Back to School: Anxiety — Kindergarten and Grade One

Make your child a priority today!

For many students the first day of school doesn’t only mean new teachers and new friends – it can also be a source of anxiety.

Children as young as three may show signs of stress, several months before school even begins. This fear can be pretty intense.

Your young children may fear that something bad will happen to them and there will be no one to take care of them. They may worry about getting lost, not being able to find the bathroom in time and having an accident, not knowing when they will be going home or who will be picking them up.. Make sure to use every orientation opportunity so that your child is familiar with the school, their classroom, and their teacher. Feeling connected to the teacher can help to relieve your child’s anxiety. Tell your child who will pick them up and when. Don’t be late. A child who is waiting to be picked up is anxious. Ask the teacher how she helps children who are crying.

 Take it easy and make getting ready fun!

Fifteen Tips

  1. Label all your child’s belongings, including hats.
  2. Get kids’ sleep schedule ready for school two weeks prior the first day of school. Sleep makes kids smarter and more able to cope with stress. Put your child to bed earlier and wake her up earlier. Make this change in small increments. Children under the age of 12 need 10 to 12 hours of sleep.
  3. Choose clothes that are easy for your child to put on and take off.
  4. Have your child draw a picture to give to the teacher.
  5. Practice a good-bye ritual such as rubbing noses cheerfully, then kissing, and, with a smile, saying, “I love you. Enjoy your day and I’ll see you at 3:30.” When you are leaving your childn never sneak out without saying good-bye.
  6. Do as much preparation as possible the night before. Lay out clothes, pack easy, nutritious  lunches, and have backpacks at the door.
  7. Reassure your child that you are packing an extra pair of pants and socks in a plastic bag in his backpack, in case of an accident.
  8. Get a good night’s sleep.
  9. Prepare and plan a calm morning schedule.  A predictable routine is calming for children. Rushing increases stress.
  10. In the morning of the first day, get yourself ready first.
  11. Be calm. You may add to your child’s stress if you are stressed.
  12. Give your child an appropriate comfort object. For example a picture of the family, or with bright red lipstick kiss the back of your child’s hand with an all-day kiss.
  13. Provide a nutritious breakfast. Even young children, as young as 4 or 5, can pour a bowl of cereal.
  14. Arrive early to help your child engage with other kids.
  15. Plan a fun activity, such as a bike ride with you, for the end of the school day. This can give your child something to look forward to.

What if your child cries when you about to leave?

If your child is teary-eyed it is likely that he is afraid, feels unsafe, and doesn’t know how to self-sooth.

The two extreme reactions are to “rescue” too soon or to leave the child crying.

Don’t say, “Don’t be afraid.” Young children can’t separate themselves from their feelings. Children may feel shame if they are not allowed to express their feelings.

Instead, show empathy.  Hold your child and say, “I know you feel sad. You are okay. You are safe.” Recognize your child’s effort to be brave.

A calm teacher can play an important role here, by doing something to engage your child and by having a welcoming ritual. A child who feels connected to the teacher is usually less anxious.

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The Countdown Begins!

I’ve been teaching/coaching parents for more than 30 years. Yet when the countdown begins for my next workshops my heart still bubbles with joy and anticipation. I look forward to meeting everyone, new faces and old. Even more so, I look forward to sharing the research, information, and resources that have  helped so many amazing parents to be the parent they dreamed of being — calmly managing the most difficult situations.

Knowing that we all want the best for our kids, I teach skills that will help you to stop yelling and shaming. We all know the intense pain of being shamed as a small child, feeling like we are flawed and unlovable.young girl trying to block out sound of parents arguing When we shame our kids we promote behaviours like lying because many kids would rather lie than feel the pain of being shamed.

Children are people too.

The primary difference between healthier families and controlling or permissive families is that parents in healthier families allow children to grow up as persons in their own right.

“If you bungle raising your children, nothing else matters much in life.”

—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I enjoy giving parents up-to-date tools that work. I relish parents’ comments afterwards, like “I did that, Win, and I was amazed — it really worked.” These simple tools do work, and perhaps more importantly, they leave your child’s self-esteem intact too. I love to use the analogy that just as you would never use a typewriter again — once you’ve used a computer — you won’t want to  use outdated parenting tools again either, once you learn about these effective, time-efficient tools that truly make parenting easier and more enjoyable!

canstockphoto-2It’s just amazing how — if you make what seem to be small changes — you can change your relationship with your child forever. It will be calmer and more peaceful. And your child will want to co-operate, and listen to you because your child will trust you more. These skills and resources will hold you steady right through the adolescent years.


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How to Make Shopping With Young Children Easier

Little Girl Shopping

Children need help to get their needs met.

Remember those spur-of-the-moment, leisurely shopping trips before you had kids? That was then. Now your opportunities to shop are fewer, time allowances are shorter, and rarely is shopping  an “adult only” event.

On a recent shopping trip, I was standing in line, waiting for the next available cashier, and behind me were a mother and her daughter who looked to be about 3 years old. I had met them earlier in the store, when the little girl was trying on a new pair of shoes. Greeting the mom once again, I noticed the little girl taking a bottle of water from a nearby upright cooler. (The cooler had been so strategically placed by the merchant! It was noon. Feeling thirsty and hungry, I too considered buying a cool drink while waiting.) When she asked her mother if she could have it, her mother said, “No, your water is in the car.” When her daughter said, “I want this one,” I heard her mom tell her, “There are things in this water that are bad for you.” Then the child returned the bottle to the cooler and fetched another bottle of water with a different colored label. I thought, “How smart is she! She probably thinks that this one won’t have bad things in it.” When she asked her mother if she could have that one, her mother, sounding irritated, said “You can’t have that water either. I am not buying any water for you, so don’t think that I am! Put it back!” Her daughter looked sad and confused.

I wondered why the mother was mad. This little girl wasn’t doing anything wrong. She just wanted some water and needed her mother’s help. Small children need help from adults to get their needs met. (I wonder if the mother would have responded differently if she had been with an adult friend who was thirsty, and wanted a bottle of water.) Considering that they had been shopping for some time and it was noon, it’s possible that both the mom and her daughter were thirsty, perhaps hungry, and tired from shopping.

Of course, it was the mother’s right to set limits, but this situation was more complicated than simply setting a limit.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Reflection, preparation, and planning make shopping with children more enjoyable. As well, the practices of prioritizing and protecting your child’s schedule for meals, sleep, and playtime make parenting easier, and children happier and more cooperative. For example, this situation may have been prevented if the mother had planned to stop shopping before the child’s lunchtime. Children who are hydrated, fed and rested make happier shopping companions.

Of course, there are some circumstances when parents decide that more flexibility is needed so the child’s routine is set aside. But when parents let go of the child’s routine, the outcomes are more unpredictable. Therefore, more time is needed for preparation and planning for possible outcomes. Parents need to prepare for extending the time for shopping by packing drinks and snacks that will be available when needed. Grown ups are able to wait, children find waiting more difficult. It is age-appropriate for children to feel stressed and irritable when they are thirsty and hungry.

When this kind of preparation and planning doesn’t occur, a shopping trip can, as my girlfriend put it, “turn ugly”. But there are still things that parents can do that may help their children to cope with unmet needs like hunger, thirst, and fatigue — for a short period of time.

  1. Be self-aware. Are you hungry? Tired? Do you feel like blaming your child? Stop immediately and take a deep breath and another one, until you feel calm. The beauty of being the grown up is that you don’t have to be the victim of your feelings. Getting mad at, and blaming, your child for your upset makes everything worse.
  2. Remember that: all children have good intentions and — just because they are children — they all have difficulty waiting, and delaying gratification.
  3. Keep your options open. Reflect and decide if a limit is needed. This is an important decision, but there is no urgency. If you choose to set a limit, then, before voicing the limit, think about how you will support and help your child to cope with the limit. For example, with a positive demeanor you can recognize the child’s wish: “I know you are thirsty and you wish you had some water right now. When we get to our car you will have a refreshing drink of water. You will feel better. Right now, will you please help me and carry your shoes?”
  4. Or, you may decide — just as you already decided to make an exception regarding the child’s schedule — to make another exception and share a bottle of water, relieving stress for you both.
  5. In all situations, let the most important parenting principle be your guide: connection. Look into your child’s eyes, show empathy and stay connected to your child.

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The Elf on the Shelf Tradition Is No ‘Quick Fix’ for Raising Children

Elf on the Shelf logoI know discussions about the Elf on the Shelf can really trigger some parents’ intense emotions.1 Amy, of the Funny Is Family blog, reports that fans “swear by the magical properties that turn their kids into well behaved angels from Thanksgiving to Christmas.” She represents a small minority of parents who don’t understand why someone would add to the holiday stress by taking on the work involved in keeping up the holiday hoax, and also protests that this Elf on the Shelf is just one more addition to our bully culture:

We can’t say anything because you’re in Santa’s inner circle? Sounds to me like we’ve brought a bully in the house. Hey kids, it’s okay to let someone treat you badly if they are important. Or if they know someone important.2

In an article in the Atlantic, that I highly recommend for your reading, You’re a Creepy One, Elf on the Shelf, Kate Tuttle writes:

 An object that disappears and reappears is wonderfully fun—but it doesn’t have to be something from a store or someone else’s imagination, much less a committee’s. If you have an Elf, make up your own story about what he’s doing in your house—the weirder the better. Do not like him on Facebook. Do not use him to bully your child into thinking that good behavior equals gifts.3

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When your child cries because you are leaving, can you show empathy?

I received this email from a mother looking for guidance about how to handle her 4-year old’s behaviour when she has to leave the child to go to work, attend doctor’s appointments, etc. (The content of the email has been modified to protect the identities and privacy of the individuals.)

I have two children: a 4-yr old daughter and an 11-mon.-old son. From the day my daughter started talking she has been very dominant over me. For example, she cries everyday when I leave for work, she tells me that I can’t go to work, I can’t go to  appointments  etc. She wants me to stay home all the time. My husband and I both work outside the home. He works long hours with lots of overtime. I work shift work. She has a pretty routine life. Whenever I leave she begs me not to, and cries, and says how much she loves me, that she wants to come, that she will be a good girl. She will get very mad when I tell her no. She will repeat things to me that I have told her, regarding her behaviour. Also, bed time is another chore. She refuses, sometimes, to go to bed and wants us to lay with her every night and that has put a strain on our marriage.

I have major mom guilt for everything I do. I feel like I need to be with my kids all the time. Our youngest is also now crying when I leave for work and doesn’t want me out of his sight.

Looking for some guidance…

I wish that I could hug you and your children.

You have a very busy life. You and your husband work full-time and you have two young children. Stress is added because your husband sometimes works overtime and you work shift work. For your daughter, this is anything but a routine. It is confusing and stressful for her because she can’t figure out when her mom and dad will be home and when they won’t.

It’s important to see what is happening from your daughter’s perspective.

There are things that you can do to make it better.

First, ask yourself “Are you running on empty?” If your cup is empty, how can you nurture and take care of children? You can’t. If you have ever flown, you will remember that at the beginning of the flight, the attendant stands in front of you and gives instructions on what to do should an emergency occur: “When the oxygen mask drops down, if you have children with you, put the mask on yourself first.” You cannot nurture your children if you don’t nurture yourself. Or as an old lady I knew put it, “You can’t get water from a dry well.”

Parenting is energy-consuming. Assess your energy level. You need a high energy diet, small meals and snacks with protein in each one. Are you getting as much sleep as you can? Exercise is important. You don’t have to go to a gym. As few as 15 minutes a day walking or playing outside with your children can make a big difference.

One of the red flags that tells me that you probably feel overwhelmed and powerless over the situation, is that you seem to blame the child for the situation and for how you are feeling. “She has been dominant over me”, “wants me to stay home all the time,” “wants us lay with her every night and that has put a strain on our marriage.” This situation is not the child’s fault, nor is it your fault. No one is to blame. However, it is your responsibility to change how you are responding to your daughter. She is a preschooler who is dependant on you.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama

Change yourself first. Become a mindful parent. This requires being aware of what is going on inside of you. Do you have a clenched jaw, a churning stomach? If so, deep breathe. Only when you are calm will you be able to help your child to become calm.

Your 4-yr. old is suffering from separation anxiety. She feels afraid because she knows you are leaving. She is not trying to manipulate you, but she can’t manage her anxiety alone. The anxiety that she is feeling can be as intense as the anxiety you would feel if you lost her at the mall.

Don’t punish her. Don’t make her suffer more than she  is already. Like all children, she needs to feel connected to you, her mother. This is an opportunity for deep closeness. Please don’t miss this opportunity. The child needs reassurance that she will be safe until you return. I’m sure that you don’t want her to feel like she is a burden just because she needs you. No one can take your place. This is not misbehaviour. This is a 4-year-old who feels scared and needs your kindness and empathy. You don’t want to make her feel bad for having human feelings.

The next time your daughter expresses anxiety and fear that you are going to leave her, I encourage you to:

  1. Role-model how to manage intense feelings by managing your own. Control yourself first. Take a moment to breathe deeply. Don’t judge what’s happening and don’t judge your child. Say to yourself, “This moment is what it is.”
  2. Engage with your child. Hold her close to you. Acknowledge her feelings and needs. You can say, “It looks like you are feeling scared that mommy is leaving. You wish that I could stay home and be with you.” Kids will do almost anything we request when we make the request with a loving heart.
  3. Then, when you are both calm, you can begin problem-solving. (Caution: Don’t rush to problem-solving until you are both calm.) You can ask her to think about what you both can do when you get home. You can give her something that will help her feel connected to you until you return. You can give her an all-day kiss. Put on some bright red lipstick and kiss the back of her hand. Give her your scarf, or a picture of you.

Kids will do almost anything we request when we make the request with a loving heart.

Sometimes you can prevent separation anxiety events when you recognize and meet her needs. She is a preschooler who needs: structure, enough sleep, substantial time with her parents, and to be heard. She needs to feel safe. Much of what we call a child’s misbehaviour is really about needs not met.

Finally, create departure and bedtime routines that are held sacred. Routines help children to feel safe.

Best wishes!

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Bus Driver Bullies Mother and Children

The headline read, “Tearful tot, mom tossed off the bus.” A 23 year mother said she was humiliated when a city bus driver “kicked” her off the bus because her son was crying, leaving her and her sick children an hour-long walk home on a cold winter morning. “It was horrible. Having to walk home, being embarrassed by all those people. I was trying my hardest to get my son to stop crying.”

In January, 2012, a front page story in our local newspaper the Windsor Star told the disturbing story of Tori Tracey, a mother with two sick children – a two-year old son and a four-year old daughter – on a Transit Windsor bus, returning home from a doctor’s appointment. Her son was crying and she tried to calm him, but her efforts were not enough for the bus driver. He stopped the bus and the mother reports that, “He made a complete scene on the bus, saying I needed to calm down my son or we needed to remove ourselves off the bus and he couldn’t drive like this.” Then the bus driver got off the bus for a short time, and when he returned he ordered  them to get off.  None of the other passengers said a word. The mother began the long walk home in the cold with room for only one child in the stroller. She said she gave her jacket to her daughter and walked most of the way home wearing only a sweater.

The mother called Transit Windsor to complain. A day and a half later, a representative called to apologize. Later in the week an employee came to her house and dropped off 20 bus tickets.

There are many lessons to learn from this story and many questions: Why did the bus driver treat a mother with 2 sick children like this? What did he think the mother should do – that she wasn’t already doing – to stop her sick boy from crying? Why didn’t he show empathy? Why didn’t the other passengers say or do something to help?

For Tori Tracey and her young children this was a horrible event. They were bullied by the bus driver and no one stood up for them. Bullying is everywhere – even on city buses – and bullying is wrong. People get hurt and it is up to everyone in the community to stop it.

… bullying is an act of aggression where there is a discrepancy of power between the bully and the victim.

To clarify, bullying is an act of aggression where there is a discrepancy of power between the bully and the victim. The bus driver was the bully who misused his status and power to treat this family as inferior and undeserving of respect. Reading this story, many of us feel outrage that he showed no empathy or compassion for this mother and her two small, sick children. He seemed to blame the mother for his stress, because she couldn’t stop her sick two-year old son from crying. (I can almost hear someone saying, “Why can’t that mother control her child?”  Mothers tend to get blamed when their children are sick and crying.) He forced this family, with few resources, out into the street. (They had a stroller with room for only one child and didn’t even have the warm clothing needed to walk for an hour in the cold.) This is man’s inhumanity to man. Tori Tracey and her children deserved better.

What part did the witnesses play? Bullies do not bully without support.

By their silence the passengers became the bystanders, giving tacit consent to how the bus driver treated this family.

Their fellow passengers needed to stand up, not stand by. By their silence the passengers became the bystanders, giving tacit consent to how the bus driver treated this family. Research on this kind of behaviour suggests that they did not intervene because of fear, or that they believed that others would act. It is possible – and likely – that they blamed the mother, too. Things could have played out much differently if even one of the passengers had stood up to say, “Stop. You can’t treat another human being this way. It is wrong.” Or alternatively, they could have offered support to the mother and children – the support that they deserved. When bystanders – the witnesses in this case – intervene, in 57% of cases bullying stops within 10 seconds (Peplar & Craig 1999).

By not intervening, the bystanders failed this family. Is this the kind of society we want to live in – where apathy and fear allow others to be hurt? Is this the society we want for our children, who are so vulnerable?

This is how children learn to be bullies. They learn  by the way they are treated by the bigger, more powerful people in their lives.

I fear that this incident could have a lasting effect on the children. What happened was a hurtful and aggressive act that could have lasting consequences for these children. Ithink that this is how children learn to be bullies. They learn  by the way they are treated by the bigger, more powerful people in their lives.

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