Transcript for
Engaging children: Naming and framing the problem

Runtime 00:14:19
Released 13/5/22

Narrator (00:02):

Welcome to the Emerging Minds Podcast.


Remy (00:11):

This is the Engaging Children Podcast series by Emerging Minds. If you’re a practitioner who works with children like me in relation to our mental health and wellbeing, or a practitioner who’s wanting to expand their work with us, or a practitioner looking to move your work in that direction, then this is the podcast for you.


Jen Ly (00:36):

Hi everyone. My name is Jen Ly, and I work with Emerging Minds. As does my co-host, Chris Dolman. Hi Chris.


Chris Dolman (00:42):

Hi Jen. Hi everyone. How are you, Jen?


Jen Ly (00:44):

I’m well, thanks Chris. I’m looking forward to today’s podcast.


Chris Dolman (00:48):

Yeah, me too. The third in our series. How about that?


Jen Ly (00:50):

Yep. And today we’re looking at the theme of ‘Calling it what it is’.


Chris Dolman (00:53):

And what’s the ‘it’?


Jen Ly (00:55):

‘It’ is the problem.


Chris Dolman (00:57):

Is it?


Jen Ly (00:57):

Yeah. So this topic is about making it possible for children to describe problems in their own terms and in ways that are meaningful and useful for them.


Chris Dolman (01:05):

And this is important for many reasons, isn’t it? It can help us as practitioners to understand children’s perspectives and knowledges about the problem.


Jen Ly (01:14):

Rather than relying only on adult perspectives.


Chris Dolman (01:17):

I think also, using children’s terminology and knowledge really helps talk about problems in ways that aren’t shaming or blaming, or bringing about embarrassment for children too, which is so significant.


Jen Ly (01:29):

Sure is. So once again, we’re going to hear from some practitioners who share their reflections on this topic. And then we’re going to post some questions to our audience, Chris, for them to reflect on and discuss with colleagues.


Chris Dolman (01:40):

Okay. So we’d like to invite listeners to be thinking about a couple of questions. The first one is, in talking about problems with children, how do you help lessen the likelihood that they won’t feel further shamed or blamed for the problems that they’re dealing with?


Chris Dolman (01:55):

And secondly, how would you describe your approach to seeking out a child’s perspectives on the problem? How do you go about doing that?


Jen Ly (02:02):

Thanks Chris. So let’s hear from our interviewees. This audio clip features Annette Flanagan, a Counsellor with Centacare Catholic Family Services, Katherine Headley, Speech Pathologist, and Melinda Vardanega, Child Psychologist from LINKS Trauma Healing Service in Newcastle. Lisa Johnson, Psychologist and School Counsellor, Aerinn Morgan, Counsellor, Jamie Lee, Counselling Psychologist, Liz Lodge from Centacare Catholic Family Services.


Annette Flanagan (02:30):

I think when a child’s asked their perspective or what they think. It’s incredible, it’s really important. It totally waters that their sense of self and that they have a right to have one. And that they get to be heard and they get to be seen. Children are often not seen, especially in DV or in trauma, they don’t get to be seen or they only get to be seen in a certain way.


Annette Flanagan (02:56):

So if you can see the child set different to that, and you can water that and be with the child separate to that, then that’s incredible work to be able to do.


Katherine Headley (03:05):

I think one of the ways that we can be most respectful to young people about the difficult experiences they’ve had in life, is to have a shared language with them around that. So I think it’s really important that we utilise the words that young people use themselves to describe their experiences. That we don’t try to shape that language into a different type of terminology or a different word.


Katherine Headley (03:36):

We may need to work with them through asking lots of open-ended questions, to get a full understanding of what they mean when they use a specific word or a specific tone to describe an experience. But we want to be respectful to the fact that they have chosen that language to describe that experience for themselves.


Katherine Headley (04:00):

And I think it’s really important. Not only in interactions with the children, but also in then using that language when communicating with the people who are in their lives to help them understand what the child is experiencing from the child’s perspective. It’s not easy to maintain that always, and you do need to check in with yourself. And check in even when you’re writing reports and describing certain experiences or certain behaviours to reread it and make sure that you are using kind of appropriate language, and that you are honouring the child’s perspective.


Lisa Johnson (04:38):

When I meet with young people and I’m hearing from them that they are already feeling they’re up against a problem, that is perhaps something described by them as OCD or depression, or anxiety, these medicalised understandings. It’s not to suggest that what they’re up against may not very accurately fit with those descriptions and that in fact, those descriptions open doors for them, or create possibilities that are incredibly useful in their efforts to reduce problems.


Lisa Johnson (05:08):

But when I think of one of the unintended consequences of this, is that young people and many people will come to regard that, when you’re up against a problem that can be described as depression, when it can be understood in that kind of medical term, the weight of that problem sits differently. And young people can come to assume almost, that there’s a hierarchy of who’s going to know best about what to do about these matters. And somehow, they’re at the bottom of that hierarchy of who knows best.


Aerinn Morgan (05:43):

If they’re presenting me with a particular word, like anxiety, phobia, some sort of specific word, I might ask them where they’ve heard that, and who’s mentioned it to them, and what they think that name means? Has mum or dad offered them any explanation for that? And what’s mum or dad said about that? And what do they think about that?


Aerinn Morgan (06:05):

So if a child is using the word ‘anxiety’, I might check in with them. “So do you think mum and dad have explained this to you or the doctors explained it to you? What does it mean to you? How does it fit with how you feel when you go to bed? Or how does it fit when you have to be away from mum and go to school? Or do you think there’s another way that you would describe it?”


Aerinn Morgan (06:28):

Maybe I might ask a younger child for a visual explanation. “When you close your eyes, can you imagine what this feeling looks like? And does it fit with that word that mum and dad gave you? Or have you got another word for it?” Could they draw a picture of it? And what would it look like? And does it have lots of colours or is it a particular shape or a size? Or does it make a noise or not a noise? How long have you had this feeling? How long has it been around? What did you think of it before you heard mum and dad or the doctor talk about anxiety? Did you think about it in different ways than you think about it now? Or did you think about it the same as you think about it now?”


Jamie Lee (07:09):

When we are giving children the opportunity to characterise the problems in their own language, to give a space for them to use their imagination, for them to be centred in the work, then that’s very respectful of the child. And it recognises that the child is a very agentic, powerful, meaning-making person.


Melinda Vardenega (07:32):

It’s really important to know how the child sees the problem. And sometimes, if they do come in and see it as a problem. So I would have a child come in and say, “I’m too emotional.” And I’ll say, “What does that look like?” Because it’s emotions are pretty good to have. That’s not their perspective, I don’t think. I think that’s something they’ve been told, “You’re too emotional.” So they’ve taken that on.


Melinda Vardenega (07:54):

And so it’s really important to hear that, but also to go underneath that and to know how they see, how things are going.


Liz Lodge (08:03):

I’d always try and let a child know that they’re not the problem. That something’s happening for them, that’s not working for them or for other people as well. Acknowledging that a problem is separate to a child takes some of the guilt and the anxiety out of it, and the shame that’s associated with behaviours that they’re not proud of, but they don’t know how to adjust. So we always keep the problem separate.


Liz Lodge (08:28):

So in our therapy, the modality is about third personing everything, so that you can create a safe environment for a child to explain what’s happening without it being a personal statement.


Katherine Headley (08:40):

So, I will often utilise tools such as video modeling of other children experiencing a problem, or a difficulty. And model to children using something like comic strip conversations or just doodling, where we can demonstrate someone’s thinking about a problem. And then what they said in that interaction to allow that child to give an opinion and a perspective around something that feels a little less connected to them emotionally. Then we’ll start to move into utilising those same skills and confidence with giving perspective, but about their own experiences and their own problems.


Jen Ly (09:28):

So what stood out to you, Chris?


Chris Dolman (09:30):

I just think from all the interviewees, it’s their commitment to honouring children’s language about problems really. And giving their words, children’s words, children’s description an important status. And I think more than that, finding ways to do that. Especially when medicalized terms might be prominent or other adult based labels might be prominent. These are some things that really stand out to me.


Chris Dolman (09:54):

I guess what we’d like again, to invite listeners to be reflecting on is, to what extent do the themes covered in that audio clip you’ve just heard, confirm how you think about your practise in relation to working with children or the aspects of what you heard that you disagree with, or would like to think about further? I also think it’s interesting to consider what challenges or dilemmas may arise when really seeking to privilege children’s words and meanings? When engaging them around the problems that they’re facing, what sort of challenges does that present us as practitioners? Okay. And now it’s time for a word about today’s featured resource. Which resource are we looking at today, Jen?


Jen Ly (10:32):

It’s the Emerging Minds Engaging children: Shrinking problems e-learning course.


Chris Dolman (10:36):



Jen Ly (10:37):

Does that surprise you?


Chris Dolman (10:38):

Not really given today’s topic.


Jen Ly (10:40): So today’s topic of ‘Calling it what it is’, is featured in the course, along with four other skills for having therapeutic conversations with children. That gather children’s perspectives on problems and begin to reduce the impact of problems on children’s mental health and wellbeing.


Chris Dolman (10:54):

And the other skills featured in the course, Jen? Some sort of drum roll happening now.


Jen Ly (11:00):

The others are, ‘When problems have many names’, ‘Putting problems in their proper place’, ‘A problem’s got to know its limitations’ and ‘How come the problem is a problem?’.


Chris Dolman (11:09):

Great. They sound intriguing.


Jen Ly (11:12): Each of these practice skills modules includes interviews with practitioners, video demonstrations of practise with real practitioners and child actors, and interviews of practitioners and actors reflecting on the practice demonstration. As well as comments from parents and reflection activities. And also the opportunity for people engaging in the course to contribute comments that become part of the course.


Chris Dolman (11:33):

So folks, if you are interested in ways of working with children that begin to shrink problems, then you may like to check out Emerging Minds Engaging children Shrinking problems e-learning course. There’ll be a link in the show notes. So we’ve had a number of comments submitted by participants that have been posted in the e-learning course under today’s theme, ‘Calling it what it is’.


Jen Ly (11:55):

Yes. Thanks to everyone for their contributions. I’ve got a list here. So I’ve got Kelsi, Liz, Zan, Mitch, Sonya, Jen, Katrina, Vera, Uneza, Amanda, Mel, Lisa, Melanie, Jodie, Isabella, Rosie, Louise, Jo, Chantelle, Angela, Emily, and Emma.


Chris Dolman (12:13):

Thanks everyone for those contributions. A number of people commented on how much they appreciated seeing the practitioners in action, working with the child actors, including how Jenny named a problem as the ‘balancing brussels sprouts’ in response to Carolyn’s invitations for her to name it in her own terms.


Chris Dolman (12:29):

And Vera from Minto and New South Wales wrote, “The idea of using visuals words and linking metaphors is a wonderful way for children to express their thoughts in a non-confrontational way.” Amanda also from New South Wales said, “I found it really interesting and grounding to have the children use their own words.” “The comment that resonated with me is that, the child can describe and name their problems, they may also be able to towards overcoming them.”


Jen Ly (12:54):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Lots of interesting comments there.


Chris Dolman (12:57):

Yeah. So thank you again to everyone that posts comments on the courses.


Jen Ly (13:00):

So I think that’s it for today, Chris. Thanks for joining us everyone.


Chris Dolman (13:03):

Yeah. Thanks Jen. See you folks.


Remy (13:07):

You have been listening to the Emerging Minds ‘Engaging children’ podcast, dedicated to exploring the possibilities for working with children in ways that are helpful and hopeful. Help us spread the word by sharing this with your colleagues, supervisors, classmates, tutors, GP, and Pilates instructor. You can subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google podcasts, or YouTube. And follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. And if you’d like to contact us about this podcast, please send us an email at [email protected]


Narrator (13:48):

Visit our website at to access a range of resources to assist your practise. Brought to you by The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health led by Emerging Minds. The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian government, Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

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