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.

Following the same type of discipline we experienced as kids and some bad advice, we controlled his environment too much the last 2-3 years, and I believe that is the reason he struggles trusting himself and us. We had a baby last year (she is 1 now) and the combination of this big change and the environment we unintentionally created for him has been damaging for him. We have been looking into anxiety (because there is family history) and also ADHD to see if we need to be concerned. He has not been diagnosed with anything, but through some play therapy he started we were told he has control issues and to look into control and anxiety before ADHD. What would your recommendation be in order to boost his confidence and embrace who he is? 

A. What you are describing sounds like a normal, impulsive, active 5 yo boy. He should NOT be doing ANY work in school—and that goes for the next few years. There is much research showing that homework is not helpful in elementary school. Younger and younger work expectations are creating big problems. 22 kids are way too many for that age. Of course he has trouble focusing. He shouldn’t be in that type of environment.

A bunch of 5 yo old boys are going to be silly and not pay attention to an organized game of soccer. Kicking the ball around is one thing, but playing a game is unrealistic. He would be much better off in a child-directed situation where he can be silly with his friends doing what they want rather than being adult led and supervised. Many kids are feared to have ADHD at younger ages because they are expected to pay attention to what adults want far too much of the time. This could result in the control issues you are seeing.

Many kids don’t want to try new things until they are sure they can do something well. This can be temperament as much as it could be anxiety. We are so keen to diagnose perfectly normal children with anxiety these days. All kids are anxious, nervous and afraid of situations they don’t feel comfortable in. This is NORMAL. Some jump right in, some hold back for a long while. Nothing wrong with either. It is about how this individual child handles their environment. That’s temperament, not a confidence issue.

He has to do so much during the day to follow adult direction, and if you controlled his environment too much early on, it should be as loose and chill as possible. And the new baby puts him in the shadow so he will likely try his darndest to get more of your attention. I would hold off on any worrying and just learn more about him.


Need for Empathy re: Name-calling

Q. I have a question about name calling. My son has started calling me a jerk, an ugly jerk, mean, doesn’t want to live with this family, hates his brother, wants a new family etc. I really try to empathize and explain that is hurtful but that seems to be his go-to response when he doesn’t get his way.

A. Explaining to your son that his remarks are hurtful is not empathizing. Empathizing involves truly listening and hearing what is said and then looking into what your son is experiencing that causes him to say what he does. If your husband started calling you these names, you wouldn’t get very far by saying this is hurtful and expecting that to change anything. He, as well as your son, knows they are hurtful, that’s why he’s saying them. When it’s your husband, you know it means there’s a problem in your relationship that needs work. The same is true when it’s your child.

What you need to do is dig in to find out why he wants to hurt you. The next time he says something like this, try something like, “I really don’t like being called a jerk. And I know you wouldn’t call me that if you weren’t really angry with me for something. I want to hear what it is you really wish you could say to me without the name-calling.” Or, “I wonder if you want to hurt me because you think I hurt you. If that is true, I want to hear about what I do and say that is hurtful to you, so we can stop hurting each other.”

If you use any form of punishment methods, from time-out to taking away privileges to threatening to grounding, you will keep hearing this and worse until he doesn’t have to listen any more. When we yell at and threaten our kids, it is no different from the disrespectful names they choose to throw our way. That is retaliation for the disrespect they feel. That needs to be addressed before any name-calling will stop.


Addiction to Shopping?

Q. I am blessed with a wonderful 17 yo daughter who is funny, hard-working, athletic and has nice friends. She is self-motivated and wants to get into a good college. However, she seems to have created a persona of the “affluent girl” in our Middle Class community. She loves brand names. Since we cannot afford them she has been ordering from websites which ship from China.  

I am a Single Mom working in NYC and am not always home, so I trusted her with her credit card. Several times she has abused it. I am still paying off her December shopping spree which amounted to almost $2,000. Right now there is no more credit card. We had a huge fight a couple of days ago when she started ordering on our Amazon Prime account even though I had explained to her that we need to get back on our feet. First she lied to me that she ordered cosmetics but when I showed her the bill she admitted to it. Her explanation was that she is so stressed and shopping helps her to relax. I am at the end of my rope. When I bring the topic of money up she starts screaming and getting upset.  

 Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.  

A. Sometimes having a credit card at your beck and call is just too tempting for a teen especially if she is alone for lengths of time. I think the issue for her is not money (although of course it is for you) but the shopping – the endorphins released when she buys. This may be her “drug” of choice – better than some, although it can get pretty dangerous for you. She has gotten off track and needs help getting back, but she doesn’t know that, so it gets tricky.

I would suggest you find a time when you can tell her that you need to keep the credit card simply because it’s too hard for her to resist the temptation right now – much less blaming. You can add, “I can’t afford to lose any more money so I have to make sure it stops.” This takes ownership and reduces blame. Don’t expect her to understand what the money means to you, that’s asking her to comply with your way of thinking. Of course that’s what you want, but that isn’t going to happen right now. Especially if you’re dealing with an addiction. You might tell her you are getting the picture that shopping makes her feel less stressed and can become addictive. You want to help her so that it doesn’t become a bigger problem.

Pay attention to what stresses her and be her sounding board so she can talk to you. When you blame her or react punitively, you lose her trust and your relationship. She will turn to who she can trust—the internet for one! It will help everything if you can find a way to get into alignment with her, understand her point of view, “get her”—not agree with her—just get her and accept her. Then and only then will you be able to influence her and gain her cooperation in solving this problem.

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