The Resiliency Rx – check-in to check-up


The Resiliency Rx – check-in to check-up

Resilience is the capacity to rise above difficult circumstances. It is a trait that allows us to exist in this less-than-perfect world while moving forward with optimism and confidence. From a psychological research perspective resilience is collective terms for a range of personal skills (I’ve included 28 elements below) which are developed during the childhood. Many of them can be enhanced or corrected with education, therapy and training– in other words resiliency can be taught, to both children and adults.

Resiliency is required to deal with day-to-day hassles, and is essential when you face  exceptionally stressful events. Stress such as that experienced when you are going through a divorce, lose your job, suffer a bereavement, fail a significant exam, or are diagnosed with a serious illness, even fall out with your friendship group at school, require an ability to respond to these acute stressful situations.

If you are resilient you are better able to face the stressful slings and arrows that one encounters in a lifetime, rather than resorting to maladaptive coping strategies such as escapism (gaming, having affairs), self-medicating (abuse of alcohol, drugs), or breaking down (depression, burnout, anxiety attacks) or developing other psychological problems (paranoia, obsessive stalking).

Hence, we like to think of resiliency as the super multivitamin – and the daily prescription (Rx) provides protection from environmental stressors which might, potentially, make us unwell.

There are a number of tests of resilience – for children, youth and adults. They can be self-administered. I have adapted selection of questions from various tests below to provide some examples of some of the items that are sometimes assessed. I remind you, the test in this blog is not an empirically tested diagnostic test, it serves instead as a potential check-up of your current aspects of functioning – a check-in check-up.


The RED DOOR Resiliency Rx – quick check-up

Let’s begin with some questions about how you see yourself, and then explore other categorical elements of resilience.  Select the frequency that you experience the following thoughts/ feelings or experiences:

How I see myself

how do i see myself

It stands to reason that how you see yourself will influence how well you feel you can respond to a stressful situation. Self-efficacy, our belief in our ability to influence the outcome of a situation is a key aspect. If we do not believe we have any chance to change an outcome we are forced to sit inert, whilst unfortunate events happen ‘to us’. How we see ourselves, our positive self-affect (self-liking) is also an aspect of resilience, as is our self-esteem (sense of self-worth). If we think positively about ourselves and see our worth, we can withstand adversity’s impact on our feelings towards ourselves, and our ability to be positive in the future.

A series of beliefs about ourselves, especially if they are distorted, can compromise our ability to cope. If you see yourself as a ‘loser’, or an ‘idiot’, you will expect that situations are likely to end in a negative position.

When stress occurs, those who harbour perfectionist distorted fears, such as a strong fear of making mistakes or have doubts about your actions to the extent that you are forced into in action, maybe in for a harder time when the going gets tough. It stands to reason that how you see yourself will influence how well you feel you can respond to a stressful situation.

Self-efficacy, our belief in our ability to influence the outcome of a situation is a key aspect. If we do not believe we have any chance to change an outcome we are forced to sit inert, whilst unfortunate events happen ‘to us’.

How we see ourselves, our positive self-affect (self-liking is also an aspect of resilience, as is our self-esteem (sense of self-worth). If we think positively about ourselves and see our worth, we can withstand adversity’s impact on our feelings towards ourselves, and our ability to be positive in the future.

On the four questions above I would expect a score of 10 or above to indicate that you see yourself well in terms of ability to be resilient. *

Framing and reframing situations

Framing and reframing situations

How you see the situation, and can challenge one’s original interpretations of a  situation – the ability to frame and reframe – also influences your overall resiliency.

Cognitive distortions – beliefs that you hold about the world, influence how well you can respond to it. If you tend to catastrophize about what may happen, you create a lot of additional internal anxiety for your system to deal with, beyond that which is presented by the original situation. Additionally, comparing your work or yourself to others is a guaranteed way to build doubt in yourself over the long run. Even if you are the cleverest, you probably won’t also be the most charming, or good looking, or most popular, or best educated, or best dressed. The list of comparisons you can make is endless, and the only guarantee is that you will, eventually, fall short.

Your ability to brainstorm creatively about resolving problems will lead to confidence to address challenging situations, just as having a positive attitude about challenges, learned optimism also helps. Being present, and mindful, is essential. Tackle each problem step by step and don’t fret over the parts that are a long way off from being realised. Many concerns may not materialise. If you focus on all the potential problems you may encounter in the futurebefore you make a particular decision, it’s enough to make one hide under the covers for days on end, rather than face up to making needed decisions today.

Being grateful is not just for hippies. Being grateful and keeping gratitude lists encourages two positive resiliencies boosting aspects – firstly, the ability to see that many things are good, even when not everything is good, and secondly, the recognition that there are a lot of people who would be happy to have half of what we have. Altruism, and helping others rise, will help you install the ability to bounce back into your own psyche.

On the five questions above, I would suggest that a score of 17 or higherindicates that you frame, and reframe, situations in a positively resilient manner. *

Current coping mechanisms

Current coping mechanisms

Take a moment to consider how you cope with stress now, as it is very likely that you will utilise the same coping mechanisms in moments of acute stress. Maladaptive stress responses include self-medicating through alcohol consumption or recreational drug use, escaping through game playing (on devices or with people), and avoidance (procrastinating, avoiding going out).

There are healthier coping mechanisms that you can learn. A good place to start is in identifying the stressors in your life and how your body responds under stress (for example stomach pains, headache, fatigue, shaking) so that you can identify these symptoms relationship to your anxiety experience. Learn calming techniques, breathing, relaxation, colouring, and mediation to help calm your body.  If you lack assertiveness, consider assertiveness training. Practice stress management techniques (blog coming shortly on this specific topic).

If you score less than 12 on the four questions above, it may be time to evaluate your current coping mechanisms in terms of ability to be resilient over the long term*Take a moment to consider how you cope with stress now, as it is very likely that you will utilise the same coping mechanisms in moments of acute stress.

Maladaptive stress responses include self-medicating through alcohol consumption or recreational drug use, escaping through game playing (on devices or with people), and avoidance (procrastinating, avoiding going out). There are healthier coping mechanisms that you can learn. A good place to start is in identifying the stressors in your life and how your body responds under stress (for example stomach pains, headache, fatigue, shaking) so that you can identify these symptoms relationship to your anxiety experience. Learn calming techniques, breathing, relaxation, colouring, and mediation to help calm your body.  If you lack assertiveness, consider assertiveness training. Practice stress management techniques (blog coming shortly on this specific topic).

If you score less than 12 on the four questions above, it may be time to evaluate your current coping mechanisms in terms of ability to be resilient over the long term*.

Making the most of your support network

Making the most of your support network

In order to be resilient, you need to be able and willing to ask for help and lean on people. What is particularly important, and a key element of our Teen Resiliency Rx course is understanding who are your real friends and differentiating them from those you simply spend time with. We all need someone, actually more than one, person we know has got our backs. Sometimes even trustworthy friends cannot be there for us in a crisis, because of their own life situations, so having a diverse network of support is important, especially for teenagers. Encourage your teenagers to have friends both inside and outside of school.

Resilient people also have healthy relationships with people they spend time with. They have robust boundaries – they understand what is their responsibility and what is yours and do not get those mixed-up. They do not hold negative cognitive distortions about how others see them, and have the skills to appropriately deal with conflict in relationships. All of these skills can be taught if you consider yourself enmeshed in other people’s drama, or constantly thinking people hate you.

I would consider a score of 14 or over to demonstrate that you are doing well in building supportive networks around yourself, providing a safety net, in case you need it. *

Committed to your purpose

Committed to your purpose

If you have had your path in life written for you by others, perhaps your parents or as the trailing partner of an expat, you may feel a lack of purpose. This is because you are not pursuing your own goals, rather that of others. It is important to have a sense of purpose about your life. If it needs some temporary adjustment because of your circumstances, that can be incorporated. You need to know where you are going, and why it is important for you, or you will not feel satisfied when you get there. Build a personal growth plan and an action plan so you feel directed. Manage part of your time to achieve these goals. Believe in yourself, be confident , and committed to your purpose. Enlist help if you cannot do this on your own.

Part of being committed to a purpose is to ensure that you make it to the finish line. Your health is a priority. Many of us place our health needs on a backburner because of today’s pressing needs. Your body and mind need you to be as healthy as you can be, so that if an acute stressor occurs, you have your health to rely on.

If you score 13 or more you are on your way to your purpose. If you score below this, please consider what you can do to help yourself build purposeful resilience into your daily plans*.

How did you do?

If your resiliency check-up went well, then congratulations. If your scores didn’t add up the way we recommend, then consider what might be areas for development for you. Part of being resilient is reaching for advice when you need it.

*Please remember this is not a true empirical diagnostic test. Low scores indicate you can work on areas, high scores do not guarantee that you will be resilient when hit by a crisis. If you have any concerns about your resiliency score contact our team at RED DOOR for more discussion.


#reddoor #resilience #personalitytest #support #mentalhealth #perfectionism #stress #selfefficacy #selfesteem #anxiety

A teen’s tale: Confessions of a suicide attempter


A teen’s tale: Confessions of a suicide attempter.

WARNING: the blog below addresses a very sensitive topic, teen suicide. Whilst we believe that talking about teen suicide is an important component in the prevention of future suicide attempts, it is completely up to your personal discretion to read the blog, and discuss it with your teen.

The case below is a social story: a real-life example of one girl’s journey through a suicide attempt, and her eventual recovery. The purpose of producing such a story is to provide a framework to potentially discuss teen suicide with your teen. The reason we include a real case, is that it details one person’s real, imperfect journey through life. You will be able to see in the case of Cynthia, all the hopes that her parents would have had for her, and at the same time the feelings of hopelessness she had for herself. The reason we do not use a recent case is that we want the case to have enough emotional distance from our teen that they are not wrapped up in the media mayhem aspect of current events, and can review the situation with a bit more detachment.

The case of Cynthia is a real case, about a real girl, now a woman, called Cynthia, a Hong Kong girl who went to an international high school in Hong Kong. Below you will find a number of questions constructed by the RED DOOR team to help frame your discussion with your teen. The goal of that discussion is that you engage with your teen about that topic and help to reflect on the case. You don’t need to tell your teenager what to think. Contrary to rumours, you cannot “plant the idea” of suicide in the head of another person. Whilst exposure to suicide (ie of a friend or relative) can increase a person’s individual risk, it isn’t a risk to the whole public and rather highlights the need for those individuals to receive the appropriate counselling to help them in this particularly challenging area of grief and bereavement.

After reviewing this story, and perhaps reading it with your teen, you might discuss:

Social story questions:

  1. Why do you think Cynthia felt so bad? Can you imagine feeling like Cynthia did?
  2. What do you think her parents could have done differently?
  3. What could Cynthia have done differently?
  4. Now Cynthia is an adult and having a full and fun life, how did she lose sight of that when she was a teenager?
  5. If you were Cynthia, what would you want your parents to know?
  6. When Cynthia went back to school, what could have made her experience easier?
  7. What would you do if you thought one of your school mates was contemplating suicide?
  8. Have you ever felt so bad that you thought it would be easier to be dead? Did the feeling pass? If you felt that way again what would you tell yourself to help you get through that moment?

You may be surprised, or worried, if your teen identifies with Cynthia and her feelings. If you feel your teen may be depressed or contemplating suicide, we have recommendations at the end of this article.

I was the girl who attempted suicide. My story, by Cynthia.

When I was sixteen I was a very unhappy teenager. I felt like I didn’t want to be here anymore. I just wanted everything to stop. I felt that I wouldn’t be missed by my family or my friends. I had feelings like I didn’t ask to be born, I didn’t like who I was. I want teenagers today to know that it’s not a good idea (to contemplate suicide) and even if I help only one person then telling my story will be completely worthwhile

When I was young, I was confused about my identity. I was born in England and when I was five we came back to Hong Kong and my family put me into a Chinese school. I was from a traditional Chinese family where I was expected to be obedient. I was labelled a naughty and disobedient child, I was physically and verbally punished. Looking back, I was just a normal kid.

I had a few holidays in Canada to visit my grandparents and one year we went I was left there and told I would now be attending school there. My mother had just had a new baby and I felt that I was now no longer wanted. I felt like I was being abandoned. I said I didn’t want to be left there but I was told that I needed to stay with my grandparents. I felt unloved and started having suicidal thoughts. My grandparents couldn’t talk to me.

At thirteen I came back to Hong Kong after asking my parents to bring me back as I was really homesick. When I returned it wasn’t as I expected. I didn’t feel part of my own family. My mum was pregnant again, this time with my brother, and there was an eight-year gap between my sister and I. By then I was used to a very western culture and I was now back in a Chinese culture. Yet again I felt like the black sheep of the family. I started self-harming (cutting) around this time, and made some weak attempts at suicide by taking pills and drinking cleaning products. My system would not be defeated by these attempts, and each time I woke up the next day, still alive, feeling sick and hating myself even more.

I thought that turning sixteen years old was going to herald a big change in my life and that everything would be different, finally all good. I was thinking ‘sweet sixteen’ was something to look forward to, but it arrived and I wasn’t any happier. I wanted to be like my friends. It felt that they were able to do more than me and my family didn’t want me to be like them. I had to beg to be allowed to go to school camp. I felt that my family hated me. I also had the pressure of school exams and I wasn’t very good at school. I felt that I was dumb, stupid or lazy. Every time my parents were not happy with me it would be discussed at the dinner table and I was publicly shamed and I would throw my chop sticks down and run to my room. One night I decided to end my misery once and for all. I felt I was the only person in the world who felt this way.

I waited for my family to fall asleep. I got a knife out of the drawer in the kitchen and went back to my bedroom. It was a school night. I proceeded to do what I planned to do. I really wanted to finish myself off. It was not just a cry for help. It was final. I was just so unhappy. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t think anyone would care if I lived or died or notice and even if they did, I thought that time could easily heal them. I stabbed myself – my wrists and my stomach with the big kitchen knife.

I didn’t die. I remember opening my eyes and seeing my father’s panicked face. I was so tired and couldn’t talk properly or keep my eyes open and I was falling in and out of consciousness. Every time I woke up I was in a different room (in a hospital) and there were bright lights and people rushing around me. I finally woke up in a hospital ward of a government hospital, with other patients around me. I realised that I had not succeeded in my mission. I was in a lot of pain and shocked when I looked down to the mass of dressings and tubes coming out of my stomach. There was a nurse there and she coldly said to me whilst changing my dressings that the doctors deliberately sewed me up with a big and ugly scar after my operation, to serve as a deliberate and permanent reminder of what I had done.

I was in hospital for about a month. I remember that the head master of my high school came to visit me and wrote me a wonderful inspiring letter that I still have to this day. My father arranged a counsellor for me but I didn’t go for very long as I wasn’t willing to tell him what I was thinking.

Before my suicide attempt I probably seemed a lot like other teenagers. I remember we all complained about our home lives with each other. But I felt that my friends got to do what they wanted to do whilst I felt I had very limited freedom. I knew I didn’t feel right, and shouldn’t feel this way. No one had ever talked to me about depression. I think it was viewed as abnormal, something that only happened to crazy people. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t from a dysfunctional family; we were not financially deprived, so why did I feel so rotten? My feelings didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t feel like I could get any help from anywhere.

When I returned to school, my classmates were very quiet with me and looked at me like I was an alien. They knew about what had happened but they, and I, didn’t know how to bring the topic up in a constructive way. So many kept their distance, but I know they were all talking about me. I was an embarrassment, it was shameful. People didn’t talk about it. It’s a crime to commit suicide so once again I felt like a disappointment and naughty and that I couldn’t succeed at anything.

My close friends protected me as much as they could but we were often in different classes so I was often alone. When I was alone I felt self-conscious, people often whispering, teasing me and asking me to show my scar. I knew everyone knew. I found some teachers were overly cautious and they were very nice to me telling me to take my time and to leave the classroom if I needed to. The headmaster reached out to me, he was a person I could go and talk to, and I am very grateful that he was so supportive toward me.

Now I look back at those events from the perspective of an adult. Had I killed myself, I would have missed out on more friendships, my four children, love and marriage. I would have missed bringing another life onto this earth and watching my own children grow up, and have great lives as well. Everything is a different experience and you have got to enjoy it.

I have never forgotten what I did. I look at my scars every day. I was ashamed by my scars until a couple of years ago and now I see them as my journey through my life. I used to cover up my wrists with bracelets but I don’t now as I am not ashamed. I feel I can leave it all behind and be myself now so I got a tattoo, it’s a cherry blossom in full bloom. It’s a traditional Chinese style as most of my life I struggled with my Chinese identity, but now I am immensely proud of my history. The branch of this beautiful blossom purposely starts on top of the scar on my wrist. From great pain, has grown great beauty. I accept myself and fully express myself. I no longer feel the need to be accepted by others. I am me and I am happy and I love myself.

When you are a teenager you feel any minor crisis like falling out with a friend or boyfriend problems are major catastrophes. When as an adult you listen to teenagers’ problems you think

they are not serious issues however when you are that teenager and experiencing those things you feel the world is crushing you, it hurts so much.

Teenage me was a girl who thought she on her own. She couldn’t reach out and express herself. I didn’t understand then that there was still so much to see and that I wasn’t on my own, I wasn’t the only person suffering. I couldn’t reach out and be understood. If I could go back in time and advise her, I would want her to have some patience with herself and life. I would let her know that she would grow out of those feelings, in time, and have a good life.

I want any teenager feeling sad, lonely, or struggling, to know that whatever they are going through will pass. Everything has a beginning and everything has an end. You start feeling something (negative) but that feeling will pass. But I learnt the hard way that suffering on your own is not healthy or useful. I found that that talking to people is the best thing to do. By talking to people and receiving counselling it can relieve the burden and give relief. Don’t be embarrassed about your strong feelings.

I want parents of teens to understand that the vital key is to communicate with your children and please, do not judge them. Do not compare them with others and accept who they are. If you have values explain why you hold them but allow your children to be their own person. If they want to experiment do not say they cannot – find some form of work around so that you can build trust in them.

Please let any teenager you know that if they feel a compulsion to take their own life they need to be aware that the feelings won’t last and they will have different experiences in the future. There will always be hardships and as you get older you will learn to cope better in a crisis. The children who are labelled naughty just want to express themselves, be seen, feel heard, but don’t know how to. It is our job as adults to help when we can.

We thank Cynthia and are especially grateful for her honesty and sharing.

Is your child at risk?

If you feel that your teen is at risk of suicide or has contemplated suicide.

Do not leave them alone. Your objective is to keep them safe until the feelings pass.

Contact one of the supports below or the counsellor at your child’s school.

24-hour hotline at Suicide Prevention Services: +852 2382 0000

24-hour hotline at Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong: +852 2389 2222.

If you feel your teen has been depressed for a protracted period of time, and expresses feelings of hopelessness and helplessness consider counselling for your teen.

Below are a series of suicide warning signs. Watch your teen, grow together, stay close, communicate.

Suicide Warning signals

Be aware that the following factors may be a warning sign for risk of suicide

  • Depression and other mental health disorders
  • Noticeable change in behaviour, high anxiety or agitation
  • Talking, writing, or communicating about suicide or death
  • Inability to sleep
  • Buying a gun
  •  Past suicide attempts
  • Substance use (drugs and alcohol)
  • Contagion (experience a friend/ relative who attempted or committed suicide)

The power of reflection: Six reasons to start a journal

Reflection blog

Writing a journal, or journaling, will improve your mental well being.  Research indicates that those who express themselves in a journal require less visits to the doctor for their health, than those who don’t.

Expressive writing (writing about your thoughts, reactions to situations, experiences, negative life events) is a self-reflective tool with tremendous power. By exploring emotional moments in our lives, we are forced to examine who we are, our values, our relationships, and ultimately, who we want to become.

Whilst the standard journal style is to detail your day, with comments and reflections of your experiences, there are other formats that are also helpful – responding to prompts, interweaving drawings with words. All of these styles are beneficial. It doesn’t matter if you handwrite or type a journal. It is however important that you write only for yourself, and that it is kept in a private secure place.

Start a journal today, you won’t regret it. Here are some of the benefits:

Cheap therapy: Without putting counsellors out of a job, the first benefit is that journaling is that it is a form of free therapy for which all types of people can benefit emotionally. Writing about stressful events helps the writer experience the event at a distance, with some much needed detachment, which helps one review and come to terms with unsettling events. You can rewrite your experience from various perspectives, you can use the reflection to re-examine your feelings.

Resolve conflicts: Writing about your unresolved conflicts with others can help to clarify your own perspective on events, as well as leave you open to reinterpretation of your views, and those of the other party/ parties. Even writing about your emotional reaction inside a dispute is helpful therapy for yourself, as long as you are kind to yourself and non-judgemental. Even if you realise you have done “wrong” inside a dispute, you can use this format to look for reasons for forgiveness or reconciliation. 

Access all areas: Journaling increases your self-awareness and your ability to reflect on your decision making style. For example you may start to see your internal voice on the page telling you that you MUST and SHOULD be doing things in a certain manner. Ask yourself, especially if you are an adult, why should you or must you do anything? If you record your mood over the course of many days you will be able to assess when you feel better or worse, and how many days you have felt strong and capable as opposed to sad or disconnected. This can help you decide if you can change those behaviours alone, or you would like to search for some additional help.

Stress Buster: When we have too many to dos running around in our heads, as well as heavy expectations that we put on ourselves, we can become overwhelmed. Writing a journal at this time will help you focus, calm your heart rate, and allow you to negotiate with your inner “shoulda-coulda-woulda” voice to help you challenge what items you really need to complete to keep you on your life plan, versus what is just ‘noise’.

Problem solved: When you write out a problem your analytical mind is able to reinterpret the situation from a less emotional perspective, hence we are likely to be able to see different opportunities to challenge situations. If you have a problem to solve, challenge yourself to write of five different solutions to the problem, even include the ludicrous. Even consider to challenge your view of the “problem”. Could it be reframed into an opportunity for you? To grow, to learn, to get ahead, to accept? Simply processing ideas has a way of helping structure a liveable solution.

Increase your sense of gratitude: A positive by product of recounting your experiences is that you also get to acknowledge the sources of support that exist in your life, and the parts of life which are good. If you don’t find this naturally occurring, you can even add a section in your journal – to celebrate three things that you are grateful in every diary entry.

Where to start? If you have a current stressful event or previous trauma, you might find writing about these a place to start. The most valuable entries often start with a personal question such as “what worries me most at this time?”.

Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong Her current clinical work focuses on adults in the areas of, depression, the experience of divorce, anxiety, perfectionism, career change, loss of direction, burnout, relationship and family challenges, OCD, and parenting special needs children. She regularly recommends journaling to her clients in their therapeutic journeys. 





Teenagers are not aliens


Teenagers are not aliens

Whilst it may seem like your teen is sometimes from another planet, adolescents are not, in fact, an alien species. They are, more simply, a misunderstood one.

Your teen under 18 years of age is legally a child and, as such, you are responsible for him or her. As uncomfortable as it may make you, take the lead, take control and try to help them until their brains are ready to fully take over this job.

In order to understand teenagers properly you need to understand the development of the teenage brain. Until recently society thought of teens as ‘little adults’. This is not the case, as fully detailed in the book, The teenage brain, by Frances Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt.

From a neurological perspective, the teen brain is seen as only 80 percent mature. The finer connections in the brain are yet to be firmly established, and the brain is a time when it is more open to learning and being excited. The neurons in the brain are well connected at the back of the brain, the centre of sex and excitability, but not well developed for the frontal lobes, the centre for rational thought, self-awareness, generating insight, assessment of risk and danger, abstract thought and planning. Jensen describes teenager’s brains like a sports car that is all revved up, with nowhere to go.

During this time teens are also expanding their knowledge base. It is a period of great flexibility, with windows for great development of learning. However, the open brain is more open to dopamine, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good and drives us into a, “gotta have it” type of state. This can make teens more receptive to and more influenced by substances which alter dopamine levels – such as alcohol and drugs.

Put this all together and you have a teenager – highly excited, generally find learning easy, but at the same time find it difficult to explain themselves, difficult to stop an activity, irrational under pressure, and not able to see another person’s point of view very well.  Sound like anyone you know? I liken it to a second ‘terrible toddler’ stage.

At one of our recent events, one the parents, an early childhood educator, reminded the room, “I suddenly realised that my teen daughter, who was behaving in a rude and obnoxious manner, wasn’t looking for a fight, but rather, like a toddler, looking for comfort. When I offered to hug her, she fell into my arms like she did when she was little”.

Given what we now know about the teen brain, here are some recommendations you might like to consider the next time you are faced with a teen you don’t understand.

Communicating with the teen brain.

Create a time to talk: Just because you are ready to talk to a teen does not mean that they are ready to participate. Set a time aside rather than launch into a discussion. When you do, give them time to be silent. As famous psychotherapist Irvin Yalom reminds us, “Silence is never silence”.

Get Real: Teens need to have data and examples when you are talking about sensitive topics. Search for stories to share and discuss.

Sleep is essential: We understand that sleep is essential for toddlers, it is also essential for teens.Teens need at least 8.5 hours of sleep a night to help their growing brains develop and de-stress from the day. If your teen needs to rise from bed at 7am, then they need to be asleep by 10:30pm, and probably in bed, without devices, by 10pm.

Look, Listen, Learn: As planning actions and the intent to remember is less pronounced in teens, when you ask them to do something, also get them to write it down. This repetition is good support to their evolving memory.

One thing at a time: Teens are not good at multitasking and their highly excitable brains are easily distracted – therefore when they studying limit distractions such as messaging apps and videos. Also help you teen learn to do things without constantly checking their phone. In recent research from the US, it is suspected that in more than 80 percent of teen driving deaths, the teen had been distracted by something (possibly their phone).

Help to install the OFF switch: Teens find it harder to stop an activity given their sensitivity to dopamine. Help your teen learn to switch devices off. Help your teen set limits as they may not be good at this. Ask yourself and your teen what is a suitable amount of time a day to be on the internet?

A matter of perspective: As teens’ self-awareness is under development, so also, is their ability to process and understand the feelings of others. They may misinterpret your rational tone as aggressive, or even, judgemental. Therefore, you may think you are being obvious in explaining yourself, but ask yourself, and your teen, how they perceive a situation.

Safety first: You may not want to acknowledge that teens may be exposed to drugs and alcohol, but it seems that many teenagers in Hong Kong have access to these substances. In order to keep a teen safe, do not only preach and hope for abstinence, explain to them their brain sensitives and also work out a safety plan with them. For example, discuss, “If you were at a concert and you noticed that your friend had had too much to drink, what would you do?” Remember that with their immature ability to be rational, it is more difficult for teens to make good decisions once they are already in hot water. Help them build the confidence to ask for assistance from a trusted adult in a challenging situation. Having a disaster plan on paper can help in a real crisis.

I recently say a video which talked about the X-plan. Consider discussing the x-plan with your teen.

I could write even more about effective communication techniques with teens but I’ll save that for another blog. Parenting a teen can be challenging and even lonely, I noticed in our recent parenting-a-teen workshop the empathy and frustration that the parent-participants shared, and the laughter as well. Keep going in your search to understand and best support your alien-teenager, and remember, we are not alone.











Colour yourself calm.

colouring pix


Colouring was probably an activity you enjoyed as a child. The current popularity of adult colouring books celebrates a return to encouraging our creativity, and embracing the sense of calmness that colouring can offer.

5 Reasons to colour:

Stress Reduction:  The mental focus which is required when colouring pictures – selecting colours, staying inside the lines, considering balance – can induce a meditative-like state. The heart rate is reduced and breathing becomes more calm. The repetitive nature of colouring calms even the busiest minds. Try it for just 10 minutes a day (with no distractions) and check how you feel afterwards.

Age Defying. Both physically and emotionally. It is good for you emotionally to play occasionally, and colouring is a form of such play. Additionally colouring helps to maintain manual dexterity, which is essential to growing older gracefully.

Boost Creativity. Break out of any creativity rut using colouring. Even if you do not think of yourself as an artist, simply selecting colours and designs helps to unleash a heightened connection to your ability to think creatively. Be ready for new ideas!

Brain Development. Colouring helps to develop greater skills of concentration and focus. Furthermore, both hemispheres of the brain are engaged, giving your brain a good ‘workout’.

Mini break. Colouring is not a form of art therapy, but it can be used in therapy as a tool to help calm and centre a person, even if you are feeling ok at the moment.  If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive tendencies, or difficulties managing stress, psychological research supports the use of colouring as a part of the therapeutic process.


You may also be wondering when is the best time to start colouring. There really isn’t a bad time to try colouring as a calming technique. I recommend that you give it a try the next time you are stressed, pressured, or feeling run down. At those times,  a colouring activity should help you to collect yourself. You might also consider colouring before your bedtime. Since watching TV and playing on devices has been associated with poorer sleep patterns, colouring could create a more relaxed mind-set, setting you up for a deeper, more refreshing night’s sleep.

I challenge you to try this – take up colouring for 10 minutes each day, and see what if can achieve for you.  







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Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on parenting, family life, parenting SEN children, anxiety, OCD, career change, stress management and divorce.