The real reasons kids ‘act out’


A few weeks ago, Warcry magazine approached Colleen about the issue of parenting children who are acting out. Here is what she shared with them.

It takes some hefty detective work to understand why your child is ‘acting out’, writes Colleen Morris.

A parent needs to be patient, curious, observant and attentive to what their child’s behaviour is trying to call attention to. Here are seven common reasons your kids may be struggling.

Marital conflict

Negative behaviours such as bickering, criticism, sarcasm, yelling and fighting create an environment that is stressful and unpredictable. Often a child acts out to draw parents’ attention away from each other and therefore lessen the tension in the relationship.

Parental separation

The years following a parental separation can cause emotional distress for children. Sadness, guilt and anger can all drive a child to ‘act out’ because they feel their whole world has been dismantled.


A child’s grief is as keen as your own and has no set time limit or method. The loss of a parent, grandparent, close friend or a pet are life experiences that are frequently confusing, sad and, when not given expression, can be toxic to our body and our emotions.


Being ‘time poor’ is one of the hazards of our fast-paced lifestyle. Many parents are simply preoccupied with the challenges of daily life, so when we fail to notice that one of our children is lonely and needing our attention, they can look for ways to draw attention to themselves.

Physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse

How does a child talk to a parent about ‘the unmentionable’ without feeling shame, terror, embarrassment or fear of not being believed? There are times when the abuse is within the family context—sometimes it is a family friend or neighbour, sometimes it is someone bullying them at school, and at other times it is happening in cyberspace. Acting out may be a ‘cry for help’ in this instance.

Rigid rules and unrealistic expectations

When children are young, parents create rules and boundaries—spoken and unspoken—that define acceptable behaviour. As our children grow and develop, we must continually redefine these. When a parent’s rules remain rigid and unrealistic with regard to their child’s changing world, a child typically feels resentful, annoyed and angry.

Generational trauma

When unaddressed and unresolved, you or your parents’ past trauma continues to be alive and present in the experience of your children.

Where there has been war, abandonment, neglect and other extremely traumatic experiences, the pain and distress of the past will continue to find its echo in the present as long as it is unacknowledged and the impact unrecognised.

Learning how to listen attentively, build trust and teach your child to name their emotions are vital for their behaviour to settle. If your child is acting out, sit down and listen to them. By addressing the real issues you can build trust with them during this difficult time.

Is your child ‘acting out’? Are you concerned about your kids’ wellbeing? Call Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10 minute consultation. To make an appointment, go to BOOK NOW and you will be able to access Watersedgecounselling’s online appointment diary.

Thank you to Warcry magazine for publishing this piece in its week-to-week column. You can read it on its website here. It was originally published on Watersedge in September 2016 as ‘7 Reasons Your Child Might Be Acting Out’.

5 Tips To Help Your Children Cope With The Chronic Illness Of Their Sibling

waiting_for_the_right_moment___by_captivatedimagesI can only imagine how difficult it is for parents as they care for a child with chronic illness. The constant trips to and from the hospital; 24/7 care at home; not to mention the financial stress of the situation are unfathomable to me at such a young age. Yet amongst all this chaos, have you ever considered how your children are coping with this chronic illness? Not just the child who is being carted around from doctor to psychologist and then to the naturopath, but also their siblings? The truth is chronic illness does not just affect the person diagnosed; it also impacts the immediate family in every way possible.

Working at a school, I have had a glimpse of the challenges that many parents go through daily as they attempt to care for their child, get them to school, work a full time job and then make it back by home time. In short, life is difficult enough for the average parent without the added pressure of a chronic illness. Whether this illness comes as debilitating anxiety, depression, cancer, Chronic Fatigue, Lime Disease or some unknown bacteria that is as of yet unidentified, it becomes well known to every member of the family.

It is possible to try and shield your children from the illness that their sibling is undergoing; however the fact that they will have to attend school while their brother or sister gets to ‘lie on the couch and watch TV all day’ will eventually cause them to ask questions. As a child who had a sibling with chronic illness all through high school, I have been able to see what was beneficial for me and what I needed in order to cope with this strange condition that debilitated my sister 24 hours a day.

If you have a child who is currently going through chronic illness, here are 5 tips on how to approach this topic with their siblings:

1. Be honest

Children and teenagers will pick up if something is wrong in their household, particularly if it involves a sibling who is now being doted over by their parents. Tell them what is wrong, give them the details of the illness (as best suited to their age and maturity) and tell them if it can be cured.

2. Allow them to help

Let’s face it, your children may not be able to do much to help their ill brother or sister, but this doesn’t mean they can’t try. By allowing your children to ‘help’ by drawing a picture, cooking, cleaning up or even feeding their sibling they will feel useful.

3. Don’t compare them to their siblings

If your child is anything like me, they will quickly realise how unfair it is that they HAVE to do everything that their sibling is unable to do. Whether this be attend school or do chores it will seem unjust that they have to carry more of the weight. Explain to them why your expectations of them are different from their brother or sister, and show them that they have many privileges that their sibling is unable to partake in.

4. Validate your child

Your child will probably become envious of the attention their brother or sister is getting. They will long for that time with their parents as well as some of the ‘privileges’ their sibling receives. Let your child know that it is ok to feel this way and listen to them. Explore how you can best show your healthy children how valued they are and try to spend time with them.

5. Be patient

Just as you are learning to be patient with your child and the fact that they are experiencing an illness you have little or no control over, the rest of your family will also have to learn this patience with each other. This period will challenge you and your family, but draw together and consistently show your appreciation and love for one another to strengthen your family unit. By doing this, you will not just be supporting your ill child, but also their siblings.

About Jessica Morris

Jessica Morris is a 22 year-old free-lance journalist living near Melbourne, Australia. Passionate about pop culture and how this intersects with mental health, faith and social justice; she seeks represent this generation within the media. You can view her work at


If you are experiencing difficulties in your parenting or  need  support and encouragement as you parent, then here’s what you need to do, contact me on 0434 337 245  for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you or you can make an appointment to see Colleen by booking online now.

Teenagers: “I don’t want to go to school!” When a sick day is more than an excuse

Boy in Deep ThoughtMany people say that their high school years were the best of their lives; that they were filled with the making of lifelong friends, lifelong learning and unforgettable memories. I’m not quite sure what high school these people went to, because I am unashamed to admit that my high school years were the hardest of my (albeit short) life.

Rather than looking forward to seeing my friends every day, I woke up with a ball of elastic in stomach at the thought of who I would partner with in class, or if a group of girls would allow me to sit with them during lunch. A day before a class I particularly disliked I would come down physically ill and start to tear up. As I progressed, anxiety about subjects I was particularly bad at evaporated and morphed into constant stress regarding whether I was good enough to get a high score in the subjects I had always excelled at. High school was brutal, and I needed all the support I could get.

The importance of parental influence in attending school and their role in my thriving in its harsh environment became apparent to me when I was just 13 years old. I woke up one morning and walked around school in a zombie like state. On the second day this occurred I switched off completely and all I could do was grunt. The following morning my mother woke me up and told me three very important things:

1. I had depression

2. My parents were going to get me help

3. I did not have to go to school that day

Oddly enough, the fact that I did not have to attend school that day has stayed with me as a defining memory in the last decade. It showed me that my mother accepted that what I was experiencing was valid; that she believed I could no longer fight such a battle alone; and that my health was of far greater value than any expectation placed on me by the community.

I learnt very quickly that my parents influence and the actions of my teachers and mentors had a significant impact on my recovery.  When I was encouraged, supported and given leeway in my studies to focus on my health, I thrived and was able to resume going to school and completing tasks I had once felt nauseous about.

Due to the support I received from my family and school staff, I eventually started going to school full time in my final year. This means that it took me five years to become what I viewed as ‘normal’. Each year in between involved me battling to get to school, and frequently visiting the school office to ask my father to pick me up early. In retrospect, I am able to see what was helpful in this period and what wasn’t.

So for every parent, grandparent or guardian who has a Gen Y causing chaos in your home every school day as you nearly force them to get to school, here are some simple rules that will hopefully help you and your Gen Y as you approach the next six or so years of education.

1. Let your Gen Y know that their experience is valid and that you realise this is not an excuse to miss school.

If your Gen Y is struggling to get to school frequently there is a good indication that something is wrong in their life.

2. Don’t force them to get to school.

This is not to diminish the importance of an education or the fact that your child needs to resume a somewhat ‘normal’ life. Rather, it can enable your child to work through their anxieties, fears or other issues in a safe environment before they feel somewhat ready to return to school.

3. Reinforce the importance of school as a healthy aspect of your Gen Y’s life.

If your child is not working towards going back to school first on occasion, then progressively to the capacity their health will allow, they will lack motivation and the skills needed upon their graduation.

4. Approach your child’s school and make them aware of the situation.

There is any amount of strategies and ways staff can support you so your child doesn’t fall further behind or experience a harsh transition back to school.

5. Seek outside help.

While the support of my family and school were fundamental in my recovery, having a counsellor who could listen, support and challenge me, enabled me to want to return to school. As a parent or guardian, you do not have to face this battle alone. Seek the help of a professional not just for your child’s health, but for your own.

About Jessica Morris

Jessica Morris is a 22 year-old free-lance journalist living near Melbourne, Australia. Passionate about pop culture and how this intersects with mental health, faith and social justice; she seeks represent this generation within the media. You can view her work at


If you are experiencing difficulties in your parenting or  need  support and encouragement as you parent, then here’s what you need to do, contact me on 0434 337 245  for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you or you can make an appointment to see Colleen by booking online now.