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Concerned about Kindergarten

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Image credit: Kzenon | shutterstock.com

Question: My daughter is starting kindergarten in a few weeks and I think she’s really nervous about it. Now that it’s getting so close, she’s crying all the time and she says she doesn’t want to go. How can we help her be ready for school without freaking her out even more?

Answer: This is not uncommon! The build-up to kindergarten is a source of stress for many families. Rest assured, it’s totally normal for kids to feel nervous, and there are things parents can do to help.

Try these tips to build confidence and excitement in time for school:

  • Reinforce your child’s ability to succeed. Remind her that she has all the skills needed to be an amazing kindergartner – like courage, a kind personality, or a love of learning. Identifying your child’s unique strengths will empower her sense of self-confidence in the weeks before school.
  • Stay positive while still acknowledging anxious feelings. To validate her concerns, you might say, “Worrying is normal, but new adventures are also really fun and exciting.” This helps her feel heard while keeping the focus on the bright side. Dwelling too much on negative feelings may result in a reinforcement of fears.
  • Discuss logistics to ease specific worries. Talk with your daughter about what she can expect in a typical school day. You might ask her, “What do you think kindergartners do at school?” Use this opportunity to identify specific routines (circle time, lunch, recess, etc.) that she can become familiar with – and get excited about – before school starts.
  • Get to know your child’s teacher ahead of time (if possible). Many schools offer a “meet and greet” for incoming kindergartners. Take advantage of any and all back-to-school events that you are able to attend; this is a great way for your daughter to build comfort with her new environment. (And if you’re lucky, she might even make a new friend from her class!)
  • Read books that tell the story of kindergarten success. There are tons of great children’s books on this topic. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Tune-in to your potential anxiety. The start of kindergarten is a milestone for the whole family. Sometimes parents experience as much (if not more) anxiety than children as the big day approaches. Keep yourself in a mindset of growth and positivity, and don’t be afraid to use the tips above to ease your own worries about the upcoming school year.
  • Go with your intuition. If your gut says that your child’s anxiety is above and beyond what you feel is manageable, listen to your instincts and talk to an expert. Elementary school principals, school counselors, pediatricians, and mental health professionals can all help your family prepare for a successful transition.

Good luck to all of the parents embarking on this exciting adventure! As Dr. Seuss taught us, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

 

Lauren Ferguson, MS, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Conifer Play Therapy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Child Development and a master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies. Lauren is a dedicated wife and mother of two energetic boys. She has enjoyed helping children and families thrive for over 20 years! For more information, visit www.coniferplaytherapy.com or call 720-323-9219.

Beyond Picky Eating

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Question: My son is six years old. He’s always been a picky eater, but now it’s affecting his growth. He never wants to eat what we’re eating and he won’t eat the “kid food” his brother eats. Sometimes he takes only a few bites at each meal. I’m so worried about him. I feel like I’m watching him starve. What do I do to get him to eat more?


Answer: Parents of extreme picky eaters know this struggle well. Some kids are born hungry; they will indiscriminately gobble up whatever food you put in front of them. For other kids, it’s not so easy. Erratic food jags aside, some children experience persistent low appetite, sensory impairment, and physical discomfort with eating, to the extent that growth and development may suffer. As parents, we know that our job is to nurture children and help them grow. But when our kids won’t eat – day after day, meal after meal – feelings of powerlessness and failure creep in. Mealtimes can turn into a battle of wills, with parents often on the losing end.

Here are some things to know if your child is beyond a picky eater:

  • Recognize the issue: Kids develop unhealthy relationships with food for a number of reasons. Try to identify what’s going on with your child to determine next steps and solutions. Parents should look for signs of sensory processing disorder (extreme sensitivity to certain tastes, textures, or colors), behavioral resistance (refusing to eat in order to gain control or command attention), or motor dysfunction (physical difficulty with chewing or swallowing). These issues typically require help from an expert, such as an occupational therapist, in order to be resolved. Talk to your pediatrician if this is the case with your child.

 

  • Offer choices without forcing food: Children love to have a sense of power, and food intake is one of the few things they can really control. Parents know that children can’t be forced to eat and doing so can lead to the unhealthy mealtime dynamics we’re trying to avoid. Choices, on the other hand, empower kids by supporting their natural desire to make decisions for themselves. Parents should be mindful of keeping choices within their own acceptable limits. For instance, children can decide if they want one meatball or two and if they’d prefer sauce on top of their spaghetti or in a bowl on the side. Notice that eating something entirely different from the family or not eating at all isn’t an option.

 

  • Make eating fun: When meals turn into battles, the joy of sitting down as a family slips away. Rather than concentrating on every bite your child is (or isn’t) eating, turn the family’s attention toward something different. (Think food races and silly eating noises!) Some kids need to warm-up to new foods without any pressure to actually eat them. This is especially true for children with sensory aversions who are unwilling to eat certain tastes or textures. Parents can set up a messy-play-area where children are invited to use any of their senses to experience foods without the expectation of eating. Emphasizing touch and smell over taste can help children feel at ease with new or unusual foods.

 

  • Other ideas to keep in mind:
    • Kids love to dip! Offer every condiment in the fridge as a possible choice for dipping.
    • Focus on healthy fats, like avocado or olive oil, to boost the content in your picky eater’s diet.
    • Sneak fruits and vegetables into other foods. Entire cookbooks have been written to help parents with this age-old trick. (Check out recipes in The Sneaky Chef or Deceptively Delicious for some really sneaky ideas.)
    • Make sure kids are hungry at mealtime. Too much snacking can destroy an appetite and reduce overall nutrient intake.
    • If nothing else works, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a feeding expert. Specially trained mental health counselors, occupational therapists, and speech/language pathologists can help improve your child’s eating.
    • Watch this video for more tips!

 

Lauren Ferguson, MS, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Conifer Play Therapy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Child Development and a master’s in Human Development and Family Studies. Lauren is a dedicated wife and mother of two rambunctious boys. She has enjoyed helping children and families thrive for over 20 years! For more information, visit www.coniferplaytherapy.com or call 720-323-9219.