Transcript for
Engaging children: Opening the door to the problem

Runtime 00:14:50
Released 18/3/22

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.

Chris Dolman (00:34):

Thanks Remy. Thanks for that introduction. Hi, everyone. My name is Chris Dolman. I’m one of your co-hosts and I work with Emerging Minds, along with my colleague, Jen Ly. Hi, Jen.

Jen Ly (00:43):

Hi, Chris. Hi, everyone. What’s ahead for us today, Chris?

Chris Dolman (00:46):

Well, talking with children about your role as a practitioner, and the purpose of you meeting together, can sometimes be seen as a bit of a tick and flick exercise. You know, something you do fairly routinely.

Jen Ly (01:01):

But there’s more to it, right?

Chris Dolman (01:01):

Yeah. So, how you go about that, how you enable children to contribute to that conversation, can make a big difference for children being able to fully participate in your work with them. And it can potentially open the door to a conversation with the child about what’s problematic for them as well.

Jen Ly (01:15):

All right. So in today’s episode, we’ll be exploring this scene. We’re going to hear from some practitioners share their reflections on this topic, and then we are going to pose some questions for our audience, for them to think about and reflect on.

Chris Dolman (01:27):

Yeah, maybe talk with others about as well.

Jen Ly (01:28):

Yeah, that too.

Chris Dolman (01:29):

So, let’s start with a couple of those questions, shall we?

Jen Ly (01:32):

What have you got?

Chris Dolman (01:33):

Well, we’d like to invite listeners to be thinking about how do you currently go about describing what you do, your role, when you’re meeting with children? How do you do that in a way that makes sense for the child? And importantly, how do you go about seeking the child’s understanding on why you’re meeting together, without creating a sense of shame or embarrassment for them?

Jen Ly (01:57):

Yeah, that sounds pretty important.

Chris Dolman (01:59):

It is important. It’s important to keep shame out of the counselling room, and find ways to give kids a chance to speak about things that are important to them.

Jen Ly (02:08):

Okay. So, let’s hear from our interviewees now. The first clip features Katherine Headley, speech pathologist from Links Trauma Healing Service, Liz Lodge, play therapist from Centre Care Catholic Family Services, Jackie Amos, child psychiatrist. You get a guernsey in this one, Chris.

Chris Dolman (02:25):

Yes, I do.

Jen Ly (02:26):

Let’s hear from them now.

Katherine Headley (02:27):

I think all clinicians working with children need to be really mindful that it’s helpful to introduce your role in talking to children about problems or difficult things from the get-go, so that doesn’t come as a surprise once initial rapport has been built. So, when I’m working with children, if I send them an introduction letter prior to meeting them, and then in meeting them and describing my role, I always include that part of my role is talking to children about problems they’re having or difficulties they’re experiencing.

Liz Lodge (03:09):

When a child first starts counselling, I’ll get their perspective and their understanding of what they know, what counselling is. And we work from there, because it’s really important that I understand what the child understands. Because a lot of them don’t know why they’re there, because they’ve been referred by a teacher or a parent. So, we talk about what counselling is, what it looks like, what it can mean for them, what it can help with.

Jackie Amos (03:35):

9 times out of 10, even if they’ve been told, by the time they’re actually there, they’re pretty anxious and can’t really remember a lot about who I am, or what I do, or may not have any idea what coming to see a child psychiatrist is all about.

Liz Lodge (03:53):

So I’ll ask, do you know what a counsellor is? And usually they say, oh, that’s someone that works for the council. And I’ll go, well it’s sort of the same word but a counsellor is someone that helps people. And then I say, well, how would you need help, if you need it? And they’ll explain that to me. Or they’ll say, I don’t know.

Chris Dolman (04:10):

I’m interested in understanding certainly what it is that has them being there, what it is that has us meeting together. But I’m also really interested in understanding other parts of their life as well. Other things that they do, that they enjoy, that they’re good at, as well.

Liz Lodge (04:26):

We talk about, sometimes kids are upset, sometimes they’re angry, sometimes they’re sad, sometimes they feel lonely and they don’t know how to make that feel better on their own. So, they come and visit me, because together we work out what the best solution for them is and how they can change that, so they feel a bit happier. I say sometimes we can’t make it feel better, but we can make it different, so it’s easier to be in that space. And then I’ll ask, is that something that would be useful for you, that you think that you might need? And quite often they’ll say yes. And I’ll say, well, what would it be that you would need help with? Can you explain what the problem is for me, or what’s happened for you?

Jen Ly (05:08):

There’s some really interesting descriptions in there, Chris.

Chris Dolman (05:11):

Yeah, there is for sure. I think one thing that really stands out to me is the importance of seeking to understand the child’s understanding of the consultation. What meaning they’re making of us meeting with them, because that can very much affect their participation. But that meeting is up for grabs, something we can help shape, help respond to. We can clarify the meeting they’re making, out of us meeting with them and clarifying that can reposition them and ourselves, and indeed the problem, in terms of the conversation we’re about to have.

Jen Ly (05:44):

Yes, well we have a second clip too, where we hear practitioners reflect on transparency with children in relation to what they know about child circumstances. Let’s hear from Jessica Warren, child psychologist, Mthobeli Ngcanga, team leader at Stars, and Jackie Amos and Liz lodge again.

Jessica Warren (06:04):

I think the minute that they’re in my office and we are sitting there having a conversation about what’s brought them to me today, I’d be letting them know that I have a bunch of information about them. It’s a version of a story and I would very much love to get their version of the story as well. And so, that’s the conversation I’d be having from the get-go. You know, if you don’t bring that up in the beginning, when you start to talk about it later, that child’s going to be a bit confused about why they’re actually there. And just talking about the nature of the referral. Why they’ve come to see you today, what their parents say about why they’re there, what they think about why they’re there. And you as a therapist, what you think about why they’re there.

Jackie Amos (06:41):

I would always let the young person know who I’ve spoken to. And I would also always let them know the sorts of information that I’ve been given. So, I don’t sit and hold a whole lot of information that they don’t know I have. If I do start with another process, then that’s very transparent. Okay, you know that I’ve met with so and so, so and so, so and so, and these are the things we talked about.

Mthobeli Ngcanga (07:05):

What I’m looking for in the early conversation is what is important in the child, in relation to what I’ve been told about the situation about the child, because I want to hear the child’s understanding of what is actually happening with them.

Jackie Amos (07:21):

If I can say to this young person, look, I know that you’ve been in dozens of these appointments. I know that you probably don’t want to be here or don’t hold out a lot of hope for this process. And I actually don’t know if I can or can’t do anything to help you. But here we are, this is what I’ve been told. You know what I’ve been told about your struggles. But this is everybody else’s ideas about who you are, and everybody else’s ideas about what needs to change, or what needs to happen. What would you like to do with this? What would you like to do with this time? Is there anything you can think of that I might be useful for? Is there stuff that you’d like me to pass back to these people on your behalf? What could we do that you haven’t done already?

Liz Lodge (08:05):

Now, usually I will say, do you understand why we’re catching up today? And if they say no, say, has something happened at school or at home that has resulted in things not being quite the way that you want them to you, and you’ve been a bit upset or a bit angry or a bit sad? And lots of times they say no, even though there is something. And I say, because your teacher was really worried about you, or your mom and dad were really worried about you. So, they had a chat with me and asked if I could talk to you and see if you were okay, because we need to know what’s happening for you. Because I believe this was the incident that resulted in you being referred to counselling in the first place.

Liz Lodge (08:49):

And sometimes they get really worried, because they know that I know about something that they weren’t proud of, or they feel shame over. Or sometimes they’re relieved, because they don’t have to actually tell me. And sometimes there’s nothing at all. And then I’ll ask them to show me. I say, I know that words are really hard for this, and that you don’t know me, that we haven’t met before, and I’m asking you to share things that are private and personal and that you don’t feel all that great about, so can you draw me a picture of what happened and how you were feeling?

Chris Dolman (09:22):

Gee, there’s a lot in that clip too, Jen. What stood out to you?

Jen Ly (09:26):

I think for me listening to how they were wanting a version of their story and their background and putting themselves in their shoes to understand, even though they had the knowledge and everything written down already. And just listening to them, and understanding their situation, and asking questions, I think is really important.

Chris Dolman (09:42):

Yeah. I agree. I think they’re really significant considerations as well. And now it’s time for a word about today’s featured resource. Which resource are we looking at today? Jen?

Jen Ly (09:54):

It’s the Emerging Minds, Engaging Children: Good Beginnings e-learning course.

Chris Dolman (09:58):

Yeah. No surprises there.

Jen Ly (09:59):

That’s right. No surprises, because today’s topic is one of the skills-based, practise modules, included in the course.

Chris Dolman (10:05):

Yes, that’s right. It’s called Opening the Door to the Problem. And there are six others.

Jen Ly (10:10):

Yes. And each one includes interviews with practitioners, VO demonstrations of practise with real practitioners and child actors, and interviews of practitioners and actors reflecting on the practise demonstration, as well as comments from parents and reflection activities.

Chris Dolman (10:24):

Yeah. There’s also the opportunity for people engaging in the course to contribute comments that can become a part of the course.

Jen Ly (10:30):

Yes. So, if you’re interested in developing or extending on your skills in beginning of working with children in relation to their mental health, and social and emotional wellbeing, then you may like to check out Engaging Children: Good Beginnings, e-learning course.

Chris Dolman (10:43):

We’ll be putting a link to that course in the show notes.

Chris Dolman (10:49):

Okay. So we’d like to be inviting listeners to be reflecting on, and deciding if and how, to describe to a child what you already know about their circumstances. What considerations are most important to you, when you’re weighing that up? What do you need to take care with when you’re deciding whether to tell the child what you know about their circumstances? And actually, we’ve had a number of comments already submitted onto the course by participants on today’s topic, that we’ve already posted. And we’d like to mention a couple of those. What have others said?

Jen Ly (11:23):

Yeah. So Liz from Queensland, she works for a trauma service there. And she writes that she describes to children how her office exists to help children who have had frightening things happen to them and/or they’ve been hurt by grownups and they may still feel frightened, have trouble sleeping or having big feelings, such as anger or sadness, that can be so hard to manage. “I let them know that some kids want to talk, others prefer to play or draw. I also try to create a permissive environment, yet still with some boundaries, using the classic play therapy line; in here you can do almost anything you like, if there’s something you can’t do, I’ll let you know.”

Chris Dolman (12:02):

Yeah. I guess what stands out to me, Jen, from what Liz has said is the importance of finding ways to describe your role in ways that, not only make sense for the child, but give permission, or normalise, the talking about those experiences. That perhaps other kids have experienced something similar as well.

Jen Ly (12:20):

So, this can have kids feeling not so alone or isolated from the get-go. Yeah, absolutely. Dan, from [inaudible 00:12:26] writes that, at times they’ve been tripped up in the past when I have been less open about what I know, which can put me in a bind as a practitioner, but can also erode a sense of trust.

Chris Dolman (12:36):

Sure. It can be tricky though, can’t it?

Jen Ly (12:38):

Yes. Well, Kelsey writes about the potential effects of children hearing what their parents, doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, et cetera have said, or written about them. And she goes on to pose the question, how we might be transparent with young people about what we’ve been told. Which I think is a very honourable ethic, which also considering what it might be like for young people to hear potentially very negative accounts of their identities.

Chris Dolman (13:02):

Yeah. It’s like the balancing or interplay between this ethic of transparency and ethic of accountability to children too, for the effects of what we say or do in our work with children. So, there’s some big themes there.

Jen Ly (13:15):

Yeah. So, thanks to Liz, Kelsey, Dan, for those reflections. And thanks to others who have submitted comments on their e-learning courses.

Chris Dolman (13:24):

Yeah, Rick and Janine, Anthony and Frank have all made a contribution so far to the course. So, thank you to those people as well. And well, that’s it for today. Thanks everyone, for joining us. And thanks, Jen as well.

Jen Ly (13:35):

Thanks Chris. Bye, everyone.

Remy (13:38):

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 (14:19):

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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