FACE COVID workbook for children

Right now things are pretty challenging for a lot of families. Even if you are lucky enough to have safe and comfortable accommodation, access to basic necessities and be in a low risk group, there are still challenges for each of us.

I am one of those who is fortunate enough to not have any major challenges right now; however, I that doesn’t mean I haven’t struggled. This week I have found it hard to keep focused on what I can do to help myself.

Right before we went in to social distancing restrictions here in Australia, I finally followed through on a long-term goal of attending a training by Dr Russ Harris (www.actmindfully.com.au). This training was a two day introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which I have been familiar with for a few years, but really wanted to develop my skills in. Since then I have been using his materials frequently in sessions.

Russ is an amazing presenter and therapist, and he generously gives away so much of his time and so many of his resources. He recently developed FACE COVID to support people’s psychological wellbeing during social isolation and the current world health pandemic. This weekend I decided to engage in some committed action and produce a child-friendly version which you can download right here:

Please feel free to circulate this to others or to share. Credit to Russ Harris for the original concept.

A simple daily checklist for coping with social distancing

A lot of us are now socially distancing. The good news is that it is working and everything you are doing is helping us to slow the spread of Coronavirus. But I understand it is tough.

There are a lot of ideas out there on the web to help you and your family during this period of social distancing. Here is a simple checklist you can print and stick to the fridge to help make sure the family stays on track.

Keep safe!

Relational Aggression. What is it? How can you help your child?

What is it?

Relational Aggression has been used as a term for over 25 years to describe behaviours that intend to damage or injure social relationships. Professor Nicki Crick was at the forefront of a lot of research around aggression and she noted that, while research showed that boys tended to engage in more aggressive behaviours, this was because ‘overt’ behaviours were being studied (e.g. verbal or physical aggression). Professor Crick believed that girls were more likely to be aggressive (intending to cause harm) towards relationships, and termed this ‘relational aggression’.

harming others through purposeful manipulation and damage of their peer relationships

Crick and Grotpeter, 1995

Who does it?

Crick and Grotpeter found that around 1 in 6 girls were identified as engaging in relational aggression by their classmates. Research is mixed on whether there are differences between the number of boys and girls who engage in relational aggression, and this is complicated by what is measured (relational aggression or ‘indirect’ aggression). Worryingly, these children are consistently identified as being less well-liked and rate themselves as being more lonely, isolated and depressed. These children are also more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviours at age 15.

It is not clear whether children engage in these relationally aggressive behaviours because they feel lonely and isolated, or whether they become isolated and disliked because of their behaviours.

What can we do?

Family Conflict and Parenting Style Predicts Relational Aggression.

Speiker et al. (2012) summarises a number of factors that can predict relational aggression in primary aged children. Specifically, family conflict, low empathy households and highly controlling/authoritarian parenting all predict whether children are later rated as relationally aggressive.

If you feel you need support to parent in an empathetic, low-conflict way, seek out parenting courses that teach you the skills to help your children.

Loneliness, Isolation and Peer Acceptance.

Children who engage in relationally aggressive behaviours are more likely to rate themselves as lonely and isolated, and their classmates are less likely to see them as likeable. By teaching your children how to make, and keep friends, you will be equipping them with important skills, and this may in turn reduce their need (or desire) to engage in these behaviours.

Your school, local psychology service, or community groups may be able to provide social skills or friendship groups. As a parent, you can talk through problems with your child, and come up with ways to solve the conflicts that will arise in any friendship.


While much more limited, and more relevant to physical aggression, research has also shown that children who are perceived by others to have low self-esteem, are more likely to engage in aggressive behaviours in primary school. It is important to help your child see their own strengths, and to encourage them to pursue interests that grow their sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Interestingly, children who see themselves as having high social acceptance, but are seen as unpopular by their peers, are most likely to be (physically) aggressive. This is thought to be related to poor social information processing in some children. That is, they are not able to understand and interpret social cues and so believe they are more popular than they are.

Taking Action

  • Talk to your child’s school. If your child is experiencing, or engaging in, relational aggression on the playground, talk to their school early. Ensure the school takes your concerns seriously and ask what they are doing to help this. The focus should be on social skills, social problem solving and restorative approaches to repairing the relationships.
  • Skill up. Parenting is hard. It is very normal for parents to need support to manage their own responses and identify ways of parenting that work for them. Triple P and Tuning Into Kids are just two wonderful, evidence-based, parenting groups that can offer support. Individual coaching from a parenting expert or psychologist may also be appropriate.
  • Build their skills. Make sure your child knows how to build relationships, sustain these and repair them when they go wrong. Some children can achieve this by talking through problems and observing, others may need more support in the form of a school- or clinic-based social skills group. Contact your child’s school, or your local psychology service, for more information on what they can offer.

If you have experience with this, please share your helpful tips below. Positive experiences of reducing relational aggression in your/your child’s class are amazingly helpful for others!

Getting a good start in 2020

I know it’s hard to believe that we are almost back at school! The summer has flown by and many of us may still be finishing the Christmas ham. But it’s time to start thinking about school uniforms, book bags and bedtime routines again.

There will, of course, be thousands of families for whom this is not a priority, and who are starting the year without homes, schools or who may have lost family or loved ones in the bushfire tragedies. Even if you have not been directly affected, your children may be experiencing anxiety, distress or uncertainty. This is a normal reaction and there are wonderful resources to help you talk to your children about bushfires from The Victorian Government and Autism Tasmania.

As you move toward the new school year, many parents may be worried about the struggle of getting children back to their usual bed time routine, and making sure they have a positive start. This is particularly true if your child struggled last year. Below are my top five tips for a great start to the new school year:

  1. Get into a routine early! Your child may have gone to bed later, spent more time on devices or eaten a different diet. Now is the time to get some routines in place so they are ready for the new year. If your child is about to start school and has not worn a uniform before, make sure they get used to this, particularly if they have sensory issues. Do a run through of packing bags and lunch boxes. Try to iron out the kinks before that first day!
  2. Get organised. These days most schools will have some form of homework from the first year of school. This is on top of extra-curricular activities and your child’s need for play. Make sure you have a space for your child to do their work and time set aside to do this. Getting into good habits early will reduce the homework battle later on. Use visual schedules and calendars to help your child plan their day and show them how to use these. If you are well organised, your children will learn to be.
  3. Meet with teachers. This won’t be necessary for everyone, and it may be that there is another adult in the school who is a better contact. But this is very important if your child has any additional needs. Do not assume the teacher will have seen any reports by specialists, ask them.
  4. Encourage risk taking (in learning). “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” Children learn by trial and error, and by observing others. In order to encourage your children to have a go at new things and to practice, you need to do the same yourself. A lot of what we teach our children we do without even realising so make sure you use the language of growth when talking about their learning: focus on effort over accuracy; encourage them to compare themselves to their past, not to others; and use ‘two stars and a wish’ to get them to reflect on what they have done well (stars) and what they would improve next time (wish).
  5. Seek help early. If your child is struggling, seek help early. It may be that there is a need for more support from the teacher, or you and the school may feel further assessment is needed. The earlier you get help, the earlier your child will get support.

Let us know your top tips for the school year including brilliant organisation hacks below!

Coping With NAPLAN

This week NAPLAN starts in Victoria. These tests are sat to “provide information for students, parents, teachers and principals about student achievement which can be used to inform teaching and learning programs.” However, more often than not, they cause a huge amount of stress for said students, parents, teachers and principals.

So, what’s the key to surviving NAPLAN?

1. Use a bit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy! The idea behind CBT is that it’s not what happens that causes emotions, but how we think about this. Be aware to catch any catastrophising thinking errors and minimise these (it’s not the end of the world!).

2. Tune in to your child: Even though we want to minimise worries about tests, don’t be dismissive of your child’s anxiety. Using phrases such as “I can see you are feeling worried” can help your child acknowledge their worry and help them to explore why they are worried. It is much easier to help them challenge a thought if they feel accepted and validated, than if they feel you are dismissing their feelings.

3. Use Mindfulness: Be aware of your own body signals that indicate stress. Teach children to use relaxation strategies to manage these. My favourites are simple: breathe slowly and deeply; bring your mind back to the present by noticing or counting something in your environment; give your brain a different problem to solve by counting in 13s, or saying the alphabet backward.

4. Don’t forget self-care: Make sure you have a good bed time routine so your child can sleep well; eat well (don’t skip breakfast!); do things that you love before and after the test.

If you are a parent or teacher looking for further support, please get in touch. Alternatively, if you want to teach a whole class, or group of staff, about stress management, please call or email for a quote for training.

Getting to Know Your New Class

It’s that time of year again!! Schools are starting over the next few days.

What do you do to get to know your class?

Here are some fun ideas I use in therapy:

  • A game of Two Truths and a Lie. Everyone has to come up with two things about themselves, and one lie. Everyone else has to guess which one is the lie!
  • A soccer ball with questions on it. You pass/throw/kick the ball and have to ask the question your hand lands on when you pick it up/catch it. Some questions we have on our ball are: if you were invisible for a day, what would you do? if you could have any superpower, what would it be? when is the last time you laughed?
  • Human Scavenger Hunt. Everyone gets a ‘bingo card’ with a set of descriptors, they have to find someone that matches the description. The first person to fill out the card is the winner. Some descriptors may include: someone who is the oldest child; someone with a sister; someone with a pet fish; someone who has been to New Zealand.
  • Make a Puzzle. I used to buy person shaped jigsaws that could be decorated. Each child would have to write or draw something about themselves (a fact, hobby or something they love) on each puzzle piece.

Let me know what other ideas you have! And good luck at the start of the year.

Emotionally Literate Classrooms: Levels 3-6

The final part of our series of ideas to make your classroom more emotionally literate.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) sets out what students are expected to learn across all year levels from Prep to Grade 10. Alongside the Learning Areas, this curriculum also identifies 4 ‘Capabilities’ that students are expected to meet. These are:

  • Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Ethical
  • Intercultural
  • Personal and Social

The area of Personal and Social Capability focuses on the ability to recognise and express emotions, develop resilience and manage social relationships with sensitivity and collaboration.  While this can be achieved through specific classes aimed at targeting skills, it is also important to have an emotionally literate classroom to support this.

VCAA descriptors:

By the end of Level 4, students explain the consequences of emotional responses in a range of social situations. They recognise personal strengths and challenges and identify skills they would like to develop. They suggest strategies for coping with difficult situations. They persist with tasks when faced with challenges and adapt their approach when first attempts are not successful.

Students discuss the value of diverse perspectives and through their interactions they demonstrate respect for a diverse range of people and groups. They describe factors that contribute to positive relationships with peers, other people at school and in the community. They explain characteristics of cooperative behaviours and they use criteria to identify evidence of this in group activities. They identify a range of conflict resolution strategies to negotiate positive outcomes to problems.

By the end of Level 6, students describe different ways to express emotions and the relationship between emotions and behaviour. They describe the influence that personal qualities and strengths have on achieving success. They undertake some extended tasks independently and describe task progress. They identify and describe personal attributes important in developing resilience.

Students recognise and appreciate the uniqueness of all people. They are able to explain how individual, social and cultural differences may increase vulnerability to stereotypes. They identify characteristics of respectful relationships. They contribute to groups and teams suggesting improvements for methods used in group projects and investigations. They identify causes and effects of conflict and explain different strategies to diffuse or resolve conflict situations.


At this age, children are starting to reflectively monitor emotions, for example noticing how big they are, or understanding more complex feelings. By now they should be able to listen to another person’s point of view, accept feedback or constructive criticism and be able to focus on tasks through to completion. It is important to note that children who feel they do not belong, will often make negative behavioural choices that impact others. Therefore, it is important to create an inclusive classroom atmosphere that is non-judgemental

“children are invariably trying to solve a problem, rather than be one. Their solutions are often misguided because their conception of the problem is faulty, or because their skills leave much to be desired” Herbert (1985)

Ways to create an inclusive and supportive environment are:

  • Provide an emotionally secure and safe environment that takes action to prevent any form of bullying or violence. Teach specific skills that help children to notice and tackle bullying in age-appropriate ways.
  • Be a role model: sometimes teaching can be hard, and it can be easy to snap or criticise. Make sure you act as you wish your pupils to act: praise others, notice the positives, celebrate differences and ensure each child feels included and supported.
  • Mixed Ability Groupings: encourage children to work together in mixed ability groups so the children can each use their strengths (or practice something they need to work on) with reduced pressure to carry all of the load themselves. Some children will need to act as a scribe, some as a leader, some as the reader etc.
  • Use specific interventions for children who may be showing early signs of anxiety or mental ill health: Circle of Friends, Friends for Life (or Fun Friends) and PATHS are three such interventions that can be run in schools by a suitably qualified person, and are proven to increase social inclusion and emotional wellbeing.


Books that teach us about approaching new challenges include:

  • Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume
  • Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss

Children’s books that help to see the world through a different perspective include:

  • All Dogs Have ADHD; All Cats have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann
  • Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
  • The Ant Bully by John Nickle
  • The Hundred Dresses by Wanda Petronski
  • Thank You Mr Falker by Patricia Polacco
  • Wonder by RJ Palacio
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon M Draper

Remember to include stories that show a range of gender roles including:

  • The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams
  • Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky
  • Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmes
  • Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz

Emotionally Literate Classrooms: Level 1 & 2

This is part 2 of a series focusing on how to support emotional development, resilience and relationships in the everyday classroom.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) sets out what students are expected to learn across all year levels from Prep to Grade 10. Alongside the Learning Areas, this curriculum also identifies 4 ‘Capabilities’ that students are expected to meet. These are:

  • Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Ethical
  • Intercultural
  • Personal and Social

The area of Personal and Social Capability focuses on the ability to recognise and express emotions, develop resilience and manage social relationships with sensitivity and collaboration.  While this can be achieved through specific classes aimed at targeting skills, it is also important to have an emotionally literate classroom to support this.

Levels 1 & 2:

By the end of Level 2, students show an awareness of the feelings and needs of others. They identify and describe personal interests, skills and achievements and reflect on how these might contribute to school or family life. They recognise the importance of persisting when faced with new and challenging tasks.

Students recognise the diversity of families and communities. They describe similarities and differences in points of view between themselves and others. They demonstrate ways to interact with and care for others. They describe their contribution to group tasks. They practise solving simple problems, recognising there are many ways to resolve conflict.

At this stage children are learning more about emotions of themselves and of others, they are more able to notice their understanding of the range of emotions is increasing. However, at this stage children will often talk about anger as a bad thing; it is important to teach that no emotions are bad (if we never got angry, we’d never stand up to bullies!!). The important thing is that a) it’s the behaviour that gets us into trouble, not the emotion and b) maintaining an emotion about something that happened in the past is not helpful, this occurs by continuing to think about it in unhelpful ways.

In the classroom, we use strategies to help children show positive social skills toward others, to develop their sense of self and their resilience. We should also be encouraging children to explore the world around them, beyond their immediate family, neighbourhood or culture. Some ways to do this include:

  • Explore character strengths: have a display in the classroom where everyone gets to put up their strengths, achievements or work they are proud of. Celebrate a range of strengths from academic work to sporting, creative, musical or compassionate actions.
  • Multi-cultural celebrations: consider displaying signs in community languages, or inviting people to share their own cultures or celebrations. Allow everyone’s voice to be recognised and celebrated.
  • Have an emotions display: as with Foundation level, children should be encouraged to check in with how they feel throughout the day. What this looks like will change, but it is important to continue this strategy throughout their primary years. A worry box may also be helpful for them to express how they feel in an anonymous way.
  • Have a ‘calm down’ space: exactly as in the Foundation year, this can be called anything and should include nice, relaxing activities or resources that help children to get calm when they notice they are becoming overwhelmed. It may also include a quiet workspace children can move to if they are being distracted.
  • Gratitude Diaries: writing in a gratitude diary once a day has been shown to increase school belonging and academic self-competence.
  • Books: as ever, bibliotherapy is a great way to teach children to normalise their experience, and learn to manage their emotions, behaviours and develop social problem solving skills.

Stories for teaching thinking strategies and problem solving:

  •  Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
  • The Dot by Peter H Reynolds
  • Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
  • Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
  • I Think, I Am by Louise Hay

Books for teaching emotions and appropriate ways to regulate these:

  • The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside
  • Is a Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wolff
  • The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
  • Panicosaurus; The Red Beast; Disappointment Dragon all by Haitham Al Ghani
  • My Mouth is a Volcano; The Worst Day of My Life Ever! by Julia Cook
  • How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath
  • Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen

Books to celebrate individual and family differences:

  • Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
  • It’s Okay to be Different; The Family Book by Todd Parr
  • The Colours of Us by Karen Katz
  • Mommy, Mama and Me; Daddy, Papa and Me by Leslea Newman
  • The Different Dragon by Jennifer Bryan
  • When the Bees Fly Home by Andrea Cheng
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch