Divorce and Children – Answering Kids’ Common Questions

When their parents are getting divorced children will have a whole range of emotions. They might feel bewildered, sad, angry and afraid. Teenagers can be very impacted by their parents splitting up but they have one thing in their favour. They are old enough to have the understanding and the language skill to ask the important questions about how their lives are going to be affected? This is assuming they want to talk and ask questions. In reality they could withdraw and seek out the company of their friends more while their parents work out the details of the new living arrangements.

But what about younger children? They might not fully understand how the new living arrangements will affect them and may have lots of concerns, even if things have been explained to them by both parents.

Questions Children Ask Divorcing Parents

Some of the common questions children might ask when their parents are divorcing are the following:

  • Is daddy still going to be my daddy? They might be very afraid at the beginning that the parent who moves out, often the dad if kids are young, may not be their parent any longer. There may be a fantasy that once he moves out he is no longer their dad as they can only associate dad with someone who lives at home. Is he going to forget me/us?
  • Will he still play soccer with me, take me to the beach, come to school events? The children could be very attached to the parent who is leaving and may fear that they will no longer be involved in their lives as they are still grappling with what the idea of divorce really means
  • Will they still love me, will they forget about me? Younger children could believe the notion of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. There could be real worry about being abandoned
  • Can I go and visit daddy at his new place, can I sleep over and take Woofy the dog too?
  • Mum when we go and visit daddy are you going to come too?
  • Are we still going to see Nan and Pop? These would be the parents of the party that has moved out.

These would most likely be questions from children at primary school age. These might get asked in the beginning stages even if things have been explained to them. They might need to hear the explanations several times, together with lots of reassurance, before they feel more comfortable about what is happening in their young world.

If parents are sensitive to their children’s needs at this time then their initial fears should subside.

However further down the line different kinds of questions may become important. Here I am referring to when the divorce has taken place and the new living arrangements and parenting plans are in place. Often at this time it is probable that either one or both parents may enter into new relationships. While this is healthy and appropriate, if sufficient time has passed since the separation, this scenario beings about it’s own set of issues. Here younger children might find it a bit easier to meet new partners and possibly their children. If this is done gradually and everyone gets on it could even be fun, new play mates. Plus seeing their parent happy in the new relationship which is always good for kids.

Parental Divorce and Teenagers

However teenagers and older children may find this much harder. While they might not object to a parent having a new love interest, they might also want to have nothing to do with them. They might have no desire to meet them for quite some time and certainly do not want to meet the new partners’ children. Adolescents and young adults are busy attending to their own love lives and often prefer to have little information about new partners on the scene. Parents need to respect this without any pressure to ‘do the right thing’ or be ‘polite’.

I know of many people with kids in their twenties who wait at least a year or more before thinking about introducing new partners to their children.

Communication is the Key

Fundamentally children of all ages will worry about some aspects of their parent’s divorce and how it will affect them. As with most sensitive topics in relationships, communication is the key. Let your children tell you what they think, allow them their anger if necessary and be as emotionally available as you can.

I do not necessarily believe that children of divorcing parents need to go for psychotherapy unless the situation has escalated out of control. If the approaches described above have not happened in any shape or form, then you will have traumatised children who will very likely need therapy. By this stage you might have a child who has been quite damaged so professional help is a must.

To avoid causing pain to your kids try to be as kind and forgiving to yourself as you can. This was not part of your grand plan when you got married. The more you are able to deal rationally with this enormous change, the more you you will be able to support your kids through to the other side, peace, security and loving, responsible co-parenting.

Coping with grief and loss during the holidays

In the holiday season, many families eagerly anticipate getting together with loved ones and sharing these special holidays. On the opposite extreme are those for whom the thought of these weeks fill them with feelings of dread. I am referring here to individuals or families who have experienced a significant loss.

This might be the first holiday season since the death of someone that was dearly loved. This might be the first Christmas alone after a divorce or the breakup of a long-term relationship.

Losing a Loved One is Traumatic

Losing a loved one is the most traumatic experience you can go through. If someone you loved has died within the last year you are probably feeling enormous pain. There is so much you miss about them and your whole future seems bleak without them. Death is part of the life cycle but it is never easy.

Grief and loss can also refer to other circumstances like divorce, a relationship break up, job loss, disability after illness or an accident and even immigration. What we also know about loss is that when there is a loss, in the present, at an unconscious level you are also connecting with other losses at other times in your life, making the current situation even harder to deal with.

The Grieving Process Takes Time

Grieving is a process that cannot not be hurried. It takes as long as it takes to start feeling better. There is no formula. Some people may start to find their equilibrium at around six months after the loss, for others, it can take several years to come to terms with the grief and start moving on.

One of the most famous authors on Grief and Loss was Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. She originally wrote about the stages that dying people tend to go through as they come to terms with the realisation that they will soon be dead. Her stages have since been borrowed by the wider grief community as a means of describing the grief process more generally.

The 5 Stages of Grieving

Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grieving are as follows:

Denial: this is the first stage. Here a grieving person is unable or unwilling to accept that the loss has taken place. The loss feels unreal and there is the hope that they will wake up to find the loved one still with them. It can feel like being in a dream.

Anger: once there is acceptance that the loss has in fact occurred, one might start to feel anger and a huge sense of unfairness. One might even become angry at the person who is now gone and who has abandoned them.

Bargaining:  In this stage people will often beg for the loss to be undone. This is often bargaining with a higher power with promises of better behaviour or significant life changes in exchange for a reversal of the loss.

Depression: when it becomes clear that anger and bargaining are not going to reverse the loss one may sink into depression. The reality of the loss is confronted and there can be a huge sense of helplessness. During this stage grieving people may cry a lot, experience changes in their eating and sleeping patterns or withdraw from others and activities they used to enjoy. This is appropriate to give one time to process one’s feelings.

Acceptance: eventually, hopefully, one reaches the stage of acceptance. This is where the initial very strong feelings of grief start to lift and one can accept that the loss has occurred and cannot be undone. One can slowly start re-engaging with life and thinking about the future.

Not everyone will experience all of these stages and they might not occur in the same order.

At Zetland Psychotherapy, we do not hurry this process. A significant loss needs to be understood and respected and we will patiently support and assist you until you feel you are able to manage on your own.

Do I Have Social Anxiety Disorder?

If you are reading this then maybe being around people feels scary. Maybe your experience of social anxiety is relatively mild. In social situations, you might feel anxious in the beginning and then slowly start to relax, especially if you find someone nice to talk to.

On the other end of the spectrum are feelings close to terror in anticipation of attending a social event. This could be an occasion where you will know most of the people or something where there will be a lot of strangers. The actual situation is less important than your overwhelming fear of being around people, full stop!

Feeling Nervous is Normal

Many people may feel a little uncomfortable about being around others that they do not know. If they are with a partner, they will stay close to their side until they start to feel more comfortable to talk to others. This is quite common.

I think that people who are able to enter any kind of social situation and feel perfectly at ease are in the minority. If it is an occasion where they do not know anyone, the super confident person might just stand and watch others mingling until someone comes into sight that they feel they would like to talk to. Or they could just walk into the room, perhaps get a drink, and not necessarily alcohol, and just walk up to a group of strangers and join in.

I am making a point of mentioning this as there are really very few people who can do this. A certain degree of reserve or shyness is normal and appropriate. Another fear that is also very common is fear of public speaking or even just making a comment in a group meeting. So clearly many people do feel a bit socially anxious at times but it does not significantly interfere with their life.

Social Anxiety Disorder and Social Phobias are Immobilising

However social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, becomes a problem when you start to feel immobilised being around people. You might experience ongoing, intrusive thoughts about new situations that might present themselves.

Maybe even just going into work and being around others can trigger these fears. Perhaps you avoid meeting up with your colleagues for morning tea in the leisure area of your office as you find it hard to contribute to the daily office banter. So you rather stay at your desk and continue working while you can hear everyone else enjoying some social time during their busy work day.

Social Anxiety in the Festive Season

At this time of the year, as the festive season approaches, your difficulties could escalate. There will be more invitations to attend functions with the likelihood of there being many people present that you do not know. You might possibly make excuses not to attend, preferring to isolate at home where at least you feel safe and free of the terrible anxiety. Sadly the avoidance serves to reinforce the fears you have around social situations and a vicious cycle develops.

Social Anxiety is Treatable

Your social anxiety is treatable. As with all issues at Zetland Psychotherapy, part of our early work is to get a full history of the problem, including a family history. Often socially anxious parents can, unintentionally, produce socially anxious children.

One of most effective ways of dealing with social anxiety is through graded exposure to situations that make you anxious. Under our guidance you slowly challenge yourself to take small risks and expose yourself to anxiety provoking situations. We start at a gentle pace and our goal initially may be to only stay for half an hour. At the next session we would talk about how that felt and would work on other small, manageable challenges.

It could even be as simple as joining your colleagues for morning tea a few times without any pressure to say anything. The value would be to learn to feel comfortable just being there. Making conversation would be a challenge for a few weeks later. The idea here is baby steps, while being supported throughout, until you start to feel more at ease around people. At first the tasks that we jointly agree upon to do may feel terrifying. That is ok, you will be able to debrief at the next session.

Treating Social Anxiety with Medications

If the steps described above sound too daunting, then we might need to think about some medication to assist you to engage more productively in the treatment process. Your GP would be able to prescribe something for you.

Social anxiety disorder is quite common, yet responds well to the appropriate treatment. There is a great sense of delight for both yourself, and your therapist, when progress is being made and you start realising that hanging out with people can be fun!

When Sibling Rivalry Turns Into Adult Envy

Sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy are difficult issues to deal with for parents. To some degree these situations are normal and, with sensitivity, can be managed with siblings growing out of these unhelpful emotions. It becomes far more of a problem if this continues and manifests later on into serious adult envy.

If you are reading this then maybe you feel you are in this unhappy situation. Sibling envy between adults has the potential to disrupt the entire family, can spill over into extended family (if the extended family are close) and can adversely affect the adult siblings’ own nuclear families.

This scenario is one that is often played out in movies, TV series and novels. Often the final outcomes, in the story, can be devastating. One even sees this played out in real life in the media.

Example of Sibling Rivalry Turned to Adult Envy

The best way to chart the journey from sibling rivalry to sibling jealousy to adult envy is by way of a case example. This is an entirely fictitious story but I am sure that certain elements of the story might resonate with my readers.

Bill and Pat got married in their twenties. They had been together since their last year of high school. They wanted to marry young and have children young. They believed they could manage this as they had supportive parents on both sides who lived close by and could assist with the babies.

Bill had trained as a carpenter and was working for a company that made beautiful bedroom furniture out of pine wood. It had a ‘cottagey feel’ to it and was selling really well in the retail stores. Bill loved his work and took great pride in his craftsmanship. His ultimate dream was to open up his own business producing a similar kind of furniture, but to expand to include more than just pieces for the bedroom. He dearly wished for a son who could hopefully join him in this future business one day.

Pat had an admin background but had decided that once she had children she wanted to be a stay at home mum and take care of her family. Bill wanted only two children but Pat was open to the idea of a third.

They were both delighted when Pat gave birth to a healthy baby boy, John, two years after they got married. Bill was ‘over the moon’. He now had his son who would one day be his business partner!

Less than two years later Pat gave birth to another baby boy, Peter. She was delighted, but Bill was secretly disappointed. He really wanted a girl this time. What is starting to emerge thus far is that Bill had very fixed ideas about the way their lives were to be lived. He was in fact quite controlling and Pat preferred to keep the peace and agree with him in order to avoid conflict.

Bill showed a lot less interest in Peter. By now John was a toddler and very active. Bill spent a lot of his free time playing with him and showing him things in his workshop at home. Pat was left to look after Peter on her own and often felt lonely. 

As the boys grew up this pattern continued. The family did not spend a lot of time together, all four of them. Rather the pattern of Bill and John vs Pat and Peter continued as the boys went through school. John never missed out on love from his mother and consequently was a confident and social child and adolescent. He achieved good grades at school and by the time he finished high school he was looking forward to training as a carpenter, just like Dad.

Peter, on the other hand, had a difficult time at school. He was shy, did not play sport and did not do as well as his brother academically. He was very much a loner and Pat was continually worrying about him. He spent hours alone in his room reading or playing computer games. Also and, most significant, more and more he started to resent his brother. He was jealous and envious of John and very resentful of all the attention John received from Dad.

During Peter’s high school years he spent a lot of time with the school counsellor and by the time he finished school he was on anti-depressant medication. Pat was consumed with worry and by this stage the marital relationship had deteriorated badly.

Where was Bill at this point? Very busy setting up his new business and ready to realise his dream. He was already receiving orders for his fine furniture and was eagerly waiting for the time when his eldest and favourite son would join him in the exciting venture. By now his relationship with Peter was very strained. He was always criticising him about being lazy and not showing any drive to succeed at anything.

So, the years went by and the business made a great success. John got married and too had two sons, so more boys for the business according to Bill. Meantime Peter was not thriving. He was still living at home, barely spoke to his father and felt a strong hatred for his eldest brother. He felt there was something wrong with him and the same feelings of sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy were still there from childhood. Pat was miserable too and the marriage was virtually non-existent in spite of them living in the same house. John lived with his wife and family close by.

One night something in Peter snapped. He had had enough. He was tired of suffering, he was tired of being consumed by hatred and envy. In the early hours of the morning when everyone was asleep, he doused the workshop, which housed his father’s entire business, with petrol and set it alight. Being a wood business it burned very quickly and was destroyed. Before he could even see the extent of the damage, he took all his medication from all the years of being at doctors, ran to remote area and took his own life.

This story illustrates the fact that issues that may seem unimportant with siblings can escalate and develop into serious problems in later life. Sometimes problems that do not have simple or, in fact, any solutions. The only option is to sever all contact with the adult siblings and their families. This is more common than many would imagine. Both in my professional and personal experience I have met many many people who do not speak to any members of their immediate family. The different parties involved are scattered all over the country. There is resentment and often hatred in these troubled families and cousins never get to know each other or share special occasions.

Then when the parents die, the fangs often come out in how the estate is distributed. The only winners here are the lawyers.

Equally Love Your Children

The message again is very simple. Love each and every one of your children equally, find value in each where ever you can. Before deciding to have children be sure that yours is a relationship that is able to make the necessary adjustments and sacrifices that are part and parcel of child rearing.

And, lastly, your child’s life does not belong to you. Let them decide the course they want to take and give encouragement and affirmation as often as possible. Anything else is not good enough parenting.

Sibling Rivalry, Why It Happens?

Sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy is to some degree normal and healthy. Learning to co-exist with siblings can teach children some valuable lessons about relationships in the greater world outside of the home.

Many parents will report that when the second baby came along there was an increase in negative behaviour from the first child. If this is well managed by the parents, ie that the older child gets some special attention, as well as the consistent attention they were used to, the situation will often calm down after a couple of months.

Sibling rivalry and jealousy becomes a problem when it shows itself at a later stage, either in primary or high school. If this is not addressed adequately at this point, it could escalate and lead to more serious problems later in life with one or all siblings.

Showing More Attention To One Child

There can be many reasons why siblings will compete against each other to a degree which is problematic. The first thought that comes to mind is that sometimes one or both parents overtly show more attention to one child. They might not even realise they are doing this. This could be because the child is a high achiever in one area which results in lots of affirmation from parents. Also, this situation could lead to more time being spent with this child, especially if parents have to transport them to the activity, eg a certain sport.

The other child or children then get less of the parents time but maybe also less attention. It is very hard when one sibling is talented and the rest are somewhat average. It becomes a real challenge for parents to find value in each child and be consistent in affirming this. Every kid is good at something, our job as parents is to value this, even if the skill is something less obvious.

Another scenario that can cause jealousy and resentment is when there is a child with special needs in the family. They may have a chronic illness or some other disability so naturally a greater proportion of parental time is taken up with this child. The healthy children, who might in fact be thriving, can feel very jealous and angry towards the special child. This can often be a very real and difficult situation in a family.

Give Each Child What They Uniquely Need

The message here is that parents need to be aware of the differing needs of their children and try to ensure giving each child what they uniquely need. So sometimes different rules and norms for different children in a family are appropriate. Just like clients in a psychotherapy practice, each child needs something different.

It is parents who elect to bring children into their world and it is the parents who are responsible for the emotional tone in the home. If the family is a relatively functional one, and the parents present as a united front, you will most likely find less rivalry and jealousy. If the parent’s relationship is volatile then it is really hard to find the emotional space to consider the effects on the children or to give each child the attention they deserve.

Ask For Help

So what is the answer if sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy is destroying harmony in the home? Simply, ask for help! Sometimes it can be as easy as approaching the school counsellor. If this is not an option you might need to seek help privately.

At Zetland Psychotherapy this issue would be thoroughly assessed in order to understand the different elements of the problem. This could involve sessions with the parents, maybe separate sessions with the children or perhaps family therapy where the whole family attends the session.

It is important to try to address these issues as soon as possible. To grow up alienated from your siblings is to miss out on the wonderful relationships that become part of your extended family in adulthood.  Ideally families should try to remain connected as children grow up and parents age. The joy of feeling part of a loving and supportive family can never be over rated. Healthy families form the cornerstone of a healthy society.

Signs Of Depression

Do you have signs of depression? We all feel sad at times, that is part of being human. Often our sadness can be triggered by an external event. We may be grieving a relationship breakup, we may lose our job, someone in the family may be ill or perhaps life is just stressful. This kind of sadness usually soon passes. It may take a few days or a few weeks and then we start to feel better and manage to cope quite well. It is good to let ourselves feel these feelings and a bit of self-nurturing can do a lot to help us manage.

A Feeling of Gloom and Doom

Then there is a different kind of sadness. This can be a feeling of gloom and doom and suddenly your whole world feels dark. Perhaps you are not sleeping well or maybe sleeping too much. Maybe you do not feel like eating. When you wake up in the morning all you want to do is curl up and go back to sleep. Facing the day feels too hard. Perhaps this has been going on for several weeks. If you are feeling any of these more severe feelings there is a good chance that these could be signs of depression.

Life Feels Miserable

Depression is like the common cold of mental health problems. One out of five Australians will probably have an episode of or show signs of depression in their lifetime. This condition robs you of your joy and things that you used to give you pleasure are now no longer fun. It is hard being around happy people, you no longer laugh and life feels pretty miserable.

Treatment and Medication

Depression is a debilitating illness and can affect your physical health too. You may in fact with struggling with the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The good news is that the treatments today are highly effective. Helping someone with depression often involves a combination of medication and some kind of interpersonal psychotherapy. Most depressive episodes usually pass if the appropriate treatment is received.

Not everyone who is depressed needs to go onto medication. At Zetland Psychotherapy a comprehensive assessment is conducted around your signs of depression. We look at when your mood started declining, what possible triggers there may have been for this, and your family background and then together we decide on the best way to treat you.

Medication is sometimes necessary to help to lift your mood so that you can get the maximum benefit out of your therapy. Your general practitioner will probably be able to prescribe a suitable drug for you. If you do not have a general practitioner that you know and trust we are able to offer you some names of good doctors to go to.

If you have very severe symptoms of depression, and you have been feeling this way for a long time, it may be more beneficial to be referred to a psychiatrist. These are doctors who specialise in all areas of mental health and are better equipped to treat the more treatment resistant depressions. Often they will use more than one drug to help you and it is the combination of two different medications that assist the more serious episodes. Furthermore psychiatrists are allowed to prescribe stronger drugs that general practitioners are not authorised to. If a psychiatrist is not able to assist helping someone with depression using all of these more sophisticated means, they may decide that there would be a benefit from an in-patient stay at a psychiatric facility. This is nothing to be afraid of. There are some excellent facilities in Sydney, staffed by caring professionals, who offer a full therapeutic program. Once you are an inpatient and you are still not getting better a decision may be made by your doctor to prescribe Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). This is done under a light anaesthetic and is painless. This has been described as a miracle by many people suffering treatment resistant depression.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

On the other hand you may not need medication. You might just need someone to talk to and through the sharing of your feelings and concerns we may be able to make headway without involving anyone else in your treatment. The treatment style at Zetland Psychotherapy is psychodynamic psychotherapy. This focuses on establishing a warm and trusting relationship as well as getting a detailed family history. Part of this process may also involve some behavioural therapy. If you have been feeling depressed for a while you may have stopped doing many things that you used to enjoy. You may have even stopped leaving the house except for your doctor’s appointments. So part of our work is to slowly assist you to re-engage with your life. It may be as simple as going for a short walk each morning and attending to your house hold chores. As you start to feel better we can jointly decide what other activities you might feel ready to take on.

Depression is a serious condition but one that can be treated very successfully.

Update To Success At School

I am going to take the liberty of sharing some personal information as many of the authors I admire in my field do.

The original article ‘ Success at School, What Are The Secrets?’ was written when all three of my children were at school. Two were in high school and my youngest was in primary school.

Twelve years on they have are all grown up, all have been to university and, as I write this, two of the three are completing post graduate degrees – that is success at school!

I was not overly involved in my children’s school work. I did the mandatory reading and spelling homework with them in the first three years of primary school and really enjoyed this time. It was essential that these basic skills be consolidated at home but I also think another benefit was the close one on one time with each child. We would sit close together on the couch and it was a fun activity. Likewise their father, who had more of a maths brain, assisted with the basic times table homework that was required.

Beyond that I do not recall doing much else. Life was busy, I would sign the homework book and assumed that the homework had been done. I do not recall making this a priority of my day. Perhaps one of the reasons for this was that I was working in my chosen field, the one I am still in now, and simply did not have the time to get too involved.

We also did not believe in helping with school work unless it was something very difficult. Even then I would encourage them to seek out the assistance they needed from their teacher. I had a saying that I often repeated to friends and clients which went as follows, ‘the more you do for your children, the more you rob them of the opportunity of ‘doing’ for themselves’. So my three just got on with it and this was the key to their success at school. I was more interested in having fun with them and ensuring they were happy.

In fact the two who are currently completing their higher degrees both had quite profound learning difficulties which were picked up at pre school. So many hours were spent at speech therapy which produced excellent results. There is no sign of those issues now as adults. What I have also noticed with children I have watched growing up, some family, some children of friends, is that kids sometimes take a while to come into their own. I know a young adult whom I recall had some learning difficulties during primary school and was pretty average in terms of grades. In fact I recall that their sibling too was quite average in the primary school years. Well today one is a top lawyer and the other is completing a Masters degree. Both are now definitely high achievers. What I also know is that they came from a family where there was love and support and I do not recall any worry or pressure around academic achievement.

As I write this update I have something waiting for my attention in my inbox. It is the final version of my youngest child’s honours thesis and Mum has been requested to have a quick read through to check on grammar and the correct use of present and past tense. What an honour, what an outstanding achievement from someone who had quite significant extra support during the primary school years.

My eldest child was in an HSC year that attained the most outstanding results. There were four UAI scores of 100 and many more in the high nineties, my child being one of them. I think most of these individuals who achieved such excellence were simply clever and probably gifted. I think many came from homes where both parents worked. They did not have tons of extra tuition in the hope of getting a good final mark, they were just a very talented year group.

I also know of people whose children did not do well in the HSC and yet they are at university and are doing well.

So I guess the benefit of this hindsight is like my own unplanned long term research study. Success at school can happen if you give your children just the three most important things in the world and then let them get on with it. What are these you may ask? Yet another of my home grown pearls of wisdom: love, love and love!

Update on Food, Weight, and All Things Body Related

The first food related article I wrote, Hunger, Appetite and Eating, was written in in the late nineties. I was asked to submit something interesting, related to children, for a fundraising publication. It was known that at a much earlier stage in my career I had run a diet counselling practice and still retained a passionate interest in all things food related.

The next article, Food Weight and the Perfect Body, article was written in 2002. When I wrote this my children and all their friends were at school. Some were skinny, some were chubby and some were just right. What I observe now, all these years later, is that most of the children I watched growing up seem to have a normal and healthy body weight. Most of these individuals are embracing healthy eating and an active lifestyle in terms of exercise and the joy of movement. So, the message about just letting kids learn to eat in a comfortable manner, without too much interference, does generally work. If there are weight issues that are significant enough to warrant attention, these must be handled with the utmost sensitivity by parents.

I have noticed another significant change since 2002 and that is the size of the models we see in the media. There are still stick thin models that are being used, but there are also many fashion houses that are making a policy of not using models under a certain body weight. In Time Magazine, April, 2015, there was an article that spoke about France being the latest country to ban excessively skinny models from working in the fashion industry. This ban was already in place in Israel, Italy and Spain. This legislation was described as being an attempt to stop the idealisation of the dangerously thin and perhaps curb anorexia.

The Daily Mail of Australia, March 2015, had a headline, “THE BIGGEST MODELS IN THE WORLD! THE NEW BREED OF PLUS SIZE SUPERS ARE CURVY, BEAUTIFUL….. AND CHANGING THE FACE OF FASHION”. They go onto to say that the arrival of the plus size model has been heralded as a new era for the average woman, who would prefer to see their favourite clothing store showcase items on a body they can relate to.

An Australian, Robin Lawley, is one of the most famous plus size models in the world. She made history in 2015 for becoming the first plus size model to pose in the Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated. She initially worked as a regular model from the age of 17 but was unable to maintain the super slim figure required. She eventually signed up with a plus size modelling agency. Since doing this in 2011 her career has taken off and she has featured in famous international fashion magazines. This is a great leap forward as it is often young people who are most influenced by the ‘ideal’ body types seen in the media.

In Australia there are also shops that stock elegant clothing for people from a size 14 upwards. Hopefully these trends will assist people to feel comfortable with the body they are in and to maintain good physical health regardless  of their body size. Not everyone aspires to being slim, not every person is looking for a slim partner.

It would be wonderful if there could be more initiatives to assist the public with the notion of diversity and health at any size. There is a movement in psychological circles that addresses these issues and there are clinicians who focus exclusively on eating issues.

There is also now the option of gastric surgery to address obesity in people who have simply not been not been able to reduce in any other way. I have seen some excellent results where individuals have finally been able to get to a weight that they are comfortable with and stay there.

My professional journey related to food and eating has been an interesting and exciting one. At Zetland Psychotherapy you are most welcome to discuss any difficulties you may be experiencing with food. This often comes up as part of a larger issue. I might be able to assist you myself or I can refer you to an appropriate specialist.

Success At School, What Are The Secrets?

The summer holidays are almost at an end and children everywhere are starting to prepare for school. Some are anticipating, with the mixture of anxiety and relief, their final year, the HSC. Others are entering high school having to face the pressures of an increased workload, plus all the demands and responsibilities that are part and parcel of growing up. Then there are the little ones that are starting school for the first time.

It is safe to say that most parents want their children to be successful at school and to do the best that they can. There are often many issues to considered when trying to decide what is best for one’s child educationally. Should the school be public or private, is extra tutoring outside school hours a good idea, how much time should be devoted to sport and extra-curricular activities?

These are all worthwhile questions. However there is one consideration that is perhaps more fundamental than all of the above: whose school career is this—ours or our children’s?

Many parents through circumstances beyond their control may not have been able to fulfil the educational or career dreams they once set for themselves. So what happens? The dreams are not dead, just maybe deeply packed away in some hidden emotional recess. So, with the best intentions in the world, parents unwittingly try to relive these dreams through their children.

On a practical level what do we see? Parents who can ill afford private education making huge financial sacrifices to send their children to private schools. Pressure is placed on children to achieve in the belief that this will lead to automatic success. There is often frequent communication with teachers in an effort to understand why their child is ‘not achieving’ which can often be a parent’s very subjective point of view. Homework is strictly monitored with the parents sometimes doing the tasks themselves. The effects on the children—anxiety, an obsessive need to please, and a continual feeling that just being who they are is not quite good enough. I am using strong statements here as I am illustrating a scenario where things can start becoming dysfunctional for the child.

We as parents do not have it within our power to make our children more clever or achieve more than they are capable of. What is within our control is the ability to love them for exactly who they are, to praise and affirm them for every effort that they make and to make them feel that in our eyes they are winners. Doing anything else will instil a sense of shame and failure.

Having said all this, the fact remains that children differ enormously in their academic abilities and in the application of that ability to their school work. Of course, as parents, if our children are blessed with academic excellence, they are to be encouraged to do the best that they possibly can. They may be the future scientists and intellectuals of our next generation!

If our children struggle in certain areas or have remedial difficulties they should receive all of the assistance available to them. Our role as parents should be to remain in the background, quietly monitoring progress, giving encouragement at every appropriate opportunity and then getting on with our own lives.

So then what is this mysterious ingredient that leads to scholastic success? Maybe it is the simple term motivation. If we can engage in some of the above mentioned confidence building behaviours then maybe we can instil in our children the desire to succeed because they want the success for themselves. We then have a motivated child and the sky is the limit!

The more we affirm and the less we intrude, the more we are saying ‘I trust you, I believe in you. I know you can do this on your own but if you need my help just give me a shout’.

Now, what about those parents who believe it is too late for them and who may be living their lives vicariously through their children? It is never too late, take time to think about what changes you may wish to make, what new directions you wish to explore. Do some fact finding, check out available resources, talk to people and maybe even seek out professional guidance.

The more fulfilled we are as individuals, the better we are able to parent our children.

Food, Weight and the Perfect Body

An obsession about food, weight and the size of your body is a painful and engrossing activity and can become a way of life. There are many adults who have spent half their lives grappling with the issues around what is the ideal weight for me, how can I get there, how can I stay there, how can I look good and still eat the foods that I enjoy?

There are two central themes that emerge here. One is, what is your ideal weight? Is it some number on a mass produced chart or is it something more subjective? Perhaps we can say that when you feel healthy, energetic, physically attractive and comfortable with your body, then you are at your ideal weight. Each of us is entitled to determine this measure for ourselves. This is of course very difficult because everywhere we look we are being shown artificial, media-generated notions of what the human body should look like. This deluge of skinny stereotypes only reinforces our inability to realistically assess ourselves. The second theme that then emerges is, if we are not at our ideal weight, what can we do about it? Therein lies the subject of food and eating.

In first world countries where food shortages are rare, and most food items are abundantly available, the issue of eating has become, for many people, very complex and confusing. The primary purpose of eating, which is to nurture our bodies and keep us alive, has been lost. Consequently we eat for a host of other reasons that are often totally unrelated to the concept of nurturence

Let us begin at infancy. When a newborn baby is being fed it knows exactly when it has had enough and will pull away from the breast or bottle when satisfied. A six month old enjoying it’s meal of pureed pumpkin will close it’s mouth when full and even the most persistent of parents will probably not be able to get in another spoonful. The point here is that we are all born with an in-built mechanism that tells us when we are satisfied. Sadly, at some point, this natural instinct that we have gets interfered with and we often lose touch with what we need and how much?

Eating occurs for all sorts of reasons. Many are probably familiar with the term ‘comfort eating’. This is eating in response to feelings of boredom, loneliness and despair. Food can truly feel like a friend during difficult times and the mere preparing of food can give one a sense of control when other areas of one’s life seem unmanageable. Over eating can often take place because we are repeating old forgotten messages about not to waste and ‘remember , some children are starving’. This is all eating in response to messages other than the one ‘I am hungry, my body needs nutrition’. Eating for reasons other than true hunger leads to weight gain in many of us. We then start to become uncomfortable with our bodies and try to reduce. Often the method we choose to try and reduce involves some outside source determining what we should eat and how much. We might not have had much input into this ‘plan’ and end up feeling deprived. We continue for a while, become frustrated and bored and may start to overeat all over again in response to these feelings.

There must be thousands of people who yearn for a reality where they can eat the foods that they enjoy, achieve a weight that they are comfortable with and stay at that weight. What if this was actually possible? Well, maybe it is. Deepak Chopra, the renowned physician and author, describes the body as a “miracle of biological engineering”. He writes that nature has given us a physiology that is perfect and knows exactly what it needs. He believes that we should embrace the feeling of hunger and not be frightened of it. True hunger is simply a message from the body that food is required and that the body is prepared for the metabolism of that food. If we then eat something that is enjoyable and nutritious and we stop when we are satisfied, not bursting at the seams, we will not gain weight. By eating this way we can actually lose weight if there is indeed weight to lose. By getting in touch with our own unique needs for nutrition and responding to these needs accordingly, we then develop an internal locus of control for what we need and how much. This is an art which takes a little practice, but once we are truly in touch with our bodies in this way, we need never experience the discomfort of an externally controlled ‘plan’ that is imposed upon us.

In a nutshell, the message is to try and simplify the process of eating and reducing and to give hope to those of you for whom achieving a comfortable balance between body and mind seems unattainable. Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are still comfortable and don’t eat when hunger is absent.

For the other hungers that are currently being addressed by food, perhaps there are alternatives.