‘I don’t want to go to school’

Jamie had been excited about going to school until the big day came.

Suddenly she was clinging onto her mum’s shirt, her arms wrapped tightly around her as though she would be washed away by the tide of excited new pupils.

Her mum was embarassed that her ‘big girl’ was suddenly reduced to tears.

‘Now what do I do?’ she thought. The thoughts raced through her head, ‘Traffic’s going to be heavy today. Got to get to work. Can’t leave her here like this. What do I tell my boss? The other kids are going to laugh at her if she’s blubbing like this.’

Four year old Amy wasn’t as vocal as Jamie about her protest. But in the last few days before school started, she’d been very quiet and seemed to lose her appetite.

Both Jamie’s and Amy’s parents are worried about whether their child will settle at school.

What can a parent do when your child’s anxiety is eating away at her like a mouse with cheddar cheese?

The good news is that you, as parent, can make a big difference in how your child copes with school.

I came across a magical little formula about Anxiety recently on the cover of Chip Conley’s book, ‘Emotional Equations’.

Anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness

Even though this isn’t a Parenting book, Conley’s approach can be helpful in responding to unhappy children. A parent can reduce a child’s Anxiety by increasing their sense of Certainty and reducing the sense of Powerlessness.

There’s a number of ways that you can help your child with this. Here are a few Parenting tips if your child’s anxious about starting school that will increase your child’s sense of certainty  and give a sense of having some  power in the situation, and this can significantly decrease your chid’s uncertainty.

1. Firstly and most importantly, no matter what stage of schooling your child is at, ensure that your child knows that his experience matters and that you are trying to understand. (Discover more about how to connect with your child so that he feels heard and validated: Childcare Concerns: How to Listen to Your Child)

2. Think what choices you can give him:

  • Discuss if he would like to meet a friend at the gate and go in together.
  • If he’s anxious about saying goodbye to you ask if he wants to say goodbye at the school gate or if he wants you to walk to the classroom door with him.
  • Give him a choice of what he’d like for his snack.

3. Ensure that he has the information and skills he needs, e.g. where’s the toilet, what’s the teacher’s name, how to open his snack box

4. Make sure he is being collected by someone he has a secure and warm relationship with. (Ideally Dad or Mum, or someone your child has a close, connected relationship with). Explain who will be there to meet him, and make sure that the person is there well ahead of time.is your child anxious about starting school?

A final tip:

Remember emotions are contagious. If you are stressed, frustrated or anxious your child is very likely to ‘catch’ that emotion.

So prepare everything well ahead of time to avoid last minute stress and focus on  being calm and centred.

Keep in mind:

Anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness

I’d love to hear what other ideas you suggest.

P.S. For practical support on being the Parent you’d love to be, discover our online Parenting course:’ BEHAVE-WHAT TO Do When Your Child Won’t’ and face-to-face training offered by accredited Parent Coach Val Mullally MA.

 

 

Last edited August 31st 2017

morris minor cartoon

 

‘Double de-clutch! Yeah, I know what you mean. We used to have an old morris minor,’ laughed my friend on the other end of the phone.

My dad’s hobby was cars.  I grew up in the heart of Africa in the sixties and early seventies, which meant that I drove a number of ancient bangers that most collectors would now love to have in their classic collection. I had my licence at age sixteen and those early driving days required a whole range of skills that weren’t part of the official test but were mandatory for keeping the wheels turning.  Double de-clutching required slow and careful gear-changing to prevent the ear- jarring rasp of metal on metal. You also had to know how to push-start your car (sometimes as a solo act). Windscreen-wipers were so poor that you would periodically put your hand out the window with a cloth to try to clear the screen a little.  Steep hills were a feat in driving, with undersized engines and slow gear changing that eroded what speed you did have. When you knew you had a steep climb ahead, you accelerated as hard as you could on the downhill approaching the climb and then you prayed there would be nothing to slow your speed. Lose too much speed and you would have to stop, change back to first gear and laboriously crawl the remainder of the hill. I remember one particularly steep hill in the Matopas, Zimbabwe, where we had to roll back down and start all over again.

I think we learnt a lot of skills and patience driving those old iron steeds but now it’s great to be able to jump in my car, turn the key in the ignition and expect smooth-running travel to my destination.  We did the best we could with what we had then but what an improvement. (Have you seen the latest Audi A5 ‘Ugly Duckling’ advert? I love it!)

You may be asking what this has to do with parenting. How I see it is that you have the choice to ride in an outdated, and often inconvenient mode of Parenting, that will often feel uncomfortable and exhausting, or you can choose to trade that in for something that has taken advantage of new breakthroughs in awareness and enjoy your Parenting journey.  In either vehicle you’ll end up at the same destination but one ride will be much smoother and kinder on you all than the other.

I, for one wish, I had known when my children were young what I know now about how to parent.

Some of the key things I’ve learnt are:

– how to REALLY listen

– what exactly do we mean by self esteem, why it matters

– why Emotional Intelligence is core to your child’s success and what we as parents can do about  it

– how to use conflict as a growth opportunity

– how to discipline to get the results you really want

– the power of our negative thoughts and what to do about it

–  how to create a win-win experience for all concerned.

Would you like to ride in the equivalent of the latest Audi A5 when it comes to your Parenting?

This year is your chance to discover what a coaching approach to Parenting is all about.  The Koemba Foundation module is over three weekends, (Friday evening and full day Saturday) and commences in Tallaght, Dublin on Friday 1st February 2013.
Sign up today to benefit from our 10% Early Bird discount.

Last edited January 11th 2013

Teenage Freedom?

‘How do I give my twelve year old freedom but also keep an eye on her without her thinking that I don’t trust her?’

What’s helpful when teenagers are pushing  for freedom and you’re worried about their safety?

As parents we develop strategies to try to keep our teens safe – but not all are necessarily helpful.

The Checking Up Strategy

What I think isn’t helpful is ‘sneaky’ checking up.

I think of one mother who used to surreptitiously check her teenage daughter’s phone. The daughter resorted to renaming the ‘not- allowed’ boyfriend as ‘Jenny’ on her phone.

Life has a strange way of boomeranging – and if you do sneaky you’re likely to get sneaky.

One of the things that I did with my sons that was helpful was to have a policy that if they wanted to go out, we, as parents, would be phoning the parents who were hosting the event so that we could check arrangements.

They knew this was the deal and that we would not agree to them going out if there was anything that was of concern to us.

The ‘ParentPepTalk’ Strategy

I was so anxious that my sons would turn out ‘right’ that I thought it was my job to repeatedly remind them what ‘good’, responsible behaviour looked like. Now I look back I recognise that my sons had been taking ‘snapshots’ of ‘how we do life’ from a very early age. By the time they get to their teens they have a complete reference catalogue stored up –

how we do conflict

how we deal with upset feelings

what we do if we can cheat and get away with it

how we show love

what’s okay and not okay.

The endless list is already stored and the last thing teens need or want at this stage of their lives is the constant peptalk.  When my son was in his early teens he told me about boys drinking at parties,  he immediately got the  ‘That’s not okay, please don’t you ever do that, I’ll be so disappointed, blaah, blaah, blaah’ ad infinitum lecture. So what happened within a couple of years is he stopped telling me what was happening in his life. The wiser me now recognises that he was telling me because he was trying to make sense of the standards we’d encouraged. It would have been more helpful if I’d just listened to what he wanted to share and asked his opinion.

We can get so worried by what we think might go wrong that we only focus on the negatives. What I know now is that if a child has a strong sense of self-esteem she’s not going to be trying to fill the ‘hole in her soul’ with drink, drugs, sex and all the other parent nightmares.  A child with a strong self-esteem has an inner core she can rely on.

So how do we build young people’s self esteem?

Recognise that self esteem is much more than self confidence. Self Esteem is like a three legged stool and confidence is only one of those ‘legs’. Like any stool we need the legs to be of equal length and strength for a stable base.  I’m most grateful for learning this concept through Jesper Juul’s book: ‘Your Competent Child’.

So let’s look at each of these:

Confidence comes from our sense of competence.  Learning to be able to do things for yourself and to be able to figure out what’s needed is all part of confidence building.  Obviously a situation that’s too big and overwhelming and beyond the child’s control will have the opposite effect and would damage the child’s confidence. That’s why it is important that we as parents both build our children’s confidence and also set clear boundaries around what we do and don’t permit.

Confidence is built when young people can figure out their own solutions. If parents are always rushing in to solve every dilemma, how do children learn?  Ask yourself if there are times when it would be more helpful to let your child take the consequences of her action (or inaction).

Belonging In the teen years a sense of being part of the group becomes very important.  The challenge comes when your child loses a sense of ‘belonging to herself’. Our need to feel connected to ourselves (our autonomy) and our need to be connected with others is like a see-saw. Both parts are necessary and the balance will only be kept if it’s firmly grounded in unconditional love.

When you get the first ‘teenage rumbles’ rather than resort to ‘Because I said so’ or caving in, focus on seeing these as opportunities to help the child keep connected with herself and her values and to learn to negotiate with you.

Worth Your child needs to know that nothing she does can add to or take away from her intrinsic worth.  When she knows this she’ll know you are the ones to turn to when life’s uncertain.

When your child has a self esteem stool with three strong legs of confidence, belonging and worth, she has a stable base to deal with the challenges of teenagehood.

Our children are already born with incredible potential to beautiful, wise, creative, compassionate, wonderful people.

It’s our job as parents to create conditions for them to thrive. 

You’ll discover more insights and practical tools in my CD                                                         ‘Helping Your Child Cope in the Real World’.  Also available as MP3.

Helpful books on this topic:

Your Competent Child Jesper Juul

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families   Stephen Covey

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls Mary Pipher

Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood William Pollack

 

 

Last edited January 17th 2012

I had a parent once approach me with the following:

“My daughter has never failed at anything.  She’s extremely bright; everything seems easy to her.   I worry about what will happen when she takes more challenging classes.  How will she handle it if she finds something that is not so easy for her?

Eventually this mother revealed that she could see herself in her daughter.  She also was a straight-A student in the early grades, but when she reached Chemistry and Trigonometry classes in high school, she was met with extreme discomfort.  Instead of persisting, trying to get help with these subjects, admitting to her parents and teachers that she was struggling, she stopped trying.  She was in the midst of an identity crisis.  She had always been known as “The Brain,” and could succeed at everything she tried.  Now she questioned herself..  What’s going on?  Maybe I’m actually NOT smart!  Her solution was to drop the difficult classes, identify with students who were not so bright, put up a new face that said:  I’m done with all that high-achieving stuff.  That’s for the egg-heads.  I just want to do the bare minimum and then go out with friends.

On further discussion, the mother said that her parents had made such a big deal of her being “smart.”  When she learned to read at an early age, her parents had her read for relatives and friends who came to visit.  Everyone exclaimed about her smart she was.  This became her identifying label.

It would have served her better if her parents had simply enjoyed her reading with her.  She must have felt a growing sense of competence, as with accomplishing whistling or snapping her fingers!  Her parents might have said, “You can read a lot of words all by yourself now.  It looks like you really like to read.  Is that right?”

When we assign the labels “smart,” or “bright,” to a child when she is successful we are saying, “Because you can do this, you are smart.”  When the child encounters a more challenging task, it just stands to reason that she might say, “Because I can’t do this, I am NOT SMART.”  This is what Martin Seligman (The Optimistic Child) calls a “stable attribution“.

If we think of “smartness” as stable, that means it doesn’t change.   It is a characteristic that remains in us, not malleable.

If, however, we attribute our accomplishments to conditions that are malleable, our whole outlook changes.  We remain in control of how well we perform.

Suppose 4-year-old Jack is reading along and comes to the word “traffic.”  The “tr” blend and the length of the word make this one a challenge for him.  If he has often been evaluated for his reading ability (e.g., “You are so smart!”) he might fear how he will now be evaluated (Yes, they pick up on this evaluation thing pretty quickly!).  But if the parent is sitting beside him, just noticing Jack’s own feelings of competence, the evaluation doesn’t come into play.  It might go as follows:

Jack:  I don’t know this word.

Mom:  Wow.  That’s a new one for you.  And it’s tricky.  Let’s sound it out together.

Later, Mom might later share with Dad, in Jack’s presence, “We found a new word today in Jack’s book on trucks.  It was a hard one, ‘traffic.’  We had to work at that one, so we sounded it out together and then Jack went on reading.

Again, a common thread this week is the importance of our interpretation of successes and failures.  Our children will follow our lead.

See if you can pay attention to your own attributions and the labels you might give to your child.  Are you aware of any?  Please share!

Last edited May 22nd 2011

‘Good girl’, ‘bright child’, ‘difficult’, ‘ADD’, ‘ ‘slow’, ‘shy’, ‘lazy’.

The list goes on and on – but what is the impact of the labels we put on our children?

Think about going to the store. You pick up a tin of peas.

What do you expect to get inside?

Peas.

What you see is what you get – right?

The label on the can refers to what’s on the inside.

The labels we put on children are putting a name on what we see on the outside.

When we label the child we’re naming a type of behaviour that we’re seeing on the outside.

We’re seeing the lazy behaviour, or shy behaviour, or whatever.

And we’re presuming that that’s what’s on the inside.

The label is ignoring all the other wonderful aspects of this child.

The label limits us to seeing just some aspect of our child’s behaviour, as though that is who the child IS.

When we’re labelling children ‘What you see is what you get’ is often the outcome.

We’re putting blinkers on ourselves regarding all this child’s wonderful potential.

And we may well be putting blinkers on the child as to all he is and all he’s capable of becoming – his wonderful potential.

Label a child and he’s likely to live up to your expectations.

Even pet names: ‘My little monster,’  ‘cheeky monkey’, ‘my baby’ can have an alarming way of becoming a self –fulfilling prophecy.

So what’s wrong with positive labels, you may be asking.

We’re still limiting who that child is.

The child who owns the label ‘clever’ may find it difficult to relax, have fun.

He’ll have to be living up to his reputation of always knowing the answer.

And that might mean always having his head in the books.

”Little miss sunshine’ may end up denying her sad feelings, her angry feelings. She may become a people pleaser – because the message she received was that it’s her job to be the sunshine in every situation.

What about ‘good girl’?

Doesn’t every parent want their child to be good?

Well, yes, of course we do.

But stop and think about it.

We use the label  ‘good’ when the child is doing what WE want them to do.

Does that mean that they’re ‘bad’ if they’re not complying with us?

When the child’s agenda is at odds with ours, she’s likely to resist or protest.

We might not like that behaviour but what’s it trying to tell us?

If our focus is to raise competent children who have a sense of who they are and where they’re going in life, it’s helpful to resist labels as far as possible.

I was recently at a Parent and Toddler group and watched a four year old carry the plastic cups back to the counter.

Resisting the automatic  ‘good girl’ comment, I said, ‘Thank you.’

She came back with two more cups. I said thank you again.

The third time I said, I figured I needed something else to say:

‘You’re picking up the cups and bringing them back for us.’

Round four:

‘And now you have two more cups!’

Round five:

‘You’ve picked up all the cups off the tables. That was helpful.’

I had to think harder to find a meaningful response that fitted the unique situation. I also named the impact that this had.

If she hadn’t picked up the cups, that wouldn’t have meant that she wasn’t a ‘good girl’. She might have been tired, or occupied with something else.

Sometimes labels are given because we are seeking to understand some challenge the child is facing.

Perhaps a clinical diagnosis has been given.

This can be very helpful for the parent to have some sense of what challenges  they’re facing.

I’m just asking that we bear in mind that this still only describes some aspect of who the child is.

There’s a big difference between saying,

‘My child is dyslexic.’

and

‘My child has dyslexia.’

The dyslexia (or whatever) is the challenge your child is facing.

It doesn’t define who he is.

Think about the difference between saying,

‘My child has a learning disability.’

And

‘My child has a learning challenge.’

A disability is something you have to live with.

A challenge is something that the courageous can overcome.

Language can limit.

Or we can choose to use language that affirms and believes in our child’s amazing, unlimited potential

Like the name on the tin, a label is just something that we attach.

It’s something we can also discard.

If we recognise labels that aren’t helpful– we can toss them today.

We can choose to see the incredible richness, the wonder of who our child is and can be.

Last edited April 12th 2011

A Young Mother’s Experience:

I was aware that something was wrong when Hannah was 24 hours old. On being discharged from the hospital we had been given a checklist of symptoms that required immediate contact with the hospital. In the past 6 hours Hannah’s nappies had become offensive to anyone with a nose in the surrounding neighbourhood! Following the hospital’s instructions we made contact. I explained our concern, the midwife remembered me:

“Oh yes, you were the mummy that was very reluctant to leave the hospital.”

I reminded her that we were discharged before my daughter was even 11 hours old.

“Well don’t worry mum, some babies are just smelly.”

So we commenced 5 months of life with a very smelly baby. Unfortunately, further symptoms developed over coming weeks. Hannah became very unsettled, appearing in constant pain, bringing her legs up to her stomach and screaming for hours, then entire days, and nights. We raised this with the health visitor and whilst I suggested the possibility of a dairy allergy, reflux was diagnosed. As I was breastfeeding, Hannah was prescribed an antacid several times a day. There was no improvement. A stronger drug was then prescribed at the maximum dose, with no improvement.

At 12 weeks we attended a vaccination clinic on a Tuesday. Following yet another sleepless night and 6 hours of constant screaming, we arrived late. Hannah continued to scream, unperturbed that we were in a public place. The other parents patiently waiting with their content babies insisted we go first, even though we arrived last, as Hannah was obviously distressed. I felt uncomfortable about jumping the queue and nonchalantly stated we were fine to wait, Hannah was always like this. Unbeknown to me, the Health Visitor was standing behind me. She asked me to come through to the clinic and then asked if Hannah really was always like this. Stunned, I looked at her and replied

“Of course she is, I told you this.”

“Tell me again” she said.

Hannah’s dose was doubled.

That Friday the Health Visitor called to the house. Hannah had been awake most of the night and had been screaming since around 8am. It was now midday. The Health Visitor offered to hold her, trying everything to calm Hannah down. Nothing worked. A small part of me felt elated. The Health Visitor left after an hour, advising she would arrange an urgent appointment with a paediatrician for further medication.

The following Tuesday I waited outside the paediatrician’s office at the hospital. Hannah was in fabulous form, content to sit and watch the activity of the hospital. The paediatrician called us in to his office. Without even a glance at Hannah he turned to me and said:

“I have just one question for you, how does she feed?”

Having prepared myself to share all of Hannah’s symptoms, I grappled to answer his question.

“Her feeding is starting to improve.”

Before I could finish my response the paediatrician whipped out a Dictaphone and started dictating his notes, which included a diagnosis of “so called silent reflux” and “mother has been advised to burp baby regularly throughout the bottle”. Stunned at his rudeness I interrupted to advise that Hannah was not bottle-fed. He resumed his dictation with the correction to breast feeding. He then rose to his feet, opened the door, signalling the consultation was complete. I stood, then asked if Hannah should continue her medication or if that would be altered, he advised me to discontinue it, as it wasn’t necessary. I asked if she could have a dairy allergy as my brother had one. “Of course not,” he replied. Concerned I then asked him what I was meant to do as Hannah screamed each day. He turned to me and patted my shoulder, saying:

“This may sound patronising, but sometimes mummy just can’t fix it. I’ll review Hannah in 3 weeks at my other office. In case you’re wondering why I didn’t see you there today, it’s because I’ve afforded you twice as much time here today than I can there.”

We left his office in under 4 minutes.

Hannah was prescribed  a different drug the following week through the Health Visitor. There was some improvement. Exhausted and overwhelmed, in mid December my husband and I agreed we would reluctantly start giving Hannah a bottle at night to allow me the chance to get a few hours sleep. Hannah became increasingly worse. I telephoned the GP’s office the minute they re-opened after Christmas. The GP listened to my concerns then said he was unwilling to prescribe anything more until she was examined. He squeezed us in that day, and asked me to share all of Hannah’s symptoms, no matter how insignificant they appeared. Relieved I told him everything: the nappies, diarrhoea, difficulties feeding, constant screaming, vomiting, eczema, and now the raspy breathing and wheezing. The GP asked what I thought was wrong, I said I thought it may be a dairy allergy as my brother had one. The GP agreed and said we needed to immediately remove all dairy from her diet and mine.

Within 48 hours Hannah had transformed. She was smiling, content, cuddly and for the first time taking in her surroundings and exploring her body. I knew from the first day there was something wrong. Within weeks I had identified what it was. However, I handed my trust over to the professionals, and in the process forgot to trust my instinct, and have the confidence to assert that when it comes to my daughter, I am the expert.

Used with permission

Note from Val:  We encourage you to always seek medical advice if you are concerned about your child’s health. But remember that you as parent intuitively know your child. Ensure that medical practitioners are listening to your experience and your concern.

Last edited March 11th 2011

Just a few days till Valentine’s and I’ve been tweeting that we tend to give to our loved ones what makes US feel loved.  But it’s possible that your child’s ‘love language’ is different to yours. So whilst you love you child, s/he isn’t necessarily EXPERIENCING  your love as you intend.  Here’s what I was tweeting today:


Had very scratchy relationship with my 17 yr old till I realized something hugely important. We have different love languages.

What makes me feel loved doesn’t necessarily make my child feel loved.

Learning his love language significantly improved our relationship.

My teen son appreciated me inviting him out for a cup of coffee – he chose when / where. Reconnection happened with time just for him.

How do you know if your child’s primary love language is Quality Time? Listen for: ‘Just you and me’ & ‘Remember when…’

How about planning 1 to 1 time with at least 1 of ur children this wkend? When ur child’s emotional cup is full – home’s more harmonious.

1-to-1 time with mum / daughter or dad /son tends to happen. But ur daughter needs time with dad & ur son needs time with mum.

So many positive memories can be made by ‘helping dad’ in the workplace.

Noticing what ur child loves can be key in knowing how to ensure he FEELS loved.

For some children quality 1-1 time is essential – it’s what makes them feel loved. What makes YOUR child feel loved?

For a child whose primary love language is quality time, ‘time out’ can feel soul-wounding.

I’ll be posting on a different aspect of  ‘what makes your child feel loved’  tomorrow. For more helpful tips and insights please check back here tomorrow or join me on Twitter.

 

Last edited February 17th 2011

This is a very good question!  As parents we tend to worry about our children’s hurt feelings when they don’t measure up.

The important thing here is:  How does the child explain her low grade?

Does she say, “I guess the teacher doesn’t like me,” or “The test wasn’t fair,” or “I can’t do math” ?

The first two responses put the responsibility of the low grade on external sources, meaning it has nothing to do with Elena.  There’s nothing she could have done differently to get a better grade.

The third response points to her low ability to explain her grade.  “I can’t do math,” implies that she sees herself as incapable and therefore not able to improve.  Her performance in math is stable, doesn’t change.

But perhaps Elena says, “I didn’t study enough.  I planned to study, but I got busy watching tv, and then I forgot about the test.”

Here she has taken responsibility for her low grade.  Her belief is that if she studies more, she can do better.   Her performance on this particular test was a result of something over which she has control:  how much she studies.

Next:  How parents can guide their child to a more accurate, healthy view of their successes and failures.

Last edited February 03rd 2011

‘Don’t talk so loud.’

It’s an interesting thing. Our brains are geared to hear action words.

So the ‘don’t’ isn’t heard.

The ‘talk loud’ is – and most probably will be acted out.

It’s much more helpful to give your child an instruction of what you DO want.

Rather than  ‘Don’t run’ say ‘Walk.’

Rather than ‘Don’t stand in front of the TV,’ tell   your child  what he can do. Ideally give a choice. (‘Come and sit with me and watch TV or go play over there.’)

This is also important to remember at times like a visit to the dentist.

Don’t cry,’ might well cause floodgates.

Rather refocus your child’s  attention,

‘Think about your breathing. In –out – in,’

or ‘Think of a happy place you’d like to be right now.’

These are likely to be a better support to your child, especially if your own body language, eye contact and tone of voice are calm.

Watch your language. Catch your negatives and rephrase them as positives.

Make a mental note of the difference in your child’s response.

I’d love to hear your examples and  feedback.

Last edited September 03rd 2012