Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What to do when your child is upset

I was in the car with my girlfriend and she was late picking up her 13 year old son from school. She had phoned him to say she was going to be late, and he was already anxious about being the only one left outside the school.

When she arrived he was angry and upset. She immediately launched into an explanation about why she was late, and he got more angry and upset. I intervened and said, "Think of his feelings rather than your own." I then coached her to do a skill we call Reflective Listening. I explained that he doesn't want to hear your reasons or excuses--that he is upset and wants you to listen to his feelings. She then said to him, "I'm usually on time, and maybe you were worried about being left alone." He replied, "What kind of mother would be late for her child?" Instead of getting into another round of explanations and reasoning, she said, "I am sorry I was late; that must have been really upsetting." He then replied, "I don't like this, I am used to getting my mum all riled up and having an argument."

In the Calmer, Easier, Happier parenting approach, Reflective Listening is one of the five core strategies we teach parents. This skill teaches parents how to stay calm and deal with their child or teenagers uncomfortable feelings without getting upset, angry, denying, reasoning, justifying or explaining. With Reflective Listening parents learn an effective way to communicate that all feelings are valid no matter how unpleasant, although some actions are not allowed no matter how they feel. This strategy also gives us a way to stay calm!

Reflective Listening steps:

1. Listen to your child or teen, nod and make encouraging comments like "Mmmm, I see, Oh, Ahh"

2. Temporarily put your own feelings on the shelf (when our kids get upset, it often make us upset!). 
    Resist the urge to justify, reason or explain.

3. Step inside your child or teen's shoes and try and guess how he may be feeling

4. Reflect back in words what you think he may be feeling--be tentative. Use phrases like "Maybe you're angry that..." or "You might wish our rule were different about...", etc.

You will see that once your child or teen feels heard and understood, he'll be able to get over strong feelings more quickly and will be in a better position to listen to what you have to say or to problem solve for himself.

Suzanne Ferera (view profile below)
Vancouver, BC

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Homework: How much is too much?

Recently my little sister contacted me for some big sisterly (and professional) advice. My nephew, a bright and active nine year old was battling homework every night. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do it, but the volume and variance of tasks was overwhelming to manage. A worksheet in math, a project in science, a list of spelling words, and a paragraph to write seem simple to prioritize, but so does getting the kids off to school, getting the groceries, paying the bills, delivering dinner, and supervising homework. The reality of doing is more difficult than drafting the list.

My sister wanted to know how much was too much. Are her instincts correct that the homework load is too much to expect, or is she off the norm and is not demanding enough from her child? Her first stop was the teacher and then the school. Both were willing to discuss but neither appeared willing or able to reduce the homework demand. To my sister, this appeared to be a sacred cow issue despite the two hours it took for the family to accomplish the task. She had to make a decision, continue with the culture’s current demand or stand alone at risk.

My sister chose to adopt the recommendations given by the Department of Education, National Education Association and National Parent Teacher Association of ten minutes of homework per grade level. She felt, as the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting program promotes, that the time limit would be a strong motivator for her son and not make homework a punishment. She and her husband decided to shift their efforts from pressuring him to get the work done to: focusing on positive feedback and goals, reinforcing he do his best, increasing personal meaning and a sense of autonomy by providing choices, and reinforcing the feeling of accomplishment and responsibility.

My sister is making a brave move stepping outside the cultural norm of pressuring her child to achieve at school no matter the cost. I believe her risk will be rewarded in her son and her family’s mental health. The moving film, The Race to Nowhere,, documents the increase in risk of suicide, depression, and stress related illness in young children today that is directly related to the pressure to achieve. Additionally, not a focus of a film, but a poignant experience in my counseling experience, is the life crisis of the students who have mastered the pressure but do not know where to go once they are out of school. They do not know where to go in life or how to create opportunity despite their exceptional skills. There has to be a better way to achieve growth and success. Setting a time limit on homework is one concrete measure to keep parents and their children from being pulled into the never ending, accelerating competition in the race to nowhere.

Amanda Deverich (view profile below) 
Williamsburg, VA