9th April 2021
Tips for Managing Separation Anxiety
As a Clinical Psychologist, I am always learning, not least from the families whom I have the honour of working alongside. Last week, the parent of a young person gave me permission to share a lovely technique that they have found to support their child to settle at night… the creation of a soothing meditation tape for the child, recorded by the parent, using their own voice.
Children who struggle being apart from their parents can often struggle more at night, as it is a time of natural separation. Fear of separation from a caregiver can be understood as emanating from a very primitive part of a child’s brain, which fears the threat of being alone and vulnerable. There can be an irrational fear that they might be forgotten if they are not with their parent. At its core, therefore, separation anxiety is a very natural attachment response, which promotes a set of behaviours designed to elicit a parent’s attention in order to ensure their very survival. What it isn’t, is a child being purposely difficult, however, when a parent is exhausted and being called upstairs for the 18th time, it is completely understandable why it is hard to maintain compassion for this position!
The parent above has found a winning technique that works for their child at night and which other parents may benefit from. Other things that you as a parent might try to support your child struggling with separation anxiety though, includes telling your child that you will check on them at specific times, and ensuring that you stick rigidly to this, in order to build up your child’s trust. You might also try greeting them (i.e. ‘noticing them’) before they have the opportunity to greet you. Equally, leaving little notes in their lunchbox, or finding little ways of showing them you are thinking about them during the day when you are apart can be helpful (e.g. “I bought this for dinner, as I saw it in the supermarket and I know it’s your favourite”).
It can also be helpful to use the metaphor of helping your child to ‘cross a bridge’ between the time of separating from you (i.e. going to sleep or going to school) and the time that you will be reunited (i.e. waking up or coming home). This might include telling your child something that you are looking forward to doing with them when you are next together (e.g. “I was thinking we might have pain au chocolat for breakfast tomorrrow” or “I was thinking we could pop to the shop on the way home from school later”). This can help your child to take comfort from the fact that you have an explicit vision in your head of when you will next be together and what you might do together. This can be helpful because for children with anxiety, the prospect of a night’s sleep, or a full day at school, can irrationally feel like an eternity with no end in sight.
A fear of separation is very common in young children and it can develop for a great many reasons. It can also increase if left unchecked for a long time. For this reason, it is very important that parents feel empowered to ask for professional help if their child is struggling with this issue – especially when more generic strategies, such as those listed above, have not been effective.
8th April 2021
When Children ‘Flip Their Lids’…
Having had the privilege to be invited to review my children’s school’s PHSE program on emotional resilience this week, I thought I would share this timeless clip again from Dr Dan Siegal – explaining what happens to a child’s brain when they become overwhelmed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0T_2NNoC68
7th April 2021
A Metaphor for Therapy?
I really enjoyed painting this peaceful ‘Rainbow Tree’ today, courtesy of tuition from the wonderful www.thepaintclub.co.uk. Since completing it though, I keep spotting lots of lovely (and perhaps a little cliché!) metaphors for therapy…”Spotting the perfect in the imperfect”… “what you might see if you dare to look up”… “how the most beautiful things can grow from the most humble beginnings”…. “the power of nurture”… “the beauty of difference”…Can you spot any? Please do let me know if you can!
31st March 2021
A Gift of Spring!
I was absolutely delighted to receive this little ‘gift of Spring’ from a little one in clinic this week. It cheers me up no end when I glance over at it! Gift-giving plays such an important role in our culture, and is one of the ways in which we tend to express our love and gratitude for each other. Receiving this little pot made me think about all the other little gifts that parents of little ones often receive – stones, sticks, shells, old bits of rubbish they’ve found… they might not be worth a lot in monetary terms, and may even be a bit of pain to get in the car (or make us wince at the dirt!) – but our children are nonetheless giving us what they have within their power to give us, and it is so important to them that they see how much we value these things too. Happy Easter everyone! – I hope you can enjoy some gifts of half-chewed-up chocolate treats this weekend! 😉
23rd March 2021
A Little Self-Care for Parents
One of the most wonderful things about our new clinic, has to be the breathtaking countryside that surrounds it… from woodland walks to the open South Downs, we are truly blessed down here in Glynde! On a personal level, I’ve really enjoyed popping out on my little lunchtime strolls over the past few months, spotting the wildlife and watching the frosty landscape become a sea of spring flowers. I’ve also valued the countless ‘therapy walks’ I’ve already had with children and young people (even enjoying a picnic on the Downs last week!) Undoubtedly though, the thing that gives me the most joy about this gorgeous setting, is watching the parents of some of the children in my clinic starting to use their child’s therapy hour to stroll off into the countryside with their dogs, water bottles and headphones for that oh so important “me time”. Self care is essential as a parent – and particularly so if you’re a parent of a child who is struggling. I’m just delighted that our little clinic can facilitate this so easily!
02 March 2021
Support for the Urge to Self-Harm
CALM HARM: For young people who struggle with self-harm, this app has been very well received. With the option to password protect personal preferences, this easy-to-use app provides immediate resources under the categories of ‘distraction’, ‘comfort’, ‘express yourself’, ‘breathe’, ‘release’ and ‘random’. This private library of support can be so helpful at the point that young people are ‘riding the wave’ of the overwhelming urge to self-harm when they can’t otherwise ask for help. www.calmharm.co.uk.
24th February 2021
A Quote for the Hard Times…
As we continue to struggle through the final two weeks of home-schooling, I thought I’d share with you a quote that I have always found helpful when working with young people and their families…
“When children are behaving their most unlovable, they are most in need of love” (Anon)
23rd February 2021
Peace and Calm…
Our clinic is turning into such a calm and peaceful place to work. I can’t wait to welcome more children, young people and families here next month! 🙂
19th February 2021
The Importance of Parental Self-Care
I couldn’t not share this beautiful description of parenthood by Carly Crew. Sometimes a huge part of my role is simply about supporting parents to develop their capacity for self-compassion and to recognise their own need for self care. Too often, self-care is dismissed as an indulgent luxury and pushed to the bottom of a parent’s ‘to do’ list. I find this is never more true than when parents are trying to care for a child who is struggling emotionally or behaviourally and parental life can feel hard, unenjoyable and overwhelming. The truth is though, that to be able to break these vicious cycles and to truly help a child at these times, we need to have enough free space within us to be able to fully attune to our child’s internal world. We also need to be able to find the capacity within us to (non-defensively) help them to regulate through big emotions. These are big asks when a parent is stressed. Indeed, they are near-on impossible when we are feeling attacked, helpless or edging towards melt-down ourselves. Self-care and time away from our children can help at these times. As the airlines would say “put your own oxygen mask on before trying to help someone else, because if you’re dead, you’re no help to anyone!” Self-care as a parent, especially when times are hard, is an absolute necessity, not a luxury. Feel empowered to prioritise it and don’t apologise for it.
Carly Crew (21.11.20) 𝗜 𝘄𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗮 𝘄𝗮𝗹𝗸 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗻𝗼𝘄 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿 𝗱𝗮𝘆, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗯𝗲𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗱 𝗺𝗲 𝗜 𝗽𝘂𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗱 𝗮 𝘀𝗹𝗲𝗱. My children were insistent they could walk, that they didn’t need the sled, however I pulled it anyway. And initially, they had boundless energy. They ran through the snow, laughed and chased each other and their laughter was musical. And even though they didn’t seem to need it, I still pulled the sled. It felt light and it wasn’t that hard to pull. After we walked a bit longer, one of my girls tripped and fell. She didn’t hurt herself, but she was upset. She climbed in the sled for a minute and I kept pulling. But she didn’t need it for long, and she hopped back out. I was happy I’d brought the sled to help her when she needed a break. By the later part of our walk, they grew tired. With the fatigue came the emotions and the meltdowns began. Do you want to climb in the sled? I asked. They both did. And I pulled them. And sometimes we went downhill and it felt easy. And sometimes we went up hills and it was heavy and hard, and I was sweating and feeling tired. And when I was sweating and feeling tired, almost resentful about the weight of them, I would stop, pause and breathe. And sometimes they climbed out, feeling that they didn’t need the sled again, and would walk a little bit more, explore a bit further. But they always returned to the sled. And I always kept pulling it. 𝙏𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙞𝙨 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙢𝙤𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙝𝙤𝙤𝙙 𝙞𝙨. We keep pulling the sled of support. Even when they don’t need it, we are there to help them keep going. When they do need it, we pull them through. There are some days it feels light and all downhill, and pulling them, supporting them feels easy. There are days it is all uphill and pulling them is so hard, and so exhausting. When we’re tired from their weight and from our own fatigue, we pull them. So Mama, if your sled feels heavy today, pause and breathe. You are working hard. This job isn’t easy. There will be days when they won’t need you to pull them, and it will get easier. 𝙔𝙤𝙪 𝙟𝙪𝙨𝙩 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙠𝙚𝙚𝙥 𝙥𝙪𝙡𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙨𝙡𝙚𝙙.
9th February 2021
A Moment of Tranquility
Taking the time to enjoy a quiet moment before starting the day this morning. Snowfall and garden birds – what could be more special?! I’ve often felt that snow seems to bring out the very best in us – be it our capacity for fun and excitement, or for peace and quiet reflection. I hope that you can find your own personal joy in the snowfall this February.
11th January 2021
It’s our 2nd Birthday!!
So today marks the second birthday of Roots and Wings Clinical Psychology, Ltd. And what a journey it has been! Having received over 300 referrals since opening in January 2019, it has been an absolute pleasure and honour to support so many children, young people and their families towards achieving better mental health. I learn so much from each young person that I work alongside, and am always quietly humbled by their bravery and resilience – often a long time before they even recognise this for themselves. My role in helping children and families at such an early stage in their lives might not always be easy, but it is always an absolute privilege.
The colours of our second birthday cake also mirror our new clinic colour scheme – rainbow, as a beautiful symbol of hope and aspiration following a stormier time.
14th December 2020
Our New Home!!
We are delighted to announce that Roots and Wings Clinical Psychology now has it’s very own home! We have moved into a lovely little building on the site of an old village Dairy in the beautiful village of Glynde, near Lewes. We very much look forward to welcoming families here in the New Year.
23rd October 2020
The Best Bits…!
When former clients get in touch with you out of the blue to give you little updates about how well they are doing… it means the world to me, and has happened twice this week!
6th September 2020
Loving these little clips from Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ this week… playfully helping little ones (and adults!) understand their internal world a little better. Here’s a great one on disgust and anger! “Disgust & Anger” Clip – Inside Out – YouTube
2nd September 2020
Therapy up high!
So today I had the unusual, yet marvelous experience of conducting EMDR therapy from mid-way up (probably) the best climbing tree in Sussex!
28th July 2020
The Importance of Roots and Wings
This beautiful greeting card was recently gifted to me by one of my closest friends. I absolutely love it and plan to frame it! ❤️ The name of my service (Roots and Wings) is a reflection of my belief that at their core, children need to feel safe, unconditionally loved and emotionally secure in their attachment relationships (their ‘roots’). If this can be successfully achieved, I find that children become ‘freed up’ to explore the world in healthy ways, to learn about themselves and others and to achieve their full potential (their ‘wings’). Please visit my RAW Values page to read about how these values further inspired the development of my service logo.
23rd July 2020
The Post High-Stress Slump
Just a simple little graphic for you this week, as I’m on leave… but this felt apt! Sometimes it is in the aftermath of a stressful event or period of our lives that we can feel the most depleted. This has been a particularly challenging few months for many families. Be kind to yourselves ❤️
14th July 2020
Surfing the Wave: Helping Children Calm
Quite a few people this week have asked me about tips for supporting children at times of high emotional stress (e.g. anger, rage or anxiety). For this reason, I thought I would share with you some generic pointers for parents that I use in clinic, but which could apply to most children. These are predominantly drawn from the principles of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP), which you may have heard of.
1. When a child is calm, help them to understand that emotions (of any kind) are a bit like waves… they rise, they peak and they fall. They come and they go, but they DO eventually end.
2. When a child (or their parent) notices that they are starting to become distressed (or to ‘fall out of their window of optimum arousal’), they can be supported to try the TIPP approach:
T = TEMPERATURE
Helping a child to change their body temperature (e.g. by splashing the face with cold water or eating or drinking something cold) can help them calm, as the body naturally gets hotter when distressed or aroused.
I = INTENSE EXERCISE
Engaging in intense exercise to match the level of emotional arousal (e.g. star jumps or running) provides a healthy outlet for anxious tension. – Ideally this should be a rhythmic exercise as it is more likely to activate a child’s earliest neural pathways of feeling soothed from when they were rocked as babies.
P = PACED BREATHING
Slow breathing, concentrating on their breath and (importantly) breathing out for longer than they breathe in, helps children to regulate the bodies. This is because longer exhalation naturally slows their heart rate and activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which in turn helps the body to calm.
PAIRED MUSCLE RELAXATION
Supporting a child to tense and then relax parts of their body, supports muscles to release tension. Relaxed muscles require less oxygen, so heart rate and breathing naturally start to slow down.
3. Having a calm box – Supporting a child to develop a pre-prepared box of all their favourite textures, smells, photos, games, sensory toys, etc., can be a lovely way to start to talk about emotions with a child and help them to feel a sense of self-efficacy in managing their own emotions. As time goes on, a child might start to ask for their box before becoming overly distressed.
4. Parental matching of the affect – When a child’s brain is distressed, it regresses to a much earlier developmental form of itself, whereby it does not register language or logic in the same ways. For this reason, a parent needs to ‘match’ the emotional intensity of the child in their non-verbal behaviours (e.g. when a child is shouting: using a loud (but not angry) voice, using BIG physical gestures, maintaining intense eye contact, etc.). The very act of ‘mirroring’ a child to themselves helps them to feel held and contained. The parent can then gradually lower their voice and soften their gestures, which the child will match in turn. I think of this as ’emotional hand holding’.
5. Having a cuddle – Following an emotional outburst, close physical connection instigated by a safe adult, is one of the most soothing and regulatory activities to do with a child to bring them back into a state of optimum arousal. It also enables them to learn that no matter what they have done or said, they are still loved, which is so important for developing a secure and healthy attachment. Once they are physically and emotionally calm, you might then want to talk about the actual behaviour if this needs to be addressed, however, the key is…’Connection before Correction!’!
I hope that you find some of these tools helpful. It is of course important to note, however, that what causes (and maintains) emotional distress in children can vary hugely from child to child. It is also important to note that for some children, what causes and maintains their distress can be very hard to determine. In such cases, parents should feel empowered to seek professional advice regarding a targeted assessment of their children’s specific needs.
Happy surfing everyone…!
(A blog I wrote for Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy)
8th July 2020
More Tools for the Toolkit…!
More inspiring training with the amazing Dr Sandi Richman this week… this time via Zoom! I’m really looking forward to putting these new skills into practice to support children and families.
1st July 2020
Finding Safe Spaces Outside…
Like with anything, where online sessions can work brilliantly for some children, they are not right for all. At a time when indoor sessions are difficult, therefore, I was delighted to be invited to join a young person at their outdoor ‘safe place’ today, where we were able to talk and walk whilst exploring the nearby woods and paddocks 🙂
9th June 2020
Support For All…
Delighted to say that Roots and Wings Clinical Psychology Ltd. are now in a position to offer some pro bono professional support to low-income families. Free support will be offered to one family on our caseload at any given time and a short waiting list is in operation. Please contact us for more information.
1st June 2020
“Lucky” our new Therapy Chick!
Whilst perhaps not your most obvious therapy-assist pet, here at Roots and Wings, we are delighted to introduce “Lucky”, our therapy chick! Families in our clinic have loved receiving little updates on Lucky’s progress during lockdown. She has also offered us the most gentle introductory footage for thinking about attachment theory and early brain development. We look forward to sharing this with you in due course!
6th May 2020
Tips for talking to young children about their behaviour
When talking to young children, most people know that ‘open’ as opposed to ‘closed’ questions are helpful. That is, questions that cannot easily be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” answer and invite the child to give more information. These questions typically start with “who..?”, “where…?”, “what…?” and “how…?”. What many people don’t realise, however, is that the most frequently used open-question starter – “why…?”, can be hugely counterproductive to conversations with young children.
This is because young children can easily experience the word “why” as threatening. A “why” question implies that the child should have (and the adult expects them to have) a level of insight about their behaviour that they genuinely might not have at this stage. For some children it can cause them to close down by becoming silent or simply saying “I don’t know”, which can feel infuriating to parents. Other children may feel the pressure to just give an answer – any answer – which might not even make sense (e.g. “I did it because my tummy was hurting”). This is because they just feel the pressure to say SOMETHING, which can also feel upsetting to parents. (Incidentally, when a child says that their tummy is hurting, that actually can be a sign of anxiety).
Much better, is to side-step the “why” question altogether with young children (e.g. “what made you do that?” or “when you did that, what did you think might happen?”) These kinds of questions keep the dialogue flowing and importantly, help the child to start to understand for themselves what their thoughts, feelings and motivations were when they used a particular behaviour.
This is an important foundation step towards impulse control and emotional regulation.
(A blog I wrote for Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy)
24th March 2020
Helping ourselves to feel in control at times when we are not in control…
In these changing and uncertain times, it’s understandable that we as parents are also struggling to contain our own anxieties. Please find above a helpful video from Dr Russ Harris (Clinical Psychologist and author of The Happiness Trap). It is based on principles from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I hope you find it useful, but please feel free to contact me if you would like any of the principles explained in more detail.
13th March 2020
Explaining COVID-19 to young children…
At uncertain times like this, there’s a risk that we can inadvertently raise children’s anxiety levels to greater degrees than we intend to or than they can manage. Here’s a nice, child-friendly, explanation of what coronavirus is to support discussions with young children… https://660919d3-b85b-43c3-a3ad-3de6a9d37099.filesusr.com/…
3rd February 2020
Stress and Different Parenting Styles
Since the early 1960s, psychologists have been interested in the relationship between parenting and the emotional, social and behavioural development of children. Of particular significance to this field of study, is the early work of psychologist Diana Baumrind and colleagues, who conducted the first longitudinal study of more than 100 preschoolers through to their adolescence, specifically examining the impact of their parents approaches towards them on their subsequent development (Baumrind & Black, 1967). This study, which used a combination of naturalist observations and parental interviews, identified four ‘dimensions’ of parenting – (a) disciplinary strategies, (b) warmth and nurturance, (c) communication and (d) expectations of maturity and control. More than this, however, this influential study identified three ‘parenting styles’ which have since stood up to considerable empirical scrutiny.
The first of the parenting styles identified by Baumrind is now more commonly referred to ‘authoritarian parenting’. This an approach to parenting which is generically low in warmth but high in control. Parents who fall into this category, typically hold very high expectations for their children’s behaviour and develop strict, non-negotiable rules for which they must live by. They are described as “obedience and status-orientated and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation” (Baumrind, 1991). Failure to abide by their rules, or to meet their behavioral expectations, is typically met with punishment rather than with empathy or understanding. This type of parenting is often seen in adults who they themselves were raised by parents with a similar style of parenting [see my earlier blog on ‘family scripts’] and who therefore hold an authoritarian working model or ‘blueprint’ of what it is to be a parent. This style can also sometimes be seen in anxious parents, who respond to a fear of losing control of their children by exerting total control. The implications for their children, however, is that they are often left feelin angry, confused or upset internally, but have no capacity to process or make sense of these emotional experiences as they develop. Their children are also often limited in their opportunities for free play and exploration of the world, which is equally important for healthy emotional and social development.
The second parenting style identified by Baumrind is that of ‘permissive parenting’. This style can be broken down into two further parenting styles – ‘permissive-indulgent’ and ‘permissive-indifferent’. A ‘permissive-indulgent’ parent is broadly defined as a parent who is very high in warmth, but very low in control. In direct contrast to their authoritarian counterparts therefore, permissive-indulgent parents make very few demands on their children, rarely discipline them and typically seek to avoid confrontation. They are described as “generally nurturing and often take on the status of a friend more than that of a parent” (Baumrind, 1991). The implications for their children, however, is that whilst their internal worlds are largely attended to (although negative emotions can still be feared), they lack the developmentally appropriate structure, boundaries and expectations that they need in order to develop into healthy, socially-adept adults. ‘Permissive-indifferent’ parents on the other hand, present as very low in control AND in warmth. These parents offer neither structure and boundaries nor warmth and affection for their children. They are what we typically consider to be emotionally neglectful parents, who in extreme cases, may actively reject their children, leading to inevitable attachment difficulties as their child develops.
The third parenting style initially identified by Baumrind’s study is known as an ‘authoritative’ parenting style. This style bridges the gap between authoritarian and permissive parenting styles and is known in research circles as the ‘gold standard’ for child development. This is because parents who are able to approach caring for their children with this style of parenting are able to establish developmentally appropriate rules and boundaries, but can at the same time, remain responsive to and curious about their children’s internal worlds. This means that they can be open to trying to understand a child’s internal world (e.g. their thoughts, feelings, motivations, perceptions, beliefs, etc.) even if they do not accept their behaviour. Indeed, when their children fail to meet their expectations, an authoritative parent is more likely to respond with forgiveness, nurture and find structured opportunities for new learning, rather than with punishment. Similarly, they can remain democratically open to questions and challenges from their children about their rules. They are defined as being able to “monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative” (Baumrind, 1991). The benefits for children raised with this type of parenting style is clearly evidenced in their later performance on a broad range of emotional, social and behavioural indices. These include social responsibility, the ability to cooperate with peers and adults, independence, assertiveness, problem solving and high self-esteem. Support for this ‘middle ground’ approach to parenting is also offered by recent research which has identified that children with a history of severe developmental trauma and attachment disruption, respond most effectively to an ‘authoritative ++’ approach to nurture whilst in care – a specific type of parenting approach which is very high in both control AND warmth and nurture – also known as the ‘two handed’ approach to parenting (Hughes, Golding & Hudson, 2019).
As alluded to earlier, the type of parent we become will be influenced in part by our own experiences of being parented. Whilst we can adapt this to a degree, however, when we are under stress, it is likely that we will move closer towards our ‘blueprint’ of what a parent is. For this reason, it is extremely important that as parents, we take the time to notice for ourselves when we are starting to a more extreme type of parenting style (authoritarian or permissive) as an indicator or ‘red flag’ that we need to take some time out to recharge in order to be the parents that we want to be, and which our children need us to be. If you are co-parenting, it can also be helpful to think about where you and your partner each naturally fall on the continuum between high warmth and high control as parents, and to spend some time thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of these respective similarities or differences in your parenting styles, as well as the impact that the combination of your parenting styles has on your child. When challenges or parenting styles feel unhelpful or entrenched, however, it can be worth seeking professional help.
Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 5695.
Baumrind, D., & Black, A.E. (1967). Socialization practices associated with dimensions of competence in preschool boys and girls. Child Development, 38, 291327.
Hughes, D., Golding, K. & Hudson, J. (2019). Healing Relational Trauma with Attachment-Focused Interventions: Dyadic developmental psychotherapy with children and families. Norton
(A blog I wrote for Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy)
31st January 2020
Happy Birthday to Roots and Wings Clinical Psychology!!
Well, we almost missed it, but Roots and Wings Clinical Psychology turned one this month! And what an amazing adventure it has been! Having received over 150 referrals this year, we’ve had the privilege to work alongside a huge number of inspirational children, families and professionals, and we have loved learning from them all. Thank you to everyone who everyone who has been part of this journey. This is for you…! ? ⭐️
30th January 2020
Living with Dyslexia and Dyscalculia…
I couldn’t not share this inspirational vlog from my former colleague Dr Dr (yep, that’s two doctorates!) Esther Khiel. A Consultant Clinical Psychologist, sharing her day-to-day experiences of living with, and embracing, dyslexia and dyscalculia… https://m.youtube.com/watch…
26th January 2020
Spring has Sprung!
Everywhere I look at the moment I see little signs of new life, new growth and new potential. You have to look hard for it sometimes, but for me, Spring is such a great metaphor for a sense of hope and optimism following a harsher, darker time.
24th January 2020
Exciting new tools for the therapeutic toolbox…
After three days EMDR tuition at the University of Leicester with the amazing Sandi Richman, I’m now feeling very excited about getting to practice all the new tools in my therapeutic toolbox!
22nd January 2020
Flags of ADHD…
A helpful crib sheet for parents and teachers alike, in recognizing hidden indicators that a child may be struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
6th January 2020
Psychology Through the Ages
It was fascinating to see one of the earliest kits used by psychologists in the 1930s to measure children’s intelligence at The Science Museum in London today. How far we have come (not an iPad in sight!), and yet some of this kit is strangely familiar to what we still use today!
2nd January 2020
Therapy ‘On The Run!’
Getting ready for a ‘running’ therapy session tomorrow… because sometimes even older teens need us to hold their hands as they make their first brave steps towards positive change.
7th October 2019
“Ghosts in the Nursery” – The Power of Family Scripts
As much as we might fight it, our own experiences of being parented, create within us blueprints or ‘internal working models’ of what it is to be a parent. These models only become fully activated when we become parents ourselves, and often take us by surprise. For instance, we may find ourselves ‘turning into’ our parents in ways we hadn’t intended. Similarly, memories from our past can be unexpectedly invoked in us when our own children reach the same age.
Selma Fraiberg (1987) emotively referred to this phenomenon as “ghosts in the nursery” – the idea that without conscious effort to alter entrenched family patterns, family life can essentially become a ‘rehearsal’ for the next generation. More commonly, we refer to this phenomenon as the enactment of ‘family scripts’. John Byng-Hall (1985) proposed three ways in which these family scripts may manifest –
- REPLICATIVE SCRIPTS:
These scripts are a direct replication of the parenting that we received ourselves. They can include replication of positive scripts (e.g. family rituals, ways of nurturing children, ways of enforcing boundaries, certain sayings, etc.). They can also include replicating negative (unresolved) scripts, which may be consciously replicated (e.g. “smacking never did me any harm”) or unconsciously replicated (e.g. needing to hide one’s sad or angry feelings from a parent can make it harder for these children to later recognise or respond to these feelings in their own children).
- CORRECTIVE SCRIPTS:
These family scripts are a conscious decision to offer our children a different experience of being parented to what we received ourselves. The danger for this type of script, however, is that because they are driven from an emotional response to our past, there is a risk that we will go too far the other way (e.g. feeling hard done by as an older child, so favouring our own eldest child).
- IMPROVISED SCRIPTS:
These family scripts relate to the ability to flexibly and creatively amalgamate what we most value from our own experiences of being parented, with what we now value and learn from new relationships, education, culture, etc. We generally consider that the most resilient and healthy families adopt this form of script.
Difficulties can arise when damaging or unhealthy replicative family scripts cannot be consciously thought about by parents. In extreme cases, these can negatively impact upon a parent’s relationship with their child and therefore, their child’s subsequent emotional well-being. For the most part, however, activation of family scripts is normal, inevitable, and actually helps children to become embedded within the familial and social context to which they belong. Indeed, almost all the parents that I meet in my work (myself included), offer a fascinating mix of all three of the above scripts to their children.
Byng-Hall, J. (1985). The family script: A useful bridge between theory and practice. Journal of Family Therapy, 7, 301-305
Fraiberg, S., Adelson, E. & Shapiro, V. (1980). Ghosts in the nursery: A psychoanalytic approach to the problem of impaired infant-mother relationships. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 14, 3.
(A blog I wrote for Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy)
1st October 2019
Often children like someone safe to accompany them to therapy – but that safe someone doesn’t always need to be a person!
25th September 2019
Tea for Two…
Helping an older teen find their safe space in therapy
24th September 2019
Delighted to add BUPA to the list of private health insurers that we hold professional recognition with
21st September 2019
Back to Nature…
The beautiful Grange Gardens of Lewes. A lovely spot to visit with children who struggle to sit in a room, who prefer to walk and talk, or who just need some sensory grounding to feel ok.
11th September 2019
Expanding the Clinic Library…
Delighted to be expanding the clinic’s library of validated testing materials – in this case, an assessment of the strength of a child’s attachment relationships, which can be used as evidence in the family courts
8th September 2019
New Testing Equipment…
An exciting upgrade to the clinic’s testing materials for administering assessments of children’s cognitive and executive functioning skills.
6th September 2019
A nice little video that helps to illustrate how a parent’s ability to respond to their children’s emotional needs, is largely influenced by their own experiences of being parented. https://vimeo.com/145329119
5th September 2019
A Lovely Tweet!
A lovely endorsement for Roots and Wings CP from the staff at Roedean School in Brighton (www.roedean.co.uk). …now just wishing I knew how to operate Twitter to be able to thank them! ?
30th July 2019
“Children are not slates from which the past can be rubbed by a duster or sponge, but human beings who carry their previous experiences with them and whose behaviour in the present is profoundly affected by what has gone before” (Bowlby, 1951)
23rd July 2019
When Praise Becomes Harmful to Children…
Contrary to its intention, praise does not always make a child feel good. Whilst we might typically think of praise as a gift, it is technically an evaluative judgement on the other person (e.g. “you’re a good girl” or “you’re a brilliant artist”), which for some children can be experienced as threatening or even dysregulating (Stephen Porges Polyvagal Theory).
This risk is particularly pronounced in children whose earliest relationships have not enabled them to trust in the safety of relationships and/or have caused them to develop negative core beliefs about themselves as inherently bad or unlovable. For these children, being told that they are “good” or “fantastic” at something, is so far removed from their own sense of themselves that they cannot make use of it. More likely, they will be put on high alert for when the other person will no longer see them as “good” and will see their true self. It also creates inevitable comparison – and therefore, competition, with other children. For very traumatised children, therefore, ‘global praise’ (or generalised, non-specific praise), can actually act to undermine their trust in the safety of their relationship with the person giving it to them (Hughes, Golding & Hudson, 2019).
Whilst not all children have experienced developmental trauma, however, it is still true that global praise is not helpful to children. This is because it contains too little information about what the giver is enjoying about the child, or what they are doing well, for them to make use of it. Indeed, a natural tendency (for any of us!) when offered global praise, is to immediately deny it (e.g. “I don’t always have gorgeous hair! You didn’t see me yesterday!”), to assume that the giver is lying or does not know what they are talking about (“As if I always sound intelligent!”), to focus on our weaknesses (e.g. “Clever! You should see me doing my times tables!”), to make us anxious (e.g. “I’ll never be able to hit the ball again now you’ve said I’m a good shot!”) or to assume that we are being manipulated (e.g. “What’s she after?”; Faber & Mazlish, 2001).
A healthier alternative to global praise is ‘descriptive praise’. That is, the act of actively looking for specific things that you appreciate, value or enjoy about your child (e.g. “You two have just sat there colouring for 20 minutes with no squabbling”, or “You picked up all your toys, thank you!”) In offering descriptive praise, parents and professionals should attend as much, if not more so, to the effort that a child is making as their achievements (e.g. “I can see you are putting so much hard work into revising your spellings”). They should also ‘own’ their opinions (e.g. “I really like what you’ve drawn there. I like the stripes on your zebra. I think that’s a great drawing!” rather than “you’re a brilliant artist!”).
Unlike global praise, descriptive praise helps to build children’s self-esteem. This is because it supports children to start to recognise the positives in themselves. This happens because having someone else point out specific things that they like or value about them, in a way that they actually can hear and accept it, enables children to give themselves the praise they deserve (e.g. “Yeah, I did draw that chimney well”). Descriptive praise can also be a wonderful way of building enjoyment, joy, trust and security in attachment relationships, for instance, building in a period of descriptive praise for the child before they go to sleep each night. Further, descriptive praise can help to build a child’s resilience, as parents can support their child to start to recognise all their strengths in the face of adversity (e.g. “I know you’re sad that you didn’t make the football team, but I was so impressed with how you went and congratulated the other players. I thought that was really kind”).
For descriptive praise to be effective, however, it should always be within the context of GENUINE heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for the child or their behaviour, as our non-verbal communication is always stronger than our verbal.
Faber, A. & Mazlish, E. (2001). How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk. Piccadilly Press
Hughes, D., Golding, K. & Hudson, J. (2019). Healing Relational Trauma with Attachment-Focused Interventions: Dyadic developmental psychotherapy with children and families. W. W. Norton & Company.
Porges, S. (2019). Home of Dr. Stephen Porges. www.stephenporges.com; Accessed: 2019.06.07
(A blog I wrote for Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy)
6th June 2019
Healthy Parent-Child Interaction
(Unapologetically looking for an excuse to post this adorable clip…!) Check out this lovely moment of a healthy infant interacting with their parent. Notice the mirrored body language, the mutual gaze, the interactive ‘dance’, the appropriate social overtures, etc. Just beautiful ? (Courtesy of Shanieke Pryor) https://m.facebook.com/story.php…
3rd June 2019
Parental Blocked Care
The phenomenon of parental ‘blocked care’ is a term coined by eminent Clinical Psychologists Dan Hughes and Jonathon Baylin and Psychiatrist Dan Siegal. It represents a central feature of the Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP) approach to treating children and young people with a history of developmental trauma and attachment disruption.
Advancements in the areas of attachment, trauma and neurobiological development, teach us that children’s brains are shaped on a neurological level by their earliest caregiving experiences. Indeed, we now know that an infant’s brain is primed, even in utero, to adapt to the type of care that it anticipates receiving from its primary caregivers in order to maximise its chances of survival. What is perhaps less known however, is that parents’ brains are also neurologically influenced by their experience of caring for their child. When things are going well, five main areas or ‘care systems’ in the parental brain are optimally functioning. These are:
- The Approach System: The system that enables us to fall in love with our children, to crave to be with them and to become completely absorbed in them. Not surprisingly, this system is associated with the release of oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’).
- The Reward System: The system that enables mutual delight and attunement when a parent interacts with their child. This system is associated with the release of dopamine (the ‘addictive hormone’).
- The Child Reading System: The system that enables parents to positively interpret our child’s behaviours and motivations and to remain interested in their unique qualities.
- The Meaning-Making System: The system that enables parents to think positively and meaningfully about their relationship with their child.
- The Executive System: The system that enables us to physically care for our children.
For some parent-child dyads however, things do not go so well. Some parents may face unmanageable levels of stress whilst caring for their infants, which may be exacerbated by their own poorly developed care and emotional-regulation systems. Others may be offering reparative foster parenting to children who, owing to previous experiences of abusive or neglectful parenting, now fear, mistrust and reject the care they are being offered, which can be extremely painful for their new carers to bear.
The real risk when things go wrong however, is that parents may enter (chronic or acute) periods of ‘blocked care’. When this happens, the first four systems listed above start to shut down. The parent no longer experiences joy or fulfilment of being with their child. They do not get the rushes of oxytocin and dopamine that other parents get, and they do not seek to be with their child. They also become much more likely to interpret their child’s behaviours and motivations with a negative bias (e.g. “he is manipulating me” or “she is a spiteful child”) as well as their relationship with the child (e.g. “I am a rubbish parent”).
A stressed-out parent is in survival mode. They are no longer able to remain open and engaged to the child’s emotional and developmental needs. Rather, they are liable to become extremely rigid, defensive and behaviorally-focused in their approach to parenting. Sadly, however, without support, the final care system, the executive system, may also start to shut down. This is the point when we start to see abusive or neglectful parenting emerge.
The growing evidence-base for blocked care, therefore, highlights the crucial need for psycho-education, as well as early and non-judgmental support to parents and carers who are most vulnerable to entering it.
Hughes, D. & Baylin, J. (2012). Brain-Based Parenting: The Neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment. Norton
Hughes, D. & Baylin, J. (2016). The Neurobiology of Attachment-Focused Therapy: Enhancing Connection & Trust in the Treatment of Children & Adolescents. Norton
Siegal, D. & Hartzell, M. (2003). Parenting from the Inside Out. Tarcher/Penguin
(A blog I wrote for Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy)
31st May 2019
The Importance of Attunement for Babies and Young Children – Dr Laura Tinkl
Babies are not born with the neurological capacity to understand distress, or even to differentiate between discomfort and mortal danger. To ensure their survival therefore, babies are biologically programmed to communicate all forms of distress to their primary caregivers through very primitive means (e.g. crying, screaming and reaching out).
Under ideal circumstances, these ‘signals’ from the baby will elicit a sensitive (‘attuned’) response from their caregiver, whereby their caregiver will utilise their more developed brain in order to empathise with the infant’s distress, to soothe them and overtime, to give them words to better understand and communicate their distress. Repetition of this pattern over time, coupled with a deepening joy of the relationship, is not only the foundation for a secure attachment relationship, but the building blocks for other important skills such as developing empathy and emotional regulation.
When working well, attunement enables a child to feel truly understood, accepted and ‘felt’ by their caregiver. Inevitably however, “getting it right” all the time is not possible and sometimes signals will be missed or responded to incorrectly (‘mis-attunement’) – also known as a ‘relationship rupture’. Ruptures are normal and actually present opportunities for a child-carer relationship if the carer is able to repair the relationship appropriately. Indeed, it is estimated that for a secure attachment to develop, carers need to attune correctly around one third of the time (Hoghughi & Speight, 1998), which is reassuring!
Over the years, researchers have examined the importance of attunement on an infant’s mental health. This includes Ed Tronick’s (2007), ‘still face experiment’, which illustrates the distressing disintegration of a young child, whose parent temporarily stops responding to their cues (Youtube link). It also includes the work of Lynne Murray, who demonstrated that even warm responses to infants are not regulating unless they are exactly timed with their cues. This is important as for some parent-infant dyads, ruptures can be severe and chronically prevent the carer from being able to sensitively attune to their infant – ‘toxic mis-attunement’. This might occur when factors specific to the child get in the way of them being able to communicate their needs effectively (e.g. speech and language difficulties or neurodevelopmental difficulties), or when factors specific to the parent stop them being able to receive and process the child’s distress signals appropriately (e.g. mental health difficulties or substance misuse problems). There may also be external stressors impacting on the relationship (e.g. domestic violence or poverty). In these cases, it is imperative that mental health and social support services are proactively mobilised to offer early support to both the child and the carer.
Hoghughi, M. & Speight, A. (1998). Good enough parenting for all children – A strategy for a healthier society. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 78, 4, 293-296.
Murray, L. & Trevarthen, C. (1985). Emotional regulations of interactions between two-month-olds and their mothers. In T. M. Field & N. A. Fox (Eds.),Social perception in infants (pp. 177-197). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
(A blog I wrote for Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy)
20th May 2019
The Power of Superheroes
Children who are unable to talk about their worries, might be able to describe, draw or make a superhero, who has all the powers that they feel they would need in order to cope with their worries.
By paying special attention to the features and abilities that their unique superhero has, you may be able to better guess at, or even open a light discussion about their underlying fears, e.g…
MASKS: Is the child worried about other people noticing that they are scared? Are they worried about what other people are thinking about them? Are they worried about being seen or noticed by a particular person?
SHIELD: What would the child protect themselves from?
WEAPON: What would the child envisage needing to attack?
SUIT COLOUR: Does it stand out or blend in? How would the child feel about standing out more in real life?
ABILITY TO BECOME INVISIBLE / CLIMB WALLS / FLY, ETC.: Does the child ever feel trapped in situations (e.g. class) that they feel they can’t escape?
This approach can be helpful, because children who are ‘freed up’ in fantasy or play, are generally in a less frightened and defensive state than children who are asked to talk directly about worries that they might not even fully understand themselves.
14th May 2019
Why Traditional Behavioural Strategies Don’t Work for All Children – Dr Laura Tinkl
One of the most frequently asked questions put to me in clinic, is why some children do not respond to traditional reward/punishment based behavioural strategies. The answer is simple – because, contrary to popular opinion, these strategies do not work for all children in all situations.
This is because the ability to make a mental link between a behaviour and a punishment, and to then be to be subsequently less motivated to use that behaviour again, actually involves quite sophisticated cognitive processes. It also requires specific parts of the brain to be functioning well. Difficulties with this may apply to children with learning disabilities or neurological conditions. It may also apply to children who are anxious, fearful or traumatised. This is because anxious or fearful children are often operating from a very primitive part of their brain that physically impedes their ability to access more developed parts of their brains. This in turn makes it harder for them to make cause and effect links, to generalise, to suppress their impulses, to make rational decisions, to maintain empathy for others and, in some cases, even to trust in the motivations of others. Punishing these children without supporting them to understand what is happening for them, therefore, is actually more likely to increase their fearful behaviours and further undermine their trust in those around them. For some children, it can also exacerbate feelings of shame.
A second concern with an overly heavy reliance on behaviourist principles when applied to children, is the theoretical and research origins upon which these principles are based. Behaviourism was largely developed in the 1950s and 1960s in laboratories with small mammals such as dogs, cats and rats – animals with significantly less developed brains than our own. Whilst these experiments can teach us a lot about how to shape behaviour in its purist sense therefore (i.e. classical and operant conditioning), they offer nothing in terms of how we build children’s self-esteem, build their intrinsic motivation, or even how to protect their attachment relationships. For instance, classically conditioning young babies to sleep by ignoring their attachment-seeking behaviours, can have detrimental effects on a child’s subsequent relational security and internal regulation skills. Similarly, a heavy reliance on operantly conditioning ‘good behaviour’ in young children with external motivators (e.g. star charts) has been shown to undermine a child’s natural desire to problem solve, be creative and to keep building on their successes when these external motivators are later removed.
Whilst some behavioural principles within a parenting repertoire can undoubtedly be helpful, therefore, when used to excess, and particularly when used in the absence of a broader context of sensitive, loving and developmentally appropriate care, they can quickly become damaging. This is because human children have brains that require so much more from the parent-carer relationship than simple behavioural conditioning.
Part of my role as a Clinical Psychologist, therefore, is to help parents, carers and professionals, to find new and more effective ways of supporting children to reach their full potential.
(A blog I wrote for Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy – Image courtesy of ‘Biological Psychology’ (Rosenzweig, Breedlove and Leiman, 2002)
3rd May 2019
Delighted to add WPA to the growing list of private health insurers who we hold professional recognition with.
29th April 2019
Rupture and Repair in Secure Attachments
One of the most important features of a secure parent-child attachment, is the ability of a parent to repair their relationship with their child whenever there is a rupture in it.
Ruptures are normal and common to all interpersonal relationships, and can be caused by many factors (e.g. separation, conflict, misunderstanding, etc.). Regardless of the source of the rupture however, what is common to parents of securely attached children, is that they always initiate its repair. This repeated act over many years sends their children the crucial message that whatever has happened, and whatever they have done, it is NOT more important to their parent than they are.
17th April 2019
Developing Emotional Regulation
To develop the skill to eat with a knife and fork, we first need to learn how to grab things and put them in our mouths.
To develop the skill of emotional regulation, we first need to know that there is an adult attachment figure in our life who is reliably available to us, who can contain our messy feelings, and who is interested in our internal world. This is because the experience of being regulated by someone else is an essential building block to self-regulation.
15th April 2019
Helping Children to Speak When They Can’t Find The Words…
April 12th 2019
‘A Parakeet Thinking…’
Delighted with this beautiful, hand-signed print “A Parakeet Thinking”, by children’s artist Quentin Blake for our therapy room!
31st March 2019
Delighted to introduce ‘Rex’ to our team – a 3D anatomy model, who specialises in helping children to better understand how their brain works ?
29th March 2019
Feeling Safe Enough to Get Messy…
Getting ready for a messy day in clinic tomorrow… because sometimes children need to feel safe exploring and talking about messy stuff outside of them, before they can dare to explore or talk about the messy, scary stuff inside of them.
28th March 2019
The clinic crayons have arrived!
23rd March 2019
Stress and Dysregulation in Babies and Young Children
Did you know that the opposite to stress in a child’s brain is not to feel happy, but to feel soothed, calm and relaxed? This can help us to understand why very young children (and older children with emotional regulation difficulties) can quickly become dysregulated – “melt down” or “kick off” – by the arousal of happy, over-stimulating and exciting experiences, as much as they can by sad and upsetting ones.
22nd March 2019
How Children Build Resilience
Have you ever wondered why very young children believe that they can jump higher, throw further and run faster than they are clearly capable of? This is an important developmental stage in building a child’s later resilience. A child’s unrealistic self-belief (and their incredible ability to ignore signs of failure), gives them the confidence that they need to keep practicing skills that would otherwise be too difficult for them to master. Overtime, reality realigns their expectations… but for some children, their circumstances means this happens too soon.
22nd March 2019
Professional Recognition with Vitality Health
We are delighted to add VitalityHealth to the list of private insurers who we now hold professional healthcare recognition with. ⭐️
8th March 2019
‘Flipping your Lid’ – Dr Dan Siegal
‘Flipping your lid’: An old, but classic clip from Dr Dan Siegel, which helps to explain what happens when a child’s brain becomes overwhelmed https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=G0T_2NNoC68
4th March 2019
Children’s Family Drawings…
A child’s drawing of their family can be hugely revealing… who is in the picture? Are they in it? Whereabouts on the page are they? How big are they? How close are the adults? Why did they choose the colours they did? …because children in distress communicate with more than just their words.
28th February 2019
The Joy of Therapy Putty!
Therapy Putty in different colours and strengths – appreciated by parents as much as children!
27th February 2019
Our Beautiful Doll’s House!
Our new, beautiful and HUGE Victorian dolls house – busily being prepped for theraplay, story stem work and creative play!
27th February 2019
Professional Recognition with AVIVA and AXA PPP Healthcare
Delighted to announce that we have just been awarded professional healthcare recognition from private health insurers AXA PPP Healthcare and AVIVA.
15th January 2019
Roots and Wings Clinical Psychology
Roots and Wings offer highly specialist psychological support to children and young people aged 0-18. If you are caring for or working with a child or young person who you feel worried about, we would be happy to help you in finding a way forward.