Messages from Louise - Ealing School's Counselling Partnership
Sometimes we could all do with someone to talk to. If you would like to meet Louise for a confidential and non-judgemental chat about you, your child, or any other worries, she will be available again after the summer on Fridays 9-10am. You can call/text Louise on 07582310756 or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org in September.
How to enjoy a great summer as a family
The summer break is quickly approaching! This is a great opportunity to build memories together and to connect with your children. The key is to find the balance between having just enough activity without over-scheduling your days. Also be aware that transitions take time: after a year of built-up stress or tension from school, your child may decompress into a meltdown or a few tantrums before they can fully settle into a new rhythm.
How can parents help?
Find some time every day to have some fun with your child: real belly laughs and some safe rough and tumble together are great decompressors. Remember that they will also still need some structure: make sure there day/week has a shape and a routine so that they know what to expect. It is equally as important for children to have some downtime once in a while so that they can practice getting creative with their time: start making a ‘boredom buster jar’ with ideas of things they can do when they feel bored. Limit technology use to certain times of the day. And why not reflect back on the summer at the end of August by either making a photo album or drawing pictures of your favourite memories in a book?
LEARNING and WANTING to do the right thing
Children develop their ‘inner compass’ every day. They learn what they live, primarily by the example you set and the family culture that you create.
How can parents help?
The most powerful way to teach a child a skill is to model it. When you treat others (including your child) with respect, when you apologise and when you regulate your emotions- then your child learns to do the same. Their inner compass will take shape from yours. In addition, your child constantly needs to make difficult choices so instead of telling them off and shaming them for making a “poor” choice, use it as an opportunity to develop that compass: help them reflect on how they feel and explain that we are all tempted to take the easy way over the right way: we are not perfect but we can do better. In order to help your child WANT to do the right thing, make sure your limits are reasonable and age-appropriate. Set them up for success so that they can feel good about being a person who does the right thing. Finally, help your child repair relationships following any damage and remember to stay connected: when your child feels you are on their side, they are more likely to WANT to follow your lead.
How to listen so your child will talk
Parents often ask what they can say to get their child to talk. The secret isn't about what you say: it's about how you listen. The most important skill in talking with anyone is not lecturing, offering solutions, answering or teaching. What children need from you is your full attention and empathy: that is what deep listening is.
How can parents help?
Even children who don't say much want to connect with you, so try to accept it on their terms. Connection doesn’t always look like a deep meaningful conversation: it can be a hug, a high five, a long look in each other’s eyes. Children may also feel more comfortable talking while walking down the street or washing the dishes. It is OK for them not to hold eye contact as this may be their way of staying regulated while talking about something that feels difficult for them. When your child expresses their feelings about something, they need you to listen and acknowledge, rather than jumping in with solutions. This means you may have to manage your own anxiety about the issue, which will allow them to find their own solutions to problems. Most importantly, pay full attention: put your phone down and be present. It will be a gift to both of you.
What to do when you feel your temper rising…
We all have triggers, our children certainly do and so do we! So, what can you do when you feel your temper rising? We often feel an urgent need to DO something, but that is our emergency response system operating. Quite often, however, you do not need to DO anything… other than notice what you are feeling, breathe your way through it and restore yourself to calm before you act.
How can parents help?
First of all, know your triggers. Notice them, as well as what happens in you when your buttons have been pushed. If you can catch it early, you are more likely to feel you have a choice in your response. If no physical intervention is absolutely required (in safety situations), just hold still and breathe. Resist taking action for now and work hard to see things from your child’s point of view: what do they need your help with? Finally, always choose love, not fear, set a limit but do it with empathy, move into a playful mode and always be ready to offer a hug.
Bad Dreams and Nightmares
We all have nightmares, and we know how distressing they can feel. When a child has a bad dream, they are expressing a fear of something they’re trying to cope with in life. Your best response is reassurance and letting them know they are safe. However, reoccurring nightmares are an indication that they may be stuck trying to resolve something difficult.
How can parents help?
Listen to your child’s dream and reassure them with empathy. You can also encourage them to act out or draw their dream with the outcome they would have liked: they get to re-write the script. This will re-empower them and help them feel triumphant. To avoid bad dreams, limit TV and screen time and make sure your child feels it is OK to express their feelings: the angry monster may indicate that your child is afraid of their own anger. Help them understand that everyone gets angry sometimes and help them manage their feelings so that everyone stays safe. Try to create calming evening routines filled with cuddles, laughter and time spent together.
Do you ever find the end of the day particularly difficult? Does your child become extra teary or uncooperative? Even if they love school, it is hard work for children to hold it together all day, faced with so many challenges, people, rules and transitions. When they come home to you they finally feel safe enough to let go of all the emotions they stored up all day. After being apart for so long children will also feel disconnected from you and their meltdown is a way to tell you that they are feeling alone.
How can parents help?
Stop (HALT) and ask yourself: is your child Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? The key is to prepare for the end of the day assuming that your child could be feeling all of the above. First, make sure you refill your own cup before you pick up your child from school: take 5mins to pause and think of one nice thing you can do for yourself once your child is in bed tonight. When you pick them up, take the time to reconnect with lots of hugs and delight, and give them your attention. Have simple healthy snacks ready to go at pick-up or the moment you get home and perhaps put on some soothing music too. Try to keep your child nearby as you prepare dinner- maybe even prepare it together and keep it fun! Simplify your evenings so that you can use this time to connect.
Building Stronger Sibling Bonds
If your children are having a hard time together, it’s only natural that you try to help them resolve things peacefully. However often this can feel very exhausting for you… and perhaps at times you might worry they will never get along. Studies have shown that couples need five to seven positive interactions to counter-balance one negative interaction. Now this may feel
like an impossible task when your children argue six times a day! So why not simply change your goal to helping your children have as many positive interactions as they can?
How can parents help?
Remember that a smile counts as a positive- so these don’t all need to be major interactions for them to count as a positive! It is also helpful to notice and encourage the activities that get your children playing together and try to avoid interrupting happy play. You can start using “Special Time” between your children, during which they can spend 10mins doing something that makes them laugh, create or move around together. Finally, how about creating a Family Kindness Journal to record acts of kindness with each other and reflect on at the end of each week?
Children’s brains are still developing the ability to switch gears from what they want to what you want. Every time you ask them to do something that requires your child to give up what they want in order to do what you want, they have to make a choice. AND every time they do it, they strengthen their brain's ability to make that choice. That's how children develop self-discipline. But this only works if your child chooses willingly. If you drag them kicking and screaming, they are resisting rather than choosing… and won’t building those self-discipline skills. (That's why there's a "self" in "self-discipline. It's chosen from inside.)
How can parents help?
Set limits with empathy so your child WANTS to cooperate and gets plenty of practice. To avoid power struggles, offer two choices. For example: “You can choose; you can either brush your teeth now with your brother, or in 5mins once he is done”. Make sure they are two choices you are OK with
Developing Friendship Skills
School is the place where children learn to navigate the world of friendships. At this age, alliances often shift and change. Learning to make friends and get along with peers can cause some distress to most children.
How can parents help?
It is important to listen to your child’s experiences with peer challenges. Instead of telling them what to do, help them problem-solve, and also to clarify and understand their feelings. It is always best to stay away from taking sides with either child, offer empathy for all of your child’s feelings, and also reflect together on how their peer might be feeling. Coach your child to stand up for themselves using their words and help them learn to express their needs rather than attacking their friend. It is helpful to practice this together!
How To Talk To Your Child About the War in Ukraine
No matter where in the world you live, it's hard to watch the news from Ukraine. Bombs dropping on cities full of civilians, parents and children sleeping on subway platforms, ordinary people like us standing in front of tanks. The news is constant, so our children, particularly older kids, can't help becoming aware of it. And because the conflict is upsetting to us, and the violence is so senseless, it can be hard to answer our children's questions about it.
While you may consider this a mess that is fit only for adults to discuss, your child may be hearing about the war, drawing conclusions, and feeling anxious. So, it's important to let your child know that they are safe and reduce their anxiety by answering any questions they have.
Below is an age by age guide with talking points and questions to ask your child. But first, some general guidelines.
1. Turn off the news. You can check in periodically yourself but avoid exposing kids of any age to upsetting screen images and reporting. Fear shouldn't set the tone in your home, even when there is a war.
2. Watch your own tendency to react strongly in front of your child. Kids take their cues from us, and our overreactions make them feel less safe. Calm yourself before you talk with your child.
3. When your child asks you a question, first ask them what they have already heard about the issue, so that you can correct misinformation and alleviate anxiety. So even more than giving your child information, you want to listen to their worries, instead of dismissing them. At the same time that you acknowledge the sadness and fear, reassure your child that they are safe. This is true for kids of all ages, even into the teen years.
4. Help your child keep this in perspective. Children don't have context for big world events like this, and our constant stream of social media and news reports makes current events very immediate. This can greatly increase the anxiety of a child who may worry that a war anywhere in the world poses a threat to their own safety. In addition to reassuring your child that they can trust you to keep them safe, you'll also want to help your child keep this in perspective: this is a tragedy AND our life goes on. This helps us to see how much we have to be grateful for and to treasure our many blessings.
5. Empower your child. When children see unfairness and pain in the world, it can make them (like the rest of us) feel despairing and cynical. So, when you talk with your child about tragedies, always talk about the people who are helping, working to make things better. Then, ask your child what he or she can do to help. Feeling that we have any ability at all to help is an antidote to the powerless that we otherwise feel in the face of tragedy. Young children who don't have much understanding of money may want to draw a picture, say a prayer, or send love. Older kids and teens might want to donate some of their saved pocket or birthday money or raise money to donate to one of the many organizations working to save lives in Ukraine.
Kids this young should not be exposed to the news, but they may overhear things, or hear from their friends. If your child raises the issue, ask what they've heard. Accept any fears they may express: "It could be scary to hear that," and reassure them that this is happening very far away, and they are safe. Explain that sometimes even grownups forget to use their words and that can lead to fighting,
which hurts people and is always sad. Ask if they would like to draw a picture and to send love to the Ukrainian people.
With children under the age of ten, you don't need to raise the issue, but do be alert if your child raises it. Ask what they've heard, and what they think about it. Ask if they've been wondering anything about what is happening and why. Listen to their fears without dismissing them, and then reassure your child that you will keep them safe: "Bombs here in London? That IS a scary idea. Thank goodness, that is not going to happen. The fighting is far away. And I will always keep you safe no matter what."
Answer your child's questions simply in terms they can understand, such as:
• Ukraine is now an independent country, but was previously part of Russia and many of the people who live in Ukraine speak Russian. There have been ongoing arguments about whether parts of Ukraine should again be controlled by Russia.
• Mr. Putin, the long-time leader of Russia, initiated a military invasion of Ukraine.
• The Russian people do not necessarily agree with the war, and there have been many Russian protests against it.
• This is happening a long way from here and you are safe.
• This is a good example of why it is so important to use our words and work things out when we get mad. Physical fighting hurts people and does not solve anything.
Kids aged ten and up will be very interested in what's happening, so don't hesitate to discuss it with them. However, be aware that their sophistication can mask anxiety. Always start by asking what they've heard, what they think about it, and what they've been wondering anything about what is happening.
Acknowledge their fears without dismissing them: "Your friend said there could be nuclear war? That's a very frightening thought. I don't think that will happen, but I understand why the idea would scare you. Sweetheart, thanks for telling me that you were worrying about this. I will keep you safe no matter what."
You can discuss all of the points listed in the "School Age" section above, and ask your child questions such as:
• "Do you think it should be a crime to invade another country?"
Acknowledge that the situation is terribly sad and consider with your child what your family can do to help, such as raising money to donate.
If you have a Teen, why not take the opportunity to have discussions that develop critical thinking, values and media literacy? You can discuss all of the above, and ask questions that lead to deeper discussion, like:
• "Is it ever okay in a war to bomb civilians?"
• "What do you think you would do if you were a Russian and disagreed with the war?"
• "Why do you think that the rest of the world is using sanctions against Russia instead of a military answer? Do you think the sanctions will work? Why or why not?"
After you've talked a bit, suggest that you and your teen check out some good sources of information about what's happening. For instance, take a look at the NPR website to find audio reporting on how everyday Russians are feeling the impact from sanctions, or how Russian police jailed children who took flowers and 'No to War' signs to Ukraine's embassy. Or read together about how the War Crimes court prosecutor has opened an investigation into Ukraine, at Reuters.
Teens are in the process of shaping their world-views, so it's important that they have an opportunity to feel they can contribute positively in the face of catastrophic world events. Talk with your teen about how even small gestures can make a difference, and suggest that you and your teen might want to work together to raise some money to donate to life-saving and relief efforts.
Creating a CALM BOX
There’s a lot going on in the world right now, especially as we try to find a new normal having moved through the pandemic and trying to get lives back on track, this may feel like an anxious time for everyone and some children may be feeling it too: perhaps they are feeling nervous about leaving their home or finding it hard to separate from you after spending so much time together, throughout the lockdowns. Creating a ‘calm box’ is a great way to help your child feel soothed, relaxed and more grounded again.
How can parents help?
Firstly, when your child feels anxious, they will need your help to find their calm again: in other words, they need to borrow your calm in order to feel safe again. It can also be helpful to have either a “calm space” or simply a “calm box” in your home. In this space or box, have various simple items that can help their body feel more relaxed. Include something they can touch: playdough, a fidget toy, a soft teddy or a squishy ball to squeeze, for example. Add items that carry positive memories, such as a family photo and nature scenes they enjoy. You can add scents that your child likes and soothes them, such as rose or lavender hand lotion. Perhaps you can add quiet music and sounds. For the older children, positive affirmations might be helpful to read. Include paper, pens or a colouring book for a little creative break. Help your child recognise what their body feels like when they feel anxious (knot in their tummy, hot cheeks, tight fists, etc) so that they know when it might help to reach for their calm box or space. Particularly with the younger children, it is a good idea for an adult to sit beside the child whilst they try to find their calm again, as your caring presence will be very helpful, especially if paired with some deep belly breaths together! Why not create one for yourself as well and model how to find calm in a world that feels incredibly stressed.