Initiating conversations with your child or young person around school anxiety can be difficult, but some good conversation starters can be open questions such as “How are you feeling about starting school?”, Are you thinking about what school might be like this year?”,… Followed up with -”It can help to talk about it”.
Emotion coaching your child or young person is important to enable feelings to be named and explored. This may mean making an observation such as “You look like you feel worried/sad/angry/upset. Is that right? “If the answer is yes, then you can follow that up with a question about what the worry/sadness/anger is about.
It’s important then to acknowledge these worries by saying something like” I can see why you feel that way” but follow that up with some ideas around resolving them by saying “Have you got any ideas about what you could do to stop those feelings…let me know if you need help coming up with a plan.”
Developing self understanding in your child or young person can be encouraged by asking questions that help them to look beneath their level of understanding so questions like “What has made you feel that way? or “ Why did you make that choice?” This can have your child or young person begin to think about what the underlying cause of their anxiety and then develop the ability to respond to what is going on.
Sometimes talking about expected feelings can help so asking your child or young person if they expect to feel nervous/worried when they start or return to school can be followed up with “How do you think you’ll manage that?” and then..”If you do start feeling worried, what is something you can do to make yourself feel better?”
Remember that your goal as a parent is to help your children put together the puzzle that is feelings and past experiences and develop skills to give them some control over them which in turn will lower their anxiety.
One of the feelings we often have as parents is Guilt. Guilt that we are not spending enough time with our children, guilt about the food we feed our children or even guilt about losing our temper with our children.
As parents we often forget that we are humans too, and that with our humanity comes mistakes. We can’t (and wont) always be the perfect parent that we want to be. Work, relationships, hormonal fluctuations, mental health issues, and financial stress can cause layer, upon layer, upon layer of stress that can impact on our ability to parent at an optimal level.
As a result we can sometimes only parent at a “good enough” level. That is we can only do the best we can do at the time under the circumstances. So, if as parents we are sometimes faced with adversity but the quality of our parenting behaviour is still adequate then our children should not be compromised.
In addition it is extremely powerful to admit to our children that “we got it wrong”.
It models to them that it’s ok to make mistakes, that it’s not the end of the world. In addition it teaches our children how to make amends in relationships and gives permission for imperfection.
So next time you are feeling guilt around your parenting be gentle with yourself and remember that sometimes you can only do the best you can do at the time and that is good enough!!
Sadly bad stuff happens in life. In fact every day as the news is broadcast across television, internet and other news media sources; children are seeing and hearing about events that may have them asking questions.
As parents we naturally want to protect our children from tragedy ,however rather than avoiding explanations, or brushing them off with “you don’t need to worry about that“, it’s important to begin conversations with children by focussing on making children feel safe in their immediate world , rather than their fears associated with the events they may have seen or heard.
Some of the best advice I have heard in this area was by a man called Fred Rodgers (an American educator) who once said , “When I was a boy and would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me ,”look for the helpers, you will always find people helping”.
So following on from this valuable advice – looking for the helpers amidst the tragedy, is a good way to begin conversations with children about bad stuff. Initially try and find out what your children already know, they may know a lot or very little about the event, either way it’s a good starting point for conversations. Children may be experiencing a whole range of emotions ranging from fear, anger, or sadness. Using age appropriate language the focus needs to be kept on building their sense of safety and security and making sense of the world around them, whilst at the same time acknowledging their emotions.
So for example a discussion regarding the recent train tragedy in Spain might be:
“A very sad thing happened in a country called Spain where a train was going too fast and crashed into a wall. People were hurt and some people died. But many people were taken to the hospital where the doctors looked after them and made them better. Trains run all the time and this was a very unusual event. Usually trains are safe and fun to travel on. The police are helping to find out why the train was travelling too fast so that we can be sure it is safe to travel on trains again. The police here make sure it is safe to travel on our trains and even keep us safe in our neighbourhood.”
It’s important to focus on all the people who do help to keep us safe. You could mention police, ambulance officers, teachers, and football or netball coaches, even babysitters all keep us safe in different parts of our life. Talking to children about the people who keep them safe and then doing some “what ifs” there was an emergency, who would keep them safe, can reassure and help your child develop resilience.
- To escape from unbearable anguish
- To change the behaviour of others
- To escape from a situation
- To show desperation to others
- To’ get back at’ other people or make them feel guilty
- To gain relief of tension
- To seek help
- To die
Self-injury can take many different forms which may include:
- Cutting, scratching, or pinching skin, enough to cause bleeding or a mark which remains on the skin
- Banging or punching objects to the point of bruising or bleeding
- Ripping and tearing skin
- Carving words or patterns into skin
- Interfering with the healing of wounds
- Burning skin with cigarettes, matches or hot water
- Compulsively pulling out large amounts of hair
- Deliberately overdosing on medications when this is NOT a suicide attempt
Adapted from Whitlock et al (2006). Self- injurious behaviours in a college population. Paediatrics, 117:1939-1948.
If you are worried that someone you know may be deliberately self-harming, don’t ignore it. Let the person know that you have noticed their injuries, remain calm without passing judgements.
Self-harming is a coping mechanism, so the focus of your conversation needs to be more on relieving the distress, rather than stopping the self-harming behaviour. Self-harming is not an illness in itself but can often be a symptom of either a mental illness or serious psychological distress which needs treatment. Encourage the person to get professional help or emergency medical help if there is a high risk of permanent harm or death.
Adapted from Mental Health First Aid Australia. Non suicidal self-injury: first aid guidelines. Melbourne: Mental Health First Aid Australia 2008.
Sadly bullying is, and always will be a part of life. But when it happens to our precious child who is blissfully unaware that not everyone loves and adores him or her, it is distressing.
As parents we naturally want to defend and protect our child from hurt. However the harsh reality is that we can’t and won’t, always be with our child to do that. So its more about equipping our children with life skills to manage this behaviour. Doing some “What would you do if….” Conversations can give you some insights into how well equipped your child may be to manage bullying behaviour.
The main message to get across is to tell an adult or someone who can intervene. If your child discloses to you then its important that you take them seriously, make an appointment to speak to their teacher and discuss a plan of action. If you do not get a satisfactory response from their teacher then take it further with another staff member but try to avoid going directly to the parent of the bully .
If children feel safe enough to they can be encouraged to stand up to the bully using “I messages” such as “I don’t like it when you say that, please stop”.
Research is showing that the ‘bystander effect” is a deterrent to bullying behaviour. So conversations with your child around “what would you do if you saw someone being bullied” are also important. Talk with them about standing up for someone, or if they are too afraid to do this for fear of recrimination, to at least show the person being bullied in some way that you don’t agree with the bully by smiling , emailing, sharing, texting, or even sitting next to that person.
Sometimes people will show definite signs that they are thinking of taking their own life, often as a response to ongoing and unrelenting psychological pain for which death is an escape rather than a desire to end life
Some people may show one or many of these signs or none at all…but if you suspect someone you know may be thinking about suicide it’s really important that you ask them directly and in an unambiguous way about their suicidal thoughts for example:
• “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” or
• “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”
Signs a person may be suicidal include:
• Rage ,anger ,seeking revenge
• Increasing alcohol or drug use
• Feeling trapped, like there’s no way out
• Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
• Looking for ways to kill themselves :seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means
• Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
• Dramatic changes in mood, both for the better and worse
• No reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
• Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
• Giving away treasured possessions and getting affairs in order
• Withdrawing from friends, family, or society
Adapted from Rudd et al (2006)
Warning signs for suicide: Theory; research and clinical applications. Suicide and Life-Threatening behaviour, 36:255-262
You may think that people who talk about suicide are just “attention seekers” and not really serious, but all talk of suicide must be taken seriously (effectively they are “attention needers”), and this may be the only way this person knows how to communicate how bad they are feeling.
It’s also important to continue to monitor someone for 3-6 months after they receive treatment as this can be a critical time for suicide.
Adapted from Mental Health First Aid Australia. Suicidal thoughts and behaviours: first aid guidelines. Melbourne: Mental Health First Aid Australia; 2008