Fact Sheet

Understanding Childhood Depression

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

Feeling sad is normal but how can you know if your child’s sadness is indicative of a disorder? The following article discusses what childhood depression is, how it is diagnosed, and what to look out for if you have concerns for your child.

What is Childhood Depression?

Just as in adulthood, children experience a full range of emotions; from happiness and excitement to anger and sadness. According to a recent Australian government survey, 2.8% of children between 4-17 years met criteria for a major depressive disorder (Lawrence et al., 2015). Prevalence rates were higher in the 12-17 years age group, affecting more females than males (5.8% and 4.3% respectively; Lawrence et al., 2015).

Depression is a mood disorder characterised by periods of low mood for most of the day, most days for a period of two weeks (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). How it presents and the severity in which it is experienced varies from individual to individual. In children, depression can present itself more like irritability than typical sadness (Australian Government, 2018).
There is no exact way to predict who is more at risk of developing a depressive disorder. It is a likely combination of biological predisposition (i.e. the child tends to focus on the negatives of a situation) and life circumstances. In children, key social stressors focus on pivotal times of change, including family conflict, friendship trouble and difficulties at school (Siu, 2016).

How is Depression diagnosed?

Diagnoses can be made by psychologists and psychiatrists using clinical interviews and observations in context to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the International Classification of Diseases (DSM-5 and ICD-11 respectively; APA, 2013; World Health Organisation, 2018). Screening questionnaires like the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS; Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995), may be a useful tool to help discern whether an individual is experiencing clinical depression.

To be diagnosed, at least five of the following symptoms need to be observed over a minimum two week period. At least one of the symptoms is either depressed mood or loss of interest/pleasure (APA, 2013). Other symptoms include significant weight changes, sleeping difficulties, psychomotor agitation or slowing, fatigue, feeling worthless or guilty unnecessarily, reduced concentration, and/or thoughts of suicide. These symptoms need to be having a significant impact on different areas of your child’s life (e.g. socially, at school, at home).

Presentations will vary and an initial consultation between the child and psychologist and the parent would best determine whether they are expected to meet the criteria.

Early Signs to look out for

Identifying characteristics of depression in a child can be difficult. Concerns may arise due to the ‘absence’ of behaviours considered to be ‘normal’ development and the ‘presence’ of behaviours considered to be ‘abnormal’ development. Consider seeking help if your child is demonstrating the following behaviours (Australian Government, 2018):

Emotional Signs Physical Signs Behavioural Signs
Feeling Sad Weight gain or loss Difficulty sleeping (too much or little), nightmares
Saying negative comments about themselves or the world around them
e.g “I am not good at anything”
Feeling tired, lethargic. Hard to get your child motivated. E.g. ‘dragging their feet’ Trouble at school; with friendship groups or concentrating in class/grades slipping
Gives up easily, hopelessness e.g. “what is the point in trying, I won’t be able to do it” Deliberate harm to self No longer enjoying games or activities e.g. wanting to drop out of the soccer team. Avoids social interaction
Irritability, grumpiness Dizziness Changes to eating
Low confidence Tummy Aches Bed Wetting
Sensitive to rejection or being told no Cry easily Poor memory forgets details or doesn’t seem to listen
Indecisive Jumpy, cannot settle Risk-taking behaviours particularly in adolescence e.g. drug taking

 

Following diagnosis, recommendations for treatment are provided and they are tailored to each unique needs. Typically, the most common treatment for depression involves a cognitive behavioural approach (Australian Psychological Society, 2018). In addition to working directly with the child, treatment considerations may include working with the parents/carers and family systems to provide strategies to assist at home.

Remember that your child will experience good days and bad days. If you are concerned your child may be depressed, talk to them, and check in on anything that may be troubling them. This can be difficult as they may not know how to verbally communicate the issue. Be supportive and remember, what you might be able to cope with, your child may be finding difficult.

Strategies for Parents

Whether you are worried about your child exhibiting some of the aforementioned childhood depression symptoms, or you are looking to help prevent the onset of childhood depressions  symptoms, the following strategies may be used to support your child:

Keep your child active. Research indicates that children that participate in regular physical activity are more likely to exhibit fewer depressive symptoms in later years (Zahl, Steinsbekk, & Wichstrom, 2017).

  • Ensure a good diet. Changes to eating patterns is a key sign of depression (APA, 2013). Ensuring your child is well nourished with a balanced diet with limited refined sugar has been shown to foster better mental health in children (O’Neil et al., 2014).
  • Develop a good parent-child relationship. Parent rejection has been shown to have a strong relationship with childhood depression (McLeod, Weisz, & Wood, 2007). A parent that is actively involved in presents as interested and encouraging will help your child develop a healthy sense of self.
  • Social and emotional learning. Teaching your child to recognise different emotions and label them as they are being experienced can help them to better manage experiences of overwhelming emotion (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2008). It can also help your child to develop better social connections.

Seeking Intervention

Whether your child has a formal diagnosis or not, you know your child best. Start intervention as soon as you suspect that your child’s mood is detrimentally affecting their daily functioning.

Here at The Quirky Kid Clinic, our experienced team of Psychologists are more than happy to meet with you to discuss any concerns you have in relation to your child’s development and behaviour.

We always start with a parent only consultation to ensure that we get a thorough understanding of your child’s developmental history and a sense of your families identity, history and cultural dynamics. From here we provide an individualised case plan dependent on your child and families needs.

Please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly reception on (02) 9362 9297.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Australian Government. (2018) Depression. Retrieved September 3rd, 2018, from https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/mental-health-matters/mental-health-difficulties/depression

Australian Psychological Society. (2018). Evidence-based interventions in the treatment of mental disorder: A review of the literature. Retrieved from https://www.psychology.org.au/About-Us/What-we-do/advocacy/Position-Papers-Discussion-Papers-and-Reviews/psychological-interventions-mental-disorders

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing student’s social and emotional learning: a meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x.

Lawrence D., Johnson S., Hafekost J., Boterhoven De Haan K., Sawyer M., Ainley J., & Zubrick S. R. (2015). The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra, Australia: Department of Health.

Lovibond, S. H., & Lovibond, P. F. (1995). Manual for the depression anxiety stress scales. Sydney: Psychology Foundation.

McLeod, B. D., Weisz, J. R., & Wood, J. J. (2007). Examining the association between parenting and childhood depression: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 27(8), 986-1003. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2007.03.001

O’Neil, A., Quirk, S. E., Housden, S., Brennan, S., L., Williams, L. J., Pasco, J. A., … Jacka, F. N. (2014). Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: A systematic review. American Journal of Public Health, 104(10), 31-42. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302110

Parenting Strategies (2018). Preventing depression and anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.parentingstrategies.net/depression/

Siu A. (2016). Screening for Depression in Children and Adolescents: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. Annals of Internal Medicine, 164(5), 360-366. doi: 10.7326/M15-2957

World Health Organisation (2018). International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision (ICD-11).  Retrieved 21 August, 2018, from https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en

Zahl, T., Steinsbekk, S., & Wichstrom, L. (2017). Physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and symptoms of major depression in middle childhood. American Academy of Pediatrics, 139(2). doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-1711

 

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How Sarah Scully used Quirky Kid Resources with Clients in Canada.

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

Quirky Kid Therapeutic Resources in Canada

At Quirky Kid, we are committed to developing engaging and creative therapeutic resources and evidence-based programs (see Basecamp, The Best of Friends and Power Up) for use in clinics and classrooms around the world.

One of our most popular resources is the Quirky Kid Pack, which contains 11 resources for a range of applications. Each tool has been carefully designed by our team to assist clinicians in building social, communication, and self-awareness skills with their clients.

Their use and application have grown significantly since they were first published and we love hearing from our customers around the world about how they implement the resources in their clinic.

Recently, we were contacted by Sarah Scully, a Mental Health Clinician/Behavioural Consultant with the Developmental Disabilities Mental Health Services in British Columbia, Canada. Sarah reached out to share her experience in using the Quirky Kid pack. Her reflection highlights how this resource can be used with a diverse range of clients and settings.

Sarah’s team is made up of psychiatric nurses, mental health clinicians, behavioural consultants, art therapists and occupational therapists. They provide mental health services to people with an IQ below 70 and who live with a psychiatric illness or challenging behaviour.

Read Sarah’s case study:

I am fairly new to the Developmental Disabilities Mental Health Services team in Canada and had to deliver a presentation to my senior staff members, with the goal to work on our youth team as a counsellor, I shared my secret weapon…Quirky Kids resources.

I own and love the Quirky Kid Pack and presented on how I use these resources with my client population; adults with intellectual disabilities (ID).

Quirky Kid Therapeutic Resources with Clients in Canada

I shared how I use ‘Face It Cards to help my clients expand on their emotional literacy.  Somewhat similar to young children, many of my ID clients have the basics; mad, sad, happy and not much else. These cards help expand their emotional vocabulary and provide a fun way to notice the nuances of different facial expressions.  In learning new feelings and emotions my clients are able to start relating to and naming their physiological experiences.  By getting to understand what my client is feeling, I can support them and the people around them to enhance their mental health.  When a facial expression comes up that a client can not name, we discuss the possibilities of what the person is thinking or feeling, making it a great way to develop empathy.

I also told my tea how I use ‘Face It Cards’ in a projective way, helping my clients deal with a history of trauma, abuse or loss. I use the cards to enable my clients to speak about the picture they see, rather than themselves. There is often hidden gems of truth in the stories created by my clients, which can be used therapeutically. I have successfully used the cards to encourage conversation about past experiences, which can open up a dialogue and courage clients to share their stories and feelings.

 

There is often hidden gems of truth in the stories created by my clients, which can be used therapeutically.  I had one client who expressed, for nearly every card, “someone said something bad to her”, or “someone must have said something nice to her”.  This encouraged a conversation about her past experiences of being bullied as a child, which related to her current feelings of being unheard by her support team today.  These patterns can open up a new dialogue and encourage clients to share their stories and feelings.

I love to use ‘Tell Me a Story Cards’ as Icebreakers.  When meeting a new client, it helps to build trust and rapport while sharing information that you wouldn’t normally share, like the farthest you ever swam!  Poor self-esteem and negative self-talk is something I commonly see in the people I serve. I use the ‘Tell Me a Story Cards’ with clients to reinforce their accomplishments and obstacles they have overcome.

Finally, I like to use the ‘Just Like When Cards as social stories. Often, adults with disabilities have little in the way of social connection and may not understand social norms and behaviour.  These cards are a good way to explore social scenarios while talking through their personal experiences or making up stories based on the images.  These cards also encourage empathy for others.

 

Summary

One of the best things about these amazing resources is that, although they are meant for children, they are not immature.  They translate extremely well to adults with intellectual disabilities. So often, this population is infantilized and treated as permanent children as they struggle to establish their own independence as adults with extra support needs.  The Quirky Kid cards are a great way to meet my clients in a developmentally appropriate but respectful way.

I am happy to say that the presentation was a success and I was offered the position.  I am looking forward to kids aged 12-19 and hoping to get more use out of my ‘Likes of Youth Cards’!

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Building Social and Emotional Learning during the School Holidays

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

child inside a backpack. social and emotional skills for kids

The school holiday period can be a great time to reflect on the last term, prepare for upcoming changes and review skills that need to be improved.

Returning to school is typically experienced with mixed emotions. For some parents, it is a welcome relief after what feels like a very long holiday. For others, the return to school signals the end of a carefree, relaxing break and there can be feelings of sadness and/or anxiety associated with the return to routine and the academic and social demands associated with the school.

Children and young people equally experience a range of feelings about the return to school. For some, there is great excitement about starting a new school, seeing friends or perhaps finding out who their new teacher will be. For others, there may be sadness about the end of the holidays or anxiety about a raft of possible concerns such as making friends in their new class or coping with the work/homework requirements.

A tried and test way to prepare for changes and transitions is by focusing on your child’s social and emotional adjustment.

Tips to Help Your Child Settle Into Term 3

Whilst a lot of focus is placed on the academic tasks associated with school, paying particular attention to a child’s social and emotional adjustment over the coming weeks/months is also critical. Below are 3 tips to get you started:

  • Make time to check in with your child about how they are feeling and coping with the school year so far. It’s important to really listen to what your child is saying. To do this, begin by just repeating back or paraphrasing what your child is telling you. Where your child is experiencing uncertainty try to normalise this and remind your child that it can take a few weeks to really settle in. It is not uncommon for children (and parents) to express disappointment about a new teacher they may have been assigned or about the discovery that they don’t have as many close friends in their class. Rather than jumping to solve the problem for your child, build resilience by encouraging your child to come up with some ideas about ways to help themselves cope in such a situation.
  • It can often be a good idea to make time to check in with your child’s teacher as soon as terms resume. Whilst you will, of course, wish to discuss their educational strengths/weaknesses, also address how your child is feeling about their progress and to highlight anything (e.g. camp, homework) that may be worrying your child.  Make sure you also discuss your child’s social skills with the teacher. If they are struggling with friends, ask your child’s teacher how the school can help in facilitating friendships. If your child has had any ongoing incidents of bullying/teasing it is critical to mention this again and ask how they can help to ensure that such incidents don’t occur again during the next terms. Equally, if your child has a history of seeking attention from others in a class by misbehaving, check on how this is been handled at school. Teachers will undoubtedly find your insights into what works and what doesn’t work at home very useful.
  • Encourage friendships and further consolidate social skills in by organising playdates or outings with any new classmates made throughout the term. Whilst children often request existing friends, it can be worthwhile trying to extend friendship networks by inviting new children over. This is not only good for your child but can also help to expand social support networks for you as a parent. In secondary school, it is equally important to encourage friendships by providing opportunities for your son/daughter to have friends over or by offering to drive them to a movie etc. This not only helps foster friendships but also gives parents valuable insights into the type of friendships that your child is building.

Why social-emotional learning is so important

The importance of focusing on the social and emotional well being of children is becoming increasingly acknowledged. In the current climate of increasing rates of mental illness in young people and concern over youth suicide rates, the NSW government has reportedly decided to tackle the problem more aggressively by proposing to adopt a more preventative approach in addressing such issues. The Government’s decision to begin at the grassroots level and start better-educating school-aged children (from Kindergarten) about mental health issues is welcome news to everyone here at Quirky Kid.

The changes to the Personal Development, Health, Physical Education (PDHPE) syllabus which are apparently due for implementation from 2020 include a more comprehensive effort to address social-emotional learning and mental health issues from primary school onwards. Beginning in Kindergarten, it is proposed that children will begin with simple social-emotional concepts such as feelings and building relationships with others, but as they progress to higher grades the aim will be to address important issues such as coping with success and failure, overcoming adversity, grief and death, coping with controlling behaviour in others, domestic violence, and substance abuse.

Helping Children to Build Important Social-Emotional Skills

Equipping children to cope with the social and emotional demands of school fosters increased coping and resilience skills. The evidence suggests that well developed social and emotional skills are both protective and helpful. Strong social and emotional skills in children not only predict fewer behavioural problems in the classroom but they are also related to positive academic outcomes and improved school performance  (Myles-Pallister, Hassan, Rooney, & Kane, 2014; January, Casey & Paulson, 2011; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011)

The government and other mental health agencies hope that by tackling such topics in school and by better-educating children about mental health, steps will be made to not only demystify such issues but will crucially equip children with a more effective toolkit for managing difficult feelings. It is further hoped that lessons learned at school will have a lasting impact as children become adults.

How Can Quirky Kid help develop your child’s social-emotional learning skills?

At The  Quirky Kid Clinic, we are strong advocates for prevention and early intervention when it comes to children’s mental health issues. Prevention, is, of course, the preferred approach. In our experience, providing intervention to children and families before problems become too entrenched can often be the key to success. Where issues have been developing for some time, it can be much harder to address problems and for both the child and family such situations can feel insurmountable.

The Best of Friends® gives children the knowledge skills and confidence to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, develop and maintain friendships and make good decisions. Designed for children aged 7 to 11, the program teaches these critical skills to children in an age-appropriate and practical way.

So embrace this potentially challenging time with your son/daughter and remember children tend to take the lead from their parents. With this in mind, try to model calm, brave behaviour whilst at the same time keeping the doors of communication wide open. By adopting these strategies your child should feel a little braver about adapting to their new classroom, teacher and school expectations.

Term 3 Social and Emotional Learning Programs for Children

If you are looking for a more extensive approach to preparing your child for Term 3, book now for our The Best of Friends® holiday and Term 3 Programs.

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References:

Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011).  The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions.  Child Development, 82(1), 405-432

January, A.M., Casey, R.J., & Paulson, D. (2011). A Meta-Analysis of Classroom-Wide Interventions to Build Social Skills: Do They Work?.  School Psychology Review, 40(2), 242-256

Myles-Pallister, J.D., Hassan, S., Rooney, R.M. & Kane, R.T. (2014).  The efficacy of the enhanced Aussie Optimum Positive Thinking Skills Program in improving social and emotional learning in middle childhood.  Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 909.

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Breaking Bad News to Your Children

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

Breaking Bad News to children

Allied health professionals, such as psychologists, can undergo years of training and practical experience to build their communication skills to deliver difficult news sensitively. They quickly learn that, when it comes to delivering bad news to children, it is essential to be prepared.

Parents, however, may need to learn as they go. At some point, all parents will have to communicate difficult or unpleasant situations to their children. Whether it’s the death of a family pet, moving away, separation/divorce, or harder still, the passing of a loved one – children and parents will need help navigating their emotional responses and behaviours through these tough times.

Clearly, this is a daunting task for anyone as we may feel inadequate to handle such situations. Research and experience tell us that the key is to let children know you are available to answer all questions and to provide as much support as needed. 

Here are some other top tips for delivering –  and dealing with the aftermath – of delivering bad news to your children.

1# Be honest

Lay out the facts at a level that is developmentally suited to the age of the child. Younger children may need help to understand the implications of the bad news and what it means for them. For example, approaching the topic of death or loss may result in a conversation about what death really means. Use words they understand and avoid saying things in such a way that might leave children confused about what you’re really saying.  Speak clearly.

For teenagers, it is particularly important not to “sugarcoat” or limit details of the information, as this is often perceived to be dishonest or patronising. A study of young adults revealed that if they viewed their parents to be hiding something, or later found out that the parents had not been entirely truthful, the response was negative.

2# Be prepared to answer their questions

Children want their questions answered.

In fact, a survey of young adults revealed those who had access to the information they wanted from their parents in times of crisis were much more satisfied than those who were told  to ask “no questions.” It is essential to schedule a time when there is enough opportunity for children to react and to think about what they want to ask, and for you to have time to respond calmly.

Avoid having difficult conversations immediately before school or work as this may be met with stress and anxiety without the chance to address these feelings appropriately.

Additionally, be prepared for awkward or tricky questions and be ready to answer them if you can. If you can’t answer a particular question, it is okay to admit you don’t know, rather than over-complicate an explanation.

3# Respect their ability to cope with the news, and their right to hear it

Respecting children’s developmental stage and maturity is essential. No one likes to be talked down to. Children whose parents speak to them as ‘equals’ feel respected and trusted, and are likely to respond with more maturity in a problematic situation.

In a research study by Donovan, Thompson, LeFebvre, and Tollison (2017) early adult respondents who perceived that their parents discussed tough issues with them more as peers, reported higher ratings of disclosure quality and in turn, greater relational closeness following the disclosure.

4# Provide reassurance

It is an essential role of parents to provide comfort and reassurance to children in stressful or distressing times. Let them it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling (e.g. sadness, anger). Confirm that these emotions are entirely valid responses to the situation.

Reassure them that you will be available to answer any questions or talk about this situation again at any time. Reassure them that they are loved.

5# Model good self-care

Share how you feel. Experiencing difficult situations, as well as talking about it with others, can be exhausting. Taking care of your own emotional well-being is essential and being honest is part of it.

Besides, it is perfectly okay to let your kids see that you are sad, angry, upset, etc. This gives them a chance to see how emotions affect other people and to learn how to regulate them effectively.

Parents are emotional role models, especially in times of crisis, and your children will inevitably look to you to assess what is an appropriate response in these times. Be natural and talk about it.

6# Seek help for yourself and your child(ren) if needed

This all being said, it is essential to reach out for help when needed; both for yourself, and for your child.

Calling on your support network and sharing how you feel or what do you need, can help everyone to cope better.

Additionally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or the kids seem to be having an especially hard time coping, find a child psychologist who can work with your family. Child psychologists can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. You can contact the  Quirky Kid.

References

Brott, A.(2014, September 29) 9 tips for breaking bad news to kids[Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/knowmore-tv/9-tips-for-breaking-bad-news-to-kids_b_5623488.html

Donovan, E. E., Thompson, C. M., LeFebvre, L., & Tollison, A. C. (2017). Emerging adult confidants’ judgments of parental openness: disclosure quality and post-disclosure relational closeness. Communication Monographs, 84(2), 179-199. doi:10.1080/03637751.2015.1119867

Levetown, M. (2008). Communicating With Children and Families: From Everyday Interactions to Skill in Conveying Distressing Information. Pediatrics, 121(5), e1441-e1460. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-0565

Livoti, N.(2013, June 30)Honesty and reassurance is key when talking to kids about bad news[Blog post]. Retrieved from: http://www.pennlive.com/bodyandmind/index.ssf/2013/06/honesty_and_reassurance_is_key.html

Marshall, L.B.(2016, July 8). How to break bad news to your teen. Retrieved from: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/business-career/communication/how-to-break-bad-news-to-your-teen

 

Surviving Long Trips with Kids

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Posted on by Dr. Kimberley O'Brien

Surving long distance travel with Kid.

Long distance travel is often intimidating for parents. The combination of energetic kids, and prolonged periods of time in a confined space seems like a recipe for disaster. However, by preparing in advance, being flexible to change and following these tips compiled by the Quirky Kid team, your long distance travel experience can be more positive, rewarding, and fun for children and parents.

Tip #1 Let Kids Play a Role in Planning the Itinerary

Make the trip more inclusive and enjoyable for kids by letting them have a say in the kind of places they would like to visit, sites they would like to see, and activities they would like to do along the way. Letting them take part in family decision-making teaches children valuable skills as they learn to advocate for what they want, listen to others’ wishes and make compromises. It also keeps them excited and interested and gives them specific things to look forward to. Furthermore,  acts as an incentive and a reward for sitting through the parts of the trip that less suit their preference.

It may not always be feasible, and children may not always come up with appropriate suggestions, but letting them select between a couple of alternatives that you deem acceptable and possible (e.g. stopping at a pool along the way, or, having a picnic at a roadside park/playground) is a great way to make the trip pleasant for all.

Tip #2 Avoid Relying on Screens to Keep Kids Busy

It is tempting to keep kids occupied with screens on long haul trips. Phones, Ipads, and laptops are easy time-fillers on the road. Dr. Kimberley O’Brien, principal Child Psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic, warns about the use of technology to keep kids preoccupied, particularly for long periods of time. While it may not always be avoidable, it is recommended to try all other entertainment avenues before turning on the screens, and ideally avoid using them at all when only travelling short distances.

An alternative strategy Dr. Kimberley suggests is planning for the trip well in advance, and packing a “kid-box” to keep kids entertained throughout the journey. The box can be filled with resources that are specific to each child, by asking them before you take to the road to “imagine they are on a long trip, and to think about the kind of things they would like to do”.

Here are some suggestions of fun activities for your long trip with kids:

  • Activity books (such as, colouring-in or dot-to-dot books) and story books/audiobooks
  • A great creative resource is the Tell Me A Story cards. These cards encourage kids to recall and retell some of their most extreme moments (“Bravest!” “Fastest!” “Highest!”), while uncovering a sense of pride in their past achievements and skills. Kids love hearing and telling stories, especially true stories, and it is an engaging and interactive way to pass the time together.
  • If you want to get more creative on the road, a few erasable whiteboard markers can turn the car windows into works of art, or a simple cooking tray can be turned into a magnetic play table using assorted fridge magnets (e.g. letters and numbers) or with a magnetic puzzle to keep all the pieces stuck in one place.

Tip #3 Take Frequent Breaks

A recent study (Morris & Guerra, 2015) examined 22 000 frequent travellers’ responses, in order to explore the link between trip duration and mood during travel. Not surprisingly, trip duration was found to negatively influence mood, primarily due to rising levels of stress and fatigue over the course of the journey. To combat this, consider frequent breaks where possible. Children have shorter attention spans than adults (Cowan, Fristoe, Elliott, Brunner, & Saults, 2006) and have not yet fully developed impulse control (Tarullo, Obradovic, & Gunnar, 2009). This means they will quickly become restless, fidgety, and uncomfortable if not given the opportunity to change environments and ideally, move around.

Taking breaks on family trips with kids where possible is important for drivers and passengers, both for safety and sanity. For kids, the opportunity to get out of the car should also involve some form of physical activity to let them burn off some steam. While this may mean allowing extra travel time to reach your destination, it makes the trip more bearable for all.

Tip #4 Plan Your Snacks (and take plenty of them)

Nutritionists admit that on the road with family it is often convenient to fall back on take-away foods and processed snacks from roadside stops. Sugary and highly-processed foods are not ideal and giving kids more energy that they are not likely to use up in the car is likely to backfire. Additionally, unhealthy snack options can deplete energy levels and leave you feeling drained over the course of a long drive. Nutritious treats can be prepared at home for easy on-the-go snacking and keep everyone feeling happy and healthy over the journey. Additionally, having access to plenty of snacks while travelling, giving kids a choice as to what they want to eat, sharing and divvying up snacks as the trip goes, is often a welcome distraction.

Tip #5 Use travel as a teaching/learning opportunity (for yourself & the kids)

Sometimes a change of mindset is needed. We often view travelling with kids as something impossible and difficult, or as the kind of trip you suffer through to get to your destination. In reality, travelling is a wonderful opportunity to share exciting, new experiences as a family and learn about other places, cultures, and ways-of-life. In fact, a study (2006) conducted by researchers at Clemson University (U.S.), used data compiled from the U.S. Department of Education, and found that kids who travel over their vacation/holiday period (no matter their destination) tended to perform better academically at school (indicated by better performance on standardised tests of reading, maths and general knowledge) than peers who didn’t travel.

To make the most of this learning opportunity, Quirky Kid recommends encouraging children to hit the books/computers to do some research and learn more about the trip and destination before you go, and encouraging kids to keep a travel journal. This could be in the form of drawings, photos, hand-written pieces, blogs, or whatever strikes their fancy. Not only does it keep them busy and help them remember the experience, it can be shared and enjoyed with friends and family on your return. The kids will love to show it off and tell everyone about how much fun they had on their family trip.


References

Butler, N (2016, June 3) Eight Kid-Pleasing, Healthy Road Trip Snacks. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/healthy-road-trip-snacks

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