Jill Jenkins home
OCT 2010 - SORRY, QUESTIONS TO THIS EXPERT ARE NOW CLOSED.
This month, Ask The Expert takes your questions about children. Dr Jenkins is a child clinical and school psychologist with 25 years of experience in working with children, parents and teachers on all types of issues; from common day-to-day difficulties to severe learning and emotional conflicts. Her expertise lies in the psychological assessment of learning difficulties, giftedness and behavioural and emotional problems. She also provides therapy to children and teens, consultations with parents and schools and is the founder and president of the Barcelona Network of English Speaking Therapists (www.barcelonanest.com). She also recently created a multi-disciplinary child development team, Positive Parenting Plus, which provides assessment and therapy (www.positiveparentingplus.net).
If you have any questions you would like to ask Dr Jenkins then please email them to:
Question 1 - Our daughter is three and starting school this week. I am from the US and my husband is from the UK. Our daughter had a Spanish speaking babysitter for the last year so speaks some Spanish. I'm very worried about school being completely in Catalan, as she doesn't speak it or understand it. She's a very sensitive child and I think he may find it overwhelming and lonely. What can we do to make this easier?
Thanks so much for your help.
Dear US Mom,
I completely understand your concerns and dilemma! Our sweet three year olds are so proud of their language skills; it is their road to autonomy and FREEDOM from parents to be able to communicate their needs, not to mention make friends! I would say that it will be hard for your daughter to begin with – you may find that with some of her independence initially impeded that she regresses a bit, or become frustrated a tad bit more easily. She may have a change in eating or sleeping habits due to the stress. These are things that would be expected and your patience and love as a parent will be very important for your little girl. Try not to take her frustration to heart, this is the time for her to have mommy a little more lenient for a while.
You can help your little one by allowing her to start with partial days at school (i.e. having her attend the first week from 9-11:00, gradually extending her time). Although you will find some Catalan schools look down on this, they also generally concede to parents wishes. Children at this age are very sensitive to their parents stress, so be sure to communicate positive, optimistic attitudes about how great her day is going to be. Since your daughter will be more limited linguistically than the others, be sure she feels some “control over her world” by knowing where the bathrooms are, where her cubby is, where the patio is, etc. Doing a “run through” with her before school starts is helpful. Of course, as I am receiving this on the 7th I assume she probably started TODAY. Another idea would be to reinforce this after school on a few days by just walking around the campus a bit and making sure she understands the “lay of the land”.
You might want to give your child some other extra security in this somewhat insecure environment via allowing her to bring something special to school that represents home and comfort (we call this a “transitional object” in child psychology)- make sure it’s not something TOO special though, as it could get lost or damaged there. You can also help your child to feel more control over their world by making it as predictable as possible – stick to firm morning and evening routines (i.e. bath, bed, stories)would be a real plus- children THRIVE on consistency in their world.
All of your child’s teachers will speak Spanish, so be sure your daughter knows that she CAN communicate with them in Castellano – review with her lots of basic Spanish words that are important (i.e. “hungry” “thirsty” “boo-boo” “angry” “sad” “toilet”… etc!). If you child’s Spanish is extremely limited, you could make a picture chart for these key concepts that goes in her agenda so that she can point to needs as a last resort. Ensuring that she has someone special in her life to go over new Catalan vocabulary in a fun way (i.e. a babysitter who plays with her) would be a great idea.
Of course, speaking frankly to the teacher will be important about your fears – you may just find out that one of the teachers there speaks English! Lots of local parents here are eager for their children to learn English, and would welcome play dates with your child, which might also ease her worries about school and facilitate friendships. Try some out at school on the patio to begin with. This means you being very brave, if you don’t know much of the language either, to initiate this. But in the end, at 3 they do need us to create their social environment. You might also consider arriving a little early to school, and allowing some play time at the end of the school day, so that your child has some time to socialize with other students without their being “the whole crowd” present.
I am sure that you are a conscientious parent, which is what drove you to write in for help; keep your eyes and ears open to your daughter – “love her up” on her way to school and on her way home – keep her little love tank at “full” for the rest of the day to recharge her batteries and I am sure she will have the best possible outcome.
Question 2 - We've been here for six months after my husband was transferred here for his job. My daughter, who was at home a gregarious and lively young teenager (15 years old) has now become withdrawn and quite depressed. We ask her if she is happy and she says yes but she has taken to spending a lot of time in her room. She had a lot of friends at home in the UK and we are worried she hasn't made many here. She is attending an English-language school so the language isn't a problem. Is there anything we can do to make this easier for her, we don't want to push it too much or make too big a deal of it by asking her constantly if there is a problem. Could this just be down to her being at a difficult age?
Any help would be greatly appreciated - Thanks.
Dear UK Mum,
It’s very hard to watch our children go through tough times, especially when they are just in the midst of what we know is meant to be a “big transition” like adolescence, I admire your sensitivity to your daughter and your ability to see some “red flags” that something may be off track though, despite this being a “difficult age”.
Adolescence is a time of continual shaping, and re-shaping, ones idea of “self” and who they will be when they are out of our protective cocoon. Moving can therefore be a major crush for young adults – where their friends, activities and school have all been contributing to that development of their own identity – separate from yours. Your daughter’s continued withdrawal after six months is somewhat concerning and I would suggest that you seek professional help for this, especially since it is such a strong contrast to her previous “gregarious” self. Although six months is generally considered the “normal” amount of time to adjust to such dramatic changes, your daughter’s age and the continuity of her withdrawal, need to be taken seriously. Clinical “depression” should be ruled out, as it can be serious condition of adolescence.
One of the snares that we can get into with our adolescents is trying to “fix” things for them, when they really want to fix things themselves. They say it’s a hard time for our youth but it is an equally hard time for we parents! When we consider that, hopefully in our long lives, most of the years with our children will be spent having adult relationships with them, we need to very seriously consider during this transitional age how we would like to see that “adult-adult” relationship progressing. Being the parent of a teen means moving from “fixing things” to “supporting them in fixing things”; consider your communication techniques with your daughter – are you perhaps pushing her to talk? Offering quick solutions? Unintentionally minimizing her concerns by saying “all will be ok”? You might want to acknowledge to your daughter that you realize the move that was imposed upon her has made serious changes for her social life, and that you feel terrible seeing her suffer. Instead of saying, “everything will be ok”, ask her “what could help you feel better here?”… Think together with her about what was important for her in the UK; what was it that was contributing to her identity in a way that made her feel good about her? Ask her if there is anything you can do to help her find that again here. Bear in mind though, that our young adults want privacy at this stage. It may be that there are things that your daughter will not confide in you, not due to a lack of trust, but simply because she wants to keep her independence as much as possible. There may be a love relationship that was just brewing before she left – a friendship that had gone poorly – or one that was blooming.
Although there are moments that can be challenging during adolescents, it should also be a time of rejoicing, and finding out what feels good and right about themselves. I would once again encourage you, as I close this advice letter, to seek outside help in assisting your daughter through this transition. Seek a therapist that can talk to her, and collaborate with you, to ease her difficulties. The beginning of a new school year gives you the perfect time to do this. Talk to your daughter about seeking guidance, and tell her that you would like this be an excellent academic year for her, full of nice moments, even if there will of course always be some hard ones.
Question 3 - The right age for school???
Hi, I would love to hear your thoughts on the appropriate age to send children to full time school. In Catalonia it all seems to start very early and with very long timetables. My little girl "should" go to P3 next September but she'll still only be 2 and that just seems very, very young. Having said that, everyone seems to do it so I guess it must be okay. Also, I worry that there will be no one to play with all day as they will all be in school. I don't want to isolate her either. I have plenty of time to think about this, but I would really appreciate some professional input. It's something that my expat friends all agonise over too. Thank you so much for your time.
I am not surprised at all by your question, which seems to come to me just about every year in some form or another.
There is a very big cultural divide between the attitude of childcare in Catalonia and many other countries. The idea that “it takes a village” to quote Hillary Clinton, is much more evident in Barcelona, where there is a long history of grandparents often being the primary caretakers of small children, while moms and dads return to work, or at least co-parenting with them. There is a good deal of pride that the locals feel in “collectively caring” for children (whether you are at a restaurant, at the beach, etc), which makes this a particularly lovely and tolerant country to have young children.
Regarding pavularios in general, you should go around and do a good deal of “shopping” for one before you inscribe a child. This usually happens February before the next school year (and they do fill – so don’t put it off too long). Most will have nice play corners and plenty of “patio time” (playground time), in addition to nap time. So though you may be envisioning them sitting at a desk all day, that is probably an unlikely scenario for most nursery/ preschool centers here.
With regard to what the “right age” is to send a child to school, that, in the end, is very dependent on you and your child. Do you think they are ready for more socializing? Are YOU ready to leave your child for the day? These are very personal questions – many parents greatly enjoy having this time with their child, they join play groups, go to the parks, and keep their children with them as long as possible, ensuring some type of daily socialization. It hurts and preoccupies them to send the child to school too early. Some parents, on the other hand, really know that they need some break during the day, and that is ok too – personally I admire a parent who knows their limits and knows that they are a better mommy having the day to themselves. And there are, of course, some parents who fall in the middle of this spectrum.
And the reality is, your child is YOUR child. You can decide on how frequently and how much time your child will spend at school. You CAN go to a nursery and tell the director you only want your child to be there from 9-12 each day. If they don’t agree to this – find another one! The best schools recognize that in the end, the parents need to be comfortable (though as this type of routine is a little out of the norm here, don’t be surprised if they look a little shocked in the beginning as they try to cognitively process their cultural norms to yours). The important thing for your child is that once you find a routine, try to stick with it, don’t change the hours they go too frequently (you will also drive the school a little nuts doing this – but if they know from the beginning that your child will not be participating in afternoon activities, for example, they will adjust their preparation as such). Remember, from 1:00 to about 4:00 it's lunch and nap time for most children in nursery.
As far as what is the right age for your child to start spending time with other children quite regularly, I would say that from 12 to 18 months, once a child is walking and starting to talk, that being around other children on a fairly regular basis is a good “teaching opportunity” for them to start understanding the concepts of sharing and caring for others. Definitely get them out with other children somehow. And here is where we come to the other part of the equation when considering your child’s “school readiness” – what is your child like? Are they very clingy? Are they highly independent? How long do you think they could stand in a nursery setting without feeling desperate for you? Does your child particularly need you at food and nap times? Is that a “special time” for them? Are the mornings hard times for them or the afternoon? Consider all of these things (and more) when thinking through when, how and where to send your child.
I hope this has been of some help Petra – I am sure you are right, many parents lament over this every year. In the end, its best to find the “right fit” for you and your little one.