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for September, 2019

Simple Steps to Solve Childhood Phobias

Posted on September 29, 2019 in Uncategorized - 0

 Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist 

Phobias such as fear of animals, heights, or the dark are common psychological problems in children:probably more so than other better known problems like conduct disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

But how do parents know when these phobias will become a problem for their child now or in later life?

Parents may consider whether their child’s phobia is interfering with their or the family’s life. If it is, then something should be done about it.

If parents feel their child’s phobia is becoming out of control, it is important to mange it early, to prevent the risk of them becoming anxious adults.

Fear of everyday experiences such as storms, dogs, spiders, water, or the dark are the most common phobias in children. It is natural for us to have an instinctive fear of these as the fear protects us from possible dangers.

When the natural fear is out of proportion to the real threat and children are worried about what might happen is when the fear becomes a phobia.

To help children overcome simple phobias, it is firstly important for parents to react appropriately to their child’s phobic behaviour. Children learn to  behave in certain ways from the attention they get for that behaviour. So parents need to give their child attention when they are brave about an irrational fear, and minimise attention when they are complaining or avoiding scary situations.

When teaching children to overcome their phobias, psychologists show children and their parents that phobias and anxiety are made up of three parts: physiological- how their body feels; cognitive- how they think; and behavioural-what they do.

Using simple and fun exercises, children can learn about these three components. They can learn how to identify their breathing and other relaxation techniques.

Psychologists will also work with children to help them become more positive in their thinking. Some questions that children could ask themselves to help them think more positively include:

  • How likely is it that this scary thing will happen? Has it happened much in the past?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen? Is it really that bad?
  • What would I say to my friend who was scared of this same thing to make them feel brave.
  • What would your superhero do in the same situation?

Most importantly, we also help parents expose their children to the fear which will reduce their phobic reaction.

Gradually exposing your child to the fear is important because their fear will only escalate if they never have to experience the situation.

Using a step by step approach, gradually exposing the child to their fears and rewarding them as they achieve each step, is the best way to deal with phobias.

Throwing them in the deep end will only reinforce to them that their fears are real. Take for example a child’s water phobia. You may break the exposure into several steps and reward them as they achieve each step. Some initial steps could include taking the child to a private pool to play around the pool and maybe have them dangle their feet in the water. A later step might be to stand on the steps and so on.

To read more about our team of Clinical Psychologist and those who specialise in treating children, head to our Brisbane Psychologists page.

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One in Seven Kids…

Posted on September 2, 2019 in Uncategorized - 0

1 in 7 young Australians experience a mental health disorder. This alarming statistic is derived from a government report that surveyed the mental health of 6300 Australian families. Rates for depression, self-harm and anxiety are a major cause for concern with almost one in four girls aged between 16-17 years meeting the criteria for clinical depression, based on their own admissions. If mental health was contagious or a physical ailment, this would be deemed an epidemic.

Researchers have identified that sleep deprivation in youth is also on the rise with an estimated 25% of adolescents affected by some form of sleep disturbance. There is a strong correlation between sleep problems and poor mental health; the difficulty can be in determining cause and effect. In either case, technology and its biproducts certainly play a major role in creating sleep disturbance with the increased stimulus causing arousal when the mind and body should be winding down.

Technology and social media get a pretty bad wrap when it comes to its effect on our mental health, but in particular during the turbulent teenage years. With so many reasons to point the finger, it might be time to take a good hard look at the link and how parents can best manage it.

There is no denying that technology has changed us as humans with every generation becoming more tech savvy and some would say tech dependant. Some would argue technology has made us smarter and provides a positive level of human connection, whilst others would claim it has increased stress and rendered parts of our brain redundant. Whatever your stance, technology has undeniably increased the pace of the world and blatantly blurred the lines between work/school and home life. It has changed communication expectations and makes escaping almost impossible.

Managing technology dependence and in particular social media activity is a first-world predicament that many parents face. The need to feel connected and a sense of belonging is paramount during the teenager years and social media and online communication offers this at the click of a finger. However, when it begins to distort your child’s perspective or become an obsession, parents need to trust their intuition by creating healthy boundaries around the use of devices. A teenager’s frontal lobe, the part of the brain that controls decision-making and judgement, does not fully develop until early adulthood, making it difficult to define their own boundaries.  Choosing appropriate time slots, like dinner time, where all devices go on charge for a set time, will do wonders for real-time communication whilst allowing the family to be more present. Of course, phone rules must be abided by all household members including parents. You never know, your teen might silently thank you for the down time and the opportunity to talk.

Clinical Psychologist, Danielle Corbett, who works in adolescent psychology, says; “I am seeing many young clients who are in a state of vigilance with difficulties living in the present moment and it is this state of living that causes social and emotional problems such as anxiety and stress”.

“Basically, social media is opposite of mindfulness in our youngsters, and in particular, girls are struggling with feelings of personal inadequacy, and difficulties living in the present” Ms Corbett said.

Mindfulness has been defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the moment and non-judgmentally” (Jon Kabat Zinn). The human brain has great capacity to reflect on the past and think about the future but during this we forget about the present. Children are excellent mimics and will respond to the behaviour of those around them. Creating a more mindful and present home life, whereby you purposely focus on the ‘now’, will reduce stress and anxiety levels and help your child keep things in perspective.

Mindfulness is a practice that has been shown to be effective with clinical disorders including anxiety, depression, chronic pain and substance misuse. It is also an effective strategy to manage stress. Although technology comes with a myriad of negative biproducts, it also offers many positive ones and is not to blame for all mental health cases. Depression is more likely in certain personality types and may also be more likely if you have a family history of the disorder.

The teenage years are difficult ones for parent and child alike and it’s important to trust your parental intuition when assessing your teenager’s behaviour. You may know if something is just “not right” and be able to recognise that its more than just teenager moodiness. If this is the case, or you are unsure, it is crucial to seek professional help from your local GP who will make an assessment and put a mental healthcare plan in place.

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