Category Archives: School

Peer Relationships: Supporting your Child Through the Pain and Hurt of Friendships

Q. My 8 yr. old daughter, M, started playing with B last year and became her best friend. Towards the end of the year M became quite possessive of B. The situation escalated when B’s mother decided to “ban” B from playing with M. When this school year began, the ban was still on. I learned of it for the first time and also talked to the other mum. M was confused and angry, thought B was lying about the ban. She called her a liar and shouted at her which is very unlike M. She was still not ready to talk to me about it, so I couldn’t comfort or reassure her. It seems to me that girls this age don’t know how to play in groups at school.

I will organise more playdates for M with other friends, and keep communicating with her teacher. I find it very difficult when the other mother calls frequently to discuss this. She seems to be projecting adult expectations and anxiety onto B by daily inquisitions about life at school. So the girls are not left to resolve this between themselves. M has been saying she doesn’t want to go to school, and I can tell it has affected her. Any tips about friendships?

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Aug. ’18 Q&A – Does your child fit with his school, Disrespect and Test Anxiety

Does your child fit with his school?

Q. Our feisty 5 yo is not settling into school too well, and we have to attend meetings with the teacher due to his misbehaving ways. When asked why he acts out, ie: drawing on walls, running away from the class, ignoring instructions etc, he says, “because I felt like it”. This is quite concerning as he attends a Catholic School and is raised by a practising Catholic mother with very loving and devoted parents. He does not seem to understand what it feels like to be in someone else’s position. We are at a loss after trying to talk to him and discuss alternative ways of behaving with no positive results. Another concern is his lack of concentration as he has approx. 4 mins. of attentiveness before he loses interest and proceeds to do what he wants to do, sometimes ignoring instructions and/or consequences. I have been doing some research and strongly believe he may need some assistance with self-regulating. Do you have any suggestions as to how we can help our strong willed, stubborn child who is loved very much. We very much want him to enjoy school rather than say he hates school and doesn’t want to go?

A. Keep in mind that your son is only five and should not be expected to consider another’s position for several more years. This sounds like a misfit of child and environment. Our job as parents is to provide environments that meet our children’s needs, not the other way around. Your son sounds like a perfectly normal, active, distractible boy. His “misbehavior” shown as running off, not listening, drawing on walls indicates that he is being asked to do what he cannot do at this point. Teachers well versed in child development will know how to engage kids like this – he is by far not the only 5 year old who is not ready to settle down in a structured environment.

The structure of this school may be too restrictive for his needs. If his teacher has unrealistic expectations for him, he will not be able to meet them. They are calling it “misbehaving”, which tells me they must make him change. He will naturally act out in reaction to that. His response, “Because I felt like it” is quite logical. A 5 year old who feels pushed to do what he can’t will naturally find a way to do what he wants — until that aspect of him is punished enough that makes it not safe for him to do what he wants.

What you can be sure of is that he has a hard time sitting still and listening, so he uses his imagination to amuse himself. The problem comes when that doesn’t work in his environment. But isn’t that what we want for our children — to think creatively and imaginatively to solve problems. Of course he can’t do whatever he wants but imagine if his teacher put paper on the wall for him to draw on, other children as well, instead of getting yelled at, criticized, blamed, given consequences, all of which causes him to feel bad about himself, which exacerbates his behavior. When he learns he is bad, he will continue to behave badly. When appropriate expectations are held for him — that he can’t sit still yet like some of the other kids, he needs something to keep his body moving, etc. — then he will respond more cooperatively because he will feel heard and understood. If he cannot hold his attention longer than 4 min., put him in a school environment where that is okay, not one that forces him to be attentive longer than he can be. If his needs are met now, he will be able to regulate himself and follow rules as he gets older. You will have more success if you put him in an environment that accepts who he is rather than who you or the school wants him to be.

He may be loved very much but is he accepted? Do you and his school accept that he is a very busy, distractible, imaginative, 5 year old who cannot yet sit still and keep his attention focused for longer than 4 minutes? Or are you trying to get him to change and be calm, quiet, and attentive? I know you don’t want him to change, so find an environment that understands his perfectly normal, albeit hard to manage, temperament.

 

Disrespect at School

Q. My 9 year old son is smart, creative and very stubborn. He hates school, refuses to even try, disrespects the teachers and acts out in anger if they try to make him do his work. He is more than capable of getting As on tests but usually gets Ds because he just stares out the window instead of doing his test. He doesn’t do any of his school work during classtime so we have to spend a few hours with him every night catching up on his homework. He is well behaved and lovable when he’s doing something he enjoys but seems to think that if he’s bored, he doesn’t have to try. My husband and I have tried everything to help him realize that, even if he doesn’t enjoy school, he needs to still do his best. We praise him when he does well and try to acknowledge everything he is good at. We have also withheld privileges when he behaves inappropriately at school. Nothing works. He is now meeting weekly with a school social worker. Hopefully he will develop some coping skills. My problem is this – even though we are working very hard to help him be successful, I feel really judged by his teachers. They know he is meeting with the social worker (at their request) but they still phone me to complain about how difficult he is. I just want to burst into tears when I get those calls because I feel totally powerless. Can you give me any tips for how I can handle this?

A. I completely empathize with how powerless you feel when teachers call to complain. I imagine they feel powerless too since your son is not compliant with their wishes. Easy for me to say, but I think everyone needs to listen to what your son is trying to say. It sounds like he’s saying that this school is not the right place for him. Do you have any other options. (see the Q&A above about school fit.) Unfortunately many parents do not have options.

The problem with our mainstream parenting/teaching culture sees his resistance, defiant behavior as him being bad, doing it wrong. So we try behavioral techniques to change the behavior rather than looking to the inner emotional state that is causing the behavior. My guess is that he is responding disrespectfully to his teachers because he feels disrespected (unheard, unimportant) by them. If you feel judged by them, imagine how he feels.

He is smart and he is bored, and his nature will not comply with what offends him — he’s what I call an Integrity Child. But even when bored, children will work for someone who respects and believes in them. He is not happy nor engaged, and is being told that is not okay. When you withdraw privileges you are telling him “Don’t be yourself” and that your acceptance of him is conditional on doing something that his integrity cannot stomach. He will not respond well to that.

What he needs is to know that you hear him and that you want to work together to find a way for him to deal with this school that you know is not meeting his needs. When you tell him that “even though…he still needs to do his best”, you are not listening. You need to start where he is. “You hate your school experience and that must truly suck.” There is no “but” about it. He’s a smart kid and sees through your attempts to tell him what he needs to do. He hears you saying, You have to do it our way. True empathy is seeing his experience through his eyes.

Share your frustration that you feel judged as well. When you show compassion for his problem, and acknowledge the disrespect he feels at school for who he is without trying to change him, then you can talk about the importance of showing respect even for people we don’t like. A different school or home schooling has the potential of making the difference for all three of you—not always an option. Let him know that you find yourself in a predicament with the school that does not feel helpful or supportive and that you have been trying to get him to be compliant to help you with that predicament, and you see that is not helping him.

Then give it time for him to trust that you care more about him than the school. In the meantime, let his teachers know how judged you feel and that you are switching your focus to understand him better rather than pushing for compliance.

 

Test Anxiety

Q. Do you have suggestions for my 10-year old daughter who has panic attacks during tests/exams? She is generally a happy, outgoing person but tends to flounder faced with adversity and has self-esteem issues. She specifically has panic attacks during assessments at school, which obviously affect her performance. Although she is very able and should in principle do well, during tests she freezes when she cannot immediately answer a question, gets stressed when others are faster than her, and stops functioning altogether. Can you suggest coping techniques she could practice?

 A.Wow this sounds like me! Many children do well in school and panic when it comes to testing. Your daughter will only have self-esteem issues if she believes she is wrong or dumb for being the way she is. The best you can do for her is to assure her she’s perfectly normal. I’m not saying you do this, but DO NOT try to reassure her that “everything will be fine, and she will do well if she just relaxes”. That sends the message that you don’t get it, and she is alone in her worry, which exacerbates the panic.

Point out to her that FEELINGS of anxiety stem from her THOUGHTS. When she thinks, Here it comes, I’m going to fail on this test, she will naturally panic and then clutch. Help her identify the thoughts she has at the time panic hits and how she has control over her thoughts. For instance, “I’m going to fail this test” could change to “I’m feeling really nervous right now.” “Everybody’s going to beat me” could reframe to “I tend to be slower than some of the others. That’s okay.” She must keep it truthful and factual – something she can believe, rather than “I’m going to do just fine.”

The goal is to take the edge off, not to be completely confident going into an exam. Panic can change to nervous. And everybody feels nervous. She could write some reframed thoughts down and read them at the time. You can make suggestions but don’t tell her what she should do and don’t expect her worry to disappear.

Your job is to understand her, not make it go away. Don’t take her pain personally. It’s important for you to know that this is her problem, not yours. If you are upset about it, your upset makes her problem worse. Then she has your upset to deal with too. Your job is to understand her dilemma and to give her support — a non-judgmental, non-advice-giving shoulder to cry on, a compassionate sounding board to unload on. Every time she gets through it, she builds resilience. You must trust that for her.

You might also point out that the reason she gets panicky is because of the high expectations she holds for herself. She cares very much about how she does. Point out the obvious positives — she will never settle for mediocre, she will always strive to be better — and then add the downside — she will be very hard on herself — something she can work on over time.

Mindfulness meditation practices can help. The two of you could practice together a few minutes a day.

Of interest – 12 Ways to Encourage School Motivation

Bonus!

Getting your kids out the door in the morning is enough to ruin your day. Remember these 8 points:

  • Get yourself up in enough time to be relaxed and mostly focused on the kids.
  • If you wake your kids, allow time for hugs and an easy transition from sleep to awake.
  • Do not expect your child to WANT to leave home. Many children have difficulty with transitions. Fine after they get there. Difficult getting there.
  • Talk with your child about all the things she needs to get done in the morning. i.e. brushing teeth, playing, eat breakfast, etc. Make a list out of order. Let her put them in the order she chooses. You can object but let her take the lead. Then list them on a dry erase board with a check box next to each that she can check off as accomplished.
  • Do as much the night before as possible — set out clothes, gather everything for the backpack, put sports equipment by the door, make lunches.
  • Do the best you can to not RUSH. Kids hate to be rushed.
  • When they dawdle, resist temptation to criticize and nag. Getting out the door on time is your agenda, rarely their’s (altho some are hyper-sensitive to being on time – if so, you don’t have a problem here!). They need motivation to help you out with YOUR agenda.
  • For kids who have an especially hard time leaving, about 5 min. before hand, ask your child, “What is one more thing you’d like to do before we have to leave?” “Is there something you’d like to get to take with you today?” Giving them a choice gives a bit of control to a child who feels powerless to do what he wants.
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    May ’18 Q&A – Confidence, Empathy and Shopping

    Is it lack of confidence or too much control?

    Q. Our 5-year old boy is struggling with confidence. He has difficulty focusing at school and we don’t want him to get behind. There are 22 kids in his class and the school has an expectation of work. Also has trouble focusing at soccer practice/games, anytime things are going on around him. He has no issues interacting with people, kids or adults. I believe he lacks confidence because he is afraid of trying new things. He doesn’t like to fail and gets frustrated easily when he can’t learn fast. He also gets very embarrassed when things don’t go as expected.

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    January ’18 Q&A – Sharing & Hogging, School Resistance and The Dark Side

    Sharing and Hogging

    Q. My three-year-old has a very big issue with sharing and hogging. She has an 18 mo. old sister who is not allowed to touch anything. I understand that my daughter still is having a hard time with her arrival, she has to share me, she doesn’t get to have me all to herself, she doesn’t even get to read books alone with me and on top of it all I am three times as tired, have to do a lot more chores, can’t play with her at the drop of the hat, and she doesn’t get to have all of my adoration just for her. I still feel really guilty about that. At first I thought, fair enough the toys were hers, so I opted to buy my youngest toys for herself. I told my eldest and explained before we bought anything that I was buying for her sister so she doesn’t have to touch hers. She agreed but once the toy is bought she wants to have it and play with it. She gets so angry and hits me when I try to give the toy back to her sister.

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    5 Things Never to Ask Your Child Right After School

    You want to interact and make connection when your kids get home from school. Your kids do too but not in the way you might think.

    You’ve missed them, you want to know what they did all day, how they got along, if they had any problems. But questions can feel like an interrogation.

    1. How was school today?
    2. What do you have for homework?
    3. When are you going to do your homework?
    4. What did you get on the test?
    5. What did you learn today?

    They have just spent a long hard day meeting (or not) expectations, doing things they might not want to do, following orders, coping for hours, and hopefully working hard and learning. Probably the last they want to do is go over their day with you. They need a break. They need to know here is the place where I can be myself. They need to chill.

    Each of these 5 questions is filled with an expectation.

    How was school?

    What if school was terrible? Your child may or may not want to tell you because he has a picture of exactly how you will react with his answer. Does he want to tell you the truth and upset you and immediately ask more questions? Or does he want to make you happy so you won’t do the above. Even if it all went well, he doesn’t want to go through the details of the day.

    Safest answer: “Fine.”

     

    What do you have for homework?

    Homework is the last thing she wants to think about right now. She might be thinking, Do you really expect me to work all the time? You must think I’m stupid. Get off my back. Your child has many more important things on her mind once she is out of school and it’s likely that none of them have to do with homework.

    Safest answer: “I don’t have any.”

     

    When are you going to do your homework?

    Your child hears from this question that all you care about is homework and grades. Is that true? Make sure you don’t have to police your child’s homework time. Establish ground rules about homework at the beginning of each year. With your guidance, allow your child to determine the best time and place to do homework. Keep it as consistent as possible and let him know you’re there for help. But let him be in charge of his homework.

    Safest answer: “Later.”

     

    What did you get on the test?

    Asking about grades on tests sends the message to your child that your approval comes in grades as well. If your child did well, he will be thrilled to tell you without the question. If he did poorly, what does he expect your response to be? Will he get grounded, a privilege removed, extra homework time piled on? If he got a D, do you get a D in parenting?

    Safest answer: “We didn’t get it back.”

     

    What did you learn today?

    Talking about what your child is learning is a subject worthy of discussion—at a later time. Do be involved in your child’s learning, let her know you care and are interested in what she learns, learn along with her, but  save the talk until she brings it up or until it is a logical discussion during homework time or perhaps dinner.

    Safest answer: “Nothing.”

     

    When your kids get off the bus, climb in the car, or come through the door, welcome them back home. A big smile, a hug, a touch and an “I’m so glad to see you” or “Hi sweetie-pie” will give your kids the grounding that home provides with no expectations. Your unconditional happiness in greeting them will create the stress-free, safe haven they need to refuel and relax…and will set up the way the rest of the day goes — and how much you end up hearing about their day.

    A happy greeting can wipe clean any negative emotions left from an earlier conflict that morning. If there was difficulty at school, your child will know that the problem is over for now and he can be himself. And if he’s not interrogated about school, he will feel free to bring up the topic when he needs a sounding board. If you are not always asking questions, you will set yourself up much better to be that sounding board he needs.

    Try a smile, a hug, and a comment about how happy you are to see her period. Maybe tell her about something that happened during your day. You may find that dinnertime or bedtime will be full of all the information you want.

    Your child needs a mindset shift, preferably into play mode, after a long day at school. Let that happen. There is plenty of time for what you want to know. Be patient and meet your child right where she is.

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    12 Ways to Boost School Motivation

    Discouraged Student
    Do you, unintentionally, teach your children that their school performance is for you—not for them? If so, school motivation will diminish.

    Parents place so much value on grades and performance that the message to the child is, I care more about how you do than what you do. For too many children, school is a prison sentence to endure, and if they don’t do well, they are a huge disappointment to the most important people in their lives. We need to hand over education to our children and let them know they have our support in doing the best they can but not our disapproval if they don’t.

    Jacquelynne Eccles, professor of psychology and research scientist at the University of Michigan, has said, “… motivation and engagement in school on average drops as they move from the elementary school into the secondary school system. You see it in attendance, in getting into trouble, in drop outs from high school and also in dropping out of college.” Dr. Eccles’ perspective of why this is stems from the mindset of the student. She explains, “They don’t think they can succeed in school. They don’t think it’s important; they don’t see its relevance to their lives. It creates too much anxiety. It’s not taught in a way that’s interesting, so it has no appeal to them.” She says, “…students are more likely to be fully engaged in school if they expect they can do well and if they value the learning that schools provide.”

    That’s where parents come in. Eccles goes on to say that intrinsic motivation is essential and is reinforced for students when parents are in active discussion about the relevance of their education.

    Unfortunately most parenting practices focus on extrinsic motivation: giving a “consequence” for undesirable behavior, performance, grades, etc. Whenever rewards or punishments (withdrawal of privileges, phones, freedom) are used by parents in an attempt to motivate better behavior, the opposite is the result. That is because the motivation is external, and nothing intrinsic is learned.

    It is critical to maintain connection with your children through positive relationships based on trust that your children want to do well. You are their rock. Make sure that you support whatever their experience is and believe in their ultimate success.

    Ways to help your children feel motivated in school:
  • Ask each child what they would like to accomplish this year—how they would like the school year to end and how to reach that goal.
  • Ask, “If you were to overhear your teacher talking about you, what would you like to hear your teacher say?”
  • Give your children ownership of their education. Let them experience the consequences of good or bad grades without adding your approval or disapproval.
  • Notice where your child’s effort, determination, and mastery occur. Don’t harp on subjects that your child doesn’t excel at. All kids don’t do well in all subjects. Do encourage and seek help if they are motivated to do better.
  • When grades are given, ask your children what they think—are they fair, are they accurately representative of their effort? Let them grade themselves. If she doesn’t think a grade is fair, ask her what she’d like to do about it. Leave it to her.
  • Greet your child every day after school with physical touch, eye contact and words expressing how happy you are to see them. Save questions about their day for later or wait until they tell you.
  • Trust them to handle their own homework assignments, and do not get involved with the doing of it. Do show interest in their studies and assignments. Offer your help when needed, but do not get involved without being asked.
  • Acknowledge their effort at all times (even when you see little). “That was really hard and you got through it.” When they do well, express that you know how proud they must be of themselves (intrinsic) rather than how proud you are of them (extrinsic).
  • Value school-related activities other than grades and test scores, i.e. being helpful to a friend, interest in something non-academic, relationships with teachers and friends, sports, music.
  • Focus on the process and content of their learning. Take focus off grades and performance. Never compare one child’s accomplishments with another’s.
  • If your children are having difficulty, help them break work down into small bit-sized chunks that can be accomplished more easily. Validate their effort and be understanding of their frustration. Share a story from your past.
  • Never punish (give consequences) or reward performance or grades. Do not teach your children that what you care most about is what they produce.
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    A Guide to Choosing the Best Child Care Center

    Choosing a good child care center
    Selecting the right child care is perhaps one of the most important decisions you will make during the early years of your child’s life. It demands thorough research on your part as you narrow down the most suitable environments for your little ones.

    Jackie Edwards, editor, researcher, writer and mom of young children has done the research and offers you the best advice on choosing a child care center. Check the links to other articles she has worked on as well.

    There are lots of things to consider. Aside from the conventional concerns that will undoubtedly mean a lot to you (location, convenience, cost etc.), there are many other factors that are worth thinking about – factors that take into consideration the atmosphere of your new childcare, the methods used by teachers, the layout of the place and the happiness of its children.

    So, whether you’re a first-time parent or you’ve searched for childcare before, we have you covered. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts when the time comes to find the right day care.

    DO understand the power of play.

    Every child has their own individual way of learning and a carefully prepared day careenvironment is essential for inviting children to explore, examine and investigate the various activities that are set up there. As they are guided by their own interests, children can test out their ideas in a structured yet creative setting, which will help them acquire skills that are the foundation stones for lessons such as reasoning, numeracy, handwriting and social interaction. Make sure that you choose a day care facility that understands the need to give children the freedom to explore a variety of activities in their own way.

     

    DON’T forget to ask about how they approach special educational needs

    If your child has any specific learning requirements, this is likely to be the first thing on your checklist. But if your child does not require any additional support, it doesn’t mean you should ask about it. The way some day-cares approach learning difficulties and special learning requirements will tell you a lot about their facilities, priorities, and ethics.

    DO find someone you get along with

    Although it is paramount that your child gets along with your au-pair or a nanny, it is of equal importance that you choose somebody who you get along with too. A live-in nanny will most likely begin to feel like ‘one of the family’; they will share many treasured moments with your family. They will most likely need to share most of your core values and above all, you must be able to trust them. If they are essentially helping you to raise your child, you should select somebody that you like and trust, on or off the clock. You should also ask for (and look at) the paperwork. Make sure they are licensed and accredited. If their license is expired, and renewal plans are not clear, you may want to look elsewhere.

    DON’T settle for a day-care purely based on logistics

    While there are definitely steps to take when choosing childcare and cost, distance and convenience are all factors that you will consider, try not to choose a day-care purely based on these. A day-care that takes 5 minutes to get to holds no weight in whether it’s the right choice for you; same goes for one that won’t cost you much. Brainstorm ideas and hone in on the things that are most important to you, as well as some of the more practical factors to consider, whether it be learning development, the happiness of the children or the ethics, know what you care about and use that as a starting point.

    DO talk to staff 

    Pop into a day-care and see if you can have a quick chat with one of the staff. Learn about what they do and gauge a feel for their ways of teaching, ask them about their methods, why they decided to work in child-care and whether the play time they conduct is child-focused or more teacher-led. Give yourself a feel of the place that your child will spend time in.

    DON’T visit a day-care when it’s quiet

    You need to get more than just a feel of the facility. When you enter, you should hear noises from happy and engaged children, as opposed to staff. Observe how well the staff encourage the children’s learning and development during playtime.

    DO drop in unannounced to notice the setting

    You should look out for day-cares that have quality settings. Take a walk around the parking lot – are the children safe from approaching vehicles when going in and out/playing? It the facility welcoming and clean? Ask about the playground – does somebody regularly check the area for hazards? Is the play area and kitchen clean? These should all be on your checklist when looking for day-care.

    DON’T be afraid of ‘live-in’ care

    When choosing the right childcare, most parents tend to rule out the option of having live-in care. They assume an au pair is too expensive or they worry about living with a stranger, but au pairs are usually quite affordable, depending on the number of children you have, the city you live in and the responsibilities they will be required to undertake. And if you do decide to take that route…

    DO consider what sort of environment your child will thrive in

    The most important part of choosing the right day-care is how comfortable and happy your child will be in his/her new environment. Take your little one with you when looking for a facility and notice how they respond to each place.

    Choosing the right place for your child to learn and play is an incredibly big (but fun) decision. Research various facilities and services, decide on what your uncompromising features are and involve your little one in the process. Happy hunting! read more