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An approach social workers can use with parents to help support healthy child development by assisting parents to navigate child development issues using various strategies, e.g. positive parenting and the navigating waters analogy

This page has three sections:

  1. Background Material that provides the context for the topic

  2. A suggested Practice Approach

  3. A list of Supporting Material / References

Feedback welcome!

Background Material

Siegel, D. H. (2016). Parenting skills training: When does it fit? Social Work Today, 16(5), 22. Retrieved from

Many parents receive parenting skills training. It does not always work and reviews of the literature on the effectiveness of parenting skills training produces mixed pictures regarding effectiveness. The question to ask is: "What kind of parenting skills training works, with what kinds of parents, with what kinds of children, and under what conditions?" As well, "Is parenting skills training called for in this particular case?"

The uncertain picture about the effectiveness of different parent training programs is only one of many reasons to think critically about routinely requiring parent training for parents who abuse, neglect or are struggling with their children.

Consider the possibility that some parents who struggle actually have in their behavioural repertoires the parenting skills they need but may simply not have access to those skills when hobbled by fatigue, overwhelming financial worries, or stressors that trigger trauma reactions. When triggered, a traumatized parent may unconsciously dissociate, freeze, flee, or self-medicate with substance use—in short, be unable to access her or his parenting skills.

A parent who endured trauma as a child may be triggered by his or her own child's behaviour or by the normal stressors that accompany parenting any child. What that parent needs is not training in how to create daily routines at home, use active listening, set limits, be consistent, or use rewards, time out, or logical consequences. Rather, that parent needs help acquiring distress tolerance, emotional self-regulation, grounding, self-compassion, and mindfulness skills so he or she can self-soothe and bring the prefrontal cortex back in line in stressful moments. Similarly, standard parenting skills training might not fit a child who is neuroatypical, unable to process verbal instructions, or dealing with trauma, innate impulsivity, anxiety, depression, and a host of other conditions.

When determining whether and what parenting skills training package to use with a client, the most relevant question social workers should ask themselves is, "What does this particular client need? What, if any, specific evidence-based parenting skills training package is the right fit for this person?"

It's important to remember that just because an intervention worked for most clients that doesn't mean it will work for another client. One size does not fit all. Clients often get interventions that are deemed evidence-based or readily available or that workers prefer, rather than interventions that are best fits for the particular client at hand.


NSPCC. (2020). Need to know guides: Positive parenting. Retrieved from

Understanding a child’s needs will help parents better understand the child.

  • Babies behave as they do to get their needs met. Parents who are stressed may feel their baby is being naughty. This is not possible.

  • All toddlers test limits and have tantrums—they are unable to control their emotions. Naughty behaviour in toddlers is a sign of growing up.

  • School age children are constantly learning and exploring their world. They may have lots of questions as they start to form their own views on issues. As they move towards being more independent they may seem to push boundaries and become more challenging, a necessary part of growing up.

  • As children continue to develop their own identities in their teenage years, they might become more challenging – sometimes seeming “moody” or withdrawn or not as talkative and open as their parents would like. They might be more inclined to disagree with their parents or choose different views. Friends (and celebrities) will become a bigger influence and children may not always do what parents would like.

How to set boundaries All children need love, guidance and to have rules and boundaries. Rules and boundaries help families to understand how to behave towards each other, and what’s OK and not OK. But the best way to go about this will vary based on your child’s age and stage of development. All children are different and develop and reach milestones at different rates.

  • Introduce boundaries from an early age.

  • Keep guidance simple and consistent.

  • If your child is behaving in a way you don’t want them to, clearly explain what you want them to do instead.

  • Try to avoid using orders or ultimatums.

  • Be available and make time so your child will come to you when they feel something is wrong or they are upset.

  • Keep talking and listening to your child even if at times it feels like a challenge. Start listening from a very early age and set a pattern for life.

  • Review family rules as your child gets older and recognise the different needs of children living at home. For example, you shouldn’t expect the same from your 12-year-old as you would from your four-year-old.

  • Get support from friends and try any good ideas they have found helpful.

  • If you are struggling and things are getting out of hand, get advice from your GP, a health visitor, or your child’s teacher

For school age and teenagers

  • Be willing and give your child chances to show they can be trusted.

  • Avoid criticism wherever possible. If your child has done something wrong, explain that it is the action and not them that you’re unhappy with.

  • Try to avoid getting trapped in petty arguments, there are rarely any winners!

  • Consider ways to negotiate or offer choices as your child gets older.

Rewards and discipline Children can respond in different ways to certain rewards and disciplines. Only the parent will know what works for a child. Some examples include:

  • Praise children, even for the little things they do.

  • Reward positive behaviour and consider asking what a good reward would be.

  • Avoid making rash decisions when you’re angry.

  • Talk to your child about the rewards and consequences of their behaviour and do it before rather than after.

  • Take time to really listen to what your children are saying and explain to them what you are feeling.

  • Be a role model and don’t do things that you wouldn’t want your children to do.

Keeping your cool Manage stress and anger by:

  • Accepting support (family, friends, other avenues)

  • Making time for yourself

  • Getting help (seek advice, e.g. GP)

  • Being as prepared as possible (think ahead and prepare for potential problems)

  • Be proud of what you achieve – don’t overlook success

Build positive relationships Spend time with your child and learn together. This can help increase your child’s confidence, strengthen your bond and also help you to better understand their needs.

  • Show your child you’re interested in what they like. Think of enjoyable activities you can do together.

  • Think of times when you have seen a positive change in your child’s behaviour and anything you could learn from that experience.

  • Ask your child for their views and be willing to listen. This can help you to see things from their view.

  • Don’t give up or be too hard on yourself if things don’t immediately change. Focus on small steps and achievable goals.

  • Be prepared to compromise and admit you’re wrong.

Sanson, A. (2020). How to support children’s wellbeing in the face of climate change. Retrieved from

Surveys show that most children know about climate change and are worried about its impact on their future. They can demonstrate:

  • fear and anxiety over what the future will bring

  • distress, grief, and a sense of loss over loved places and animals that are being lost

  • anger and frustration at the adult generation, especially decision-makers, for causing the issue but doing so little to address it

  • helplessness – feeling there is nothing they can do themselves to stop climate change

  • despair and hopelessness – believing that decision-makers will not take the urgent action that is needed.

It is important to recognise that while they are rational responses and can motivate action, for some children these feelings can be debilitating, leading to reactions like nightmares, numbness, and despair.

Four broad strategies can be adopted to help children manage their feelings around climate change and cope effectively:

1. Listen and respond to their feelings and concerns

  • create times and places for children to share their feelings safely

  • recognise their feelings as valid (e.g. ‘Yes, I can understand that you feel scared, it’s a big problem.’)

  • avoid false reassurances but give messages of realistic hope (see below).

2. Find out what they know and build their understanding

  • respond to children’s questions honestly (while still taking their age into account)

  • correct misunderstandings – some children have exaggerated fears

  • help them to learn basic climate science, emphasising solutions

3. Build ‘realistic hope’

‘Realistic hope’ means acknowledging that humanity is facing a huge and urgent problem, but that it is still possible to prevent climate change from worsening. Adults can:

  • explain that people already know how to stop carbon emissions and draw down the excess carbon already in the atmosphere

  • show children how lots of good people are working on the problem – from scientists and engineers to farmers, communities, and activists

  • give them examples of the big problems we have solved before, such as abolishing slavery and apartheid, winning women the right to vote, and saving the Franklin River

  • build their sense of efficacy and control by showing them how many people, working together, solved these big problems.

4. Build their capacity to take action

  • treat children not just as victims of climate change, but also as problem-solvers with a right to be involved

  • view children not only as consumers, but also as citizens

  • model environmentally responsible behaviour and expect children to do the same

  • build children’s active citizenship skills by, for example, helping them to make posters, write letters, visit their MPs, join climate action groups, and take action themselves if they wish to.

See the full article for a list of resources from the Australian Psychological Society, Sanson et. al., and New Zealand’s climate change curriculum resource material.

Emerging Minds. (1 January, 2024). 8 tips to help your child manage back-to-school anxiety 

  1. Look for signs the child might be feeling anxious as each term approaches. 

Things to look out for include:

  • physical symptoms, such as stomach aches, headaches or nausea

  • trouble sleeping

  • changes in appetite; or

  • changes in behaviour.

Separation anxiety (becoming excessively anxious or upset when separated from parents) is common among younger children, while older children and teenagers may have trouble concentrating or seem overly tired or irritable more often. It’s also important to be aware of what’s happening in the child’s social life and look out for signs their anxiety could be caused by bullying.

2.     Create time and space to talk with the child about what’s on their mind, e.g. a couple of minutes in the car.

3.     Ask open-ended questions, e.g. ‘How are you feeling about starting/going back to school?’

4.     Acknowledge the child’s feelings, e.g. “I can see why you would be worried about starting in a new class. I know that lots of kids feel anxious about making new friends.” Parents don’t need to have all the answers.

5.     Get organised together, e.g. their school bag, practising the journey to school, creating a back-to-school checklist and/or a weekly schedule

6.     Help the child come up with a list of ways to manage their anxiety and support them to practise these strategies, e.g. physical activity, breathing and relaxation exercises.

7.     Find ways to help the child feel excited about going to school, e.g. talk about the fun activities they’ll do at school, sign up for extracurricular activities.

8.     Acknowledge the child’s efforts and praise them for doing something they were anxious about.

Emerging Minds. (2023). How to talk to children about war and conflict.

It can be hard to know how to explain war and conflict to children, or if you should even talk about it at all. However, in today’s ever-connected world, it’s difficult to keep all media and information from reaching them. Children may feel scared, angry, confused or overwhelmed by the events of the conflict, even if they don’t have a personal connection to the country or peoples involved. They will be looking to the trusted adults in their life for help, comfort and guidance. The following tips can help parents have honest, age-appropriate conversations with their children about war and conflict.

  • Check in with yourself first: You might need to talk to a friend about your own concerns first so you can remain calm and in control with speaking with children.

  • Try to choose a quiet moment, e.g. when doing an activity (for younger children) or taking a car ride (for older children).

  • Ask your child if they’ve heard or seen anything about the war and what they know about it: Let them ask any questions and answer honestly without graphic or violent details. Reassure them they are safe.

  • Follow your child’s lead in the conversation and monitor how they respond.

  • Ask how they’re feeling about what’s happening: Children often hide distress. Accept feelings without judgement.

  • Avoid negative and judgemental language: Remind your child that we cannot blame an entire cultural, ethnic or religious group for the actions of their government or an extremist group. Discuss your beliefs and values around how others should be treated.

  • Limit their exposure to coverage of war or conflict: Check in regularly about what they’re seeing online.

  • Discuss what to do if they experience any aggress or hate from other people either online or in the community: Explain others differ about their perspective on the war. If people become aggressive they should go to a trusted adult.

  • Try to follow the conversation up with a calming, enjoyable activity, e.g. drawing, going for a walk, reading together.

  • Plan to have multiple conversations: Check in regularly.

  • Be careful when taking about the war in front of your child: Children will often pick up emotions and tone of voice and misunderstand what they hear.

Other resources

Evans-Whipp, T. (2021). Promoting adequate sleep in young people. CFCA News, June 10, 2021. Retrieved from

The Australian Department of Health recommends between 9 and 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep for young people aged 12–13 years and between 8 and 10 hours of sleep for those aged 14–17 years. Consistent bed and wake-up times are also recommended. Research shows that many young people, as they age, don’t get the recommended amount of sleep; they go to bed later but rise at a similar time.

Factors that support sleep include physical activity during the day, regular bed and wake times across the week, a relaxing sleep routine before bedtime (e.g. low lighting, having a bath, mindfulness techniques), and a quiet, dark bedroom at a comfortable temperature.

Factors that reduce sleep include biological changes and social changes: body clocks can change so they stay up and get up later, schoolwork may increase, more control of bedtimes may be granted, part-time work and additional time socialising or pursuing interests. Difficulties with mental health can affect sleep and insufficient sleep can increase the risk of mental health challenges and struggles. Screen use and social media activity at night may interfere with sleep time because of the stimulating impact of both content and blue light from screens.

What can parents do? While being aware of their child’s shifting biological clock and their increasing need for autonomy, parents and caregivers can discuss the importance of reasonable and regular bedtimes and limits on screen use before bed. If their child has, or is suspected of having, sleep disturbances, parents should seek the assistance of professionals to promptly address the risks of potential mental health and other issues.

Talking to children about a loved one living in a nursing home

The website ‘Nursing Home Abuse Justice’ has a page that parents will find helpful if they have to answer questions from children about a loved one living in a nursing home. The link is

Supporting Children’s Resilience (Emerging Minds. (n.d.). Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and resilience – parent fact sheet. Retrieved from

Children can experience trauma and adversity from a range of difficult life experiences (e.g. abuse, neglect, parental separation and mental illness). If these experiences are overwhelming for the child, they can lead to a traumatic response. In many cases children will receive support and care from their family and community, and will be able to work through these experiences. However, these experiences often impact the whole family, and caring relationships within the family can also be affected.

Parents can support their child’s resilience by being:

  • Someone they can lean on

o Be there for them, support them through difficulties and be a safe place for them to express their feelings

o Share more frequent meals together as a family to build strong healthy relationships

o Support them to practise healthy habits and routines. Predictable patterns help children feel safe and secure.

  • Someone who is interested in them

o Make time for play every day. Even five minutes can make a huge difference for a child

o Ask about their favourite school subjects or activities. Take the time to listen to their answers or get them to teach you something they’ve learned.

o Learn positive coping strategies like naming feelings or slow breathing and practise them together.

  • Someone who believes in them

o Praise your child for things uou notice about them. This helps build their self-esteem.

o Nurture their independence. Encourage them to explore, have adventures and try new things.

o Share your own childhood dreams and ask your child about theirs. Let them know you think they can achieve their ambitions.

Childhood physical conditions and mental health

Emerging Minds and the Parenting Resource Centre have released a series of fact sheets about the most prevalent chronic conditions that affect children in Australia. These fact sheets provide details on the health, development and mental health implications of each condition, as well as information on supports available for children and families.

The list of fact sheets:

Screen Time Use by Children

Access to, and use of, devices with screens (e.g. phones, video games, televisions, computers, laptops and tablets) has grown rapidly since the 2000s. Overall, there has been increasing pressure for families, including children, to devote more of their time to using screen devices (e.g. the development of home schooling during COVID-19). This increase in screen device use has created a dilemma for those charged with providing for young people’s health, care, education, development and wellbeing: while education and industry are encouraging the use of digital technology by children to prepare them to thrive in a digital world, health authorities, in contrast, discourage young people’s use of digital technology and raise concerns about the potential negative effects on children’s physical, cognitive, emotional and social wellbeing (Straker, 2018).

Industry suggests digital technology can enhance leaning (e.g. expand vocabulary), promote children’s digital skill set, engage children in STEM subjects—Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, expose children to various experiences and cultural and linguistic diversity, occupy them in a safe manner, and ensure a productive workforce. (Straker et al., 2018; Karani et al. 2022).

On the other hand, health professionals suggest screen use for an extended period of time can cause digital eye strain, leading to headaches, blurred vision and dry eyes, concluding that determining the exact amount of screen time before problems occur is difficult. Most experts do not think screens cause much permanent damage, but excessive screen time can lead to health and other issues including insomnia, low self-esteem, obesity and behaviour problems (NVISION, 2022). Research by Mineshita et al. (2021) suggests the lower levels of physical activity that result from the sedentary nature of excessive screen time can increase the risk of obesity, lower academic performance, and cause sleeplessness if used before bedtime.

Other authors (Karani et al., 2022; American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2020) suggest too much screen time can have negative effects on:

  • Speech and language development

  • Motor skill development through less time outdoors engaged in physical activity

  • Cognitive development, resulting in lower grades in school

  • Self- and body-image, if higher weight or obesity develops

  • Social development, because of mood problems, less time with family and friends, and a reluctance to learn other ways to relax and enjoy life.

Karani et al. (2022) distinguish between active and passive screen time. Active screen time has a purpose, e.g. to provide education and/or to promote language, literacy and cognitive development. Passive screen time (e.g. background television) does not have a purpose and can lead to the disadvantages outlined above. They conclude that screen can be a positive or negative influence depending on:

  1. The duration of screen time. Using screens as ‘babysitters’ is not recommended.

  2. The importance of adult co-viewing. Co-viewing encourages language acquisition and social interaction that helps promote learning.

  3. Video characteristics. Videos that are rapidly paced with flashing/changing images, reduced language, and increased frame rate may be cognitively burdening for children.

The social worker role

Social workers, seeking to assist parents in decisions around screen time, should be aware of the positive and negative impacts of screen time on children. They should also ensure they are familiar with the context in which the family operates—families may have different needs/wishes/environment. Then, based on their knowledge of how screen time fits into the family situation, social workers can educate and support parents towards healthy, family screen time use. Social workers can support parents to:

  • limit their own screen time. There is a strong relationship between parents’ screen time and that of their children.

  • co-participate – where parents and children take part in screen time together and engage in conversations about the content. This encourages learning and practising language skills and helps mediate the content being viewed.

  • set time and content rules around screen use. This is associated with lower levels of screen time.  Supportive rather than controlling styles of communicating rules may be beneficial.

  • find ways to balance their child’s day with other activities such as physical activity and play.  This could include scooter riding, dancing, running, climbing or going to the park with friends.

  • encourage children to self-regulate screen time. Knowing the consequences of excessive screen time, giving children a sense of autonomy over their choices and involving them in decision making are important for this strategy to be effective (Joshi & Hinkley, 2021).

Practice Approach

In 2018 McDonald outlined a step-by-step approach that is similar to the Navigating Waters approach presented in detail below.

The following steps incorporate much of the above. They are based on the “Navigating Waters” approach (Frameworks, 2019).

1. Before beginning, think about adopting the following approach (Frameworks, 2019):

Firstly, don’t normalise parenting challenges (e.g. refrain from statements such as 'all parents struggle at times', 'being a parent is the hardest job in the world'). This approach suggests challenges are inevitable and cannot be addressed or solved. It does not prime parents to be more receptive about parenting but may encourage them to double-down on their misconceptions about parenting. It should be abandoned.

Secondly, talk about parenting in the context of what is good for children’s healthy development, i.e. focus on children and their needs—'child development’—rather than ‘effective parenting’. In practice this can be done as follows:

  • Articulate the 'big idea' - child development and how parents can support it (step 3 below).

  • Explain how children develop (step 4 below).

  • Explain parenting approaches that support healthy child development (step 5 below).

In summary, tell a positive, consistent story about supporting child development. Avoid:

  • Rebutting or disproving ingrained ways of thinking about parenting

  • Talking about how all parents struggle and that parenting is 'hard work'

  • Talking about improving parenting or pointing to 'effective' or 'good' parenting

  • Using statistics that show poor outcomes for children to argue for parenting support

  • Starting communications with the idea of parenting skills

  • Talking about evidence-based parenting or the 'science' of parenting, e.g. it may be appropriate to raise the importance of parental self-care and self-compassion (Kienhuis & Avdagic, 2021: see Supporting Material for an outline of this resource).

2. Bio-psycho-social-assessment (BPSS)

As you undertake a BPSS assessment, keep in mind the challenges parents face (Nair, 2012). As you proceed through the BPSS assessment, note the ones that are relevant to the situation parents are facing. Challenges parents face include:

  • Fast pace of society

  • Increasing demands on parents

  • Feeling ill-equipped to face challenges

  • The need for information on how to improve relationships with children

  • Perceiving help-seeking behaviour as a sign of incompetence

  • The financial burden due to technology, internet use and direct marketing of products to children

  • Work-life balance impacting on time that can be spent with children

3. Explain how circumstances affect parents and families using the 'navigating waters' metaphor and relate the metaphor to the specific challenges unearthed in the BPSS.

Navigating Waters

“To develop healthily, children need life to be on an even keel. But for families, especially those experiencing (insert the issues facing these particular parents sourced from the BPSS), raising children can be like sailing in rough waters. Just as we provide lighthouses and safe harbours, parents can be helped with support like counselling, quality childcare and financial support.”

Stress that parenting can be impacted by the situation in which parents find themselves: personal factors, but also external factors (e.g. the ones outlined in the BPSS). Point out that parenting is a journey that requires skill and support, where one may encounter smooth or rough seas. Knowledge about what healthy child development looks like, and how parents can support this development, can protect parents from these challenges.

In points 4 and 5 below, target the stage of development the parent is concerned about. Use the summary table at the end of point 5 as a guide. Stage Development summaries (Peterson, 2010) are available on request.

4. Explain what we know about children, and what they should acquire to develop into healthy adults

Discuss with parents the physical skills, emotional, cognitive, and social skills, and personality development that suggest a child is developing in a healthy manner. Add to the parent’s suggestions as necessary.

After identifying the stage characteristics, explain that the waters parents have to navigate will become smoother if this information is kept in mind.

5. Explain some of the parenting approaches appropriate for the relevant stage of child development, both in general terms and in terms specific for that stage of development.

Using the issues around parenting raised in the BPSS, discuss with the parent the impact each of these is having on healthy child development. A solution-focused approach building the parent’s strengths may provide a way to draw out appropriate parenting approaches for the parent to use to aid in development. For example, ask the parent to consider the times when the issue that concerns the parent is not there, how they know and tease out why it is absent. This may lead into a discussion of how a certain parenting approach or skill can assist the child to develop appropriately.

The tables that follow rely on these sources: Kids Health, 2019; McLean, 2020 – Emerging Minds Factsheets ; NSPCC, 2020; Peterson, 2010; Robinson & Miller, 2012; Triple P, (2020); UNICEF, 2020; Wade et al., 2019.

6. Know where to access and then direct parent to relevant resources

The websites below are designed to support parents when raising children by outlining key approaches to parenting that encourage healthy child development. However, Siegel (2016) offers a cautionary word.

Siegel suggests that parenting skills training may not always be the best course of action for parents who appear to fail their children. Rather than choosing a parenting skills training package to use with a parent, Siegel suggests the most relevant question social workers should ask themselves is, "What does this particular client need? What, if any, specific evidence-based parenting skills training package is the right fit for this person?Will an intervention that worked for one client necessarily work for another?” Siegel warns that one size does not fit all. Clients often get interventions that are deemed evidence-based or readily available or that workers prefer, rather than interventions that are best fits for the particular client at hand. Siegel uses a case study of Suzanne, an immigrant with six children whom she loves, and who were conceived by rape. While she was high on heroin her 2-year-old fell while running and was permanently blinded in one eye. After outlining Suzanne’s circumstances Siegel suggests employment, trauma-informed care and substance use treatment would enhance Suzanne’s parenting, not a parenting skills course.

Australian Parenting Website:

Believe Perform (n.d.). 10 ways to build confident children. Retrieved April 6, 2023 from

Beyond Blue. (2020). Healthy families. Retrieved from Click on the ‘healthy families’ link and then choose the age of development to explore.

NSPCC Learning: Parents leaflets cover a number of topic. Available from

Emerging Minds Building Blocks for Social and Emotional Wellbeing e-learning course

Emerging Minds Engaging with Parents e-learning course

Why is it difficult for parents to talk to practitioners about their children’s mental health? practice paper

Birth Injury Justice Centre. (2021). Treatment for birth injuries and Birth injury recreational activities. Retrieved from and

Mesothelioma Hope. (2021). Talking to Children About Cancer. Retrieved from (2021). Parenting with Mesothelioma: Talking to my children about my diagnosis. Retrieved from

Redefining Legal Care. (2023). Mesothelioma.

Redefining Legal Care. (2023). Asbestos exposure in the navy.

Mesothelioma Veterans Center. (2023). Mesothelioma and veterans.

Nicholson, et al. (2021). Keeping kids safe and well: Your voices. Page 9 has list of resources for parents to use when looking for information or seeking support online. Retrieved from

Nursing Home Abuse Justice. (2023). Talking to kids about a loved one moving into a nursing home.

Supporting Material/References

(available on request)

Abdi, S. (2022). Supporting families while they wait for a health care service. Emerging Minds.

Waiting for access to children’s health services is a common occurrence in the Australian health care system.

Extended health care wait lists can be harmful for children. They can negatively impact current symptoms, mental health and wellbeing, and school and family functioning.

Long wait times for a service can negatively impact the child’s family, potentially causing stress and anxiety.

Parents identify health care professionals as a potential support for themselves and their children during the waiting period.

Health care practitioners can support families on a waitlist in a range of ways:

Explore potential impacts of waiting for a health care service and the need for further support.

Schedule regular contact with children and families.

Make a plan with the family about how to best manage the waiting period (e.g. identify key issues and where help can be found).

Remind families of upcoming appointments with health care services.

Encourage parents to advocate for their child—help them understand the system and their options, e.g. to be contacted if an appointment becomes available.

Support children’s mental health concerns by exploring, with parents and children, the specific issues causing concern.

Address parents’ mental health concerns and encourage them to seek further support through

Raising Children Network

Beyond Blue Healthy Families

Emerging Minds Families

AIFS. (2014). Parenting teens and tweens: Resources for policy and practice. Retrieved from

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2020). Screen time and children.

Beyond Blue. (2020). Healthy families. Retrieved from

Big Life Journal. (2019). How to empower children when they struggle. Retrieved from

Columbus Recovery Center. (2023). How to help your teen struggling with mental health issues.

Columbus Recovery Center. (2023). Parents guide: How to help your teen cope with mental health issues.

Emerging Minds. (1 January 2024). 8 tips to help your child manage back-to-school anxiety 

Emerging Minds.  (2023). Anxiety in primary school-aged children 

Experiencing anxiety every now and then is a normal part of growing up.  It usually comes and goes.

Causes and triggers of anxiety in children

The following are examples of anxiety triggers that are common in primary school-aged children.

Younger children (around 5- to 8-years-old) may feel anxious about the dark, monsters or ghosts and experience separation anxiety when leaving their parents, e.g. moving from home to school.

In primary school (around 9- to 12-years-old) children experience lots of changes – in their bodies, friendships, at school, family relationships while also becoming aware of local, national and global events.

How anxiety affects children

An anxious thought can lead to a physical sensation, anxious feelings, and action, like avoidance. For example,

Situation: talk in front of the class later today

Anxious thought: “I just can’t do this.  I’m going to fail.”

Physical sensations: pain in stomach, racing thoughts, light headedness

Feeling: anxious and panic

Action: tells parent they are sick and not going to school today

Children experience anxiety in lots of different ways.

In primary school-aged children, anxiety can appear or be described by children as:

increased irritability and outbursts

butterflies or stomach pains

headaches and dizziness

being able to feel their heart beating, or heart beats really fast

trouble concentrating at school, because they’re distracted by worrying thoughts

trouble sleeping.

In response to their anxious thoughts and feelings, children may:

try to avoid or get away from situations

constantly seek reassurance from adults by asking lots of questions.

try to control people or the situations that bring on feelings of anxiety.

let their feelings out when at home, e.g. fighting with siblings or parents, swearing, yelling or crying.

What parents can do

Identifying anxiety early and helping a child to manage it can make a big difference.

Acknowledge a child’s anxiety; reassure them that most children feel anxious sometimes.

Gently encourage the child to do things they’re anxious about. Praise them for their actions.

Support the child to use calming strategies, such as deep breathing.

If anxiety is impacting on a child’s life, wellbeing, relationships, school or family life, seek professional help.

Emerging Minds. (2019). Communicating with your primary school-age child during ‘tough times’. Retrieved from

Emerging Minds. (2018). Communicating with your teenager during ‘tough times’. Retrieved from

Emerging Minds.  (2021).  How to help parents find the right parenting support for them.  Retrieved from 

Emerging Minds. (n.d.). Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and resilience – parent fact sheet. Retrieved from

Evans-Whipp, T. (2021). Promoting adequate sleep in young people. CFCA News, June 10, 2021. Retrieved from

Evans-Whipp, T., Swami, N., & Prattley, J. (2021). Adolescents combining school and part-time employment (Growing Up in Australia Snapshot Series – Issue 6). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Frameworks. (2019). Navigating waters: Talking about parenting. Retrieved from

Joshi, A., & Hinkley, T. (2021). Too much time on screens? Screen time effects and guidelines for children and young people.  CFCA. 

Karani, N.F., Sher, J., & Mophosho, M. (2022). The influence of screen time on children’s language development: A scoping review. South African Journal of Communication Disorders, 69(1), a825.

Kids Health. (2019). Nine steps to more effective parenting. Retrieved from

Kienhuis, M., & Avdagic, E., (2021). Parental self-care and self-compassion. Retrieved from

Parental self-compassion and self-care have a strong influence on child development. Parental self-care includes doing things like eating well and staying active. It also includes taking time to relax and recharge. Examples might include taking a break outdoors, chatting with a supportive friend, or watching a movie. Another important part of parental self-care is self-compassion. Those who are self-compassionate show self-kindness, understand that making mistakes is part of being human, and are less likely to be self-critical.

Parents who are kind to themselves and take time to relax and recharge have better health and wellbeing, are more confident in their parenting, and have more positive interactions with their children. This is important, as we know parent wellbeing, parent confidence and positive parent-child interactions are associated with better outcomes for children with and without mental health challenges. Professionals need to support parents to be less critical of their parenting and to regularly practise self-care.

  • Only about half the parents surveyed reported that they regularly practised self-care; almost a quarter said they did not practise self-care; one-third felt they were hard on themselves as parents

  • Parents high on self-care had better physical and mental health and reduced fatigue

  • Parental self-care is associated with parenting confidence and enjoyment of parenting, something that leads to positive mental health outcomes for children

Practitioners can

  • Encourage parents to seek support from friends and family so that they can find time to look after themselves

  • Encourage parents to look after themselves without making parents feel stressed and guilty. Explore what is getting in the way of self-care

  • Normalise parenting concerns and challenge parent self-criticism (“Would I judge a friend this way?”)

  • Model and encourage self-kindness—making time to do something for her or himself

The Raising Children website provides credible information on all aspects of parenting – including information on parental self-care and self-compassion that professionals can share with parents or refer parents to if they’d like to do their own information gathering.

If it is challenging for a parent to practise self-care or reduce self-criticism, professional support is available. Family GPs are a good starting point, as they can refer to suitable mental health professionals such as psychologists or local counsellors.

McLean, S. (2017). Child development milestones: A guide for foster parents. Adelaide: University of South Australia. Retrieved from

McLean, S. (2020). Understanding child development: Ages 0-3 years. Retrieved from

McLean, S. (2020). Understanding child development: Ages 3-5 years. Retrieved from

McLean, S. (2020). Understanding child development: Ages 5-8 years. Retrieved from

McLean, S. (2020). Understanding child development: Ages 9-12 years. Retrieved from

Michaux, A. (2019). Talking about parenting: Why a radical communications shift is needed to drive better outcomes for children. CFCA News, 11 September. Retrieved from

Mineshita, Y., Kim, H-K., Chijiki, H., Nanba, T., Shinto, T., Furuhashi, S., Oneda. S., Kuwahara, M., Suwama, A., & Shibata, S.(2021). Screen time duration and timing: effects on obesity, physical activity, dry eyes, and learning ability in elementary school children.BMC Public Health, 21, 422-433.

Nair, L. (2012). Safe and supportive families and communities for children: A synopsis and critique of Australian research. CFCA paper 1. Retrieved from

NSPCC Learning. (2020). Parent’s leaflets. Retrieved from

NSPCC. (2020). Need to know guides: Positive parenting. Retrieved from

Nursing Home Abuse Justice. (2023). Talking to kids about a loved one moving into a nursing home.

NVISION. (2022). Screen time and your eyes: What the research says.

Peterson, Candida C. (2010). Looking forward through the lifespan: Developmental psychology (5th ed.). University of Queensland: Pearson Australia.

Robinson, E., & Miller, R. (2012). Adolescents and their families. Melbourne: Victorian Government Department of Human Services.

Sanders, M. R., & Cobham, V. E. (2020). Top parenting tips for parents and carers during COVID-19. Retrieved from

Sanson, A. (2020). How to support children’s wellbeing in the face of climate change. Emerging Minds. Retrieved from

Siegel, D. H. (2016). Parenting skills training: When does it fit? Social Work Today, 16(5), 22. Retrieved from

Stage Characteristics. My summary of attributes, characteristics, associated facts for various ages/stages.

Stage Development Summaries sourced from the Peterson (2010) reference immediately above. A 6th edition (2014) of this book exists.

Straker, L., Zabatiero, J., Danby, S., Thorpe, K., & Edwards, S. (2018). Conflicting guidelines on young children’s screen time and use of digital technology create policy and practice dilemmas. The Journal of Pediatrics, 202, 300-303. https://doi.org10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.07.019

UNICEF. (2020). Covid-19 Parenting. Retrieved from

A number of international organisations (e.g. WHO, UNICEF) produced parenting tips for use in Covid-19, but they can be used out of that context. They include:

  1. One-on-time: set aside time to spend with each child, ask your child what they would like to do, switch off the TV and phone, listen to them, look at them.

  2. Keeping it positive: say the behaviour you want to see, praise your child when they are behaving well, ensure your child can actually do what you are asking, help your teen stay connected through social media and other safe distancing ways.

  3. Structure up: create a flexible but consistent daily routine.

  4. Bad behaviour: keep calm, take a pause, redirect, use consequences.

  5. Talk about COVID-19: be open and listen, be honest, be supportive, it’s OK not to know the answers, end on a good note.

  6. Learning through play: movement games, telling stories, use household objects as props for games, memory game, singing.

  7. Keep children safe online: set up parental controls, spend time with your child and teen online, keep open communication.

  8. Family harmony at home: use positive language, share the load, be an empathetic active listener.

  9. When we get angry: prevent it from starting by thinking about what makes us angry and stopping it at the source; take a break, take care of yourself.

  10. Family budgeting in times of stress: involve children and teens in making a family budget (needs and wants).

Wade, C., Seward, A., Almendingen, A., & Robinson, E. (2019). Parenting pre-teens: A pivotal time for children and parents. Child Family Community Australia (CFCA). Retrieved from

Willoughby, M. (2022). Effective behaviour management strategies for children aged 0-10 years. Australian Institute of Family Studies: Short article, July 2022.

This short article (with references to key points) outlines the evidence on effective behaviour management strategies for children aged 0–10 years, and how practitioners can support families to use these strategies.

After discussing how physical punishment (or threat of such punishment) can be harmful to children, the article provides a summary of key components of effective behaviour management strategies for children aged 0 to 1- years. The author suggests parents will need to try different combinations of strategies to work out what best suits their child in various circumstances. The key components are:

  • Developing a warm and loving relationship with the child and not disciplining with anger.

  • ·Being consistent in behaviour management strategies—where possible, react to undesirable behaviour the same way every time.

  • Set simple and easy to understand rules on how children should behave and treat others.

  • Praise and give children rewards when they behave well.

  • Use time-out, i.e. place a child in a quiet, safe place without any toys, games or positive attention from parents for a very short time. Note that time-out should

    • Immediately follow the behaviour

    • Be used consistently

    • Delivered calmly and warmly

    • Be proportional to the child’s age and behaviour

    • Only be used for behaviour the child can control (not for mistakes)

    • Be paired with strategies to teach alternative desired behaviour

  • Use logical consequences, when possible, e.g. remove a toy when used inappropriately

  • Remember the child is separate from their behaviour; behaviour needs to be managed, not the child.

Practitioners working with families can:

  • Ask parents if they need support

  • Be curious about the behaviour management strategies used

  • Steer parents away from using physical punishment to using the above strategies

  • Share resources that provide practical assistance (listed in the ‘further reading’ section of the article)

  • Refer parents who need more support to evidence-based parenting programs (e.g. programs in the AIFS guidebook at

  • Encourage service providers to conduct evidence-based parenting programs

The article concludes with resources that provide practical advice for family around behaviour management strategies for different age groups, building positive relationships, creating family rules, using time-out, working with young people and families from CALD backgrounds as well as Indigenous children and families. Resources to use when supporting children with neurodiversity, autism and/or a disability round out the article. Twelve references are included.


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