Sometimes parents wonder if “a little more time” may improve their child’s adjustment, simply through increasing “maturity.” The children with whom I primarily work, preschool and early elementary-age kids, are developing very quickly. So the reasoning is quite valid. With a few more months of time, some problems might evaporate. But this is not always how I see it. Sure — more “development” may make the problem better — or much worse.
Development is like a river. It is moving, and moving quickly. But when a child is struggling, moving further downstream may or not help, depending on what else is poured into that child’s river — that child’s stream of development. Like nurturing, supportive, repairing stuff … or inflammatory, destructive, or plain unhelpful life stuff.
For a struggling child in my care, behavior problems improved over a few months in Kindergarten. However, his parents and teachers added extra things to his “stream.” Therapy offered him new coping strategies. His parents enrolled in my parent workshop. They dedicated energy and effort to learn about their child’s brain and development. Both parents worked on changing their style of interaction with him. His teacher welcomed and implemented new ideas, adopting a positive approach to his classroom behavior.
But for other children, there may be fewer helpful things “in the stream.” Their bodies get bigger and stronger as development progresses. Those changes can result in greater physical conflicts at home and on the playground. Gaps in social skills are more apparent and impactful as months go by, lowering a child’s self-esteem and heightening peer disputes. With progressing development, children become more able to reflect upon themselves and their worlds. And with increasing age, they often draw painful conclusions about their self-worth and abilities relative to others.
As months pass in a struggling child’s development, family tensions may intensify. Unhealthy family dynamics may grow unhealthier still, without the benefit of parent education and support. In this scenario, time can be an enemy rather than an aid.
Yes, for some children, a few months time does make all the difference. But for so many children I meet, delaying helpful services while waiting for developmental maturity only makes problems worse.
For the child who does not simply “grow out of it,” problems may become deeper and harder to remedy. That’s why I work with younger children, when the clay is soft. The younger, the better.
Families arrive and say, “We thought about getting therapy a year ago …” or “I’ve had your card in my purse for two years.” Don’t put it off … check out your concerns early in development. And find an early childhood specialist who understands that young children are not just smaller versions big kids. Don’t just wait for growth … help it along.
Dr. Onufrak is the developer of ChildSightTools® parent programming. Visit DrBethKids.com for more information and resources. Look for my Online Parent Courses coming soon. Get my free booklet Chill Your Child’s Anger on my homepage. My Weekly 2-Minute Tip videos can be found on my homepage and on YouTube.
Young kids tell you what they want. The iPad. Angry Birds. Skylanders and Lego Ninjago. American girl dolls and My Little Ponies. A pop tart. A fruit rollup. Goldfish. Noodles with butter. Sound familiar?
If only they knew what their brains wanted … to help regulate their physical and emotional states. Their pleas might then sound like this: “Mommy, my brain is hungry! I gotta have some protein to focus. I need some avocado to think of something else before I hit my brother!”
The brain/nutrition link is elementary. The brain runs on neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are made from food, specifically protein. Neurotransmitters are carried on the superhighways between cells that are coated with fat. [Fat, you say? Good fats.] And sugars provide glucose for brain energy. Complex carbohydrates supply sustained, long-lasting energy; simple, quick burning carbs only give rapid, short-lasting energy, leading to “zoom and crash.”
A parent might as well say,
“Blood sugar, go to your room!”
An after-school tantrum can reflect low blood sugar. Classroom distraction can reflect inadequate intake of quality protein. Poor impulse control can reflect deficiencies and DHA and EPA. I am no longer content to blame behavioral problems on “psychological” issues when the body may be the problem, or at least part of it. How silly that distinction even sounds… the distinction between mind and body is history.
Parents bring kids to psychologists to help change how their minds work … when it’s children’s bodies that often get them into trouble. The unspoken assumption is that the child mind can control his body, given the proper “tools.” But it’s more and more clear to me ~ we often have to help the body and brain first before I can do much with the mind.
Nothing is more proximal to your child ~ closer to his interior being ~ than what’s in his cells at any given moment.
… closer than your hug, your touch, your loving words or threatened punishment … closer than therapy interventions.
Knowing children’s brains are hungry, I now routinely recommend a nutritional consultation at the commencement of care. Sometimes, I advise parents at the intake to return in 30 days after implementing nutritional changes. No longer can I accept parents’ money and take their time if I believe a child’s body needs help before her mind can respond. How would I know this?
Over the past 4 years of my practice, my referrals for child psychiatry consults have plummeted. Why? Because parents are trying nutrition first with profound results. Many kids accept new food routines and even request specific foods at key times. They quickly recognize how different ~ and better ~ they feel. These children actually start to say, “Mom, I need some protein…” My colleague Jan Katzen, former Montessori teacher and Certified Nutritionist, often says, “I have yet to meet a brain that does not respond to better nutrition.” Jan is one of my most valued referral sources. Learn more about her at http://www.NutritionforLearning.com.
Do I lose business with all my nutrition referrals? Sort of! Some kids improve by eating differently and no longer need my services. But more often, kids come back after a nutritional boost. Then therapy is more efficient and effective. That’s because a child’s brain chemistry and blood sugar is working with me.
Findable, affordable foods could potentially transform your child’s brain and body from dysregulation to balance. Changing the timing and composition of snacks and meals can make all the difference. Canned black beans, apples with almond butter, stone-ground tortillas, walnuts and cage free eggs can turn around brains and behavior. Not being a nutritionist, I’ll stop there and leave it to the experts. Picky eater? Nutritionists of often have sneaky ideas for helping gradually change your child’s palate.
Does changing your child’s diet take some time and money? Yes. So does therapy. Try one, and you may not need the other.
Your child is “so excited” to start Kindergarten ~ so what’s with this clinginess, baby talk and tantrums of the past?
“He visited his new school and totally LOVES it.”
“She’s really trying to read!
“He CANNOT WAIT to go to big-kid school.”
With evidence like that, no wonder you are shaking your head. What are these sudden, summer tantrums over “nothing?” Clinginess like two-year old days? Baby talk that’s driving you bananas?
Your child could be feeling ambivalence about kindergarten. Let’s get our magic 8 ball. Your child’s predominant statements may indicate “signs point to yes.” But your child’s regressive behavior may invite you to “concentrate and ask again.”
Ever had two feelings at the same time? Of course you have ~ it’s part of the human emotional condition. Love to go on vacation, dread the long drive. Want that new phone, but ugh, the learning curve. How easy it is for us, however, to forget this basic tenet when it comes to kids. Children can have more than one feeling at a time. But they don’t know this fact and are confused by multiple feelings themselves. Their mouths may say one thing, but their bodies act out another. Everyone is confused.
For every independence striving, there is anxiety.
“I want to … but will I be able to?” The little 5-year-old, having left the familiar safe rooms of a preschool she’s attended for up to three years, is indeed excited. And scared to death. The thought of the new grade can feel as intimidating as towering university columns.
Just because he saw the campus and classroom, adores his new teacher and has a couple of good buddies there … change is hard. And young ones do not have a long remember-able history of managing changes that turned out okay.
“Kindergarten-me” was terrified about grown-up words. Adults read me engaging storybooks featuring a recurring word: “particularly.” Spoken with eloquence and inflection. Made me shiver. How in the world would I ever be able to pronounce that word? Growing up clearly required it. Maybe staying little was the answer. “Beth, pay attention,” said the teacher, unaware of my paralyzing angst. Your little one could be harboring silent worries like this. Memories such as these flowered my path to becoming a child psychologist.
So, how to manage regressive behavior in the summer before Kindergarten?
Park your logical brain. It will only stall your efforts to look through your child’s eyes. One feeling stated is one feeling stated. There can be additional feelings too, that are contradictory.
Take a little walk back in time. How did YOU feel the summer high school ended? No matter what your plans ~ college, work, or “no idea” ~ you likely had nostalgia for the place and life-stage you were leaving, and anxiety about what lay ahead.
Think to yourself: Ending preschool is like being a senior ... looking ahead to the future. Seeing the younger students, feeling older, knowing you are leaving. Heck, we give preschoolers caps and tassels now in in mock graduation ceremonies. Not so make-believe.
Notice and ask: Talk to your child ~ “I know you’re feeling excited about Kindergarten. Do you know people can have more than one feeling at the same time? I wonder what other feelings you might have.” Validate and accept the feelings – don’t dismiss or whisk them away. Normalize and give reassurance that adults will be there to help, every step of the way.
Draw a feelings heart. Get a bunch of markers, outline a heart, and color it in with patches of color ~ each representing a feeling and its relative momentary “size.” Draw your own heart first, choosing colors to stand for feelings you have right now: tired, sad, excited, worried. Invite your child to draw his or her own. Don’t worry about percentages or doubles (same feeling represented twice) ~ rather than a pie chart, it’s a feelings-identification exercise.
“Child-Sight” can help you through this developmental transition. Child-Sight is a process I teach parents ~ to look through their child’s eyes, informed by child development secrets and brain function facts. Simply recognizing your child may have multiple feelings about Kindergarten is the beginning of Child-Sight. It’s an eye-opening pair of glasses that helps you change your view and what you think, say & do.
Try using Child-Sight on your ambivalent Kindergartener! Watch the regressive behaviors fade away as they begin to step into the Big Kid Shoes at their feet.
The Child-Sight Treatment Model is Dr. Onufrak’s integrated program of child therapy, blending cognitive-behavioral play therapy with her Parent Toolbox of strategic support solutions.
Pretending to host a radio show is my favorite Play Therapy technique. And now I have the chance to do it for real.
It started in 1970 with my father’s reel-to-reel tape recorder. The thrill of that device was intoxicating and addictive … surpassing by far the allure of any toy. From the living room floor, I’d “broadcast” countless hours of shows. Commenting upon momentary whims, meditating on the arrival of my grandparents, singing self-authored songs, interviewing family members. Beseeching my grandfather to record a bedtime story, preserved for posterity.
And along the way I grew up, preserving detailed recollections of my development ~ emotional, social, physical and cognitive. Those recollections keep me close to the child mind, fostering insights that assist me today as a Clinical Child Psychologist and Play Therapist.
A Play Therapist must be a flexible, creative creature with a diverse collection of tools. The top of one’s head is often a rich source of inspiration. And one day, from that very location, an idea struck me ~ an impulse rooted in my own childhood play.
A reticent sensitive young boy on the Autistic spectrum was having a hard time settling into in therapy. Until I handed him a microphone.
It was not a real microphone – but it was real enough to him. He took the wooden ruler in his hand and began to disclose the observations of his mind and yearnings of his heart to an imaginary audience. “Callers” ~ kids and adults, in as many accents as I could devise ~ requested his sage advice. The “Dr. Beth Show” became our therapy modality as I witnessed his coping efforts advance with grace and confidence. “The Show” became a dependable play therapy tool which has helped many child clients since.
So, when the VoiceAmerica.com Talk Tadio Network contacted me, I was incapacitated by laughter. Soon thereafter, incredulity morphed into musings ~ and musings into a clear vision. I began to imagine a child psychology program that could inform and support parents of young children wherever they are. With delight, I accepted invitation to host a weekly radio show.
Child Psych Central: Discover the KidBrain will launch December 11th at 10AM PST on VoiceAmerica.com.
The show will feature my discussions with child mental health experts, local, national and international. We’ll cover issues that cross my desk weekly in my clinical practice. My guests and I will explore early childhood conditions, issues and services to inform parents in an in-depth, accessible way. I will ask my expert guests questions I believe parents would ask if they were in studio with me.
Find it on the Health & Wellness channel. Podcasts will be available on iTunes and social media outlets. My Facebook and Twitter feed will feature guests and links to every episode. This blog will also feature guests and show topics to help you find resources for your family.
Please join me for the launch of Child Psych Central: Discover the KidBrain! Catch it on December 11th at 10AM Pacific on VoiceAmerica.com. Pretending was great fun – but I know this will be even more. Hearty thanks to my colleagues, friends and client families for their advance support. Tune in – this time, for real!