The Elementary Years- The Surprisingly Challenging Time

We all know about the “terrible 2’s”, “threenagers,” and the “teenage angst years!” Parents expect difficulties during these stages. They have prepared that their child will be establishing independence, which means hearing words, such as “I do it,” “no!,” or “whatever!” As a child counselor, I witness another stage that many parents have not prepared for. It is the elementary years. I often work with children who have difficulties with emotional regulation, oppositional behaviors, and anxiety during these years. For many parents, they report that their child keeps it together at school, but fall apart when they get home. Homework time is pure stress; the child may have meltdowns in the evening, or say scary things, such as “I wish I were dead.” I witness parents’ fear during these times. They feel like something is wrong and aren’t sure what to do. Of course these are signs that counseling would be beneficial, but there are things a parent can do to help, as well!

1.     While these behaviors are concerning, know that they can be common. Children work hard to keep it together at school. When they feel safe and comfortable in their home, they are able to let their emotions out. Their externalizing behaviors can be a sign that they are comfortable at home. This is a time to remember to be the calm in their storm and to not add to their emotions. No matter the behavior, remember that discipline is not done in anger, it is done out of love. Structure with understanding and compassion goes a long way.

2.     Part of discipline means teaching. Discipline is not just punishment. We can use positive reinforcement, teaching healthier ways to express emotions, and teaching coping strategies to calm the body. For instance, when your elementary child says in sadness and anger, “I’d be better off dead!” Now is not the time to dismiss or punish their emotions. Instead, model a better way to express what they are saying. I like, “I hear that life feels overwhelming, and you aren’t sure how to handle it right now. Would you be okay if I gave you a hug, and we talked about it?” This makes a child feel heard, let’s them know that their parents understand just how big their emotions feel, while also giving a better way to express it.

3.     Please know your child isn’t acting like this because of you. I often have parents’ express guilt or doubt because of their child’s behavior. Your child has their own personality and unique set of challenges. For instance, many children struggle with sensory difficulties, attention challenges, maturity difficulties, and language problems during the elementary years. Sometimes they outgrow these challenges, and sometimes they need professional therapies. Whatever the reason, please know that you are not at fault!

4.     Give your child a break before homework. After a full day at work, I like some time to unwind before I do my adult responsibilities, such as paperwork, paying bills, and responding to emails. I imagine that most parents feel the same way! Of course this means your child probably feels this way, too. Let your child have a snack, an episode of their favorite show, and some time to talk with you before homework time. Use a visual timer, so your child knows to prepare for the transition and give lots of warnings. While doing homework, use a chunking strategy. This means that homework is not done in one sitting, but instead “chunked” into 15-30 minute intervals. Let your child color, talk, or play outside during their 5-10 minute breaks. This can help with emotional regulation and attention.

5.     Try rewarding positive behaviors! As stated above, discipline does not mean just punishment. In fact, the most effective form of change is positive reinforcement. For instance, reward charts, positive jars, and sticker charts go a long way! Set your child up for success by trying to make the reward achievable. Each week make the reward just a bit harder, so change continues at a slow, achievable rate.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help! Please know that parenthood can be hard at any age. It truly takes a village, and Heights Family Counseling feels honored to be included in that village.

Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPC-S

Amy Rollo is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and owner of Heights Family Counseling. Amy has been practicing counseling and diagnostic evaluations for fifteen years. She has doctoral level training in the areas of child and adolescent counseling, evaluations, marriage and family therapy, and adult counseling. Amy Rollo provides counseling and evaluation services in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas. Amy’s goal in counseling is to journey with her clients in order to foster positive changes and growth in their lives. Read more about Amy's counseling style by visiting www.heightsfamilycounseling.com and reading more about her services http://heightsfamilycounseling.com/services-1/