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Elaine Halligan: Parenting expert

Elaine Halligan is a parenting expert with The Parent Practice. She is passionate about helping families bring out the best in their children and teenagers to help them have good self-esteem and value themselves for who they are. Encouraging good behaviour and knowing how to have a positive form of discipline is essential for a happy home and calm family.
She has a particular interest in special educational needs after her son was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and severe dyslexia, together with language processing difficulties.

Along with her own, she has helped hundreds of families by teaching practical skills and strategies to encourage co-operation, raise self-esteem, encourage self-reliance and ensure great communication between parent and child. Managing challenging behaviour, temper tantrums and grunting teenagers can be a thing of the past with the practical Parent Practice methodology.

My 5 year old is just about to start big school for the first time in September. What can I do to help prepare him for a successful start?

Starting school can, for some children be quite traumatic, not to mention how we as parents feel as our loved ones leave us!
Prepare your child for school by:
•    Familiarising your child with the school. Visit or look at pictures of the new school often.
•    Explain unfamiliar things like bells and lining up etc –play schools at home to familiarise your child with school life.
•    Get any uniform well in advance and practice getting in and out of it
•    Practice in role-play conversations with other children.
Build confidence and cooperation by noticing and describing any positive things your child has done.
•    Focus on the positives “You hung up your coat without me reminding you.” ”You remembered to say thank you –that’s polite.
• Praise effort and attitude. “You’re not giving up on tying your shoelaces. They’re really tricky when you’re first learning. You’ve made a good loop and now you’re putting the other lace around it.”
• Praise improvement. “You’re getting quicker at putting on your socks now.”
•    What quality does that show? e.g. maturity, self-control. “You didn’t interrupt me when I was on the phone although I could see you wanted to speak to me. That takes self-control.”

My son has just started senior school and had been teased recently and called a “ skinny weak anorexic retard”. It is so upsetting. What do I say to him?

It truly is heartbreaking when your child comes back from school and tells you about the taunts he is getting from other children. The temptation is to jump in feet first and want to sort the bullies out and to maybe show pity to your son, neither of which will help him get through this. Often we also advise our children to just ignore the other children and walk away. While that’s not a bad strategy it doesn’t address the child’s hurt feelings. The reality is name calling does hurt and lowers self esteem and our role as parents is to listen to our children and ensure their feelings about how hurt or embarrassed, they feel are understood. Once that happens our children are more able to find their own solutions.
•    Allow your child to vent their feelings via role-play with you pretending to be the bully and allow your son to rant and rave and say exactly what he wants.
•    Talk to your child about why bullies act as they do. Very often they are the ones not in control and feeling powerless and low in self-esteem. Encourage him to talk to someone at school responsible for pastoral care.
•    Teach him strategies to allow him to have a quick but non-inflammatory repost to the bully e.g. “That’s your opinion and you are entitled to that”; “ Uh-huh, yeah right” roll eyes and walk away; “Really? I didn’t know that.” The aim is to take the power out of the taunts.
•    Get him to try and think through solutions with your input but try not to offer too much advice, as it can make children feel less empowered.

My child often says “I don’t want to go to school today”. It is really irritating and makes us late for school as I try and cajole her and then end up getting cross and shouting. Any ideas?

I can see how a child saying “I don’t want to go to school today” is a real button pusher especially if you have more than one child to get ready for school and out of the door on time. Our normal reaction is to reassure and say “Everything will be ok. You’ll love it – you’ll see.” or question, ” Why don’t you want to go to school?” which is more often than not met with the typical response of “I don’t know.” Or “I just don’t” Indeed this approach rarely gets the right results as the child will feel not listened to. If children can say how they feel parents need to listen and not deny the child’s feelings. Do say: “There are probably a lot of things that are quite confusing right now since school is new to you.”
•    Talk about school at a non-pressured time. Stop what you are doing and convey with your body language that you are paying attention.
•    Look behind your child’s action or words and imagine how he is feeling; reflect it back to him in words. “Maybe school feels a bit overwhelming at the moment. I guess you have to get used to new people and new activities and maybe you’re wondering about how to make friends…” Don’t try to change their feelings in the moment. Children don’t need protection from their feelings– they need to be able to deal with them. Indeed you may not know what the emotion/feeling is so take a guess. If you are wrong most children will be quick to tell you and if you are right many children will just go silent but at least they hear you are trying to understand.