My four-year-old is an incredibly picky eater. He will only eat certain meals and refuses to try anything outside of the things he knows he likes. At what point does fussiness become a health issue?
“Picky eating is a phase most children go through. However, there can come a time when picky becomes extremely over-selective, for example leaving your child eating fewer than 30 foods (grilled chicken and chicken nuggets count as two foods!), or limiting themselves to one type of texture. When your child’s nutritional intake, ability to participate in family dinners, or social events, is impacted then this is the time to get help. Extreme behaviours around mealtimes are disruptive for family life and also an indicator that your child’s ‘picky eating’ may be more than just a phase. It is important to look at why your child may have difficulty eating. Gastrointestinal issues, a history of feeding tube, premature birth, swallowing difficulties and food allergies are all factors to consider. A comprehensive assessment will look at underlying medical behavioural and sensory processing issues.”
Katie Philcox, ABA therapist and feeding therapist at Child Early Intervention Medical Centre (04-4233667, www.childeimc.com).
My 16-year-old and I seem to be constantly fighting. We used to be so close. Now I feel like I don’t know my little girl anymore.
“Teenagers are notoriously moody and wired to challenge authority. This important life stage is a time when independence is strived for. It’s the time when they are discovering who they are, what they think and what they want to do. It’s also the time when they feel the need to be free to discover such things and this can lead to conflict with parents. Arguments are inevitable as your teen wants more independence, but also probably feels uncertain about some of her feelings. Teenagers are coping with so much change and pressure that it can boil over at home and be seemingly taken out on family members. They have pressure to achieve at school, the desire to conform and fit in but also to be a unique and interesting individual, the pressure to look good amidst the changes that puberty brings to body shape and skin, the pressure of peers and what they are doing or allowed to do... the list goes on and on and makes you feel relieved you are not there yourself anymore!
“It’s all very well understanding why teenagers can feel out of control and that conflict is more likely. It’s another to deal with it in an effective way. Try to keep in mind how difficult the teenage years are for your child. When there is no fighting, talk to them about how this time of life is likely to lead to some arguments and agree some boundaries about them. Reinforce the fact that even if you don’t agree with them, you still love them. Boundaries of disagreements would typically include not leaving the home during an argument, and not damaging anything or anyone physically. It’s good if these boundaries can be agreed within your family and that any consequences are clear to all involved. Try to stay calm and avoid shouting back. Remember that, although your teenager disagrees with you, they trust you and you are their stability and safety. You are also demonstrating to them how you manage powerful feelings and this is an essential skill for them to learn.
Ask them to be clear about what they want. Ask them to talk about it calmly with you, or suggest they take a break to calm down and then return to the discussion. Show them that you are listening to them by repeating back to them what they are asking. Think about it and discuss it with them. Don’t automatically say no, or mock them. Give reasons for your decision, or open up a compromise with them. Allowing them the opportunity to think around what they want and to come up with a reasonable compromise themselves strengthens their negotiation skills and gives them a sense of achievement.”
Clare Smart, a counsellor who specialises in counselling teenagers at LifeWorks Counselling and Development (04-3942464, www.lifeworksdubai.com).
How do I reassure my child when anxious without reinforcing their fear?
“As a parent one of the most important things we need to ensure for our children is that they have a sense of safety and security. It is therefore important that we support our children and reassure them when they feel anxious. The manner in which we do this is crucial. If a child has a specific fear, or phobia, that we are aware of, we need to support our child by allowing them to overcome this fear. If we avoid the feared stimulus completely, then this only serves to confirm to the child that the situation should be avoided and provides no opportunity for them to conquer their fear. I would encourage parents to support their child by allowing them to face their fear gradually, using a desensitisation approach, and to provide them with coping strategies to manage their fear. For children who display generalised anxiety, it is important to help contain your child’s worries so they don’t take over their life. In this situation, I would advise parents to have a regular worry time each day when they are available to talk through their child’s anxieties. If the child brings a worry up at a time outside this, thank the child for letting you know, but re-affirm that this is something you will discuss at worry time.”
Dr Amy Bailey, clinical psychologist at kidsFIRST Medical Center (04-348KIDS, www.kidsfirstmc.com).
My son is being bullied. What can I do?
“When asking your child what is happening, listen to him calmly without rushing in and confronting the bully, or school, regarding the issue. Tell him that you are proud of the fact that they can talk through what is happening and tell him how brave he is. Talk through the steps of dealing with the bullying – namely that they should ignore it, but if that doesn’t solve the issue, then to be assertive in their responses without being aggressive, as this will lead to an escalation of the situation. Practise ways to respond to the bully verbally, or through behaviour. Get them to role play with you the different responses and choices they have, and the possible consequences these will have. Explain that every choice has a consequence and that being aware before you are in the situation is crucial. Tell them to practise feeling good about themselves to give the impression the bullying is not having an effect. This can be faked at first. It’s an important step as the bully is looking for a reaction and, if they get it, they will continue. Help your child by explaining that they cannot control other peoples actions but that they can control their own, and that they can decide to stay true to who they are. Help them brainstorm ways to feel the best and the strongest they can be. Ask if they would like to go to the gym, join a fitness class, do yoga, or a martial art. This will aid them physically and mentally and also may help them make more friends out of school. The confidence they gain may help them ignore the bully. Explain a time you were bullied and how now, years later, you realised it was a moment of time and you learnt more from it. Tell them how even though it was hard it made you stronger. Get your child to look up celebrity role models’ accounts of bullying and how they got over it and how they had the last laugh when they became successful.”
Adam Zargar, youth empowerment coach at 2b Limitless (www.2blimitless.com).
Help! My children never listen to me
“When parents tell me this, I ask them, ‘Do your children have hearing problems? If not, it’s not about listening, but about compliance.’ Parents feel the need to constantly repeat what they are saying to their children, but the problem is that your child gets used to you repeating your instructions, and knows that they don’t really have to do it until you say it the fourth, fifth, or sixth time. They know they can stretch out their TV time, or their playing time, for a little while longer while you keep repeating yourself. They’ll be thinking, ‘She doesn’t really mean it until she’s shouting’. My advice would be to say it once, maybe twice maximum, and then following through with a logical consequence. With practice, eventually your children will start complying... but make sure you praise them whenever they do follow your instructions first time. Say something like, ‘Thanks for listening to me and doing what I asked.’ Make them feel good about it and let them know that the behaviour got your attention. Beware of counting also – such as ‘If you haven’t done what I’ve asked by the time I count to five...’ Most parents don’t actually want to dish out the punishment that is threatened to happen at the end of the counting – that’s why you count, and add on halves and quarters. I’ve seen parents count to 20 before - for a toddler who couldn’t count that high. If you’re having to do that, your tactic is obviously not working. But also, do you always need immediate compliance? It depends... for putting seat belts on, yes you do. If it’s turning the TV off, can it be at the end of the show?”
Therese Sequeira is a parenting educator at kidsFIRST Medical Center (04-348KIDS, www.parentingdubai.com).
My ten-year-old seems overwhelmed by what her school expect from her age group and often gives up before trying. How can I helping her child develop a ‘can do’ attitude?
“The child who has an “I can” attitude will do much better in school than the child who constantly says “I can’t”. That’s where you – an adult who supports the educational process of a child – can help. One way you can provide positive feedback to your child is to get specific – instead of asking ‘What did you do in school today?’, ask ‘What was the best thing that happened at school today?’ Follow up with questions such as, ‘How did that make you feel?, or ‘Why did you like it?’ Another way is to look out for the things that your child does well and to let her know you’ve noticed and that you are pleased. Avoid comparing your children to others, especially siblings. Each child is individual and should be made to feel unique. A really good way to help her feel like she can cope with situations, is to create opportunities for her to succeed by breaking down big projects into easy increments and then cheering her on at the completion of each step. Also, don’t presume your children know how much you love them. Tell them every day – hug them, talk to them and play with them – and watch what you say around your daughter, even if you think she’s not paying attention. Let your daughter know that you support and love her even when she doesn’t win and, most importantly of all, be a good role model – how you feel about yourself greatly influences how your children feel about themselves.”
Joanna Lynch is a tutor at The Tutoring Centre Dubai (04-4356548, www.tutoringcentre.com).
After the long holiday, how can I get my children back in to the swing of the school routine?
“Sometimes it’s harder than pulling blood from a stone but asking your child how they feel about starting school can go a long way in easing any pre-school jitters kids tend to feel before the dreaded first day back. Take a trip to the supermarket with your child to plan for breakfasts and lunches and let them get involved in the food buying process, to help them to learn about picking fun, healthy options and make them feel in control of their eating choices. Also, any parent knows that a simple evening routine can prevent added stress in the morning – help kids get back into the swing of packing their schoolbags the night before and encouraging them to think about what they need for school the next day. Design a space in your home where they can do their homework in peace after school. A funky, colourful place to study, stocked with lots of stationery, can make all the difference. Encourage your child to pick after-school activities that get them excited about the new opportunities they will have to learn a new skill and make new friends once school starts. These can be social, such as playdates, sport-oriented, or arts and crafts-based to let your child create their own interests and hobbies. A key tip here is to avoid over-scheduling your child – kids can be excited to try everything at once, but they still need their downtime to recharge.”
Christine Weaver is exhibition manager of the Back to School exhibition at Meydan from September 13 to 15 (www.backtoschool.ae).