modifications of these behaviours.

The final common problem revolves around correct use of the Chart.  Again, it seems very simple: behave=star.  If you have a list of ten behaviours, consider how many times in a day parents would need to be running to the star chart, and I use “running” on purpose because if that star does not go on the chart immediately after the behaviour, the power is lost.  The goal of a Star Chart should not be to get x many stars to get a prize; each star going on that chart should be a mini-reward in itself.  As soon as the focus is on collecting a certain number of stars, the behaviour(s) needed to get there become of second importance.

As simple as this little tool is, it does require a fair amount of thought before it can be implemented.  And as with all things children, there is no one-size-fits-all.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

New Year's Irresolution

Whoever started the trend of making new year’s resolution needs a talking to.  Granted, for many the new year comes about at a time of holiday or rest from work, so energy levels might be higher, but the idea that a new year should magically bring some form of vigor that was not previously there is just silly.  And why the need to wait for a new year to make a necessary change?

New year’s resolutions tend to come with a lot of hype, as a profound pledge to friends and family on a day that tends to be surrounded by alcohol.  Hardly the makings of good decision making.  In addition to this, new year’s resolutions are a statement, not a plan.

Changing any behaviour requires work, not simply the will.  As with any task, steps need to be put in place to achieve the goal.  Sometimes these steps are fairly obvious, other times not; sometimes these steps can be done alone, other times the input of others is needed.  Usually it is this last area that is most difficult to organise, not only because other people need to be relied upon, but because confiding in others can be daunting.

If you have already forgotten your new year’s resolution, don’t worry about it. 
If you are feeling overwhelmed by your resolution, some guidance may be needed.
But don’t wait another 340 days.