Brisbane News Paula Barrett

Generation why

Generation why

From Brisbane News (Issue 737)

This is an extract from a magazine that is about the new generation of children called “Generation why” and how they can deal with depression. This can be done with the Fun Friends program developed by Dr Paula Barrett.

“What do most parents want for their children? Do they dream of their son one day joining the ranks of our greatest Olympians? Are they desperate for their daughter to follow in Anna Bligh’s footsteps arid lead our state? There are, no doubt, mums and dads who harbour such grand ambitions, but I’d wager that most parents, if asked “What do you want for your kids?” would reply, “I just want them to be happy.”

Happiness: it’s the holy grail of the “Me” generation, and while we want it for ourselves, we want it even more for our children. Yet, all too often, anxiety and depression stand between our kids and the dreams we hold for them.

John Dalgleish is the manager of strategy and research at Kids Helpline, the national telephone and online counselling service for children and young people. A Queensland initiative that has been operating since 1991. Kids Helpline is a useful barometer of the issues most concerning young Australians.

“We conduct around 60,000 online or telephone counselling sessions a year,” says John. “And the clear trend is that we are now dealing with a very different mix of problems than three or four years ago. Questions are becoming extremely complex and all link back to higher levels of anxiety and depression.”

Mental health counts for 5500 calls a year, and each about 11 children (4000 a year) call reporting suicidal thoughts — that’s an astonishing 45 per cent increase since 2006.

Bullying is huge, particularly among 12- to 14-year-olds, says John, its impact compounded by technology — that is, bullying by mobile, text or internet.

“We’re finding there’s a higher correlation between thoughts of suicide and cyber bullying than there is between [ordinary] bullying and suicide,” reports John. “When you are bullied on the internet, there’s a potential audience of millions of people, and technology also means the bullying can follow you anywhere; you can t escape it.”

Kids Helpline is expecting calls to spike in the next 12 months as the full impact of the global financial crisis is felt, and that’s not to mention the climate-related doom and gloom we hear about every day.

It’s enough to make a parent feel helpless and overwhelmed, but the good news is that resilience can be taught, a negative glass-half-empty child (or adult, for that matter) can learn to see lite more positively and, with early intervention, it is possible to “vaccinate” a child (metaphorically, of course) against anxiety and the subsequent increased likelihood of depression.

Luckily for Brisbane parents, Dr Paula Barrett, an internationally-recognised expert in this area of child psychology, lives right here in our city. (…) adjunct professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Education, Dr Barrett is a diminutive Portuguese powerhouse whose work is making children around the world happier.

She says early across-the-board intervention – as opposed to selectively targeting only high-risk children – is crucial.

“If you don’t intervene. children predisposed to anxiety will most likely experience very strong anxiety in late adolescence or early adulthood,” she says. “And there’s a high probability that they may develop depression as well. The earlier you intervene, the more resilient the child is going to be to future negative life events.”

The intervention comes in the form of simple, fun programs she has developed in which children learn social and emotional skills to deal with difficult or challenging situations in life.

“With the Fun Friends program for little kids,” Dr Barrett says, “they learn how to think in positive ways, to relax and be the boss of their emotions. They start learning to set goals for themselves and how to have empathy for other people.”

There is talk of “red” thinking and “green” thinking and selecting healthy role models. In adolescence. the emphasis is on choosing positive friends who bring out the best in you.

When delivered across a whole school, the power of peer-to-peer learning kicks in and even confident, apparently resilient children will benefit.

While there have always been anxious children, Dr Barrett says, the factors protecting us against mental illness have weakened in the last two generations.

Strong, extended family or community support networks are absent from many children’s lives, rates of sleep and exercise have decreased (“exercise promotes neuroplasticity — if you want your brain to grow, you have to move,” she says) and poor nutrition is affecting physical and mental health.

Financial stresses on parents also mean that levels of strong, unconditional attachment. promoted by the full-time care of babies in their first year by a parent or grandparent, are under pressure. On this point Dr Barrett is cautious – “I don’t want mothers to feel guilty,” she says – but she welcomes the federal government’s moves towards a maternity leave scheme.

Other factors that put children’s mental health at risk include daily pressures on families; an inescapable media culture that focuses on bad news; and temperament: one child in five is born more sensitive than others and more vulnerable to depression. Also, our predominantly Anglo-Saxon culture does not allow children to be children for very long, Dr Barrett says.

“A child who’s five in Australia can be expected to behave like a ten year old in Portugal or Norway, and that’s pretty stressful for that child.”

Around the world, from Hong Kong to Holland, Finland and Norway, the Friends program has been introduced in schools. In British Columbia, Canada, the first children to have done the three stages of Friends (in preschool, primary and high school) are graduating. “After testing for social and emotional skills, those kids have triple the level [of skills] of kids who never had any intervention,” says Dr Barrett.

Here, a small but growing number of both state and independent schools is also addressing social and emotional learning via the Friends program.

Tina Pond, a year 6 teacher at All Hallows’ Middle School, says that school staff members noticed girls in years five, six and seven could tend to become anxious, nervous or worried about things, and decided to introduce Friends in 2007.

“The Friends program is useful in giving the girls strategies to cope with things,” Tina says. “And it’s really valuable having the whole class participate because it develops a common language between the students. We can talk about our red thoughts and our green thoughts and they all know what that means. There’s no other program that I know of that is this child centred.”

In a world where the needs of child so often overlooked. that’s good to know. (…)

Dr Barrett’s tips for happy kids
ENCOURAGE. AT LEAST nine hours’ sleep a night and plenty of exercise to promote the release feel-good endorphins.
LIMIT YOUR CHILDREN’S EXPOSURE to negative media influences. Focusing tragedies and disaster can reinforce negative thinking.\
IF YOU DON’T LIVE NEAR FAMILY, work on developing a supportive network of friends and community.
HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS – children can only sit still and pay attention for so long.

Brisbane News Paula Barrett

Brisbane News Paula Barrett

Friends Resilience Logo

Happy Animals

Check these cheerful animals in different happy situations:

Feedback from our trained facilitators

“The My Friends Youth and Adult Resilience Training was wonderful. I have not attended an online training before and was amazed how well this worked. The opportunity to hear perspectives from people from other parts of the world was really great. It was also great to have facilitators that were re-accrediting, who bring some good ideas from their experience. I can see huge advantages to this style of training, cost savings etc.

Carolyn was wonderful, as always. She models what she says – and is a truly gifted facilitator.

Great job.

Thanks again.”



” Thank you – I found that the training was fantastic and now thinking of using the adult one with staff at school.

You have a great resilient trainer in Carolyn – (…) 😊 what a great asset she is to your program.”



” Great job once again Carloyn. You run a magic program and role model it so well. Much appreciated and I’m excited about the benefits this will bring to our young people.”



“My colleague and I undertook training with Carolyn Harrod the other weekend for ‘Fun Friends’ and ‘Adult Resilience’. We both enjoyed the training very much, Carolyn was amazing, and we have come away feeling inspired to initiate the program at our school site. “


Fun Friends Blog

After finding out about the FRIENDS program through a school talk delivered by Paula, one mum of two kids decided with the support of her husband to sign up to our Term 3 Fun Friends program. We spoke with her to find out more about her personal experience. She believed the course may be of benefit to each member of the family and would improve their ability to cope with challenging situations.

As the weeks progressed, E has noticed that by each person identifying what they are grateful for each day has been super uplifting for everyone. For the kids especially, when they are in a happier mood they are able to use the skills that have been taught more confidently and proficiently. Some of the highlights of the children’s program E has found include; the kids encouraged to try their best more often, being able to identify feelings, the notion of thumbs up and thumbs down actions and the self-soothing and breathing component.

In conclusion, E feels as though she has enjoyed the Adult Resilience course and has found having the two courses combined to be very useful as it is helpful to have everyone at home talking in the same language.

If you are interested in Paula attending your school to deliver a talk, or if you would like to talk to someone about singing up to the FRIENDS program, please contact us on




It’s not complicated, it’s confident resilience!

Many years ago, I found it necessary to expand the definition of resilience. Decades of working with children and adults with anxiety, has reinforced the necessity to challenge common conceptions, or misconceptions, particularly in relation to resilience!

Resilience is not complicated, it’s simply more than just the ability to bounce back from adversity.

A willingness to accept a new opportunity with confidence and enthusiasm requires resilience. In fact, a resilient person will see a challenge as an opportunity, a risk as a prospect and gamble as a venture …or adventure! Confidence is intrinsically linked to resilience. Without resilience you can’t have confidence, and without confidence you can’t have resilience!

Case in point is Stella (9yrs) who days ago, finished Friends for Life.  During a family discussion after school this week, Stella shared her thoughts on her day, cleverly linking new skills learnt over the last 5 weeks.

“The Friends Program has made me think about why other people behave the way they do – and that a lot of negative behaviour comes from people not being confident. I can then change the way I think about other kids into green thoughts. And it makes me want to be a confident person”

I love working with children, they keep it simple and to the point!

Dr Paula Barrett Silkstone State School

Feedback from Silkstone State School

“Dear Paula,

On behalf of Silkstone State School parents, teachers and neighbouring school colleagues we would like to thank you so much for your wonderful presentation on Wednesday 21st October.

We felt that you presented in such a way that we felt inspired, informed and engaged. Your presentation gave us greater understanding of risk factors and protective factors. The research you shared with us highlighted the value of proactive and preventative actions we could take as educators and parents. You also included so many ideas that we could try at a school level, classroom level or in our homes.

Some feedback from attendees included:

  • Dr Paula Barrett helped me understand how important it is to build the skills for resilience in myself and my students.

  • The idea of ‘immunising’ against anxiety and depression is so inspiring and positive. Dr Barrett had a wealth of information that helped me understand that I can help my child.

  • Dr Barrett inspired me and gave me simple tips that can help me support my child. I had not realised the importance of being active and making sure we all get the sleep we need.

  • I think Dr Barrett has a video camera into my home! Everything she was saying was a massive ‘Aha moment’ for me and helped me realise I can try different strategies to help my children. The idea of ‘helpful thoughts’ and ‘unhelpful thoughts’ is something I will talk to my children about.

  • It is not just me and my family! Dr Barrett helped me realise it is okay to talk to others about what is happening and get help. I found the information on protective factors to be so powerful and gave me great tips I can try.

  • It was so wonderful. I had not realised how much I would get from this talk for my own mental health. I wish I had brought my entire family along.

  • Can we get Paula back?

After listening to your presentation, we have decided as a school that we will review current procedures and investigate ways to incorporate the Friends programs into the curriculum for all students rather than those identified as needing the support.

Many thanks for your wonderful presentation.

Yours in Education,

Kelly Stanson
Deputy Principal
Silkstone State School”

My Friends Youth Blog

Friends_ Resilience_Logo_Square_MFYThe staff and volunteers in this term’s My Friends youth group were privileged to meet and work with so many enthusiastic and inspiring adolescents. It was pleasing to see the participants at ease so quickly and able to open up and partake in group discussions.

This term, we interviewed some of our My Friends Youth participants to find out what they thought of the whole experience. When participants were asked how they felt before coming to the groups, a common answer aligned with something along the lines of “quite nervous as I didn’t know what to expect”. Most of the participants had never done a similar program before, so a lot of the content taught and the way in which it was delivered was fairly new to a lot of them. As the weeks progressed, many felt their nerves dissipate only to be replaced with feelings of excitement and comfort. *James (12), compared coming to the group sessions to going to a friend’s house.

When asked what their favourite part of the program is, answers varied from “The relaxation activities and mindfulness” to “The interactive activities where we all get to work together as a group”. A favourite of James’s was the no shoes part! *Annie (11), really enjoyed the group discussions where everyone got to share their answers. She said she learnt so much just by listening to other people’s experiences and suggestions. During the groups, a noticeable favourite activity was the warm up activity. We began each session by going around in a circle and saying what we are thankful for and something kind we did for someone else. This kind of positivity from the get go helped everyone settle in and open their minds.

What useful skills did the participants learn and when will they use them? According to *Jennifer (13), she has learnt how to better interact with others in a social setting and is looking forward to using step plans to help her work through future challenges. She has found that the skills taught are helpful to use in everyday life and she will try to implement many of them into her daily routine. Another participant said that she’s more appreciative of her friends and brother and will make an effort to be kinder to them. A couple of participants mentioned that over the past 5 weeks they have already been practising breathing exercises before bed in order to relax.

In conclusion, the end of our Term 3 My Friends Youth was bittersweet. There was a lot of excitement to have accomplished the course however we will miss all of the lovely participants!

We now look forward to our Term 4 groups commencing at the end of October.


*names changed for privacy reasons


The annual Queensland Education Resources Expo (Quedrex) bought with it an exciting opportunity for the FRIENDS team to showcase our programs and training opportunities within these programs. Many of our visitors conveyed some of the issues they were experiencing at their schools/ in their classroom and expressed the need for resilience training across staff and students. With age specific programs targeted towards the prevention of anxiety in depression in people of all ages, the FRIENDS programs are compatible for all schools from early childhood into adulthood.

Throughout the day we had many different people arrive at our stall including children wanting to test out our FRIENDS app, teachers from kindergarten through to high school (specialising in different subjects), special needs teachers and school administration staff; all sharing a similar interest in our resilience building FRIENDS programs.

To become a facilitator in the programs of your choice and bring the programs to your school, please follow this link:

to enrol in our next online training sessions. OR, you may like to organise an in service training with one of our friendly staff members.

Thank you!

A humanity message

Listen to Dr. Jane Goodall talking about her life experiences and giving a great message of what makes us human.


“Take advantage of opportunity and above all, never give up”
“Everyday brings its own kind of education and we can learn from it. If we keep our eyes and ears open and think of every day as an adventure, then each day will give us a lesson”

Feedback from a client from over 10 years ago

Hi Paula,

I thought you might like an update on P, who first saw you back in 2005 and did the Fun Friends program.  She is now in Year 11 and achieving amazing results. Her first report card for senior showed 3 A’s and 2 B’s.  She excels at all things musical, singing, playing the piano, guitar and drums (you name it she can pick any instrument up and play it).  Last year she was lead in the school musical and this year she has been accepted into the State Honours Ensemble Program at the Conservatorium for Voice.  She hopes to complete a Bachelor of Music (Performance) and Teaching when she graduates.

Earlier this year she became very ill and after three months of testing was diagnosed with a serious neurological condition, which thanks to the wonderful work of her neurologists and neurosurgeon is under control. Although not life threatening it was/is certainly life limiting for P and she drew on her inner strength to keep giving her all at everything she does.

We knew when we did the Fun Friends program with you back in 2005 that it was something special, but we now know that the early intervention and the skills she learnt through Fun Friends have been the basis for her resilience, strength and success now.

Thank you Paula from the bottom of our hearts for your work and the difference it makes in children (and families) lives.

Kind regards

M and J