Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is a child and adolescent psychologist, a well-respected speaker and one of Australia’s leading authorities on parenting and young people. He began his talk by sharing examples from research and practice on how it’s tougher to bring up kids today than in previous years. For example, mental health presentations have tripled in the last 20 years. Also, nowadays girls are transitioning to puberty at the age of 11, whereas in 1901 it was age 16. Adolescence, the extended period of vulnerability and independence, now goes from 10–24 years of age.
Michael believes it is no coincidence that with the rise of social media and technology, mental health difficulties in children are increasing. As children and young people ask themselves, ‘Am I normal?’, they are faced with images online that make it difficult for them to see themselves as acceptable. Michael urged parents to take over their child’s technology and set limits and boundaries.
With this context in mind, Michael provided clear, practical and positive advice for parents and carers, including the following top tips:
How does a parent know if their child is travelling ok?
- Do they have friends?
- This is the greatest indicator of wellbeing.
- The ability to obtain, maintain and retain friends is key to longevity and high levels of wellbeing.
- Having a rich repertoire of friends is a positive predictor of whether your child is travelling ok.
- Have they emancipated from their adult carers?
- Do they understand and enjoy school?
- Do they have a spark – something they feel passionate about? It is important for kids by around age 10 to have a thing that ‘sparks’ them – sport/music/hobby – great preparation for adolescence. While kids are doing one thing, they can’t be doing another.
- If your child elicits negativity from the people around them, seek professional help.
What if a child is anxious?
- Three types of anxiety are common: separation, social and generalised anxiety.
- Teach them to have a momentary pause to check in with their emotions by quietly standing still.
- Encourage them to keep a diary.
- Help them to learn to breathe deeply and use mindfulness practices.
- Encourage them to be kind to themselves.
- Ensure they are exercising regularly.
- Ensure they are eating smart snacks (fewer preservatives).
What are the 5 great challenges of parenting?
- Give your child vitamin N: be prepared to say ‘no’.
- Hearing no helps your child build resilience.
- Your job is not to be your child’s friend; it’s to be their prefrontal cortex.
- If you’re not upsetting your child at least once a week, you’re doing it wrong.
- Set limits and boundaries on the things that matter – make it really clear what your family values are. Avoid ambiguity and be prepared to have the tough conversations.
- Be the world expert on your child.
- Have rituals and traditions. What would your child say to their own children many years from now about what it was like growing up in their family home? What were the little things that made it ‘home’?
- Communicate properly. Don’t let your kids build a perception that you don’t care or don’t listen.
What can parents do to help improve their child’s behaviour?
- Set a rule and give only one warning offering an opportunity for your child to change their behaviour.
- Use clever and creative ways to enforce consequences if your child has not changed their behaviour. These are more effective alternatives to shouting. E.g. give your child’s pocket money to their sibling. Or, for older children who are fashion conscious, take away 1 shoe for 1 week so they can’t wear their favourite pair of shoes.
- Do not put up with disrespect from your child. Respond by saying, ‘That is really disrespectful,’ and walk away. Do not shout back at your child. You can offer them the chance to have the final say before you discuss it later.
Any other tips?
- Be present with your children: one-on-one time is priceless.
- Ditch the digital devices.
- Listen to your child’s teachers – they have objectivity.
- Try for quality time with children. Ten minutes of one-on-one time every day builds a sense of security.
- As you are tucking your child into bed, ask them to tell you 3 good things that happened that day and why.
- Great life advice for your child: If you can’t change something, you can change the way you think about it.
What is important when communicating with young people?
- Keep calm.
- Don’t talk too much and listen more: speak only two sentences at a time and keep it short.
- Use humour.
- Set very clear boundaries.
- Avoid confrontations or ultimatums.
- Remember; tidy rooms don’t matter.
- Regularly give positive feedback, but don’t overdo it – praise needs to be proportionate with the achievement.
- Don’t constantly remind them of their mistakes.
- Talk while doing something together.
- Don’t comment on everything – let some things go by you.
What are the building blocks of a child’s wellbeing?
- Diet – food effects mood. Include lots of eggs, yoghurt, nuts, blueberries and fish oil.
- Exercise – regular exercise not only keeps children physically healthy but mentally alert.
- Sleep – the big issue – ten hours in primary, nine in high school. Ensure there is no technology in the bedroom.
Some of Dr Carr-Gregg’s recommendations
Itstimewetalked.com.au – Reality & Risk: pornography, young people and sexuality
The Brave Program – free online program for helping students understand feelings, including anxiety
Mood Gym – all Dr Carr-Gregg’s clients are advised to use this online program
TED talk on sleep by Professor Russell Foster
Prof Dorothy Bruck – free e-book on sleep health
‘Circle’ & ‘Family Zone’ apps to help you manage content and your child’s time online
How to motivate your child for school and beyond – Prof Andrew Martin
Helping your anxious child – Ron Rapee
Smart Snacks – Michael Carr-Gregg
Strictly Parenting – Michael Carr-Gregg