Shona Innes from Australia – wife, mother, clinical psychologist and children’s book author was recently interviewed as she takes us inside the life of a child psychologist, which you deem to find interesting.
Can you explain to our readers what forensic psychology is?
It’s the application of psychological knowledge to the Law. So, this means, on a day-to-day basis, I may be working with young offenders, or victims of crime, or those who are being raised in Government care systems– assisting them to understand their behavior, emotions and histories so they can lead safer and happier lives.
What is age of the youngest child you have ever counseled?
I have had sessions with pregnant mothers, and mothers with very young children. When a child is very young, it’s their people and environment that I tend to work with to help them settle. In fact, working with a child’s team is always a really big part of the work.
My individual sessions with children might start at around five years and become a bigger part of the treatment package as the child ages. Young children usually start with work about identifying feelings, asking for help from safe people and behavior and as their brains mature, the work becomes more about their thinking and their beliefs.
What was your inspiration for the book ‘Life is Like the Wind’ ?
Life is Like the Wind was written as a letter to a little boy who had a history of significant abuse and neglect and had been permanently adopted with his siblings by a very warm woman. The child had so much to ask the adoptive mother about her own mother and, as her mother had passed away, she found it a difficult subject to talk about. They both needed a simple way to relate, so that they could talk about it. Putting it in a letter meant that they could read through it together in a quiet and special moment and go back to it if there were more questions that needed answering. Also, many children like to repeat things over and over again as they learn and they often ask things over and over again. If it’s written down in a special place, it can be a “go to” resource.
At what age can children comprehend that someone they know has passed away and they will not be able to see that someone ever again?
I know it’s a psychologist’s fav0rite answer, but “it depends.” If the child has had a very close and secure attachment, a very young infant will likely know that something is not right or something is missing and they may need additional soothing. There are a number of phases that children go through in their cognitive and emotional development and not all do so at the same time or rate. A three or four-year-old will often want to speak lots about the person who has died and will do so in a very matter of fact way. They understand the concept, and they know about feeling sad, but they may not link it to consequence and feelings in a way that helps them to know the best times and places to talk about it. For instance, they might introduce themselves to strangers in the supermarket and tell them – “Hi, my name is Lucy and my Mum’s mum just died and she’s sad.”
If you could give new parents three pieces of advice on raising well-adjusted, happy and kind children what would they be?
- Provide them with a safe base.
- Encourage them to explore beyond the base, test limits, get dirty, observe life and other people, make mistakes, laugh and play.
- Provide boundaries and swift, firm, appropriate consequences if they are crossed.