Child Guidance

Question (from a Parent): 9/02/2012

“How do I encourage my child to play with lots of friends at school, as opposed to just one friend?”

Answer: Thank-you for your question.

I was recently asked this question from a mother and I thought it would be an important question to comment on. I think it is important to encourage your child to play with other children at school, however I also think it is important to listen to your child as to how they feel about this situation. For example, if your child tells you that she feels “torn” between two groups – you could reflect and say, “”That must be so confusing!” or “It sounds really hard for you to choose! That’s ok!”

I think it is important for you, as a parent, to say to your child that you know that they feel confused sometimes about who to play with, but that they must choose for themselves who they want to play with. And that you know that it is hard for them to choose sometimes, but that it is ok to share time with both sets of friends (if that is what the child wants).

Maybe brainstorm ideas with your child about what would happen at school if he/she plays with one friend, and that friend doesn’t come to school because he/she is sick. What then? Get your child’s thoughts and feelings and stick to reflecting those back – e.g. “I know you would feel lonely if you had to play on your own.”

If the “one friend” is quite possessive over your child and doesn’t want your child to have other friends, you can also explain that maybe the friend feels like she wants your child all to herself as a friend, but that he/she can still CHOOSE who he/she wants to play with and they don’t need to feel bad about that, or feel they are letting their friend down in any way. Maybe even role play telling the friend this with your child – you can play the friend and your child can practice telling his/her friend how he/she feels.

Question (from a Parent): 18/01/2012

“At what age should I start talking to my child about sex? Kids are talking about it at school as early as junior primary. When is an ideal time to start this conversation?”

Answer: Thank-you for your question.

Talking to your child or children about sex can be a daunting task for some adults, however I think that it is important to be open with your children and allow them to ask questions. I know that sometimes this can be hard and even embarrassing at times, but it is important that they have age appropriate facts about sex.
I don’t think there is an exact age where parents should be talking about sex. I believe that every child is unique and that it is up to the parents to follow the child’s lead, and judge when they feel they are ready to know more on the subject or when they are asking more questions about sex.

Being open about different body parts from a young age, and always allowing your child to ask questions from a young age (e.g. where do babies come from?) will all help with discussing sex at a later stage. If the foundation of being open and honest has been created, then moving onto “sex talk” can be a lot easier.

There are a great deal of wonderful picture books at the bookshops about sex and where babies come from, and these can also be used in order to show your child what you are trying to say. It may even help you to open up about sex once you have a book to follow. Always be yourself, listen to what they are asking and try to answer them as best as you can. If you don’t know the answer, admit this to your child, and let them know that you will try to find out the answer for them. Stay open and honest, and let them know that they can ask questions at any time and that you are there for them.

Question (from a Parent): 3/05/2012

“My family and I are largely struggling with some major upheavals and it is all boiling down to temper tantrums and acting out from our daughter, who is 2 years and 10 months old. I’m gravely ill and bedridden (which I have been for 4 weeks), to top it off, we have moved overseas back home to Canada to get help from family and medical care for me. My husband has had to stay behind in France for another month.

We’re living with my mother and my daughter and I share a bed. She has no room, some of her toys in suitcases, different caregivers day to day (grandparents, aunts, friends, etc.) I have been a stay-at-home mum for her so she has never been in anyone else’s care, plus everything else that is going on. She is not a tantrum thrower typically until now.

We’ve been back home in Canada for 2 weeks and almost every day she has a major breakdown, acting up and throwing tantrums with me. Lately I have felt a tad better and have been able to spend a bit more time with her, but it seems the more time I spend with her, the more she acts up with me. My intuition tells me it’s because she has to unleash her stress somewhere and she feels most comfortable with me and trusts me. I try to comfort her and acknowledge her feelings.

I know it’s difficult for her, but I am hoping that you might have some strategies for me to help her ease her stress in a more controlled way with mummy’s help perhaps. I hate seeing her so scared, mad and sad and all of it. We talk about Daddy a lot and how we miss him and he’ll be home in a few weeks and then we’ll move into our own home again and be all together. I try to explain that Mummy’s sick now, but I will be better soon too and we will be be able to play again just like before. I will likely be this sick for another 5 weeks, so I know this stressful situation will be continuing for her, so any help will be most appreciated. Thanks so much, Melanie.”

Answer: Thank-you Melanie for your question.

Firstly, I am so sorry that you have been so ill – it must be very frustrating for you!

Things sound like they have been very hectic and chaotic for everyone, and definitely stressful on all family members. I am sure that your daughter is finding it difficult to deal with this stress, as she is only 2 years old, and therefore she doesn’t really understand her feelings. She is merely acting out what feels right to her (e.g. temper tantrums) to try and help her to cope with the uncertainty of the situation.
I think that it is imperative that a more structured and predictable environment be created for your daughter, in order for her to feel safe and less anxious. Try and keep her routine the same as it was when you were with her everyday – same times for breakfast, lunch, supper, bedtime. And the same routine for each activity e.g. sitting at the dining room table, reading a story before bed, playing soft music before bed etc. Stick to whatever it was that you did with her before you got sick and ask family members to assist you in carrying out these tasks consistently.

I think it is wonderful that you are talking to your daughter about her feelings, and that you are explaining that mommy is sick but that you will be better soon and then you can play together like you did before. It is very important to carry on reflecting her feelings to her, so that she can process this and have a better understanding of how she feels. So look for feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety etc. and reflect these back to her (accept how she feels and tell her that it is ok to feel the way that she feels). You can also tell her that you are sad or angry too – or that you miss playing with her like you used to – and that you can’t wait to get better so that you can play together again.
Maybe make a calendar together and use stickers to count down the number of nights until Daddy comes home. Every morning she can choose a sticker to put on her calendar and then you can keep counting the number of sleeps until daddy gets back. Also maybe make a “memory box” of all the things that remind her of daddy e.g. a photo, a special toy that dad gave her etc. She can look at these things when she is sad and missing her dad.

Explain to her that everyone in the family is there to help while you are sick. Make sure all the family members follow the same routine, the same discipline routine etc. – this will help her to feel secure with each family member and will create security for her, because everyone is doing things in the same way.

I also think that she would benefit from play therapy – so that she can build a trusting therapeutic relationship where she can explore her feelings without feeling threatened or judged. There is a Canadian Association for Play Therapy.

I hope this helps.

Take care and get better soon,

Bronwyn