Modern Marriage Rules

marraige rules

Every marriage is unique but no marriage is without some troubles. Building a strong relationship helps you both weather the storm of stressful life events such as job loss, change in health, having (or not having) children, death of parents, with grace and support.

Here are our modern marriage rules in order to build the best long-term relationship that is possible in the age of the internet, business travel, and the future of work.


The TO DO list.

Laugh together

It is said that laughter is the best medicine, it is also the best glue to keep you and your partner connected. Even stressful horrible circumstances can be made more bearable when you laugh together about that problem. In therapy, when I ask couples when they were last happy together, it will almost always involve an episode where they were laughing about something.


Fight Fair

Quarrels do occur in all marriages, unless couples are actively avoiding conflict. It is important that you fight fair when you disagree. Do not include these derogatory weapons when you fight: name calling, stonewalling, gaslighting, or use of threats in order to win. The way to feel better with each other does not involve trying to make someone feel worse first. When you argue, focus on the topic at hand, try to share air time, spend as much time listening as you do speak, and if you can’t agree, take a break and then come back to the issue.


Stay intimate

This doesn’t just mean sex. When men talk about intimacy, they often seem to mean sex. For women, intimacy is broader including cuddling, hugging, small signs of affection, holding hands, as well as sex. When intimacy becomes only about sex, perhaps only one partner feels intimate.


Invest time and effort into your relationship

Your marriage partnership is probably the most important elective relationship that you enter in your lifetime. Regardless, many couples do not make time to be together, and drift apart over years and years. Dedicate time to your relationship (family time does not count). If you travel excessively put some dedicated time aside to talk to your partner, rather than squeeze in a call when you really can not talk or concentrate. Your partner needs to feel like a priority.

Having children can change the dynamic of your personal love relationship. Whilst it is important that you love your children, do not forget that your personal relationship is essential to the stability of your family.


Make a modern-day commitment

Commitment, and exclusivity, is important to remain close to each other. Even couples who have ‘open’ marriages have rules of what is considered an infraction of a commitment. Often what is expected from a commitment is not explicitly stated, and it may be of benefit to do so. Contacting old boyfriends, or having internet (Facebook) relationships, receiving special massages when you travel, all of these are possible infractions of commitment. Ask yourself, would your partner be happy if they knew all the details of what you are doing? If not, perhaps put yourself in check. Commitment also requires that you each feel like your partner is on your side with outside challenges. You may privately disagree, but if possible support your partner when they deal with conflicts at work, or even in their family of origin.


Learn from each other

Both of you can help each other become the best that you can be individually as well as a unit, and celebrate this. People’s career and personal goals change as they mature. . Remember the world of work is changing and you may need to prepare for multiple careers instead of one. Are you willing, able and flexible enough to support your partner in the new future of work? Working together as a business partners in your business of WE is just as important of your private business of ME



If you want a long life together, make sure that both of you take good care of your physical and mental health which will influence your ability to live a long life. If your partner is overweight, encourage them to lose weight by exercising with them. If your partner is experiencing job stress, encourage them to engage in therapy.


Express love everyday

Do not save expression of love for special occasions. Kindness, compliments and actions that make your partner feel special, even a text helps to maintain a positive atmosphere. Tell your partner why they make you proud, what you like about them most, what you admire about them. We often consider spreading kindness to others, but forget to focus on our partner first.


Understand your love language

The best way to convey your love for your partner is to express your love in the language of love that they prefer. The 5 languages of love include words of affirmation, gifts, physical touch, time sharing and acts of service (you can conduct an assessment of your style on the website of author Gary Chapman ( . We want to receive love in the matter that we most appreciate. Understanding each other’s preferences is the ultimate form of respect.



Learn to communicate in a purposeful manner. Monitor your communication style. Are you nagging your partner rather than talking? Do you use silence as a weapon?  Do you

avoid important conversations? These tactics help propagate misunderstanding and feelings of resentment or disappointment in your partner.

Learning to communicate can help you better deal with crisis.   If you have trouble talking without arguing practice active listening. Active listening involves taking turns to speak respectfully, without interruption. Before your partner can respond to your views, they must first summarize what they heard you say. Then they get to speak, you have to listen, without interruption. This process slows communication down and take the heat out of an argument by insuring that both parties have the chance to speak, be heard, and acknowledged for such.



Marriage is not only about your happiness; it is about sharing the experience of living together. If one party in a marriage constantly gets their way, at the expense of the other, the relationship loses. Take turns picking vacation spots, taking a child to rugby, picking up dinner.




Just DON’T

Expect things to stay that same.

The world will change, and your lives will change, and your partner will change. Take note of the ways that you change and see if this can be aligned, or at least respected. Standing back and claiming that your partner changed and you didn’t, isn’t realistic or helpful.


Hate what you use to love

Often, we are drawn to people who are very different from ourselves. Sometimes after marriage we find those exact differences repel us instead of attract us. Appreciating that you are different people, and where you have come from, as we well as you are going, can help you respect each other’s’ differences again. Try to list 3-4 things you like about that difference rather than focusing on the things that you don’t like about it


Request perfection

Realising that your partner is not perfect, or as perfect as you once perceived them to be, can lead to criticism and unfair judgement. If your partner was once fit, and now isn’t, encourage them to be fit again, rather than tell them they are unattractive. We are all unique, and imperfect, as we should be.

If your best friend’s partner earns more, weighs less, is taller, stronger etc than your own partner, do not compare. No body every really knows what goes on in their friend’s marriages.


Resurrect and replay the past

The past is the past. Bringing up mistakes of the past is demoralising and detrimental. If you find yourself stuck repeatedly exploring old hurts you might like to consider counselling. You can learn from the past, but being stuck in the past, prevents you from building a positive future together.


Toxic negotiations.

When you argue with your partner using disrespectful descriptions of them will not help achieve your goals. Negotiation is not about complaining, blaming or bullying. If you want to negotiate appropriately, respect is an integral component if you want your relationship to benefit.


Rightly righteous.

Ask yourself, is it more important for you to win a fight, to be right, or to maintain a harmonious relationship. Being married involves some compromise rather than criticism. Delicate feedback is to be appreciated. Dial down the criticism. Admit and apologise when you are wrong.


Disparate division of labour.

Who does what, and when, is often the source of conflict in relationships? Not just cleaning, but also child care, organisation, bill payments, working outside of the home, all contribute to the labour that a family requires to keep running smoothly. When division of labour is uneven, or perceived to be unfair, resentment grows. Regular discussion and review of division of labour within the home is to be encouraged.


Me not We

Firstly, if one partner gets their way all of the time, or sets all of the family rules, this leads to an imbalance. A situation where what ME (I) wants becomes what WE do, leads to imbalance and resentment.

Secondly, it is said that marriage is the combination of two people who are whole in themselves, rather than the addition two people who are half of what they can be, making 1 unit. Whilst you must continue with your own self-development, you also need to understand that your relationship requires development as well. You need to make sure to develop as an individual, and spend time together developing a life together.


Substitutive intimacy

Seeking intimacy through pornography robs men of a real relationship and maligns masculinity within marriage. Marriage is for brave, real, and secure people. Accept no substitutes for real intimacy.


Your marriage is important, nurture it and it will flourish. Deprive it of attention, poison with criticism, delay sharing and caring, and it can not grow.


#marriagerules #romance #love #respect #intimacy #reddoor #rmentalhealthessentials

Boost your mental health

mental health

When we talk about mental health we refer to your psychological wellbeing. Mental health can be seen as a continuum, like you might see physical health. You may from time to time, have periods of compromised, or poor mental health. If you have poor mental health is not, necessarily, a permanent condition. In much the same way as you might have a physical issue such as diabetes, you can manage the underlying condition to such an extent that it does not impact your experience of health.

We may all experience a reduction in mental health at some point in our lives. Stressful life events such as divorce, family conflicts, financial problems, legal challenges, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or accidents, can have a significant impact on your ability to maintain positive mental health.

What can you do to help booster your mental health?

Just like your physical health you can protect your mental health with various practices such as

better mental healthEating well – eat well, and eat regularly. Make sure you stay hydrated

Exercise – moderate exercise is good for producing dopamine, known as the happiness drug

Kind words – use ONLY kind and growth mindset words with yourself. Do not label yourself as a loser.

Be grateful – being grateful keeps us grounded, and helps us realise we have, and are, enough

Live in the now – there is no point trying to relive the past, or worry about the future. All you have to control, and experience is today.

Build positive connections – our relationships to other people help buffer us from stressful life events.

Volunteer – helping others less fortunate than yourself will make you feel better about yourself, and help you gain some perspective on potential first world problems.

Calming activities – engage in activities such as colouring, journaling, mediation.

Sleep – make sure you get enough sleep

Get help – you don’t avoid the doctor when you feel physically unwell, so seek help if you feel that your mental health has been compromised.

Watch for the warning signs – monitor your moods over a few days, or longer. Everyone has bad days, see how long it takes you to bounce back. If you don’t seek help.

Avoid those chemicals and practices which compromise mental health.


#mentalhealth #selfhelp #counselling #reddoor #mentalhealthmatters

Divorce: the impact on women


impact of divorce image

Going through divorce is extremely stressful wherever you live.

In 2019, RED DOOR conducted a survey of women’s experience of divorce. As a Hong Kong based practice, we were particularly concerned if the experience in Hong Kong appeared different from that experienced from women overseas. An initial comparison of women from HK and other countries (United States, United Kingdom, Australia and others) indicated strikingly similar patterns, indicating the impact of divorce is not strongly contingent on where you live. Regardless of location, over 75% of the women reported that the experience was stressful, and over 90% of those experiencing divorce felt significantly changed by the process.

impact figures

What concerns women during divorce?

During divorce women face a number of worries. Regardless of the stage of divorce (contemplating divorce, divorce in progress, completed divorce) the pattern of concern remains the same. The highest rated concern regards finances. This is probably not a surprize and much of the divorce process is spent discussing, divulging and dividing financial assets.

The second highest concern during the divorce process was the potential impact of the divorce on the children’s emotional wellbeing. Children are invariably affected by the process of divorce but as divorce is much more common than it has been in the past, better support for children can be made available. Collaborative co-parenting, therapy and respect for the child are extremely helpful. RED DOOR has blogs on this topic.

concernsduringdivorceThe third highest rated concern for women is their own emotional wellbeing during the divorce process. The divorce process is extremely emotionally taxing and a lot of the negative feelings can not be avoided. These can include feeling overwhelmed, ashamed, anxiety and depression. Women need support during this time, from friends, family and potentially professionals.  Personally, I recommend to join a support group if at all possible. Seeing other women navigating this trying time can be strangely comforting.

Other highly rated concerns for women experiencing divorce include worries about lifestyle changes and career changes. Lifestyle concerns are proxy responses for financial concerns, as changes in lifestyle are directly related to change in finances. Career change may involve the need to earn more, go back to work, gain greater financial independence, or take control of finances again.


Changes that were experienced because of divorce

changes after divorceOur respondents were asked how they perceived that they were changed as a consequence of going through divorce. We expected financial changes to be the highest rated experience but it was not. We consider that financial changes are expected so, potentially, less stressful than changes that were unexpected.

The biggest change women experienced was their level of independence. Some women stated they felt controlled in their marriages, and welcomed this independence. Others expressed that they were uncomfortable with this new sense of independence.

Women reported that their ability to cope with change had been altered. Given the frequently stressful experience of divorce many women were proud to have survived the process.

Women also reported experiencing changes in their career because of the divorce. Again, this could be perceived negatively or positively. It has been suggested in research that involvement in a new career can help people recover from divorce more positively. 

A whole blog will be dedicated to friendships during divorce. Changes in friendships was frequently experienced. Divorce is a stress-test for friendships. Friends who are determined to remain neutral rarely can. Feelings of betrayal by friends are common.

Unsurprisingly, women reported changes in family relations as a common experience. During divorce families are redesigned, in a new format. In laws may now become a greater or lesser part of the picture. The breakdown of family connections may exacerbate feelings of grief and isolation.


The best sources of support during divorce

sources of supportWomen were asked about the best sources of support they encountered during divorce. They rated 17 sources of support including established friends, new friends, lawyers, work colleagues, church, support groups and the like.

The most highly rated source of support was existing friends followed by members of family (parents, siblings and even children). A counsellor or psychologist was the next most important source of support. Among professional services explored (lawyer, mediator, financial advisor, private counsellor, support group, and accountants) individual therapy was considered the  most supportive.

One third of those surveyed had had the opportunity to join a divorce support group during the process of their divorce. All of the women who attended a support group said this was an important source of support.


Essential skills.

knowledgeOur divorcing women were asked what knowledge they would have liked to have at the beginning of the divorce process in order to improve their experience of divorce.

Maintaining emotional strength, building and maintaining positive self-esteem, and better understanding how to reinvent themselves were rated as the most “have liked to have” categories.

Aligned to this, being able to forgive was also rated highly. The process of divorce opens a box of darkness within women, often forcing women to explore other hurts in their lives. If this is the case for you, you may find individual counselling helpful.

Many of the women wish they understood  the ability to negotiate and understand finances and investment better even after divorce. As trust may have been compromised in the breakdown of the marriage, learning to trust a financial advisor can be a new challenge. Financial literacy during and after divorce is an important service for women during divorce.


The period of divorce has been called “crazy time” for good reason. It is extremely stressful for women, regardless where they live. Support in the form of family, friends and therapy, are solid protective connections. There is a lot to learn for women going through divorce, and many benefits from sharing information in support groups.







Lost in the language of Intervention:


Know your EIP, from your IEP, from your IDP, and from your IVP.

eipiepidpivpMany professions, including education and psychology, use acronyms to describe processes performed. For the parent of a child with special educational needs, a new language needs to be learned. And in addition to the language you will soon become a pseudo expert in terms and intervention strategies. Here is our quick guide to what some common terms mean and what you need to consider.

EIP – Early intervention programme.

The early intervention programme is usually written around the time of initial diagnosis. It will typically involve a form of assessment of your child relative to their same age peers in regarding to gross motor capabilities, fine motor skills, language use and communication skills, social behaviours, number knowledge. At this point of the programme you are quite likely to be overwhelmed with the amount of work that has to be done, and where to start. That is normal. Take a breath.

You may have received a diagnosis from a developmental paediatrician if your child is under 4 years old. If your developmental paediatrician doesn’t help you write a plan you can seek a psychologist who has experience in special educational needs to help you. There is a lot to do, and much to manage, utilise support whenever you can.

Essentially the goal is to plan out a series of intervention steps to help your child catch up. Early Intervention is key to setting your child with special needs onto a more favourable performance path.

Your expert should help you decide on the priorities that you will work on (and what you can leave for later). Depending on the disability that is being explored in relation to your child there should be a series of benchmark areas you want to consider – for example if your child is suspected of having autism, the programme may focus on language and communication development, certain behaviour modifications, emotional regulation around sensory situations, gross and fine motor development.

The term ABA (applied behaviour analysis) may be suggested. ABA has a bad rap as a sometimes-mindless intervention technique which can be disrespectful to the purpose of a child’s behaviours (especially stimming). There are alternative therapies such as Floortime which use similar techniques. In general, your child always deserves respect, so you set the course of intervention. I personally like ABA but do not believe that children should be forced to stop stimming behaviours or engage in extensive eye contact. So called normal people stim and avoid eye contact and we aren’t getting them to sit on their hands or look at us intently when we talk. The goal of intervention should be to stretch with respect.

The whole EIP process can overwhelming. Use an expert to help you break down the intervention strategy into smaller steps. This helps you break down the seemingly insurmountable task of “catching up” into smaller discrete, less soul destroying, steps,

Traps: there are three traps that I would like to highlight to parents.

1) Snake oil salespeople. Learning that your child has a disability (or may have a disability) is extremely stressful. Unscrupulous ‘experts’ may offer treatments which will cure your child. It may be tempting to jump on the magnetic therapy bandwagon. Find a community, in real life or online, who have travelled the road that you now find yourself on. As them about therapies and their efficacy for their children. Be informed.

2) Take  Well-wishers’ wishful thinking with a grain of salt. Paradoxically, the worse advice I got when my coming to terms with my daughter’s autism diagnosis was the well-wishing thoughts of some friends. They recounted stories of children they had heard of who spontaneously developed full language, and told me to relax and things would be fine, she would speak when she was ready.  I understood their desire to wish for the best for us, but their words are not practical support. Early intervention, as the words suggest, is most effective when it is EARLY. Don’t delay on suitable, reputable treatments. Ethical treatments do no harm to your child.

3) Early Intervention doesn’t mean constant intervention. In Hong Kong at least, I hear recommendations for children to receive 20-30 hours of ABA a week. I am sceptical that this many hour is necessary for a young child. If you are told that your child requires this extent of intervention ask for more details, and challenge if less hours could not achieve the same result. Consider EIP a series of activities to try between 3-6 years old. In the teen years you might consider a second wave of intervention – a maturing intervention programme.


The IEP – get your Individual Education Plan right.

When a child with a disability enters the school system, they may be offered an IEP. IT would be ideal if this was the case. An IEP sets standards regarding the functional performance of students. This performance can be academic or non-academic (for example communication, social skills, problem solving abilities, on task behaviour). These reports are usually updated 2-3 times a year and cover goals related to communication, language use, numeracy, and behavioural challenges. They are not easy documents to write, but regardless they need to be as meaningful as possible.

I have seen a few IEPs in my time and many of them miss some very important details, and run the risk of becoming mandatory checklists that work it being done, rather than that work is being done right.

Here are some guidelines for parents to get the most for their child out of an IEP:

The importance of benchmarks and expectations: The IEP should have include a comment regarding the child’s present level of performance. How is the child’s disability affecting their involvement in general education and how do we expect a child a child with this disability to perform? In this way a child can be measured relative to his same age peers and also against developmental expectations within our knowledge of that disability.

Knowledge about the specific disability, its symptoms, and the way it typically effects children is important. This allows us to set the all-important benchmark of achievement for a child. I’ve seen benchmarks left of IEPs because educators believe that it upsets parents to see that their child is behind. Whilst I understand the desire to be sensitive, it is helpful to see where your child is so that you know what needs to be done. Understanding that your child reads at the level of a child 2 years below them, will make you focus on reading ability for longer than you might with a typical child, and even into adulthood. I see many older teen children who have not engaged in reading for several years. It was simply assumed that they should stop reading logs when they left primary school, when continuing this primary practice would have been of enormous benefit.

The pathway should be part of the plan: IEPs can get caught up with minute detail without a plan for the big picture. An IEP benefits from including short term goals, probable benchmarks and longer-term goals (that can be changed).

Particularly when a child enters high school the parent should have the opportunity see the general plan for a child, if they will be considered for standardised exams, what kinds of indicators would we explore on the way. The IEP is not just for today, it is part of a plan to tomorrow.

Educators may not want to highlight a pathway element within the IEP that parents may be disappointed. Whilst this may be true, I am yet to meet a parent of a special needs child who doesn’t appreciate empathetic pragmatism. We simply need to see if xx can do this task by this age, in order to determine if he can try this exam route, or another.  My fear is when this is not clearly stated there can be ‘drift’, we wait to see what the child can do and then determine what exam (or not) to give them, rather than pushing children with disabilities as we would with typical children.  This can set our SEN children up to think they do not need to strive to do well.

Helicopter parents of SEN children are the opposite extreme, and just as problematic. Overmanaging disabled children teaches them that they are not responsible for themselves. Additionally, setting parent driven goals for children can stifle the development of an authentic skill for that child. My own girl with ASD decided she wanted to learn to sing when she was around 14. Two years later she is an accomplished singer both inside and outside school. This was a skill that seemingly fell out of the blue. I needed to give her the space to demonstrate that this was her path.  Having a clear pathway with check in points helps everyone involved keep a health(ier) perspective on the potential accomplishments of their child.

Meaningful behaviour assessed in a step by step manner: In order for an IEP to be useful the parent should be able to clearly see what their child is doing well, and what are the next couple of steps that teachers would like to see in their performance of growth areas.

Performance never occurs in a vacuum – it is contingent on certain conditions so these should be included. For example, if a child needs to stay on task during a writing assignment, they may receive instructions from the teacher at the outset, a visual guide to follow stuck to their desk, and the occasional prompt to keep them on task. For written work they may have a working scaffold provided or a set of instructions and it is important for the parent to understand these components as part of their child’s success.

The goals and assessments on an IEP must be meaningful:  The goal behaviours should be clear to all working with the child, and the steps required to achieve those goals clear to parent and educators alike. It is no point to say that certain math tasks are in line with the curriculum. That does not explain why it is important. For example, I read an IEP that said, “XX is familiar with money and can give correct change”, having worked with that child I can tell you she can give correct change if she knows the amount of change to give, and the coins in front of her are all of equal value (ie all $1.00). The understanding outlined does not help us really understand the tasks that this child needs to understand with money numeracy. Money numeracy is an important life skill as well as academic skill so we hope all children can learn this at school

Discrete steps need to be made clear, rather than simple global understanding so that the IEP has meaning. For example. If we identify some of the early steps of money math to be the following what tasks can this child perform.

  • First identify that different units exist and represent different values of money.
  • Learn how to add different values of money (full dollars only, no cents)
  • Learn how to subtract different values of money (full dollars only, no cents)
  • Ascertain if you have enough money to buy a single object (ie is the amount of money I have more or less that the price of that item)
  • Determine using subtraction the amount of change that would need to be given to by this single object. (full dollars only, no cents)
  • Identify the different units to represent the change that should be given (full dollars only, no cents).
  • The next step would be to determine this process for either a) buying two objects or b) using coins, to be determined by the child’s readiness a that the task above.

Whenever possible the tools that are being used should be listed and shared with the home environment.

Measurements of success: Whenever possible use numbers and assessments to help determine progress. Having data helps decide if a problem is really a problem or mastery has been accomplished.

For example, if a child is experiencing issues around emotional regulation, in particular becoming angry and shouting at teachers and classmate, deciding to include a goal on the IEP should be included. It would not be enough to expect these behaviours to be eliminated immediately. Observations off a few instances should provide meaningful measurements that help.  The main elements or consequences can be measured and the goal will be to reduce these, over a particular time set. A behavioural plan may be used in coordination with an IEP to capture this data.

Celebrate the positive: An IEP might help parents and teachers document the strengths that a child possesses as well as their weaknesses within the school environment. Strengths become more and more important as the child ages. When children are young intervention does not need to focus on their strengths, but from the teen years on, these strengths offer keys to the future.

Generalisation is considered: An IEP is usually written inside the context of a school, but opportunities to change behaviour and learn skills exist in more than one environment. The home and the school environment both need to be involved in planning activities. Mastery in one setting can not be assumed to generalise (ie be transferred) to another setting, or be treated as an afterthought. In the example above, where money skills are being taught, this should be echoed in the home or out of school environment. The child given chances to pay for a drink with coins at the store, to reinforce the behaviour learned at school.


The big picture – the IDP – Individual Development Plan

The IEP is usually a school-based document. The IDP is a general setting document. The IDP is like an extended IEP to include a snapshot of skills in multiple settings, more global goals, and additional categories. Usually a school contributes to an IDP through the IEP. The IDP will use that segment as a snapshot of education, but may add a variety of out of school classes depending on the child’s skills.

Comprehensive: An IDP will assess elements such as self-care, independence, emotional and behavioural regulation outside of school, social skills, theory of mind, and additional education to be considered.

Age related: As such an IDP may be written by a psychologist outside of school. Assessments such as measures of personal functioning, emotional wellbeing, intelligence, may be included. The purpose of an IDP is to ensure that the child continues to develop towards their greatest level of independence in life, future education, employment. As such an IDP is recommended when your child becomes a teen rather although they can be used at a earlier age as well. As part of the shaping of and IDP you may write an updated intervention plan, a maturing intervention plan. Additionally, you may consider to explore a discussion with specialists who focus on teens and adults rather than children. For example programmes in childhood may be focused towards compliance and control of stimming behaviours. As SEN teens develop they need to be more actively involved in the process and they may need to focus on essential executive functioning skills such as  maintaining appropriate friendships, understanding your strengths, communication in different contexts, self-confidence,  social focus, and expressive skills.

deficit vs strengthsChange of model of focus: As a psychologist working with children with special needs at all ages, I believe in working on a deficit model of interventions before the age of 13, and sometimes after that age moving to a strengths model.  What that means is that for younger children we look at how their performance (in any category) differs from their same age peer and we work to try to bring them within the expected boundaries of performance. We focus on the areas of DEFICIT. A strengths model expands our focus, and is more appropriate with older children when strengths have had a chance to appear. We do not stop looking at the areas that the teen needs to catch up, but we spend some of our resources expanding their STRENGTHS as well. This involves identifying areas of strength. When a child starts high school you may want to consider a maturing intervention plan, one that uses the strength model to help you decide new, and updated, areas of intervention.  A psychologist may help you identify these areas if you are not aware of these for your child.

The focus for an IDP are generally more global than an IEP, however the guidelines are much the same. Detail, data, and benchmarks remain essential. The focus on strengths and the pathway aspects are more important than they are in an IEP because the IDP creates a backbone of potential career and future education pathways.


The long-term plan – the Individual Vocation Plan

The IVP is sometimes referred to as an IEP (particularly in the United States) which can be very confusing. For the purpose of simplicity, I will use the term Vocation rather than Employment as this also incorporates what we know about the future of work, as well as the use of hobbies as well as job training to help build a career.  Many young adults and teens with disability leave school before they are fully cooked, and need support to decide what to do next, even if this includes going onto tertiary education.

 The need to plan. To better prepare the next generation of special educational adults, we as parents and educators need to provide ample services to those young adults as they launch from high school into the next stage of their careers. The majority of areas in which disabled individuals in Hong Kong find employment (hospitality, some retail, office work) unfortunately also carry a high risk of redundancy according to future of work analyses.

In Hong Kong, at this time, there is a gap for young adults who have different areas of strength and varying levels of motivation from those covered in the vocational channels on offer – perhaps they are great artists, mathematicians, photographers, early childhood teaching assistants, even have extremely good knowledge of music or ability to sing.

The IVP details: The Individual Vocational plan builds a customised plan around to help these young adults in particular*. It includes the following aspects:

  • The strengths of the person and potential careers which utilise these strengths. There may be more than one.
  • The future of work assessment for these careers – so that we focus on evolving or permanent jobs. Different formats of these jobs.
  • The soft skills and hard skills that are required for the jobs identified.
  • The performance of the child in these soft skills and hard skills. This will then include a lot of details regarding the process that the young person will need to undertake. What the learning mechanism will be. What will the key steps, assessment techniques be involved?
  • Prioritising skills (academic, professional, personal, organisational) that this young adult needs to develop to achieve these goals.They may need a basic entry level of English or Math in order to start their career in a suitable arena, and this needs to be made possible within a setting that also teaches the requisite social skills and independence skills. Private tutoring provides the content but not the context.
  • A timeline and proposed plan including potential work experience, future exams and key goals.
  • Certain independence and self-care skills may also be included, and these may be part of the IDP or the IVP depending on who is running the programme.

We launch teens and young adults into a world of work which can be overwhelming to navigate. We need to plan customised programmes that offer opportunities that fit with the future of work. For more information see our article on this topic.

I hope that these terms are clearer to you now. Becoming a special needs parent will entitle you to an education that others never have to navigate. If you get confused reach out for professional support and the input of other parents. You are not alone.

*These kinds of plans are not frequently offered in Hong Kong by psychologists. I am happy that the RED DOOR team can provide this service, and does currently.

Other key articles you might find useful

About education of adults with SEN:




#futureofwork #reddoor #mentalhealthessentials #individualeducationplan #earlyintervation #individualdevelopment #individualvocation #specialeducationalneeds #autism

What Mums worry about


Following our recent assessment of mental health among women in Hong Kong, we explore what HK mothers are concerned about for their children.


Ninety-seven mums answered questions regarding their level of concern, with any of their children, regarding different psychological issues including eating disorders, depression, learning issues, poor self-esteem, experience of bad stress, friendship challenges, and even feeling suicidal.

The highest rated psychological experiences that mums worry about include:

mums worry 2

We’ll explore the top 5 of these conditions in this piece and provide some advice for anxious mums out there. We will write separate articles on each of these 10 issues in due course so watch out for these.

More than half of the mums sought professional assistance (from the school, from counselling, a doctor, or psychiatrist) if they had concerns. If you have persistent worries about your child, do consider seeking assistance.



Anxiety was rated as the strongest experienced among our mums, with a rating of 72/100. Over 3 quarters of responding mums mentioned that they were concerned about their child’s anxiety occasionally or frequently. Forty-three percent of our mums said that they frequently were concerned about their child’s experience of anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal experience in life, which can become problematic if kids become stuck feeling this way or experience excessive episodes of anxiety. Simplistically, most common psychological anxiety disorders among children include generalised anxiety disorder (when worry gets out of control), social anxiety disorder (afraid/embarrassed of being judged by others to a disruptive extent), and panic disorder (when fear overwhelms through panic attacks).

If you feel your child’s anxiety is becoming problematic you might like to seek help from their school or a counsellor. Other practices to remember include:

The goal is to manage anxiety, not eliminate it. Avoiding the thing that elicits anxiety reinforces the anxiety.

Set realistic and positive expectations for your child. If your child is avoiding school because of anxiety, work towards full attendance again from where you are. If they miss one day a school, first aim for one day a fortnight, then one a month, then none at all.

Respect your child’s feelings. Don’t tell them to just get over it. At the same time, help them review the situation. Help them explore ways to reframe situations and check their faulty filters.

Get the basics right – makes sure that their health is not compromised as this will exacerbate their experience of anxiety – make sure their diet, consumption of water, health amount of exercise and sleep are optimal.

Help your child develop a safety card or a coping kit of activities that help them calm down. For some ideas see our quick calm recommendations

Model a healthy response to anxiety for your child to learn from. Please review your own anxiety responses, and work to show your child that you can overcome and manage anxiety,


Overuse of technology*

Mums were asked if they were concerned about their child’s use of technology, undertaking surfing or gaming activities for 2 or more hours a day. This separates the use of the internet for schoolwork from more casual use. Of the mums who responded to our survey, 69% of mums are concerned about their child’s overuse of tech, and 31% were frequently concerned about this.

The impact of so much unfettered access to technology over the long term has not yet been properly determined. It has been suggested that overuse of technology can rewire the brain and affect our ability to communicate. Too much use of technology can impact the sleep of your child, especially if they sleep (or don’t sleep) with a device in their room.

The silent addiction of social media, including virtual lives through Instagram can lead to confusion of sense of self, self-acceptance, perfectionism, loss of creativity, and potentially compromised safety. You might consider limiting social media time if your teen spends more than 1 hour a day on this activity, or seems to experience problems around their self-esteem.

Other problems that warrant attention or intervention include your child falling behind with schoolwork as a consequence of their time on devices; child seems to be escaping reality using the internet, your child frequently, avoiding face to face social activities in favour of internet time; aggression when devices are removed from the child; preoccupation with their social profile; child being ‘bored’ by any activity which is not online; or starting internet conversations with people they do not know.

Contrary to what your child might tell you, tech free time is not a form of abuse of deprivation. We need to teach our children to use technology responsibly. Family internet agreements and courses in cybersecurity may also be helpful to set boundaries, but these need a firm hand by the parent as children and teens are notoriously lax at maintaining time away from tech.

A word to the wise, children learn from their parents. We can’t ask children to do as we say, not what we do. Check your own mindless use of technology.  Demonstrate that you are able to put away your phone and have a face to face conversation.

* This is a significant topic and we promise a dedicated article on this topic in the near future.


Friendship challenges 

Friendship challenges were a concern for 69% of the mother’s surveyed. Over 29% of our mums are frequently concerned about their child’s experience of friendship challenges.

Common friendship challenges include:

Being excluded – being left out or suddenly excluded from a group. This may happen because of the dynamic of the group, or the skills (or lack of) within the child.

Being bullied – a major worry in schools in Hong Kong. We need to help children learn that good friends don’t bully.

Friends gone wile – as friends develop, and especially during the teen years, your child may become at odds with their friend’s behaviour. Drinking, drugs, self-harm can break relationships and create peer pressure. Helping children realise they don’t have to do the same as their friends can be a challenge.

Loneliness and trouble making friends – some children do not seem to know how to make more friends, and will require support to help them learn these skills.

Some advice: Conflicts with close friends are inevitable. Experimentation with social power will be a natural exploration of your child, and their friends.  This means that friendships, particularly between 10-16 years of age, can be quite rocky. Resiliency and social skills are extremely important skills to help develop in your child.

Remember your kids and even your teens need their parents. Know their friends, check up on their perception of friendships, encourage them to have a broad friendship base, teach them the rules of good friendships and model good friendship behaviours yourself.


Poor self-esteem 

Self-esteem starts to be demonstrated by children between the age of 5-7 years of age. Based on their perceived competency at school tasks, extra curricular activities, friendships and their place within the family, young children tend to hold rather inflated views of themselves. Over the following years, a child’s view of their value and competency help them navigate learning and life challenges.  Good self -esteem helps children take on risks. Conversely poor self-esteem can make children see themselves, and their competency, and their opportunity to conquer situations more negatively. no one is perfect, and we should be careful to imply to children that perfection is possible.

Building a healthy self-esteem is often the product of helping your child see themselves realistically and positively. For that purpose praise for your child should be specific, and around the effort behind success more than the result. Let your child fail occasionally, getting over disappointment is helpful to help your child realise they can be knocked down, and get back up again.

In Hong Kong children can be become entitled because they often do not need to contribute to the household. Having your child contribute to the house, via chores such as cooking dinner, looking after their rooms, learning to care for their own clothes, helps them develop a stronger sense of their self-worth.

Foster a growth mindset among your children. Let them learn to use the word ‘YET’. Rather than “I’m not good at math”, learn them to use the phrase “I am not good at math YET”.  Challenge any limit your child puts on themselves.

Additionally, let your child be a CHILD as long a possible. We can be mesmerised by our child’s desire for independence. Whilst your child can gain independence, remember and remind them, that they are still kids, and that there is no rush for them to grow up. They will be grown ups for a very long time.


Sad Mood 

Sad mood is different from depression. Our mothers could indicate depression or sad mood as a concern. Among our HK Mums, 66% sad that they were concerned about their child’s experience of sad mood, and 43% said they are frequently concerned about their child’s sad mood. Sad mood is considered a precursor to depression and as such you might want to consider a checklist of depression (below) to see if your child may be depressed rather than just sad.

Children, especially teens can experience sad moods due to disappointments over grades, friendships, and performance. They may struggle with feelings created in response to physical changes around puberty. They may feel sad due to issues around acceptance especially if they are working to build a stronger concept of who they are (their identity). Some kids are oversensitive. If your child is oversensitive, and frequently sad you may like to keep a closer eye on them for signs of depression.

Signs of depression – if your child experiences 3 or more of the following for more than a few months you may like to consider private or school counselling.

  • Your child expresses feelings of sadness/hopelessness
  • Your child is frequently irritable, hostile or expressing anger
  • Your child is frequently teary
  • Your child is withdrawing from friends and family
  • You notice changes in your child’s eating or sleeping behaviours
  • Your child is often restless or agitated
  • Your child expresses feeling of worthlessness or guilt
  • You’ve seen a drop in your child’s performance at school
  • Your child seems to lack motivation or enthusiasm
  • Your child seems to suffer from lack of energy or fatigue
  • Your child has difficulty concentration
  • Your child often has unexplained aches and pains
  • Your child expresses thoughts of death or suicide

Let your child express their feelings freely. Don’t tell them that they shouldn’t feel that way. Encourage therapy, actively listen, help them build coping strategies, and build strong support systems – within the family and their friends.


Mums worry about their kids. We are grateful to the wonderful mum who shared their concerns with us, and use the advice that we can provide to them.


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