How to Have a Happy Family

My passion is to support families, and the individuals within them, by equipping them to connect, communicate and have fun together.

Families of all shapes and sizes struggle with the same fundamental issues of different agendas, standards and expectations. Every member of your family may need something entirely different to the rest, especially in families with neurodiverse members who can often struggle to feel a sense of belonging. 

Embracing the values that make your family unique by learning to connect (or reconnect) through communication, compromise and prioritising relationships within the family can take your family from stress to a place of family joy and happiness.


One of the first steps towards healthy family communication is mastering the I-message (not the phone variety!). This starts with recognising the problem is not the person you are speaking to, but rather their actions and how they impact you.

I-messages are a simple form of communication that are particularly helpful in conflict situations, or encouraging children to adjust behaviour without punishment. I-messages comprise three parts:

  1. A non-blameful/non-judgemental description of the child’s (or adult’s) behaviour
  2. How you feel about the behaviour
  3. The impact or cost to you or some other person

E.g. When you twirl around in the lounge room, I feel worried because you may hit the television and we cannot afford a new one. If it broke, none of us could enjoy the shows we wanted to watch.

Using these I-messages, instead of blaming with ‘you-messages’, we explain to the other member of our family (yes, this works with adults too!) how their actions impact us. If it doesn’t work in the first instance, actively listen to their point of view or needs, then move towards a solution that works for both parties.

No Lose Method – Compromise!

Traditional (or might I say old fashioned?) family models focus on parental discipline and child obedience. This win-lose conflict resolution style may compel behaviour choices in the immediate, but it seldom influences values and choices next time. Unfortunately, this parent wins/child loses parenting style often leads to children who resent their parents.

The opposite style of conflict resolution, where child wins/parent loses, is similarly ineffective, as it leads to parents resenting children (yes, it happens) and children who become selfish and inconsiderate.

The trick to having a happy family is to compromise and you meet the needs of both parties by finding a solution that is acceptable to both. In so many cases, between adult members or between adult and child, the act of both offering a solution, discussing and then actioning a win-win option can bring you closer together.

E.g. When a child wants to twirl, and an adult wants to keep the TV safe, the Child can twirl outside or in their room.

Put the Relationship First

I know from personal experience that shifting family dynamics is challenging, and long-held behaviour patterns are particularly so. But I also know it is worth the effort. Many of us parent as we were brought up ourselves and have to unlearn before moving forward. It helps if you focus on the end goal.

You are reading this because you value your family. You want to know the secret ingredient to have a happy family. I’m here to tell you that the secret is to prioritise your family relationships. Once you have done so, the changes and shift in dynamics will seem easier, and your neurodiverse family will become the happy family you want it to be.

If you would like to learn more about how you can have your own happy family, I invite you to join me at my FREE Recharge Family Joy Sessions with Wendy Marman. In Canberra on Wednesday 16, 23 & 30 March from 7:30 – 9:00 pm at Western Community Hub (also available live online).

Christmas Tips for Neurodiverse Families

There are three simple rules I keep coming back to. I recommend them to my clients and I try to remember them myself. They are essential for neurodiverse families at this holiday time of the year. So my Christmas Tips are similar to my everyday life tips.

1. You know your family best.
2. You are your neurodiverse child’s best advocate.
3. Keep your own cup full to benefit your whole family.

The pressure of Christmas expectations, long summer holidays, visiting family or friends that may not know your child as well all deplete your child’s energy bank. This is especially true of neurodiverse children. My Christmas tips help my family and many of my clients.

You Know Your Family Best

Many families experience the challenges of different personalities and often unwanted parenting advice over the holiday period. For families with neurodiverse members, including autism, ADHD or any number of diagnoses, the judgements from these large gatherings can be painful and lead to meltdowns or confrontations. There is no one solution here, but I want to remind you to trust your instincts.

You know your family best. Even if you don’t have a solution all the time or an easy way to avoid triggers as they change. Trust your instinct as a parent.

Perhaps you think it would help if you stayed in a hotel rather than with family, so there is a quiet place at the end of the day where your autistic child can recharge. Maybe you realise that the sugar for Christmas Breakfast triggers ADHD reactions in your child and can offer to cook up a savoury special for everyone instead.

Planning ahead and listening to your inner voice will help your child have a neurodiverse friendly Christmas that everyone will enjoy.

You Are Your Childs Best Advocate

Advocating can be difficult, but it is also rewarding. As parents of neurodiverse children, we get used to advocating on their behalf to schools and other child based activity groups. It’s much harder at Christmas when it becomes our job to advocate for our child to our parents or grandparents, even to our crazy Aunt who cannot understand difference at all.

I have been there. I have chastised my child for behaviour when I should have been more empathic. I have chastised my child for behaviour when I should have chastised the other party for disrespecting my child. And I have felt guilty later. So have many of the parents I work with.

You may experience a moment of discomfort respectfully explaining to your parents/or other awkward family members that you are taking your child for a quiet walk instead of punishing them.

For your child, this could become the most significant part of their holiday. Knowing you had their back. Others will have to get used to modern parenting and respecting children too.

Keep Your Cup Full To Benefit The Whole Family

I have spoken about this before and will likely again because it’s so important. It can be challenging to advocate for your child to other family members or pre-empt meltdowns or confrontations. It may feel like I am asking too much of you, and it is adding more worry. Please love yourself more than this. I want you to feel empowered, capable and to know that it is ok to make mistakes!

You will be more capable, more empowered, and more forgiving of yourself if you fill your cup too. If you love Christmas with your family, then go forth and enjoy. However, if it is a day filled with arguments and judgement that depletes both you and your neurodiverse child, can you alternate years? Spend the alternate on holiday at the beach filling your cup?

If you can look after yourself as a parent, you will better advocate and smooth the path for your child. Neurodiverse or not.

Christmas tips take away: take that bubble bath on Christmas Eve, limit your time with family members who wind you up, or take a long walk before you see them. What you need is important too.

Sending you peace, love and joy this festive season.


Preparing for High School on the Spectrum

The key is early and ongoing communication

Starting High School is a big change for all students. For our neurodiverse children, this change can be magnified and have a much greater, often negative, impact. Anxiety, sensory overload, reduction in structure and reduced 1:1 support for our children can be significant challenges.

The key to successful transition is communication and preparation. By working with your child’s High School as their Primary School draws to a close for the year, both student and school will be in a better place to prepare. Preparation and understanding reduce student anxiety and set in place support and structure.

Communicating effectively with High Schools as a parent can also be a new experience as there is no longer one classroom teacher who knows your child well. But it is possible, and it can be a positive experience.

Be Prepared and Informed

Before you begin to consider transition to High School it is helpful to take a good look at where your child is now. If it has been a while since your last conversation with their classroom teacher, start by setting aside a time for a discussion with them. Talk openly about your own observations and ask theirs. Try to put together the best picture of your child as they are right now.

The ACT is fortunate to have a small number of public schools dedicated to working with significantly impacted neurodiverse (and intellectually disabled) children. Including Woden School and Black Mountain School for students in year 7-12. Many other High Schools, including Canberra High School have a Learning Support Unit dedicated to catering for each students unique needs. This can include structured learning or social skills requirements. These are not necessary for most neurodiverse students but may be worth considering if you feel your child may benefit.

The first step to a smooth transition to High School is to know the options available. Then either choose your school accordingly or use that knowledge to start the conversation at your chosen High School.

Communicating (and Advocating) with High School

Regardless of formal options available, or which High School your child attends, the school, and its teachers, will want your child to succeed as much as you do. Most teachers will happily make accommodations where possible to ensure the success of a student.

Start by contacting the school administration and asking who the best person is to speak to, and how to make an appointment with them. Take in your questions, your observations of your child and any requests or ideas you have that may assist your child. You might consider my earlier Top Tips:
  • Arrange as many transition visits as possible to orient your child
  • Request a sample copy of the year 7 timetable and a school map. Use these to start discussions with your child about how to use them to their advantage
  • Ask for a final copy of your child’s actual timetable as early as possible so you can work through it with your child and demystify before the first day.
  • Request a peer support older child that your child can meet and be mentored by. Knowing a familiar and experienced peer who is there for them can be an enormous help in the early days.

Be sure to leave that meeting with a firm idea of what supports will be provided, or what the next steps are. You may need to wait until Timetables are finalised or class lists complete. But you should know when your next meeting is, or what supports will be put in place. Some questions to consider are:

  • Will you provide this information to each of my child’s teachers?
  • Will my child have a home room teacher who is responsible for their wellbeing?
  • Where should my child go on day 1?
  • What policies do you have in place to ensure my child does not fall behind?
  • Who do I contact if we are having difficulties either learning or socially at school?

Need More Help Transitioning Your Neurodiverse Student from Primary School to High School?

The earlier you begin these conversations, the better the outcomes for you and your child. More notice means more capacity within the school system to accommodate early requests for timetables or setting up of transition visits and mentoring relationships.

If you are finding the conversations difficult, or not feeling comfortable with how they are progressing, please give me a call. I can liaise either on your behalf or with you and your child to ensure the best possible outcome for this often challenging transition period.

And remember: Some neurodiverse students thrive in High School. With more control of their own study habits, new friends who understand them as they are or the opportunity to select subjects that match their passions, High School can be the making of some neurodiverse students as they develop into the wonderful young adults we know they will be!

Support your neurodiverse child as they resume Face to Face Learning

For neurodiverse children dependant on routine for security, returning to Face to Face learning may feel like a new routine, which may undermine their sense of security and comfort. Even those excited to return to school may find themselves quickly overwhelmed, just as some adults will be in returning to work.

Now is the time for practicing compassion. Compassion for your child and compassion for yourself. Just like oxygen masks on aeroplanes, it is just as important to look after yourself first, so you can be there for your child when they need you. Take it gently, accept your child (and yourself) where you are, and consider using an energy accounting practice to keep all your cups full.

Take it gently – triggers may be there even if they don’t articulate it

Children through to early high school often lack the emotional intelligence, regulation or even the language to fully identify how they are feeling and why. It is up to us as parents to step back and observe or ask the questions. Without your child realising it, their anxiety triggers and stressors may be present in their lives again.

For many students it has been 11 weeks since they last saw their friends or had to engage socially in a classroom. Maybe their day is more tiring now, maybe the class bully is back in their life, maybe it just takes too much effort to follow instructions all day in a noisy classroom. Every day may be different, and the best support you can provide is to accept your child where they are now.

Accept your child where they are now

When children feel truly accepted, they are freed to move forward and think about how they might want to change.

In the days and weeks to come there will be (as there always are) good days and bad days for your child at school. Actively listening, through empathic reflection of their words and feelings, will allow your child a safe space to express themselves. It is important during this period of change that your child is heard and accepted in any of their feelings.

By accepting your child exactly as they are each day, you will be able to provide them compassionate support, that meets them where they are in any given moment. Don’t plan too much in the diary, don’t race back into everything all at once, take it day by day. One way to gently identify where your child is at on a given day is to use a system of energy accounting.

Energy Accounting – building back up after a day of deficit 

A system of reflecting on and keeping track of the things that have drained or increased personal energy during the day.

Energy accounting is a simple way of reflecting over a day (or planning a day), where energy is treated like a bank balance. Withdrawals are activities that reduce personal energy levels. This might include making a mistake, being teased or an unpredicted change. Deposits are positive activities that increase personal energy levels. For children this often includes time on iPad, ice cream after dinner or an enjoyable play with friends. Not all energy impacts equally so each deposit or withdrawal is given a value between 1-100 that is relevant to your child. This method assists communication between you and your child and allows for adjustments to be made when you can see or know in advance that deficit is likely.

Energy accounting is a great way to support yourself too. By making sure that you are putting into your energy supplies too you can better be there for your child. Review the activities in your own day that fill or deplete your energy books. Take some time out to enjoy a coffee with friends, prioritise going to the gym or let everyone know Sunday morning is me time for running a long hot bath. Parents needs are important too and by looking after yourself you not only provide a good example for your child, but you are also better placed to support them in the here and now.

Small steps are ok

Both parents and children should remember that it is ok if you need to take a day off school for mental health improvement. It is ok if your child doesn’t want to play with friends on weekends yet. It is ok if you are also tired as a parent and need to relax more, take a day off work, or remain quiet on weekends. Small steps back towards a new normal for 2022 are all that is needed of any of us right now as we wind down the school year.

Take care of yourselves and your families at this time.

Send me an email if I can be of any assistance to you.


NOTE: All transitions can be a challenge for students, particularly neurodiverse students. If your child is starting High School next year, you may also like to read my article on Transitioning to High School

Life skills series: Part one cooking with your special needs child

At Social Living Solutions, we are all about helping your child meet his or her potential.  Coming up over the next few months is a series of helpful blogs centred around life skills that will help your child to flourish.  Today I am going to talk about the essential life skill of cooking.

Love it or loathe it, cooking is a necessary life skill to survive.  Apart from it’s obvious necessity, let’s look at the benefits of cooking for our special needs children; and the skills and benefits it can provide them with.

Using the example of a simple task such as baking a batch of biscuits, I will demonstrate how we can teach and provide children with many life skills.

When you have jointly decided which recipe to make, assist the child to check through the pantry and the fridge to determine which ingredients they already have in the home, and which ingredients need to be purchased from the supermarket.  The next step would be to construct a shopping list together.

This simple straight forward task assists with executive functioning as it requires planning and forward thinking.  It also assists with working memory, as the child is using their immediate conscious and perceptual memory and linguistic processing.

Then plan two things in collaboration with the child: plan when would be a good day and time to bake or cook the recipe, depending, if it is a family meal or a baked item.  Also plan what would be a good day and time to go to the supermarket to purchase the missing items.

The next step is the trip to the supermarket.  I ask the parent/carer to be available at the supermarket but not to find the required items for the child.  Instead, I ask them to assist the child in negotiating to find their way around the supermarket and locating the required items.

This again assists with executive functioning, and working memory but also helps with slow processing, growing self-esteem, confidence and independence.  After several visits like this to the supermarket, the child will eventually be able to negotiate the supermarket independently and confidently.

Another step in this process is to teach the child to examine the price of the items and ascertain which item by weight, volume and price is the best value for money.  Here we are teaching them the value of money and to consider the parameters of working within a budget.  We are also incorporating math principles in this exercise.  Again, we are using executive functioning, working memory and processing speed as they are having to plan the best value for money, and think about working within a budget.

I ensure that the parent/carer provides the child with cash to purchase the items as I want them to understand the value of money as well as the concept of change. I encourage the parent/carer to assist the child in working out what the amount of change will be, prior to receiving it.

This transaction also is an excellent opportunity to teach the child the social skills involved in having to interact with a complete stranger whilst purchasing the items.

Following on from this experience the child then cooks or bakes the recipe.  Whilst cooking or baking, a variety of life and math skills are addressed.  The child may have to weigh out or measure ingredients.  They may have to use their fine and gross motor skills to cut items up and mix them together.  They will also have to utilise their fine motor skills when stirring ingredients in a pot or cake mixer.  This is also fantastic opportunity to teach them the considerations around using a hot stove or a hot oven.

Naturally, they are also learning the valuable life skill of cooking.  When they have completed cooking, or baking the item they will feel a real sense of accomplishment.  They have been able to successfully produce the dish and/or baked goods.  This will enhance their self-confidence and belief in their own abilities and belief that they can accomplish new and complex tasks.

In conclusion, the life skill of cooking has wonderful benefits, and helps develop important skills for your special needs child that most of us take for granted – planning and preparing a meal.  If you would like more information about how I can assist and support your family, with this life skill or any other issues then please email me at