When the kids are just too busy

Some time ago, parents sought me out and indicated they very much wanted my assistance with their daughter. But when it came time to schedule an appointment, I had to contend with step-dancing on Mondays, piano lessons on Tuesdays, pottery class on Thursdays with sleepovers on Fridays. Barely eeking out C’s, the girl informed me that she did her homework in the car on the way to her various activities. Clearly too muchness was part of her problem.

This reminds me of the proverbial kid in the candy store who wants everything. Parents wouldn’t dream of permitting him/her to have it all. “You’ll get sick!  Just pick one or two pieces.” But when it comes to helping children reach their full potential, parents often throw this sound thinking out the window.

Emotionally, children need meaningful relationships with their parents — not as cab drivers, but as moms and dads.  Family life and school need to be their top priorities.

When children bombard you with the ”I wants,” help them grow up by having them prioritize and select a couple activities (for preadolescents) – with one preferably on the weekend.  Then, after homework, plan simple family activities — cooking dinner together, family movie night, a hike in our lovely MetroParks, a trip to the public library.

Three of these examples allow for talking, but don’t jump in there and pepper your child with questions. Let him/her take the lead and practice good listening. Remember:  A relationship with you is much more important than any extracurricular activity.

“But mom, Hannah gets to take tap, ballet and art classes too.”

“Every family has their priorities and this is just right for us.”

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The forgetful child and feeling forgotten

As a child psychoanalyst, I provide consultation services to tutors who work with children who have learning troubles.  My job is to help them understand that behavior is a meaningful communication. Children can’t always tell you how they’re feeling; they let their behavior do the talking.

Recently a tutor reported that a boy showed up for class without his school supplies. So, the tutor gave him a pencil and paper only to learn that he “forgot them somewhere” by second period. This “forgetting” happened over and over again.

So, what was the boy really saying to his tutor? Was he feeling forgotten?

Sometimes children believe their parents get so busy during the day with work or, worse yet, taking care of younger siblings, that they forget all about them. Of course, as is true of all behavior problems, this is just one possibility. However, it’s worth exploring.

You can do it by saying something like this:

“You seem to be forgetting a lot lately. I wonder if you ever feel forgotten. Maybe you think I get so busy while you’re at school that I don’t think about you.”

Then see what he/she says. If this is the issue, encourage your child to elaborate as much as he/she can and then acknowledge, “What a sad thought that you’re feeling forgotten.  So, how can I help you know that I keep you in mind?”

This could be something simple like putting a note in your child’s lunch: “I just wanted you to know I will be thinking about you. Love, Mom.” Or maybe you could put a picture of you and your child in his backpack with a note that says, “When you get home tonight, I’ll be so glad to hear about your school day.” Often these little reminders can be quite helpful to children who worry about being forgotten.

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Putting sarcasm in its place

I think it’s important to think about things from a developmental perspective. So, let me take you back to the second half of your child’s first year of life. Remember the biting? Remember how it hurt? Well sarcastic children no longer bite with their teeth; they bite with their words. But their biting comments still hurt.

Unfortunately sarcasm is rampant in our society. Just turn on the TV and you’ll get a big dose of the mean-spirited comments that America calls humor. But here the example that you set is crucial. Be mindful of your words and what you laugh at. Take advantage of opportunities to encourage empathy so your child will be able to put him/herself in other peoples’ shoes:

“How do you suppose Sophia felt when Chloe called her stupid?” “Did you hear Ryan call his younger brother a baby? He said he was just kidding, but his brother looked so sad. I wonder what you thought about that.”

Be sure to intervene in private if you see your child engaging in sarcasm:

“I heard you call Emily a loser and I wondered what was going on; I thought you and Emily were friends.”

“We are.”

“I wonder why a kind girl like you would treat her friend in a mean way.”

“Just kidding.”

“Is it? I remember how picky you were about Emily’s birthday present and how you made her a card when she was sick. That’s how to be a friend. But mean words drive others away.”

By so doing, you’re making your child aware of her meanness and reminding her of her kind side. But, most important, you’re letting her know how self-defeating sarcasm is – if you want to have friends. You might also remind her of when someone’s sarcasm hurt her feelings. “Wasn’t funny then and it isn’t funny now.”

Image courtesy of Milissa Thompson/Stockxchng

Helping school-age children overcome procrastination

Your child has a history project due in two weeks, but he hasn’t even started. You’ve seen this behavior before — procrastination.

As is true of all childhood troubles, procrastination can have many causes. But this time, your son gives you an important clue about what’s going on:  “I can’t do that assignment.  It’s too hard!”

Often, procrastination is due to anxiety. Somehow that project feels way too big. And starting it, even thinking about it, leads to tremendous anxiety.  So, he shoves it aside and tends to less daunting tasks – or maybe even no schoolwork at all, because it will remind him of the history project.

How can you be a helpful parent and assist him? Teach him how to break the BIG history assignment down into bearable bits.

“Come on, Nathan. I’m going to help you. We’re going to make this job manageable. Let’s start by making a list of what needs to be done and then putting them in order. First, do this, then this, then this.”

Once you have the list, suggest he do a little each night. On nights when he doesn’t have much schoolwork offer: “Let’s see if you can do a couple items on your list tonight.” And if he starts getting frustrated?  “Nathan, I can see you’re getting frustrated. When you start feeling really frustrated, you know it’s time to take a break. So stop what you’re doing and get yourself a glass of water. Stretch your legs for awhile. Then you’ll feel better.”

By taking this approach, you’re teaching your child valuable organizational lessons. Remember, your role is supportive.  So don’t take over the job, as that will play right into your child’s “can’t do” thinking.

And be sure to stand back and admire the finished product. “Good job, Nathan!  I’m so proud of you and I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

More Parenting Tips available at www.westpsychotherapy.com.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net