Is there anything more heart-wrenching for a parent than watching your little one trot off into school or nursery for the first time? Yes, if over the next days and weeks it becomes apparent that they don’t seem to be enjoying it. Tears in the morning and shyness in the classroom can be stressful for all concerned, and there’s nothing like a little child clinging desperately to your leg to make you feel overwhelming waves of parental guilt.
But how do you tell if your little one’s behaviour is a normal response to the change in circumstances, or if it’s more than that? And what should you do about it? We ask the experts to give us the lowdown on the most common new-term problems…
Q: “My four-year-old daughter cries every morning because she does not want to go to school. How can I help her through this”?
Parenting educator Holly Grattanis says:
A: "Ask her what is making her feel sad in the morning. Try to be understanding about her reply - whatever it might be. Probe her further if you are still unclear as to the root - or roots - of the problem. Suggest sitting down together and writing some solutions, which might make her feel less sad in the mornings.
"Speak with your child's teacher and explain the situation. For example, a child might be fearful that you might not come and collect her from school. If this is the case, you could reassure her that you will be coming to collect her at a time she will understand, such as after lunch.
"Try giving her something small of yours to keep with her during the day, such as a hair band. A book about school routine is also good for explaining that although children go to school in the morning, they always come back home in the afternoon."
SHYNESS IN THE CLASSROOM
Q: “My five-year-old is very shy at school and seems to find it hard to join in group situations. Is there anything I can do to help her with this?”
Alaa Abuali is a Dubai-based counselling psychologist. She says:
A: "The early years of school can be a difficult period for children as they begin to adjust to a new world. The separation from parents may produce anxiety that inhibits their ability to socialise and interact in a group setting, where they may fear embarrassment or failure.
"Encourage her and use positive reinforcement when she interacts with other children. Children also have difficulty verbalising feelings: try using puppets and role-play scenarios to help her act out interactions and responses. Ask her to draw a picture of her classroom; it may help you understand how she is feeling, which in turn will help her to feel safe and accepted.
"Talk to your child about her fears and anxieties, and tell her that she is safe and loved even when she is not with you. Also, consult with teachers to ensure that she is receiving appropriate support in the school setting."
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Q: “I am worried about sending my four-year-old daughter to daycare or school because she is still so clingy and doesn't want me to go anywhere without her - even upstairs to have a shower. How can I build her confidence?”
Parenting educator Holly Grattanis says:
A: "This concern can most closely be linked to separation anxiety - when a child is fearful of being apart from their parents and in the company of other caregivers, such as teachers. By age four, a child will be able to understand if you explain that sometimes you need to do things on your own, but that you will always come back.
"Here’s one trick for building her confidence: Try giving her an alarm clock to hold while you have a shower and tell her you'll be back before the alarm goes off. Leave her with a friend, family member or your nanny while you go for your shower, even if she cries. Brief your childcarer to try to divert her attention with a game and, if she cries, to remind her the alarm will go off soon. Make sure the childcarer knows not to let her follow you even if they have to hold or cuddle her to reassure her. After a few days your child will begin to accept this and will be asking, ‘Mummy I have the alarm are you going for your shower now?'"
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IS MY CHILD GETTING A STAMMER?
Q: “My son is two-and-a-half and seems to be developing a stutter. Is there any way of telling if this is a stammer or just a developmental stage?”
Dr Mudit Kumar is a specialist neonatologist and paediatrician at Mediclinic. He says:
A: "Your son most probably has what we now call developmental dysfluency, which is common at this age. It is characterised by brief periods of stuttering that resolve by school age. It usually involves whole words and occurs less than 10 times per 100 words spoken. In addition, the children do not show any frustration, have good eye contact and don't pause before a speech attempt.
"Stuttering usually begins at three or four years of age, is seen more often in males at a ratio of four to one, and tends to run in families. Approximately three to five per cent of pre-school children stutter to some degree.
"Observe your son without reprimanding him, or creating anxiety. Calmly praise periods of fluency and involve him in self-correction with gentle requests, such as, ‘Can you say that again?'. If you are still worried, contact a speech and language therapist for an assessment."
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Q: “My 9-year-old daughter is very quiet and shy, to the point where she doesn't even like going to birthday parties. Is this an issue we need to address?
Carmen Benton is a parenting educator at Mindful Ed Consulting. She says:
A: "Shyness is a personality trait and does not need to have any negative connotations. Understanding that this is a trait - part of your child's personality - will help you to accept it. The greatest gift we can give to our children is our total acceptance of who they are, as this is what helps our children to become more confident in themselves and live up to their true potential.
"Focus on highlighting her strengths and let her know shyness can even bring special qualities, such as it may make her a better listener, or help her to have strong observational skills. It may also be that your daughter is introverted, rather than shy... An introvert is someone whose energy is depleted by being around too much activity, which may explain why she avoids birthday parties. If you find she recharges her batteries by being alone, then you may well find that she fits the introverted mold rather than the shy one."