Starting school is an exciting time, and parents always have great hopes for their children’s future. However, for many children, life in the classroom can be quite overwhelming. This feeling of overwhelm may increase anxiety, resulting in learning and behavioural challenges.
These behaviours are often seen as signs of autism, ADD, ADHD or dyslexia.
Behaviours are Telling us a Story
Children’s behaviours tell us a story. They are your child’s way of expressing some really big feelings that they are unable to understand and find the words for.
A stressed child’s nervous system can be constantly triggered in the classroom. This continually interrupts their ability to focus and pay attention. Rather than using strategies and systems of punishment to manage behaviours, it is important to look behind these behaviours, and address the cause.
Smart but Feeling Dumb
Children I see in my practise may describe themselves as “smart but feeling dumb”. They know they’re not stupid, but don’t understand why they can’t keep up with others in the classroom. They feel dumb, and self esteem suffers. As a result they often become restless and act out though frustration, or shutdown and withdraw into themselves.
Learning and behaviour naturally improves when we are able to identify and address gaps in their early development, known as developmental delay.
Small Child as a Sponge
Small children are like sponges. Their senses are completely open to their surroundings, and they take in everything. Sometimes, however, these sensory impressions are too much for them to process, and they become easily overwhelmed.
These “undigested” sense impressions remain in the body and automatically trigger challenging behaviours. Your child is reacting as though the event is happening in present time. This behaviour is the child’s survival mechanism, a signal to us that something is wrong.
Development Happens Sequentially
Your child’s early development naturally happens in a certain sequence (a follows b, etc…) and in a pre-determined order, with newer stages developing on top of those already completed. This sequence can be disrupted in a number of ways, such as stressful events.
You can think of this early development as a stack of building blocks. When the foundations are a bit wobbly, the whole stack can come crashing down. Learning and behavioural difficulties are the result.
When assessing children, I look for gaps in their early sensory and motor development. These gaps represent the missing or “wobbly” parts of the stack.
I also look for signs of anxiety and restlessness, and their ability to connect and make eye contact with me. I may ask about friendships, and how they feel about school. Parents are asked to complete a questionnaire about their child’s early development, including things they enjoy doing, what they like to avoid, and their special gifts.
Following the assessment, we will meet and discuss options for helping your child. Best results are achieved when we can work together as a team, and you will be involved in supporting your child’s progress.
My experience is that when we identify and address developmental delay, both behaviours and learning naturally improve. We are building firm foundations for your child’s lifelong learning in all areas, physical, social, emotional, behavioural and in the classroom.
Addressing Developmental Delay
I generally see the children individually for an hour, once a week during term time. Parents are asked to support a short daily home exercise program. We will also meet regularly to share your child’s progress and address any concerns that you might have.
The first step is to accept the child for who they are. I offer them a place of safety and trust. This stable connection gives the child permission to rest, and the opportunity to learn how to gently regulate their behaviour.
An individualised program helps to address gaps in your child’s early development. This is combined with counselling support for both you and your child. In the sessions we work on developing motor coordination, as well as your child’s ability to process sensory information.
A predictable routine helps to create a sense of safety. Each session incorporates similar activities, gradually building as your child’s skills develop through repeating specific movements. There is no rush, or pressure to succeed, and we work at your child’s pace. Feeling safe, the children learn to regulate their emotions and become less reactive.
Playfulness and Acceptance
Playfulness and acceptance are an important part of your child’s learning. Sessions include movement, craft activities, music, rhyme, rhythm, therapeutic painting, games and puzzles depending on your child’s interests. The most important thing is that your child is able to relax and enjoy themselves.
Creative tasks such as baking bread can be immensely satisfying. As well as building fine and gross motor skills, your child has visible sense of achievement, and a growing awareness that “I can”.
Playing games helps your child build important social skills. They learn to take turns, to listen and express themselves and to regulate their emotions. Self esteem develops through achieving their own goals.
I bring Process-Oriented Psychology into a session when necessary to help your child process things that might be troubling them. Children may not be consciously aware of stressful events from their past, and I will never ask them to “remember” anything. Memories may, however, rise to the surface in a session.
I will not try to suppress the behaviour. Rather, my aim is to help your child to understand how they are feeling, and learn how to express themselves safely. We will do this in a fun way, using sounds, movements, pictures, imagination, play and role playing.
Typically gains are seen not only in the classroom, but we also find physical, social, emotional and behavioural changes. Parents often report that their children become calmer, sometimes making friends for the first time.
Healing Happens in Relationship
I believe that healing happens through relationship, and the most powerful therapy is human love. Children with learning and behavioural difficulties are often stressed and anxious. When your child is gently supported, he or she is able to feel safe and gain confidence in their own time.
We can’t change the past, but by working together, we can help to create a better future.