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Help Me Help My Child (June 2006)

Past cases: June 2006

Here are the cases dealt with on Ruth’s page for June 2006.

Sarah is having real difficulties in making friends here. The expat community is small and she doesn’t seem to get on with girls her age.

Some children have difficulties making friends anywhere. In any group of people, there will be a very, very few who are popular with everyone, and a very, very few who can’t make any friends at all, but most of us are somewhere in between. I suspect Sarah is one of those. The trouble is that in an expat community there is a limited choice of people, and they are not necessarily the people she might want to be friends with.

I see so many of the young people who feel isolated from their peers, perhaps they like classical music and everyone else is into whatever they call “pop” music nowadays. Or perhaps they enjoy reading and everyone else finds magazines a challenge, or they don’t like football and no-one else can talk of anything else. Of course, it all depends on how much Sarah minds about this. It might be that you feel her isolation and she is very happy with her own company; sometimes we see a problem where our children don’t.

Then take time to talk to Sarah about how she sees things. Find out what she is interested in and see how she sees her friends. Does she try to talk to them and feel snubbed? Do they ignore her in any case? Is she just mis-reading signals? It might be that the children already have friendship groups and Sarah is new and surplus to requirements. The children of expats and Service personnel often say the hardest part of their lives has been having to make friends again and again.

There is always a period of adjustment when people move; adults make this choice for themselves (more or less) but the children have less say in the matter and when adults are thinking about their new job, new boss, about the new house etc. the children are often just feeling isolated and lonely. You can help Sarah by offering to have other children around to tea etc, by taking her to various clubs etc and by letting her talk to you about how she feels and what has happened.

And if all that fails – if the other girls are the wrong age to be her friends, or just are not her type of person – then encourage her to use the Internet. She can find penfriends and go on appropriate chatlines – in this way she will be reminded that she can be popular and that other people like her. That can only help, and hopefully will only be needed as an interim measure.

Reece has started telling lies. He’s 8 and the lies don’t really make sense, he doesn’t get anything from them, why does he do it?

All children lie sometimes; some children lie almost from the moment they begin to speak. If you have a child who is usually truthful, it is a tremendous shock when you find they can tell an untruth. Suddenly you have to question everything the child says, is this true or a fib? And this is a very uncomfortable feeling. I remember the first time my daughter lied – she came home from a neighbour’s and lied about why she had been sent home. It was literally shocking!! And after that I asked questions about everything she said for a number of months until I was sure she was not telling lies habitually.

It is, of course, much easier to understand lies with a purpose. The child who says he did not take the last sweet or break that plate or steal the money is defending himself. It is perfectly reasonable. Even if you find him out eventually, he has saved himself some space and might have got away with it. It is even forgivable if he blames someone else for something he has done.

But the child who lies for nothing is a different proposition. You might claim that he gets nothing from the lies, but he is an eight-year-old boy – how do you know? There could be any number of reasons for this. Reece might just be telling lies for or fun. Some children enjoy the power of misleading adults, they want to see how much they can get away with. Other children have deeper reasons. Sometimes if life at home or school is particularly stressful, they tell lies in order to divert attention from their real worries. If something very important is going on elsewhere: a new baby, an impending separation, serious illness, they might tell lies to ensure some attention for themselves.

Any one of these could underlie Reece’s new bad habit. But all children lie sometimes. Try and find out why Reece suddenly feels the urge to lie about nothing and if this is a response to some aspect of life he finds difficult, help him with it.

I had an eating problem as a teenager – how do I stop my kids going that way?

Well done for realising that an eating disorder is not something you want to burden your children with. You must have had a horrible time trying to look “perfect” and yet not having a realistic perception of yourself. Most people with eating disorders see themselves as much fatter than they really are. This Body Dysmorphia is one of the hardest things to undo.

This is becoming a bigger problem just now with the media conflict between OBESITY – the current issue, “let’s feed people only healthy foods and no sweeties” – on the one hand, and “our models are slim, tall and beautiful” on the other. It is sad to read that even boys and girls as young as six are worrying about their weight.

I think the best way you can go about it is to be reasonable. Try not to criticise your children’s choice of food – make sure that biscuits, sweets etc. are only available as a treat sometimes. Don’t make food into a reward or something to have as a comfort if things go wrong. Obviously if the cupboard is stuffed with chocolate, it’s hard to deny it. Just don’t have much of it available and minimise the possibility of the child going for another and another biscuit.

If you feel sure the child is full, when he asks for a third jacket potato, offer fruit or unsweetened popcorn. If he asks for coke, offer water. A child who is genuinely hungry and thirsty will eat and drink. A child who is just being greedy will not. And if you only buy treats at a weekly shop then, as they say in some adverts, “when it’s gone, it’s gone.”

And point out that weight is irrelevant. We are all built differently, and it’s important to look the best we each can. I was probably a Size 10 for about three minutes on my way to being bigger. But I look good, and would look ill if I were thinner. And boys and girls change shape so much as they grow up, it’s a silly concept to worry about. We all know chubby twelve-year-olds who have turned into shapely fifteen-year-olds, and little plump boys who shot up into sticks of spaghetti.

Encourage your children to value themselves. Tell them they look gorgeous – that’s what parents do, but kids like to believe it. Tell them honestly that some fashion does not suit them but remind them that others do. Start by pointing out how lovely they are when they are small and they will have a basic confidence that will help to protect them from what others say.

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