Episode 7 Live Q&A: Jenny Coen (Child Counselor)

Jennifer Coen is a clinical Social Worker who has been specializing in assessing & treating children with mental health & trauma related issues since 1993. Including helping to identify behaviour that may be affected by food additives and preservatives.

What to do if your child is constantly upset when you leave?

It is important to try & have something for your young child to do as you are leaving. A fun distraction! Always say goodbye though, rather then sneak out, although that can be tempting sometimes to avoid an upsetting outburst. Let your child know where you are going & that you will be back. That you love them & will see them soon. Try & get the person you are leaving them with to help by taking them by the hand & inciting them to do something fun. Eg enter a game etc. I am not sure how old your child is but often children go through a period of separation anxiety at around 12 months to 2 years. Sometimes kids get into patterns or habits as well, so if someone else (eg. Husband/partner etc) can be the last to say goodbye or do the drop off that can sometimes help.

My son is child child number 2 and is 3 years old. I have absolutely no control over him but my husband will tell him not to do something and he obeys!!He is constantly naughty and I fell I am forever yelling at him to stop annoying his sister (8yrs old) and to do as he is told. I feel like I should send him “Boot Camp for 3 year olds”. He is in Day care 3 days a week and my mum looks after him 2 days a week, while I am at work Full Time. Am I the reason he is like this because I am at work and not there for him? I was a home full time with my daughter til she was 2 years old and was never like this!!

Isn’t it frustrating when boys listen to their dad & not to you? Don’t take this personally. Firstly your son is going through ‘the terrible twos’ where testing limits is what life is all about. You need to be firm about rules & if your son doesn’t abide by them or your wishes he needs a consequence. At his age maybe 2 minutes on the ‘time out chair’. It would be good to speak with your husband & your mum & all have the same rules & consequences. Everyone talking the same language makes it easier for kids to understand what is acceptable & what is not. Maybe ask the pre-school what they do if he behaves in a manner they don’t want to encourage.

I’m not sure how you react but : -

  • be firm but not angry (that’s hard sometimes & takes a bit of practice)
  • When you see he is headed toward an altercation with your daughter, distract him or her to head it off t the pass, so as to speak. Call him & ask him to help you do something. Often distraction works well with this age group
  • Don’t feel guilty because you work! Lots of mums work. He is lucky he has contact with his nana because extended family care helps kids learn about ‘family’. I have a 7 yr old & he is on his best behaviour when he is with his 80 yr old grandfather, even though he mucks up on others!
  • Don’t compare your kids. Girls are cognitively, emotionally & socially much more mature than boys. You generally need to be more ‘black & white’ with boys re discipline – less talk, more action!
  • Talk to him when he is not angry. Read him a story before bed etc & don’t forget to notice when he is good & let him know how much you love it when he behaves.

Good luck. Things will get better.

hi i have almost 2 yr old and i cant seem to take him anywhere or have anyone over as tends to be a bully, meaning he bits and pinches and punches and pulls hair oh and slaps and spits and blows rasberries i have tried eveything i know how to. He goes to preschool once aweek and he has only bitten once,has had a few attempts to bit but the teachers are aware of it and watch him. He has a brother and a sister and a brother and they are sick of him hurting them and also ruining their games. PLEASE HELP ME Tracy

Hi Tracy, Your son is still very rough & by the sounds of things a bit rough!
A few tips:

  • tell him always to “use his words” when you see him hit, bite etc.
  • try & remove him straight away, as soon as you see the behaviour you don’t like. Tell him, “No, you are not allowed to hit.. (bite etc) it hurts people. You will have to stop playing.” Put him in his room or on a ‘time out’ chair for a few minutes. When he is calm tell him “you can come back & play but you cannot hurt anyone”. If his behaviour is in response to something someone else is doing to him (eg. Teasing etc) you should say that the other child should not tease but he is not to hit or bite, he has to use his words or ask a grown up for help! It would help if the preschool removed him temporarily from games as well when he gets rough as it will curb the behaviour & make the message clearer to him that if he chooses to act like that, he will miss out!
  • When he is a bit older you can talk more about how it hurts when people bite or hit or punch & ask him how he would feel if someone did it to him. If he isn’t sure tell him he would feel ‘sad’ & that there are other ways to sort out the problem
  • Because of his age, you need to understand that often kids bite, punch etc because they are frustrated (due to immaturity) rather than angry. Next time he lashes out try to work out, was he angry & trying to hurt someone else or was he frustrated & did not know what else to do? It makes a big difference in the way you deal with his behaviour. Developmental frustration is normal. Just keep removing him & reminding him until he starts to get it right. If you feel his behaviour is a result of being angry still remove him, wait until he calms down, tell him it is ok to be angry but not to kick, punch etc & give him other alternatives. Eg when you are angry you could kick the ball outside, jump up & down to music etc. You might also want to decrease the amount of artificial preservatives in his diet as often kids (especially young boys) get hyper when there diet includes cordial, sugar etc.
  • Re ruining older kids games? most young siblings do that! Try to explain to your other kids that he is only 2yrs old. Remove him from where they are playing & give him something else to do.
  • By the way, don’t forget to praise him when he is playing nicely.

Good luck! Jenny

How can i stop my 9month boy from biting?

A 9 month old child biting is not that uncommon! Kids that age are generally still orally fixated (as they say in psychology). Do you know why he is doing this? Does he think it is a game? Is it a habit? Is he doing it to get your attention? I can’t imagine at his age that he would be doing it because he is angry. When he goes to bite, try & stop him by moving what he is about to bite (eg. your finger or whatever) away & calmly tell him ‘no’. Try & give him something to play with that involves oral gratification. Not food but a teething ring or a toy that is made to & safe for an infant to bite or chew. He is not starting to teeth is he? Put your hand in his moth (if you dare) & try to feel for hard gums or small teeth breaking through. If you think this could be the case teething rings & maybe some teething gel (you can get it from the chemist) may help to relieve the soreness he feels, which may be why he is biting.

My 2 1/2 year old girl is generally very placid and shy and as a result gets picked on by her friends, she often just stands there whilst they hit or push her or snatch toys away from her, inevitably this ends up in tears. How do I teach her to be assertive and stand up for herself without hitting/pushing back?

Hi Kate, teaching kids to be assertive takes time so don’t be put off. Probably one of the simplest things you can do is read her stories that have animals or people in them that are cranky or ‘bad’ & get her to say their part. Eg The 3 Pigs. You read her the story but when she gets to know what the wolf will say, “eg. Little pig, little pig let me come in?” get her to be the wolf so she can practice being assertive in a safe & fun way. When you have done this a few times remind her about how the wolf speaks & suggest that when kids are bossing her she can say “stop it.. I don’t like it when you do that” in a voice that’s like the wolf. Help her practice it. Other stories that can be used would be Snow White, (Wicked Queen) The 3 Billy Goats Gruff, in fact many of the traditional fairytales are great for this purpose as the baddies & goodies are easy to identify & the stories are short & fun to read.

If you see other children taking her things you need to intervene & help her. Maybe you can stop the play, take your daughter’s toy back & then say to both children, “let’s play nicely. I think ? Was playing with that toy first so you (the ‘bully’) go & choose something else to play with & when ? has finished you can have a turn.”

Point out to your daughter hiting, pushing & taking toys isn’t nice & it is ok for her to say so.

Initially she will find it hard to be assertive as it takes practice, even for an adult. Encourage her to talk aloud when she plays with dolls & if you have time play with her sometimes but make a doll resistant to something in the game & ask your daughter what she should say to doll to help solve the problem.

Try & encourage your daughter to use ‘feeling words’ when she can & practice saying things like, “I feel happy when we go shopping” or whatever so later when she is upset you can ask her, “how do you feel?” Let her try & answer. Then link the feeling to a behaviour. Eg. You feel sad because – took your toy. How can we solve the problem? Give her ideas & validate her concerns but try & be positive & find solutions. Maybe try & find her another placid friend so she gains more confidence with her peers.

Most kids her age are not good at negotiating.

If you begin to feel that she is getting anxious about interacting or starts becoming worried about things that other kids her age might not worry about you may need to seek out further advice. But don’t panic as she is only young. Theres a great website for parents www.kidshealth.com.au that you might like to have a look at.

Good luck. Jenny

My 25mth old seems very shy, but heard no tips on what to do when she sees people she knows eg she sees her aunt every week but clings to my leg and needs peeling off. I offer cuddles and gentle encouagement but she clings tighter, sometimes for most of the morning. I have used stronger discipline saying no time to sit up at your chair and eat but she still wants to sit on my knee. In gatherings once she has settled in she is the one another toddler will take the toy from and she does fight back which is nice but I dont want her to be bullied either. Any tips here?

Hi, teaching kids to be assertive takes time so don’t be put off. Probably one of the simplest things you can do is read your kids stories that have animals or people in them that are cranky or ‘bad’ & get them to play their part. Eg The 3 Pigs. You read the story & when your child gets to know what the wolf will say, “eg. Little pig, little pig let me come in?” let them be the wolf so they can practice being assertive in a safe & fun way. When you have done this a few times remind them about how the wolf speaks & suggest that when kids are bossing them they can say “stop it.. I don’t like it when you do that” in a voice that’s like the wolf. Help your kids practice. Other stories that can be used would be Snow White, (Wicked Queen) The 3 Billy Goats Gruff, in fact many of the traditional fairytales are great for this purpose as the baddies & goodies are easy to identify & the stories are short & fun to read.

Initially kids will find it hard to be assertive as it takes practice, even for an adult. Encourage your kids to talk aloud when they plays (with dolls, dinosaurs etc) & if you have time play sometimes make a doll/dino resistant to something in the game & ask your child what they should say to help solve the problem.

Try & encourage your child to use ‘feeling words’ & practice saying things like, “I feel happy when we go shopping” or whatever so later when they are upset you can ask them , “how do you feel?” Let them try & answer. Then link the feeling to a behaviour. Eg. You feel sad because – took your toy. How can we solve the problem? Give your kids ideas & validate their concerns but try & be positive & find solutions.

Before you take your kids out talk to them about where they are going. Be positive (eg. “There will be other kids to play with”) & let them know this adventure is time limited. Eg. “and when we are finished you and I will go home.. etc”. At this point your kids are young so be positive, be pro-active, encourage them to play or get involved. If they find it difficult you help them initially by leading them in & step back once they are engaged.

Don’t panic often kids around 2 – 3 years become clingy as even though they like to explore they are tentative about what is around them . Jenny

Hi there my name is dani i have a 6 month old daughter who is very active and alert 24/7! My question is both me and her father are very shy people who are not very social. I don’t want my little girl to be like us! How can i make sure she will be a social butterfly and not a withheld fairy?

Hi Dani, if your child is active & alert, be glad. Just because you and your husband are shy doesn’t mean she will be. As she gets a little older encourage her to participate in team like hobbies. Eg dancing classes; (age 4 & up) & team sports when she gets to school. Just be aware that she may not view the world as you did so don’t let what held you back interfere with looking at the opportunities for her to engage with her peers. If she is an only child try to link up with a mum or a few that have kids of a similar age to give her the chance to socialize. Gymbaroo & those type of activities are good & you don’t have to become overly friendly with the other mums. Preschool can also be good for only children as can play group. Don’t worry. The fact that you don’t want her to be shy makes you think you will capitalize on the opportunities that come her way.

Always encourage her to tell you how she feels (once she is older & can talk) that way keeping the communication lines open makes way for a more talkative child. Jenny

My soon to be 6 month old has suddenly become very scared around my husbands family. They are always right in her face doing those silly things you do to babies. She is normally a very social baby smiling even at complete strangers. But when i leave her in a different room with them she freaks and needs me to calm her down. I try to reassure her its all ok. I know she is young but is there anything i can do to help her be ok with them (btw they speak another language, we speak english only to her at home would this make any difference?)

Hi, your husbands family sound like they need to back off abit! Your child is only young & is still finding out what & who is safe in the world. They may be trying too hard or just be a very overtly emotive bunch. Try to hang on to your daughter when you are there. Maybe explain to them (individually, so they are not embarrassed or think you are criticizing) that your child is still sensitive to noise etc around them & that she/he is becoming unsettled often in lots of places so it’s better to take a softer approach to interacting with your baby. If they don’t take kindly to your request ask your husband to talk to them also. If all this fails maybe don’t visit so often until your baby is a little more resilient. Also, yes if your inlaws speak another language foreign to your baby then that could also be unsettling for your little one. Jenny

Hi Jenny, My son is 13mths old and is still very clingy when we’re around other people (he has been since 8-9mths old). Sometimes he gets so worked up that he not only cries (which devastates me) but has even thrown up. What should I do to a) help him threw this phase positively and b) discourage him from needing me or his Dad to constantly hold him/be near when we’re around other adults & children? Thanks, Kristen

Hi Kristen, Your son sounds like he gets a little anxious. Don’t force him too much he isn’t ready to explore yet. Don’t worry about what anyone else’s child is doing at 13 moths. Your son needs a bit more time before he feels safe in the company of others. That’s ok. When he cries just comfort him. Try & encourage him in safe environments. Eg to go on swings, run around. He sounds like he still needs to know you are there. Go with him to meet other kids. Take him by the hand & stand with him for a while so he can test the waters. If he wants you to hold him, try putting him down but crouch down beside him so he still knows you are there. If you see he is getting very distressed stop doing what you are doing & let him calm down. If he has grandparents or others he knows well try & encourage contact with them. Hopefully he will get more confident as he gets older.

I need some help I can’t drive so therefore I can’t get toa mums group, I have a 7 month old son, and also the only young mums group around takes 2 busses to get there, and there is my old friend there who doesn’t treat her 3yr son with respect. How can I get around this situation to get my son socialising? And the transport around here, I have had so many problems with them, like having the door closed on the pram when I’m half way out the door and the driver driving off….. thank you for your help Joanne

Hi Joanne, it sounds like your neighbourhood is a hard place to live with young kids!

  • Re mums group – if you want to go is there another mother that can give you a lift? Maybe you can repay her by looking after her child once in a while.
  • If your son is 3, are there pre-schools accessible or maybe Church play groups you could find out about? What about neighbours with kids the same age?
  • Maybe you could ring the local Community Health Centre & find out what is available & accessible in your area.

What about online mums groups?
Is there a local school that might be interested in setting up a play group?
Re your friend who doesn’t treat her son well. If it upsets you maybe try to find an interesting article or program that you can suggest she watch. Talk to her about how hard it is to be a mum & things you have read that help. If things don’t improve maybe you need to show her what to do (by the way you react) or else maybe don’t see her as much.
It sounds a bit lonely where you are. Do you have a mum you can visit, even overnight, so you can get out a bit more?
Re the bus issues – ring & complain. Bus companies need your service. Tell them about the problems you are having with the drivers shutting doors. If they don’t seem to care call your local member of Parliament.

Jenny

For more information see Episode 7 Socialising baby or Parenting .