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January 27, 2022 by Dr Kathryn Hackman 0 Comments

The importance of Debrief with your kids after a vaccination

Your kids will be going back for a second dose – the debrief is SUPER important to ensure a smooth next vaccination (although always good to do preparation again).

Its easy to put a big Job Done line through the vaccine once its over, but your child may still be processing the experience. 

Here are my top 4 debrief tips
1. Ask how they felt it went and validate all feelings.  

I could see my youngest was subdued in the hours after the vaccine. So I started the conversation with “Having a vaccine was a big deal, wasn’t it?”  Whereas for my eldest, who was completely fine, I just asked “how did you find all that?” 

You can open things up with the classic: “What was the best part and what was the worst?”  Sometimes the worst will be a surprise answer (eg I was bored waiting in the queue), and something that you can easily address next time.

2. Poke fun at the scary bits where you can!

Making fun of anything difficult is a great way to make it less scary. My boys chose to make jokes, so I followed their lead. No matter how silly, all joking is to be encouraged.  My kids decided that the needle was like Gru’s nose (yes, Mr Gru from Despicable Me).

3. Tell them how proud you are.

Tell your children at the time and again later, on several occasions,how proud you are of them for being so brave.

4. Believe your child if they tell you they are “feeling sick”.

Your child may well be tired, particularly if they were very nervous or found the whole process tricky. Be gentle with them. We had a PJ afternoon reading Star Wars cartoons in bed. Having that mum-time (it was me in this case, but any significant grownup), not being pushed to do anything else, was just what they needed. 

January 27, 2022 by Dr Kathryn Hackman 0 Comments

How to answer when your child asks “How do vaccines work?”

By now you’ve probably explained to your child that they will need a vaccine and why. Now they want a science lesson! This is such a great one and super fun to explain to young kids. Any fight analogy is going to work well for 3 – 7 year olds! 

Here’s how I explained the answer to my children.

Your body is already very clever at fighting diseases.
It fights them every day and you don’t even know about it.
But some diseases can make you really sick, and others are good at hiding, so your body can’t fight them.
Vaccines make it easier for your body to find and fight disease.

How they work is they show your body a little part of what the disease looks like.
That way your body can make an army to fight that part of the disease.
Then, if you get the real disease, your body already knows what it looks like, and has an army ready to attack!

Because the vaccine only gives you part of the disease, not the whole thing, it won’t make you sick.
It just helps your body get ready to fight the real disease, if you get it.

Then, even if you get the disease, you might not even know about it, because your body will just fight it for you.

As my kids got older and wanted more detail, I explained that “the army is actually your infection fighting cells.
Your body can build a bigger army, and quicker, every time it sees the vaccine, or the disease.”

With Covid-19 requiring multiple doses of vaccine, you may also want to add:

Some vaccines you need only once and your body remembers what to do, but mostly the army that you made at the start gets smaller.
To build it up again, your body needs another dose of the vaccine – to see the bad guy again and remember what it looks like.
That way it can build an even bigger army which works even better, if you get the disease.
 

For younger kids (or even older kids – my 6 year old still loves this part) I do a role play.
Here’s the scene:

The bad guy disease comes along, in disguise, and says “la la la, nothing to see here.”
But after the vaccine your body says – “hang on a minute, I SEE you!!!”
And your body calls in its special army and kills off all the bad guys!
Kapow!
And then you don’t get sick. 

For older kids, or if you want a little more detail, there is a good outline of immunity here.

January 26, 2022 by Dr Kathryn Hackman 0 Comments

How to answer when your child asks “But WHY do I need it?”

After you’ve explained to your child that they will be having a vaccine and prepared them for the experience (see my blog: How to reduce your child’s vaccination anxiety), they may ask… “but WHY do I need it?”

Here is my guide for an honest, medically accurate answer, when this question is posed by a 2-7 year old.  

There are two overarching reasons that you, as a parent or carer, need to be clear on. 

  • Firstly, vaccinations prevent disease*. Having a vaccine against a disease will prevent your child from becoming sick if they are exposed to that disease, whether it be a virus or bacteria. 
  • Secondly, vaccinations stop the spread of disease. When your child is vaccinated, they will be far less likely pass on the disease to other people. 

So, here is how I have answered the WHY question from my children, from about age 4. Note: I use the word “germ” to cover both viral and bacterial nasties. It’s fine to be more specific later, or when the word virus is in common use, like “coronavirus”.

This vaccine stops you from getting sick if you catch the germ. It’s like a special superpower. Even if these germs are all around, once you’ve had the vaccine, the germs can’t hurt you. So, you are having this vaccine so that even if you have the germ, you won’t get sick”

For older kids (around age 6), I also add: 

“By having a vaccine, you stay healthy, even if the germs are around, AND you are less likely to spread those germs to other people. So, you are keeping yourself safe, and you are keeping everyone around you safe too.”

Now, get ready for your child’s follow up question: “How do vaccinations work?” 

*If you’d like a refresher on which vaccines are still in use and which diseases they prevent, the CDC has a great overview here 

January 20, 2022 by Dr Kathryn Hackman 0 Comments

How to reduce your child’s vaccine anxiety – preparation key

Your child has probably heard about Coronavirus by now and may have some worries. They may also already have heard about “a vaccine” but not know what this is. 

The following anxiety-reducing method is appropriate not just for the COVID-19 vaccine but can help with all vaccines (immunisations) administered by a needle, such as Influenza,  Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (whooping cough), meningococcus etc. 

It’s the “Not Knowing” that makes things scary for kids. So, I’ve made a 5-step breakdown of how to explain having a vaccine to your child. 

Each step has a separate main point that you want to get across to your child. Following each step, in order, allows a natural flow to the discussion and gives your child the chance to voice concerns or ask questions. 

I’ve written the discussion exactly as you might say it, in this font. This approach worked for my kids from about age 3 onwards. The younger the child, the simpler your language will be:

Step 1 – You need to have an injection

There’s a virus in the world called Coronavirus, or COVID, which can make people very sick.
But we now have medicines to stop people from getting sick, even if they catch the virus.
There is a special medicine called a vaccine.
It’s a tiny injection that stops you from getting sick, even if you catch the Coronavirus.
Pretty handy hey?!

Then PAUSE and see if your child asks any questions.   

If your child doesn’t know what an injection is: 

It’s a very thin needle that goes this far (hold your thumb and index finger 1 cm apart) in your arm for about 3 seconds to give the medicine to your body. 

The focus in on how this vaccine prevents serious illness, but your child will by now be thinking about the injection. So here is the next step.

Step 2 – You can do this! You’ve already had loads of injections

Do you know you’ve already had heaps of injections? (At this point I like to bring out their immunisation record for them to hold, and we look at it together).
You had an injection when you were born.
Then you had more when you were 2 months old, 4 months old, 6 months old, 1 year old, 1 ½ year old, and 4 years old!
You’ve had heapsand you were super brave for all of them!

At this point, your child may want to count up the number of injections they have had. They may also be very interested in how they went with all these injections. This is a great time to follow your child’s lead, as well as reflect on those experiences (which they probably won’t remember).

Step 3 – Reflect on previous injection experiences

If your child asks how they went previously:

Well, you cried when you were a baby.
You were too little for me to explain what would happen, so it was a big shock.
But as you got older, you got braver and braver. Sometimes you cried a bit, but you sat on my lap and had a big cuddle and it was over really quickly.
One time, they blew bubbles and distracted you, and you hardly even noticed!

Depending on how playful your child is feeling, you might show them what happened (a bit like the Bluey “Doctors” episode): 

When you were little the injection was like this (poke them gently in the thigh and say) “Sting!” right here in your thigh!  (Why? Because that was your chubbiest bit!).  

Step 4 – Be honest. It will hurt, but not much. 

This time, now you’re big, you will have the injection in your arm.
You will feel the needle (Yes, it IS a needle, no need to make a big deal of it), but you’ve had heaps of ouchier things. (Your child may think of all the pains they’ve had before – this is very helpful because you can then relate this vaccine to their previous experiences.) 

If your child doesn’t bring up previous pains: 

It will sting more than a mozzie bite, but will hurt a lot less than falling off your bike and way less than a bee sting.
And the sting only lasts for about 5 seconds, maybe less. (Then count 5 seconds together)

  • Be ready to have the conversation about how much it will hurt more than once. Reassure your child every time that they will feel it, but that it is far less painful than so many other experiences they’ve already had. 
  • NOTE: “It will hurt a bit, but I know you’ll be ok” will be more reassuring than “you’ll be fine”. 

Step 5 – Explain the practicalities

For this part, the amount of detail you give will depend on your child’s age and how much they want to know. Feel free to bring this down to the key steps of: when it is (day), how you will get there, and who will be with them the whole time. 

For those with kids who want to know everything, here it is (but you might break this up a lot with discussion along the way). 
  • We are going to get the vaccine on Thursday.
    That’s 2 sleeps away.
    We will go by car.
    After we park the car, we will put on our masks and go into the vaccination centre/pharmacy. 
    There will probably be a queue.
    They might ask us to use the hand sanitiser and will take our temperature.
    Then they check our details and show us how to get to the nurse’s station.
    You will sit on my lap, like this
    (practice child sitting on your lap, side on, and take the opportunity to give them a sneaky hug).
    The nurse will give you the injection (Sting!) and I’ll give you a big hug.
  • After the injection we sit in a waiting area for 15 minutes, just to check you are ok.
    Then, we can go home.
    Your arm might be a bit achy that night, or it might be fine.  
  • When we get to the car/ home …(Insert your treat here. For my kids, I said:  We will take the iPAD and you can watch TV all the way home.)
If you want to set it out as dot points or make a visual plan (you can use the visual planning tool within the Courageous Kids app) here are the 10 steps involved when you go to a vaccination hub: 
  1. Follow the entry signs
  2. Hand sanitiser
  3. Join the queue
  4. Temperature Check
  5. Check in 
  6. You might get a treat (fidget spinners)
  7. Await your vaccine station (there was a 9 ¾)
  8. Meet your nurse & Get VAXXED!
  9. Wait 15 min for obs – this is a good time for a cuddle. 
  10. Go home!! 

Final Thoughts

If you can see that your child is still worried, ASK them which part is worrying them the most. After you have addressed the first worry, ask if they have any other worries.  You may need this conversation, or parts of it, more than once. 

Do not be surprised if your child later asks…but why do I have to have it? Or but how does it work? 

Don’t worry. My blogs on  But WHY do I need it? And HOW does it work? Are coming soon!

February 1, 2021 by Dr Kathryn Hackman 0 Comments

How to make your own social stories in 6 easy steps

1. Choose a single goal

Each story should have only 1 focus.  This may be a single event, a certain behaviour or situation. Be clear in your own mind about the point of your story.

2. Keep it short

Short sentences ensure clarity. Short stories, especially around tricky issues, make it easier to keep children engaged. Once you’ve made your point, the story is done. You can spend time discussing the issue after you’ve finished the story, but don’t make the story itself too laborious.

3. Add colour with detail

Small details that resonate with your child will keep your story lively and engaging. They can also add humour. For example, if your child’s teacher has a friendly quirk – a big smile, towering height, heavy eyeliner or a past life as an engineer – include this in your story. When I introduced my son to his teachers in story form, I wrote “Mr Squiggle is the art teacher. He is good at building tall sculptures as he used to be an engineer.”

4. Ensure accuracy

This is essential! Accuracy builds trust and ensures you stay on topic.  No doubt your child will pull you up on incorrect details – but this will derail the story. Worse, if your story is incorrect, you risk losing your child’s confidence. 

5. Introduce emotions

But, never state how your child or others will feel. You might say “some kids feel nervous when”… Or “mum thinks my teacher will be happy if…”.  Acknowledging tricky feelings is important, but you cant assume anything! Leave a lot of wriggle room eg  “I might have some jiggly feelings..”

6. Write from the first person

Eg My name is [child’s name]. I am 4 years old .

7. Don’t give false reassurance

You cant promise a teacher is kind if you have never met them or that a party will be fun. Its more honest to say – “mum thinks the teacher is really kind” or “Mum has heard that the teacher is really kind” or even “mum and I hope the teacher will be really kind”

February 1, 2021 by Dr Kathryn Hackman 0 Comments

How social stories help children

Explaining the world – and its rules – to my boys

I have two delightful little boys, each with very different ways of seeing and understanding the world. My curious and clever 5 year old has always been a little anxious. Although he has no issue leaping from boulders or riding his bike down the stairs, he needs extra time and assistance to prepare for everyday events and changes to his routine.

As he grew from an adventurous toddler to a fact-loving kinder kid, I noticed he often seemed unaware of the unspoken rules and expectations in social and educational situations. This resulted in accidentally upsetting his friends or being chastised by his teachers (and us, his parents). These situations would upset him, as he didn’t understand what had gone wrong and why the people around him were suddenly cross.

I was advised to help my son by giving him stories to explain what was expected in certain situations, as well as all the “rules” of interaction we adults take for granted. Such stories are often called “Social Stories”. Social stories are a learning tool originally designed to help with clear exchanges of communication between parents and children with autism. These stories describe a context, skill, achievement or idea in a clear and direct way, making it easy for children to grasp. Conveying such information in the form of a story can be useful for all young children. Stories can be used to teach coping and social skills, and help guide behaviour.

The term “Social Story” was coined by American educator Carol Gray (carolgraysocialstories.com). At the time, Grey was teaching students with autism and began writing stories to share information she could see they were missing. Social Stories as defined by Gray must meet ten defining characteristics (The Social Story Criteria). These stories persist as they have proven to be helpful for many children, especially those with autism or learning disorders. However, when I attempted to introduce Gray’s Social Stories to my child they did not resonate. He found the form overly didactic and boring.  As a curious and sensitive child, he found them too serious and I could not hold his interest when we tried to read them together.

How I created calm, confident kids

I began searching online and in libraries for appropriate explanatory stories for my two very different boys. However, I often found existing templates drab and uninspiring, or not specific enough. Wanting to engage my boys I began to create my own stories to prepare them for everyday situations, they used many of Gray’s guidelines (short sentences, simple language, one concept at a time) but were more lighthearted. I wanted to create something that was both informative and fun. Stories ranged from simple tasks like Where I put my Bag at Kinder to harder situations like I Have a Babysitter Tonight. I would take pictures of my boys as the “main characters” as well as using pictures of their own classrooms, bedrooms, and babysitters which became the story illustrations. Sometimes we printed these stories out, creating books we could return to, other times it was enough to simply show them the story on my computer.

Integrating these stories into our everyday routine was a simple way to prepare both my children for unusual or potentially challenging situations. When these moments arrived, my kids knew what was happening and why. Although they were still upset at times, we no longer had to negotiate meltdowns or tantrums because of unexpected challenges. The greatest achievement of these stories was that they were also fun! The boys loved seeing themselves as the main characters in each story. They were so proud to be the central heroes, they wanted to show these books to their grandparents, babysitters and even kinder teachers!

How this changed our family life.

Both my boys immediately responded to the stories. While I had initially set out to find a way to help manage my eldest’s anxiety, my youngest (aged three) also thrived off the clear explanations and instructions the stories provided. As he has always been a remarkably confident and social little person, I hadn’t realised the benefit they would provide. Stories helped him make a smooth transition to kindergarten, as well as helping enormously with everyday events like my husband and I leaving for work or our family having a meal at a café or restaurant. I realised that arming both my kids with clear descriptions of what was going to happen and their role in each situation resulted in calmer, more confident, and even happier boys.

Courageous Kids is the result of my own journey into creating “social” stories. These stories were so helpful for my children, friends started requesting copies. I began sharing my templates with family and friends.

The conversations I had with fellow parents and carers made me realise that others could benefit from the research and practice I had in creating these stories and inspired me to try to share my stories more widely. I cannot overstate how helpful this method has been for my children and I encourage you try it with your own. You can read my blog on how to create your own social stories here (LINK). Or, if you are lacking time or feeling stuck, you can use my tried and tested stories in the app. All of the stories available on Courageous Kids have been reviewed by a leading child psychiatrist.  The stories are fully customisable and you can upload your own photos or use our illustrations.  

Rather than having to start from scratch like I did, we give you the head start to begin creating stories to help your children be more self-assured, relaxed and excited about new events and milestones. My hope is that the resources provided by Courageous Kids will benefit other families in the way they have mine.

January 30, 2021 by Dr Kathryn Hackman 0 Comments

6 steps to prepare your child for school

The prospect of starting school can be exciting, but also nerve-wracking and sometimes scary for children. Here are six simple steps to take the stress out of this milestone and help your child feel comfortable and prepared when beginning this new chapter.

1.   Start a Countdown

Children often dont have a clear concept of time. They may know that school is starting soon” but be unsure of what that means practically and how long they have to prepare. Creating a countdown can help your child understand that their routine will be changing and that school is coming up. It’s a good idea to do this on a calendar so you can show them exactly how many weeks until school starts. Every Monday, go to the calendar to show them “five weeks to school…”, “four weeks to school…”, “3 weeks to school…”, “2 weeks to school… “1 week to school”!

When you are down to the last week before school starts, count down the days 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. A weekly, then daily reminder is plenty. Of course, if your child brings up the topic themselves then follow their lead.

Starting school is exciting, so make sure you reflect this in your tone of voice when you go to the calendar to do your countdowns.

2. Visit Visit Visit

Even if your child has siblings or friends already at their school, its still a new environment, likely to be larger and more intimidating than childcare or kindergarten.

Take your child to see their new school several times over the school holidays. On the first visit, just go up to the gate where they will enter on their first morning. If possible, peep through the gate and point out where their classroom will be. Point out what you can see, for example Oh, there’s your playground!” or Ah, there are the water fountains”.

On the second visit walk the perimeter of the school. It’s important that your child starts to get their bearings around school. Talk to your child about the direction of your house and other key landmarks in relation to their school. This will help them feel safe and secure, knowing that familiar environments are not far away. This process gently shows children that the new school is a part of their world.

On another visit, walk from the front gate of the school to the nearest café or shopping strip. Get a drink or a snack together (takeaway if need be) and tell your child that this is where you will come for a coffee after you drop them off at school on the first day. If you will never have time for this don’t make it up! Instead, tell them that this is where lots of the school mums and dads go for a coffee after they drop their kids at school. This reassures children that after school drop off parents don’t vanish, they stay nearby and are still thinking about their kids.

3. School is not an island

School must not seem like a distant island, far from home. If their school is in a new suburb or unfamiliar area children may feel isolated from their surroundings. You can help assuage this fear by showing your child the route from their house to school several times. This is best done by foot, scooter or bike. If you have to go by car, make sure you point out all the landmarks along the way and teach your child the major street names.

Every time you drive past the school or are in the vicinity, point out where it is and give it a wave “hello” and “goodbye”.  You could say Hi School!” when you are approaching, and Bye School!” as you go past. Talk about how far school is from home, emphasising its proximity to familiar landmarks. This will cement their school as a new and exciting part of their world.

You can also discuss with your child how far school is in minutes by car” and how long it will take them to get to and from school by your most common mode of transport (bike, scooter, walking).

All this will allow your child to locate their school in relation to other familiar places, and will help them understand that they are still connected to you and to their familiar, safe, environments.

4. Involve your child in getting the things they need

School is a whole new beginning. This means there is a great opportunity to foster excitement and joy!

Let your child choose their school lunch box and water bottle. These are exciting items, something special that is just for them. Involve your child when you label these items with their name. Your child could tell you where they want you to write their name, and how. Ask them whether they want an extra symbol next to their name to help them recognise what is theirs. For example, you could draw a little star, a flower, a ladybird or whatever will be fun for them. Offer what you can manage and let your child choose. This allows your child to feel a sense of pride and ownership.

Children with an older sibling or cousin that they look up to may now identify with them more and feel they share a common bond. Those with younger siblings who are not yet at school, may enjoy doing these special school ready” jobs and feel excited, responsible and proud. These simple activities give children agency as they prepare for school and can help them to feel proud of themselves for starting something new.

5. Buy and wear your school shoes early

The last thing you or your child wants for their first day of school is to be uncomfortable or distressed because of new shoes pinching and rubbing. There are so many new things about starting school, any part of the process that can be made familiar will help.

Take your child to shop for shoes and let your child tell the shop assistant why they need these new shoes. Give your child as many opportunities as possible to look forward to starting school and talk about it with others.

Do not save these shoes for day one of school! Wear them for short periods at home and check for blisters! You do not want any source of discomfort on your child’s first days of school. Make sure the shoes are truly comfy and worn in a bit.  It may seem a bit mad to be wearing heavy black school shoes in the middle of summer but even if you try for one or two hours a day inside the house, it is a good start.

6. Talk to your child about what happens at school

Talking to your child about what happens at school, who their teachers will be and what drop off will be like will create familiarity and confidence. Having these conversations early, and with visual cues is also a great way to create space for your children to share their concerns.

The Courageous Kids app offers a carefully crafted set of stories about starting school. These can be further personalised for your child, as the app allows you to upload your own photos (of your child’s teachers, the school environment, their classroom, etc). When adults start a new job they get an orientation and welcome pack, why shouldn’t our children get the same? Printing out the Courageous Kids stories about starting school and reading one book every few days is your childs welcome pack to school. Starting school is an important, exciting but sometimes daunting milestone. This is an easy and fun way to share their excitement and soothe their fears.

And finally, congratulations Mums and Dads for getting to this very exciting milestone! 

Download the Courageous Kids app today on the Apple Store. Soon on Google Play.