PARENT QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY BOB ZIEGLER, LCSW

What is it like to come to a therapeutic school like The Harris School?

Let’s face it; no one wants to enroll their child in a school like The Harris School. Unlike a fancy prep school with major parent boosters or bumper stickers declaring parental pride in making the honor roll, coming to our school can feel like a defeat. That feeling is often what finally brings a child to our school, the feeling that he is being defeated in other schools, despite the best efforts of the parents.

My child has been misbehaving for a long time. Is there hope that he can learn to respond to the world in a different way?

Problematic behaviors are generally caused by the intersection of two things: temperament and environment. We are all born with a general temperament, a way in which we react to the world that seems hard-wired. Some babies are fussy and irritable from the beginning, while other babies are placid and good-natured. This inborn temperament dictates how we respond to the world and also how the world responds to us. Over time we learn to interact based upon our feelings and the effect our actions have on the environment.

Why does my child react more aggressively and seem more reactive than other children I’ve observed?

Aggression, be it physical or verbal, is a normal part of a child’s development. We’ve all experienced the “terrible two’s” - or in my experience the “terrible three’s” - that lovely period in a child’s development where he tries on different ways of responding to frustration. This can manifest as spitting, lashing out, running away…the list is long and known to parents everywhere. Some kids are temperamentally more reactive or aggressive than others - they are just wound more tightly from birth.

When I was pregnant with my son I had all kinds of dreams for him, dreams that did not include the issues that he struggles with. Do other parents also feel this way? If so, how do they deal with it?

Our children are an amazing gift. They bring so much joy to our lives, but also a fair amount of stress and sadness. Our ideas about who our children will be are usually free of thoughts of mental health issues or behavioral struggles. Adjusting to the reality of our kids’ lives compared to our fantasy can be very difficult. Some parents have referred to the process of reconciling their reality as akin to grieving. Parents have to allow themselves to accept who their children are for both their strengths and their challenges.
 

Sibling rivalry can make a household feel like a warzone, with parents constantly having to throw themselves on emotional grenades to make it through the day. Why do kids torment each other in this way and what can be done about it?

One of the major causes of sibling rivalry is simple jealousy. Young children are very self-oriented, believing that the sun should rise and set according to their whims. When a child has to share the attention, resources and time of a parent, it can be perceived as a threat to his needs and desires. Each child is constantly comparing what is given to the other and will invariably feel that he has been cheated. There is no way to convince a child that he has been given an equal share of anything, so avoid trying.

I can’t seem to get my child out the door on time without meltdowns because he's tired from not getting enough rest at night. How can I get my child to go to bed and how can I get him out of the door without a fight?

Bedtime and mornings are the bane of many a parent’s existence. You’re tired. Your kid is tired. Either you’re finishing off the day hoping for a little peace and quiet (and maybe a glass of wine), or trying to wake yourself up in as stress free a way as possible (please, just one more cup of coffee). Sometimes having a child in the mix can be a real drag. Don’t get me wrong, you love your kid, but come on, sometimes you just need to get to work!

We’re having problems with my son asking for permission to do things from one of us after the other has already said no. What should we do about this and why is he doing it?

Kids can be quite crafty when they have an agenda, working all the angles like a con man on a Vegas run. It is quite natural for a child to try and test the system and see what he can get away with. In fact, it’s a good illustration of a child’s creativity and intelligence. That being said, if it is something the child does on a consistent basis it may be an indicator of a breach of communication, or a split, between you and your partner.

My child argues with nearly every instruction I give. Why is he so oppositional and what can I do to make him comply?

Dealing with a child whose first response to your requests is a knee-jerk “no” can be incredibly frustrating. Doesn’t he realize that if you can’t get him to school on time you’ll be late for work, possibly jeopardizing your ability to buy him that over-priced Lego creation he is demanding? Doesn’t he realize that if he just sat down and did his homework when you asked him to he would avoid the painful two-hour argument, wasting time in which he could have been enjoying those darn Legos?

Why do I need to come to Family Consultant meetings once a week to discuss my child?

I know that coming to meet with your family consultant is a hassle. Between work schedules and all of the other requirements of maintaining a family in our busy world it is just one more thing to think about. That being said, Family Consultant meetings are an inconvenient but necessary part of The Harris School program. First let’s look at the math. We are with your children 32 hours a week or up to 39 if they are in aftercare. The remaining 129 to 136 hours are up to you; aside from the hopefully 56 hours of sleep we are all getting when our children allow it (thanks son).