/*-------- Begin Drop Down Menu -------*/ #menubar { background: #8E8E8E; width: 840px; color: #FFF; margin: 0px; padding: 0; position: relative; border-top:1px solid #B2FFFF; height:35px; } #menus { margin: 0; padding: 0; } #menus ul { float: left; list-style: none; margin: 0; padding: 0; } #menus li { list-style: none; margin: 0; padding: 0; border-left:1px solid #1A6680; border-right:1px solid #1A6680; height:35px; } #menus li a, #menus li a:link, #menus li a:visited { color: #FFF; display: block; font:normal 12px Arial, Tahoma, Helvetica, FreeSans, sans-serif; margin: 0; padding: 9px 12px 10px 12px; text-decoration: none; } #menus li a:hover, #menus li a:active { background: #130000; /* Menu hover */ color: #FFF; display: block; text-decoration: none; margin: 0; padding: 9px 12px 10px 12px; } #menus li { float: left; padding: 0; } #menus li ul { z-index: 9999; position: absolute; left: -999em; height: auto; width: 160px; margin: 0; padding: 0; } #menus li ul a { width: 140px; } #menus li ul ul { margin: -25px 0 0 160px; } #menus li:hover ul ul, #menus li:hover ul ul ul, #menus li.sfhover ul ul, #menus li.sfhover ul ul ul { left: -999em; } #menus li:hover ul, #menus li li:hover ul, #menus li li li:hover ul, #menus li.sfhover ul, #menus li li.sfhover ul, #menus li li li.sfhover ul { left: auto; } #menus li:hover, #menus li.sfhover { position: static; } #menus li li a, #menus li li a:link, #menus li li a:visited { background: #B3B3B3; /* drop down background color */ width: 120px; color: #FFF; display: block; font:normal 12px Arial, Tahoma, Helvetica, FreeSans, sans-serif; margin: 0; padding: 9px 12px 10px 12px; text-decoration: none; z-index:9999; border-bottom:1px solid #1A6680; } #menus li li a:hover, #menusli li a:active { background: #130000; /* Drop down hover */ color: #FFF; display: block; margin: 0; padding: 9px 12px 10px 12px; text-decoration: none; } /*-------- End Drop Down Menu -------*/

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Helping My Child Overcome Anxiety About Starting School

Starting school can be an especially anxious time for both a child and parent, whether it's starting preschool for just a few hours each week or going to a primary school for five days a week, the transition involves a physical separation of the parent and child and all the emotions that go with it. For us. the transition has been particularly painful.  For the three years of my son's life, he and I have been practically inseparable.  (We lived in Singapore without any close family nearby to babysit and with our impending move, we decided not to enrol him in a preschool there).  Almost everything we experienced in those three years, we experienced together.  Suddenly, I was bundling him up in jacket and backpack, walking him down the road to a building where I kissed him goodbye and left him in the hands of complete strangers.

In reality, the separation wasn't quite that dramatic.  Initially I sat in on the sessions until I felt he was adequately settled.

It was then that the backlash began ...

My (usually) non-aggressive child was kicking and hitting his brother, he would sit on the stairs before preschool refusing to go, he would try to dodge the teacher to follow me out of the building, any mention of the word "preschool" would involve tears or a torrent of hate-speech: "I want to hit preschool", "I want to huff and puff and blow the preschool down!!" (I suspect they read him the story about "The Three Little Pigs" there) or more recently "I want to throw the preschool into the toilet and flush it away!" Whilst the preschool assured me that beyond the initial upset of saying goodbye, he was peacefully engaged in all the activities there, I started to feel the whole experience was damaging our relationship, that the unquestionable trust that a child has in his parent to listen to him, to take his feelings seriously and to make him feel safe was being eroded.  I was on the brink of pulling him out...

Before abandoning school entirely, I decided to do some work on helping my son talk about his feelings. I started by ordering some books about feelings and separation and then followed up this reading with some play therapy and created a "Peace Corner" in the children's bedroom.

Two books that have helped us immensely are:  The Way I Feel and The Kissing Hand.

The Way I Feel by Janan Cain is a book that illustrates children displaying an array of different feelings: silly, scared, disappointed, happy, sad, angry, thankful, frustrated, shy, bored, excited, jealous and proud. The pictures are accompanied by a rhyming text that helps to describe the emotion in more detail: for example the emotion "Frustrated" depicts a girl trying to tie her shoelaces with the accompanying text: "I'm frustrated because I can't do it.  It's hard and I want to cry.  I don't know whether to give it up or to give it another try."  My children love the illustrations in this book, which not only show realistic images of children displaying emotions, but also reflect that emotion in the surrounding illustrations on the page.  The boy who is sad and sitting in a tree is surrounded by drooping leaves of blue and green that invite the reader into his world of sadness.  (The illustrations are so effective that my 23 month old, Dooey, looks at it and starts to talk in a sad voice too, before taking the book in his hands and kissing the page to make the boy feel better).

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn is a heart-warming book about a raccoon called Chester who feels anxious about starting school until his mother shares with him the secret about "the kissing hand". His mother unfolds the fingers of Chester's hand and kisses the palm, telling him that if he feels lonely and misses her, he should lift his hand to his cheek and instantly he will be filled with his mother's love and warm thoughts.  The story has a beautiful ending where Chester looks towards his school and then unfolds his mother's hand and kisses it before running off.  The book wonderfully acknowledges that the separation is painful for both the parent and the child. This story had a profound effect on my son who was about to enter the preschool gates a couple of weeks ago, when he lifted his hand to his cheek and smiled at me.

Somehow spending each evening with Wugs on my lap for 10-15 minutes, reading him these books, helping him to identify circumstances that cause him to feel angry, sad, frustrated or jealous and then talking through how to handle those emotions has resolved the aggressive behaviour and made him more vocal in describing his feelings rather than simply acting on them.  "Preschool" is still a bad word in our house and with last week being the beginning of a new term after the Easter break, I was concerned his anxiety would re-emerge.

Play Therapy

I have used play therapy with Wugs before to help him overcome feelings of loss when some family members flew back to Malaysia after a brief visit (Play Therapy for Families Living Apart).  I decided to do this again by building a copy of Wugs' preschool using Duplo bricks and adding stickers to the bricks for important details such as his coat peg and his name label.  Then I talked him through a typical drop-off at preschool, with us walking to the school, seeing his teacher at the door, finding his peg and name, putting his fruit in the basket, sitting with friends in the reading corner. We even built the toilets as another milestone for him has been trusting a teacher to help him use the toilet.  Familiarity and routine play a huge part in making Wugs feel secure and in control of his day. An unexpected outcome of this form of play was the way in which Wugs extended it.  He seemed especially interested in what Dooey and I would be doing whilst he was at preschool (so we built a separate scene that included our house, with me preparing the tea in the kitchen and Dooey having a nap).  He spoke about activities he did at preschool, the names of children and teachers that he interacted with and what looked like actions to songs he had learned there (things that he does not readily talk about when I collect him at the end of the session).

Other Ideas/Suggestions to Help Settle a Child at School (from a non-professional)

Sit in on a Couple of Sessions - At least initially I would recommend attending some of the sessions, even if the child isn't visibly distressed about you leaving.  This gives the parent a feel for what the child will be experiencing during his day, the types of children he will be playing with, the way the teachers handle specific issues as well as the general impact of the preschool schedule on the child.  I found it beneficial to observe the children, especially those that were initially distressed when their parents said "goodbye" and eventually settled into an activity.  Other children happily kissed their parent goodbye and then got upset at some point during the afternoon.  In Wugs' preschool the teachers handled that by getting the child to draw a picture for the parent they were missing.  This sort of observation helped me to trust the teachers that would look after Wugs and that feeling of trust (I believe) was sensed by Wugs which enabled him to trust them too.

A Keepsake - Just as The Kissing Hand is about carrying a mother's kiss wherever the child goes, the preschool teachers have recommended giving the child a keepsake of some sort to carry around with him at school.  (Something inexpensive in case it gets lost - a small paper heart, for instance).  The child may pull out the keepsake and feel a sense of proximity to the parent through it.  One of my favourite tips was to rub a little perfume on your child's clothing so that he can feel close to you through a familiar scent.  

Telling the Child What You Are Doing Whilst He/She is at Preschool - This suggestion came from an experienced preschool teacher who said that children often feel that when the parent leaves, he/she has disappeared for good.  It helps the child settle if he knows you are doing a particular activity whilst he is at preschool that has a beginning and an end (going to the shops, preparing the dinner, posting a letter etc).  I tried this a couple of times, but for me the challenge was finding something that Wugs wouldn't want to do as well.  He loves working alongside me, going to the supermarket etc.

Accepting All Emotions -  I've often heard people say "Don't cry" and then "Well done for not crying" to Wugs in a heart-warming way and with the best of intentions, but telling a child to bottle up their emotions is not only counteractive (because it is through expressing them and talking about them that the physical behaviour is resolved), but threatens the relationship of unconditional love that a child believes he has with his parent.  Even though I've often wanted Wugs not to cry in order to make my job of leaving him easier, it is unfair to expect him to control his emotions in order to save mine.  He is looking to me for emotional stability, to be able to accept his emotions and reassure him.

Using Neutral Language - I started referring to preschool as "big school" where Wugs goes because he is a "big boy", playing on the fact that Wugs often feels proud to be the older brother (whereas Dooey is still little and stays at home with mum).  What I didn't appreciate was that Wugs was feeling two conflicting emotions - one was a sense of responsibility for his brother, (he was worried about where Dooey was and what he was doing when Wugs was at preschool) and the other was a feeling of wanting to draw back (I suspect he was experiencing preschool as some kind of punishment for growing up) and  was regressing fast (lying across my chest with his milk in his hand wanting to be like a baby).  Again, I found it helpful to accept the way he was feeling and let him work through it in his own time.

Making Time Before and After the Preschool Session - Wugs attends afternoon preschool sessions, so I keep the morning activities light so that he is not too tired when he goes (some of his initial unhappiness in attending preschool I believe was due to tiredness - usually he would nap in the afternoon).  Although I have sometimes struggled to do this, I found it helpful to prepare the evening meal whilst he was at preschool so that I was available to him when he came out, rather than scurrying off into the kitchen to cook dinner as soon as he was home.  

I'm pleased to say that after completing his first day in his new term last week, no tears were shed and Wugs was actually excited to go - something that was unimaginable even a month ago.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A Peace Corner - To Encourage Children to Talk About Feelings

Negative feelings are a difficult thing to manage with young children, especially with those who are unable to verbalise or rationalise them yet.  Over recent months we've witnessed heightened emotions spread like fire through the house, leaving us all exhausted and frazzled by the end of the day.  Our family has been through a period of change these last few months - an international move, residing at a number of addresses before choosing our temporary home, introducing my eldest son to preschool, getting used to the cold weather, layers of clothing, stairs, people who speak English with a different accent and family members who visit on a regular basis.  It has been a turbulent time for the children and has given rise to some negative emotions and inappropriate behaviour.

I wanted to encourage the children to recognise their emotions, talk about them (before acting on them) and recognise those feelings in others.  I decided to create a "Peace Corner" - (ambitious, I know!) an area in the children's bedroom that a child can retreat to when he needs to calm down or restore some inner equilibrium.

What we used:

A Sheepskin Rug - I wanted to create a place of comfort and warmth so the "Peace Corner" was built around a sheepskin rug

A Hideaway - it is sometimes difficult to be alone when you have another sibling with whom you share a room, so I created a hideaway using saree cloth

A Mirror - to identify facial expressions associated with certain emotions

A Mood Light - to create a cosy atmosphere

Blank Faces - for the children to draw out their feelings

Calm Down Jars - a visual sensory item to encourage balance (I followed the first recipe from this website).

Stress Ball

Chewing Toys - my 23 month old uses chewing as a way to calm himself (we purchased these toys from here).

Lavender-scented Toy - this cuddly toy can be warmed up in the microwave and gives off a lavender scent.  He comes out when a child is upset to offer warm hugs.

Calm Down Cards - a collection of cards that inspire, comfort and remind us of God's love

Family Photos - a reminder of happy memories with the family

Music - my children enjoy classical and Eastern music which I play on the iPad and then sit the iPad on top of the wardrobe so that they can hear the music without getting distracted by the device.

Creating an environment that encourages calm and reflection is just a part of helping children manage overwhelming emotions.  It recognises the need for a change of scene, sometimes separation from others and an environment that positively acknowledges feelings.  In addition to our Peace Corner we went through some exercises which helped the children label their feelings, which I will post about in due course.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Garden of Eden Small World

Over the last few weeks I have been reading the story of creation to the children before they go to bed.  We have a few children’s bibles so I have been alternating between different presentations of the story each week.  My three year old has become particularly inquisitive about anything to do with the bible and God, so I wanted to take the opportunity to bring this bible story to life for him.   I thought it would be fun to set up a mini Garden of Eden – one which the children plant and look after, just as Adam and Eve did in the very beginning.  

My original idea for the garden involved setting aside a plot of land in the big garden with a little picket fence around it for the children to work on and play in, but we are renting at the moment and I didn’t want to invest so much into a garden that we may only enjoy for a few more months. (Also I don’t have a great track history of keeping plants alive!), so we went for a moderate window box Garden of Eden.
We started this project by choosing our plants.  This involved a bit of research into which plants are safe in case a child ate one of them (which, in the case of my 22 month old is very likely!) I decided to go for a herb (rosemary) and other edible plants (dianthus and viola), letting the boys choose the colour.

I set up the table with a tray for the children to spoon the soil into the flower box and then we dug out three spaces to put the plants into.  I showed Wugs how to handle the plant when we took out of the pot and re-planted it, which led to a discussion about roots.  Once our plants were in their new home, Wugs watered it and I added in a few characters to link our flower box to our nighttime story.
Our Adam and Eve figurines were made from wooden pegs, which I decorated with markers and then used a varnish to protect them from the moisture.  The decision not to cover their bodies was a deliberate one, as was the omission of the snake and the angel with the flashing sword.  I didn’t want our Garden of Eden to be reduced to a story about the Fall, but to reflect the innocence and freedom that humans once had.  Plus the fact that Wugs would never have made the association between our figurines and the creation story unless he could see “Adam’s willy” (something he checked immediately before placing him in the garden)! 
The signpost was made from painted craft sticks and a label which was also varnished.

The garden spends most of its time outside the conservatory where the children can view it when they are playing indoors or they are free to play with it when they are outside.  I keep a container of different animal figurines which they can use in their play.  Every few days I ask Wugs to check the soil to see if it is dry and he waters it appropriately and we have watched the dianthus in particular come into bloom.
What we used:
Flower Box for the plants
Potting Mix
Tray to contain the potting mix (optional, but easier than using a bag)
Digging tools
Wooden pegs
Craft sticks