Wednesday, September 01, 2004
My child is scared of school :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Q: My 5-year-old is starting kindergarten this fall. Previously he was in preschool for a few hours a week, but the kindergarten is all day. When we try to talk to him about how much fun he will have in his new school he doesn't want to talk about it. Sometimes he walks out of the room or puts his hands over his ears. We also notice he is having more nightmares than usual and seems very easily upset during the day. We wonder if these behaviors are related to his starting school, and, if so, what we can do to help him since he doesn't seem to want to talk about it? A.G., Evanston
A:You are correct. Your son's behavior is related to his worries about starting kindergarten. The problem is that you are trying to talk your son into looking forward to starting school by telling him how much fun he will have, rather than trying to find out what is worrying him. As a result, he feels he is doing something wrong when he can't adopt your positive attitude. So he wants to avoid all discussion of the situation.
We suggest you change course. Tell him you recognize he has concerns about going to kindergarten and that this is normal-many children worry about starting a new school. Add that worries can be expressed in bad dreams and upset feelings. If you show your son you are comfortable with the notion he may be dreading school, he will feel more comfortable discussing his concerns. It might help to ask the librarian at your local library to suggest age-appropriate books about children who imagine school will be unpleasant.
Once your son opens up and tells you what he fears, be careful not to contradict him (“We've met the teacher and she is very nice” or “That's silly, of course the other children will like you.”) Rather, let him know it is great he is communicating his fears and that if anything does go wrong at school he can come right home and tell you, and you will help him figure out a way to handle the problem. Fears don't go away because someone tells you not to worry-what is reassuring is to know that if what you dread happens, you have someone to turn to who can help you. Once school starts, leave some quiet time every day-perhaps when you are putting your son to bed-to ask him how his day went. Make sure you give him an opportunity to tell you about the bad as well as the good.
Is my child too friendly? Q:I am concerned because when my son goes to a park, he tries to greet everyone at the playground. He turns 4 at the end of September. Also, when some kids don't want to play with him, he starts talking to the kids' parents. Some mothers are patient, but some mothers think he is a pest. What can I do to make him slow down, to have him play by himself and stop bothering other parents? I basically want him to be normal, independent and avoid possible rejection in the future. We came to the United States a year and a half ago; we lived in Japan, where my son was born and grew up until the age of 2. His mother is Japanese and I am Hispanic. The three of us are foreigners in this country. Thank you and I look forward to your response. F.A., Seattle, Wash. A: Your son sounds like a wonderful, friendly child. It is a sign of how loved he feels by you that he trusts adults and enjoys conversing with them. Also, it is healthy that in response to temporary rejection from his peers he turns to other relationships for comfort rather than isolating himself. If there are parents at the park who can't appreciate and enjoy having a child strike up a conversation with them, that is their problem, not your son's problem. So stop worrying, enjoy your child, and feel happy that you are raising such an outgoing, trusting little boy.
How can I deal with my child's everyday fears? Q: My 2-year-old is deathly frightened of escalators and public restrooms. He completely melts down and clings to me like plastic wrap. It's really a problem for me because sometimes I do have to go to the bathroom when we are out and my son gets totally hysterical and makes it impossible. I have talked to him about how escalators and public bathrooms can't possibly hurt him and told him that I will have to leave him home with a babysitter if he can't get over this, but he doesn't seem to be getting better. What do you suggest? L. H., Cicero
A: Two-year-olds do sometimes develop irrational fears of everyday things. They get over these fears most quickly if parents remain both reassuring and accepting. It's fine to explain to your son why escalators and public bathrooms can't hurt him, but when his fears do not diminish, hug him and comfort him. It is also important to emphasize in a positive manner that someday he will feel more confident, but that, until that time, you will try to shield him from experiences that scare him. When possible, take a friend or other family member shopping with you so that someone can remain with your son if you need to use a public restroom. It's almost always possible to avoid escalators by taking stairs or elevators. Trying to force him to confront and conquer his fears will only lead to a power struggle that will prolong the time it takes for him to get over them and make him feel alienated and misunderstood. On the other hand, your patience and understanding will not only help your son to become less fearful, but will also bring the two of you closer together. Questions? Here's your chance to get some answers to your pressing parenting questions. If you're trying to figure out how to handle some aspect of your child's behavior, send your question to Chicago Parent Q&A, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Piepers will respond to three questions per month. Sorry–they are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication. More answers For more answers to questions from readers since January 2000, visit our Web site, www.chicagoparent.com. Click on “Past Issues” and then “Smart Love.” For a more complete understanding of the Pieper's philosophy and psychology, read their book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You A Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person.
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline that Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (Harvard Common Press). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.