“My child is having trouble making friends. What can I do to help?”
At one point or another, most children will experience difficulty with friendships, whether in forming new friendships or maintaining friendships. This is a normal part of social development. If your child has trouble making or keeping friends, take time to ask how he is feeling, what his goals are for friendship, and what he is doing and saying to make friends and solve problems. It might be a good idea to model friendship behaviors for your child and to role play conversations and interactions your child could have with others. Children often need guidance in solving friendship conflicts as well. Our initial impulse as caring adults may be to fix children’s problems for them to ease any sadness or anger they may be feeling. Many parents, however, find that teaching their children the steps to solving their own problems helps them gain confidence and independence (unless the situation involves bullying or is potentially dangerous). You can also contact the school counselor to discuss concerns and strategies.
“My child tells me that she is being teased at school. What should I do?”
If your child comes home feeling upset about being teased at school, take time to listen to her concerns and feelings. Ask for details including when the teasing occurred, what happened leading up to it, who witnessed the teasing, and how your child responded. Gentle banter is often a part of healthy friendships, but sometimes children misread the playful tone or the teasing goes too far and becomes hurtful. You might role-play the situation with the child to help her more clearly remember what happened, in what context it occurred, and how she child responded. Ask, “How do you feel about the way you handled it?” and “What could we do next time this happens?” This will prompt your child to begin thinking of her own solutions without relying on you, the parent, to solve the problem for her. If your child has difficulty generating appropriate ways to handle teasing, you might suggest and role-play ways your child might respond next time. Solutions might include standing tall and telling the person to stop, ignoring the teasing, finding other friends to hang out with, or talking to a teacher about it. Learning how to handle their problems assertively is a valuable life skill for children.
Sometimes teasing occurs as an isolated incident, but if it occurs repeatedly, this might be bullying behavior. Bullying is not allowed in our school. If you suspect bullying is occurring, please contact your child’s teacher or the administration or encourage your child to talk to her teacher or school counselor about the problem. It is our job as educators to ensure that the school is a safe and welcoming place for all students.
“My child seems to have difficulty listening and paying attention in school. Should I be worried?”
There is no easy answer to this question because there could be several possible explanations. We must consider several factors, including the child’s age, the frequency of the behavior, and the setting in which the behavior occurs. Younger children often have difficulty sitting still and concentrating for any length of time on one activity. This tends to improve with age and maturation. Other factors such as sleepiness, hunger, boredom, anxiety, and learning difficulties can also lead to inattentiveness in school. Talk with your child’s teacher to find out more about your child’s specific behaviors as well as times of the day/subjects during which the child displays the concerning behavior. In addition, it is always a good idea to share your concerns with your child’s pediatrician to solicit his or her professional opinion.
There are many ways to help children learn to be more attentive. A few of the many examples include reducing distractions near children, signaling the children subtly with a predetermined cue when the child is off task, breaking complex directions into simple steps that are given one at a time, asking children to repeat the directions back to you, and praising/rewarding children for following directions and listening carefully. Children should be included in the decision-making process so that they are active and willing participants in the effort to improve their attentiveness.
“Why did my child eat lunch in the counseling office today?”
Children often ask to bring friends to eat with me in my office. This gives them an opportunity to eat and socialize in a quiet setting. Often we discuss how their week is going, how they are feeling about school, and how they are getting along with their classmates and friends. If time, we play cooperative games. This gives us an opportunity to practice turn taking, listening, and providing support to one another. These lunches are informal and are NOT considered counseling sessions. Sometimes I will ask groups of new students to join me for lunch to help them make friends and adjust to their new environment. Other times I will invite groups of children to help strengthen friendships among members of their class. Students may always choose to eat in the cafeteria instead—eating with the counselor is always optional.
Sometimes teachers, parents, and I discuss the benefits of certain students participating in more long-term lunch groups to help build self-esteem and/or friendship skills. These groups meet for several weeks, and parents/guardians are always contacted in advance. If you are interested in having your child participate in a lunch group, please feel free to contact me.