The First Symposium on Safeguarding & Child Protection, Cambodia, August 2023

This week I was honoured to be a part of the first Symposium on Safeguarding and Child Protection in Education, held in Phnom Pehn in Cambodia, alongside Sian Jorgensen from Encompass Safeguarding and the Child Protection Unit a non-governmental organisation dedicated to helping the local police solve serious crimes against children.

On day one I trained 16 people from the Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit of the National Cambodian Police, teachers, charity workers and representatives from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Womens Affairs, in Basic Psychological First Aid for Young People. This was a Training the Trainers course, meaning they will then be able to train their colleagues and other staff who may find it helpful. Psychological First Aid is a relatively new concept in Cambodia and I hope the training is cascaded to those who need it.

The conference started in earnest the following day with Sian training 130 teachers from 40 schools across the region, in Level 1 Safeguarding. teaching them how to spot if a child or young person is being abused and what they need to report to their designated safeguarding leads. She also had trained about 16 people the day before to be safeguarding trainers themselves.

On day two participants heard talks on the laws in Cambodia with regards to sexual consent and sexting, safer recruitment of staff, how to talk to children who are disclosing abuse, and from me, a presention on Peer on Peer Abuse with a focus on sexually harmful behaviors, and a talk on the importance of believing children when they disclose, and being mindful of our body language and tone of voice as to not victim blame or further shame children. The main points of my presentations are below:

Peer on Peer Abuse: Main Points

  1. Young men under 18 are the age group most likely to be victims of, and perpetrators of serious physical violence.
  2. The place young women are most likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted worldwide is school
  3. The strongest indicator of adult interpersonal violence is early exposure to it and peer approval of it. Young people because of their age and experience may not know what a healthy relationship looks like and will rely on scripts from their friends.
  4. Where peer on peer abuse is normalised by friends and family, there is less safety seeking.
  5. School has the opportunity to disrupt the normalisation of peer on peer abuse by teaching about consent and healthy relationships.
  6. It is important to by tackle the “lower levels” of sexual violence such as sexualised name calling, rape “jokes” and cat-calling, because these normalise more serious sexual violence.
  7. Do an audit of your school with your students – where do they feel unsafe? Where is bullying and sexual or physical violence most likely to happen? What suggestions do they have to disrupt this?

Responding to Children Who Have Been Harmed: Main Points

  1. Hearing stories of abuse can be heart-breaking and it can be tempting to ignore the signs that something is wrong, but we mustn’t do that.
  2. Shame, fear of, or attachment to their abusers can hinder a child disclosing what is happening to them.When we are talking to them, we must ensure we don’t blame them or shame them as this will stop them from talking to us, or perhaps even seeking help in the future.
  3. What children and young people can’t tell you with their words they will show you with their behaviour. As educators we must look out for changes to their ABCs – appearance, behaviour or communication (this can include social media posts, drawings and creative writing).
  4. Tone of voice and body language is incredibly important. We must pay attention to the messages we give off when talking to children and young people. A sharp or angry sounding tone of voice will make them feel shamed or a nuisance and will shut down conversation. Looking distracted or like you need to be somewhere else will make them feel like you don’t care, and shut down conversation.
  5. It is not your job as educators to determine guilt or innocence. You don’t need to interrogate them, you just need the basic facts to handover to your DSL or the Child Protection Unit.
  6. There have been too many cases where children have died at the hands of parents because, despite lots of people knowing that something was happening, no-one did anything, because they questioned themselves “what if I am wrong?”. As a former DSL in a school I would much rather get a report that turned out to be nothing, than something not being reported that was something. Don’t ask yourself “what happens if I am wrong” ask “what if I am right”
  7. Sexual predators don’t only groom young people – they also groom the adults around them. In schools, it is important to be clear on what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour in terms of teacher-pupil. And let the students know who to report to if it happens to them. Students are rarely surprised when a teacher is arrested – they know who the creepy teachers are, the problem is they assume you do too.

I had a great time in Cambodia and I hope that I am able to go back to build upon the work we started there. Many thanks to Sian for inviting me along, and to everyone at the Child Protection Unit for their amazing hospitality and for pulling together a packed conference in a few short months.

You can donate to the Child Protection Unit, through their parent NGO the Cambodian Childrens Fund here. They are a small team who help the Cambodian National Police to solve serious crimes against children. They also support child victims and their families by supplying basic foods, and help train the Cambodian Police Force in interviewing and forensic skills. They do amazing work for victims.

Revision Audit

I recently posted a reel on Instagram explaining how to do a revision audit if you (or your child) were feeling overwhelmed with how much stuff you have to revise for your upcoming exams. Doing an audit of what you already know helps you to prioritise what to concentrate on and gives you a little boost and reminder of what you already know. An example audit is below; I recommend you do it for every subject you have

Thinking about Expat Mental Health

Moving to a new country can be a thrilling yet daunting experience. For expats, the culture shock and language barrier can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. As an expat living far from home, it is important to prioritize your mental health in order to have a successful transition abroad. Here are a few tips for staying mentally healthy when living abroad.

Prioritize Self-Care
Self-care is the practice of taking time out of your day to relax and do what makes you happy. This could include going on walks with friends or family, indulging in hobbies such as painting or playing music, or even treating yourself to a spa day. Taking care of yourself will help manage stress levels and increase your overall wellbeing while living abroad—so make sure that self-care is at the top of your list!

Find Support Groups
When moving abroad it can be difficult to find new friends and make connections with those around you. Thankfully there are plenty of online support groups specifically designed for expats who are looking for community and guidance during their transition period. Joining these groups can help you feel connected and build relationships with other like-minded individuals who understand the unique challenges that come with living away from home.

Seek Professional Help if Necessary
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the changes associated with moving abroad, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. There are many mental health professionals all over the world who specialize in helping expats adjust to their new environment and manage any feelings of loneliness, anxiety, or depression they may be experiencing due to the cultural differences between their home country and their current location. Remember that seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness; rather it’s a sign that you recognize how important it is to take care of your mental health while living far away from home.

Moving abroad can be both exciting and intimidating but by taking care of yourself, finding support groups online, and seeking professional help if necessary, you’ll be able to tackle any challenges that come up during your transition period so that you can focus on enjoying all the amazing opportunities that come with being an expat! With these tips in mind, there’s no reason why you won’t have a successful transition period while living far away from home! Get in touch if you would like to set up a free initial appointment.

Feeling Stuck? A Step by Step Guide to Dealing with Anything & Everything

Last Saturday I spoke at the Phuket Mental Health Talk about the 4 ways you can deal with anything. These are from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and are as follows:

  1. Do nothing (Stay Miserable or Make Things Worse)
  2. Solve the Problem
  3. Change how you feel about the Problem, or finally
  4. Radically Accept that you can’t change what has happened / is happening.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) was devised by Marsha Lineham to work with highly suicidal clients and incorporates a skills section that the above come from. She asserts that “people want to get better but don’t have the skills to do so – let me teach you the skills”. Although devised for people struggling with their mental health, I think DBT Skills are useful for everyone and I am always pleased when I get the chance to talk at events like the one last Saturday.

If you are interested in learning more about these steps I have a pre-recorded course and workbook that is available to buy here currently on sale for $27 SGD.

How to find new friends when you move abroad

men and women sitting on concrete bench
Photo by Thoma Boehi on

One of the challenges of moving country is building your social networks. As much as many people have dreams of running off to a desert island to become a hermit, we can also hate to admit that we actually need people around us. Some of us come with ready-made networks – we get jobs in big corporations or in international schools and we are immediately linked in with people in the same circumstances. For others it is more difficult. For ‘trailing spouses’ who may be unable to work because of visa restrictions, or for childless people who don’t get the opportunity to meet other adults at kids birthday parties – sometimes moving abroad can be a lonely experience. So how do you find your people? Here are 3 ideas:

Use Social Media
Put a shout out in a local social media group and ask if anyone wants to hang out. Yes, it can feel a bit vulnerable but there will inevitably be someone else looking for a friend in there too. If you don’t want to do this yourself, wait until a newbie does a shout out!

Find (or start) a group around things you enjoy doing
This can be anything from joining a sports club to attending arts classes. I love reading non-fiction so set up a Non-Fiction bookclub and advertised it via social media channels. I remember sitting drinking tea and wondering if anyone would actually turn up but to my surprise and delight they did! I made some good friends who I would have usually have never met in day to day life.
What do you enjoy doing – how can you link in with others who enjoy the same thing?

Volunteer for a charity or a cause you believe in
Again, this is a common interest suggestion. Love dogs? Want to help children learn to read? By finding something you can get involved with can give you a sense of purpose (this also helps your overall wellbeing) first and foremost but it also will give you the opportunity to meet other people who care about the same issues.

What other ideas do you have? Let us know in the comments

Counselling and Coaching Services

I am pleased to announce I now have availability for new counselling and coaching clients throughout September.

What is the difference between counselling and coaching?

Counselling has a more mental health focus – we talk through what is happening for you in the present and things that have happened in the past. We work together to find ways for you to cope and to uncover patterns that may be contributing to how you feel.

Coaching is more future focused. You may have something you would like to achieve and need help with goal setting and accountability.

Sounds good – what do I need to do?
You can schedule a free 20 minute consultation with me to talk through what you would like help with, and to see if I am a good fit for you. Just fill in the info below and I will get back to you with my available times.

Take care of yourselves out there, Aylssa

“You’re sad because you miss your friends, hey?”

Starting a new school in a new country can be really daunting for your child and for you as a parent. Questions like, ‘will they fit in?’, ‘will they understand the curriculum?’ (or in some cases the language), ‘will they make friends?’, ‘will they get bullied?’, ‘who will they sit with at lunch?’ can swirl around and around in your head.

You have an image of who your child is. Maybe in their last school they were incredibly popular and outgoing with lots of friends, maybe they captained the sports team or won academic achievement awards. It is a mistake to think that they will drop into their new school with the same identity. They are a blank slate to their classmates and teachers – they have no sense of who your child is or was at their previous school. For some this is a blessing, a chance to start again; for others their sense of loss is immense.

Your outgoing child may become more introverted as they adjust to their new environment. You may worry that your child has changed and perhaps there is some bullying or nastiness going on. Check with their teacher, but often there isn’t – it is just there is a period of adjustment which can last, my experience up to a year. You may feel the same way yourself – that you have lost part of who you are. This is because we see ourselves reflected in the relationships we have with others. Who are we if no one knows our story?

It makes sense therefore that we hang on to the relationships and the people who know us from before. It may seem your child wants to spend all their time messaging friends from ‘back home’ rather than concentrating on building new relationships with people in their new country. You may do the same. It is like having one foot in each country. Your child may be physically in your new place but a good chunk of their heart and brain is still in the old one. We gain so much by moving abroad, but we can also lose things in the process – relationships, identities, even things as seemingly trivial as our pillows. By acknowledging what we have lost it helps us grieve the life we left behind and start to embrace our new one. If your child is homesick, simply acknowledging it with a hug can be powerful: “You’re sad because you miss your friends, hey?”

Allow them time to talk to their old friends while at the same time create opportunities for them to make new ones. Extra-curricular activities based around your child’s interests are a great way for them to meet new potential friends. Their new school should be able to inform you of the activities they provide. If they don’t have activities that suit your child’s interests check the local community – expat pages on social media can be a hive of useful information in this respect.

When I worked as a school counsellor, I asked students what advice they would give to a new student starting at an international school. One that had moved schools many times and seemed rather confident that they would be fine wherever they ended up next said:

“I spend about a week watching the other kids figuring out who ‘my people’ are and those who I need to avoid. At break or lunch one day I will approach the group who I think are nice and say “I’m new – could you tell me where the bathroom is please?” It works every time – they offer to take me and because they know I am new they talk to me and ask if I want to hang out with them”

This strategy is so simple yet so effective. By identifying who they thought they would get along with and allowing themselves to seem vulnerable they easily found new friends.

Another thing that new students worry about often is how they will navigate around the school; what happens if they get lost? Ask your child’s new school what they have in place to help support new students. They may have a buddy system where new students are paired with another child in their class, or they may have a transition program where all of the new students are placed together to help support one another. There may be a certain teacher or a place in school that your child can go to if they get lost. Letting your child know what will happen on their first day gives them a sense of security and control and gives you the opportunity to ensure they will have all of the stationary etc they need for the day.

As their parent you are their constant, their safety, their anchor. Therefore, you will get the brunt of their big emotions. They will storm in from school and hand you a big rain cloud of negativity then seemingly be fine 5 minutes later. This is called ‘emotional dumping’ and can make you feel awful. I have listened as homesick teenagers in boarding houses cry down the phone to their parents, only to wipe away their tears and are happily playing pool with their new friends 5 minutes later when their frantic parents call me to ask how they are. As parents you don’t often see how well they are doing, you are their comfort in their time of need and are left holding their big emotional rain cloud while they feel better.

If your child is having difficulties, a good strategy is to ask them to think of solutions instead of sweeping in and trying to fix everything yourself as tempting as that is. This teaches them that they have the resources within themselves to problem solve and be okay. Sometimes though things don’t resolve themselves easily and you and your child need some extra help – this can particularly be the case if you are both going through similar things like acute homesickness. Counselling can help process your emotions and find strategies to feel better. If you are struggling, please get in touch.

Exciting Times for New Teachers

It’s an exciting time of year for new international school teachers! You got the job 6 even maybe 10 months ago and all the planning and preparation is coming to fruition. Soon you will board your plane to your new school, new country, new life. Having done that same journey and having supported hundreds of new families and young people here is what to expect:

It’s going to be exciting. You will look at your new place with (hopefully) the eyes of a kid at Christmas. This is the honeymoon period. Then doubts may start to set in – can you really manage living here? You may feel anxious about how to set up your new way of life and you may feel homesick. Everything was so easy in your home country – you didn’t have to decipher every food label, or figure out how to pay stuff. In my experience as an International school counsellor, this hits a lot of people hard around January. Its mid school year and you’re missing friends and family back home. But this is a NORMAL part of the transition process. Most people bounce back out the other side. They start to realise the small wins they have. They start to believe they can do this! They begin to accept their new country and start to enjoy living there.

So if are are a newbie this academic year – good luck! And remember wonderment, doubt, sadness and acceptance are all normal parts of the transition process.

If you do find yourself stuck and struggling though and would like some online counselling support, please get in touch.

First Aid for Mental Health Training

There are 4 places left on the FAA Level 2 First Aid for Mental Health training I am delivering on Saturday 26th February 2022. The course will be held online from 9am – 5pm (GMT+8: Singapore) at the discounted rate of $197 (usual price in the UK is around $300). Price includes UK accreditation and e-book.

If you are in the right time zone and would like more information click here

SE Asia School Counselling Network

I am absolutely honoured and excited to be taking over as Coordinator of the South East Asia School Counsellors Network (SEASCN). Set up in 2011 by Hazel McLure & Ian Moody, both school counsellors in Singapore at the time, they realised that the unique problems and issues they were facing in their roles were best answered by others doing the same jobs. Over the past 10 years they have seen the network grow to over 100 members across the region and a much beloved annual conference.

As both are leaving the region this year I hope to carry on the great work they started and ensure this valuable space for school counsellors continues.

The 2015 Conference at Jerudong International School, Brunei

Support for Young People with a Disabled Sibling

Here in South East Asia, there isn’t always easily accessible support for young people so I was delighted when I came across the Siblings Support Project. Although they are based in the USA and Australia, they have a support group on Facebook called ‘Sibteen Support Project’ which can be accessed by any young person who can speak English from across the world (which will be limiting for some young people I know). The group is for siblings only – sorry parents and professionals you are not allowed in! – which allows them a safe and supportive space to ask questions and talk through things with other young people in the same situation as themselves. So if you or any of the young people you work with, could use a bit of peer support have a look.

You can find out more information about Siblings Support and the other work they do here:

What’s The Tea?

Back in January this year I co-founded the snazzily and imaginatively titled “Brunei Non Fiction Book Club with Nisa, who I knew only from #Bookstagram. We hadn’t met in person so I remember sitting in the cafe by myself that first meet up wondering if anyone would actually show up!

The idea was simple – read what you want and come tell us about it. We’ve discussed books with subjects as far ranging as environmental issues, trauma, politics, self help, memoirs and even (my personal favourite) graphic non-fiction. And anyone can join – just bring at least one non-fiction book to talk about!

Next month I will be speaking at this event talking about how people can join our book club, why non-fiction is great and what we’ve been reading. The event is free but you do need to sign up. So if you are interested in what we and other Brunei book clubs have been reading this year check it out. Sign up link here

Healthy & Unhealthy Relationships: Respect Me Workshop

Today I led a workshop for Respect Me on Healthy & Unhealthy Relationships. Below are some resources I talked about:

How Healthy is My Relationship Assessment:

Living Through Crazy Love: Leslie Morgan Steiner Ted Talk

Further Reading and Resources:

Jess Hill (2020) ‘See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control & Domestic Abuse’

The Duluth Model:

Why we need to have a conversation about sexual pleasure and consent

Back in 2013 I was interviewed by Brook at a conference at UCL about the importance of talking about sexual pleasure as part of Relationships and Sex Education.

It seems like we need to have this conversation again in light of the #metoo movement and Everyone’s Invited, both highlighting the wallpaper of sexual violence that (not only) young people face.

The full video is above.

New Training Courses

I am pleased to announced I am now an accredited trainer through Nuco Training UK, and able to deliver the following courses both in person and online.

First Aid for Mental Health

  • FAA Level 1 Award in Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health
  • Award in Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health at SCQF Level 4
  • FAA Level 2 Award in First Aid for Youth Mental Health
  • Award in First Aid for Youth Mental Health at SCQF Level 5
  • FAA Level 2 Award in First Aid for Mental Health
  • Award in First Aid for Mental Health at SCQF Level 5
  • FAA Level 3 Award in Supervising First Aid for Mental Health
  • Award in Leading First Aid for Mental Health at SCQF Level 6

Safeguarding Children & Vulnerable Adults

  • Level 3 Award in Principles of Safeguarding and Protecting Children, Young People or Vulnerable Adults (RQF)
  • Level 1 Award in Awareness of Safeguarding (RQF)

Please get in touch if you would like to arrange a training course for your staff.