Monday, August 31, 2015

"Mommy I am lonely at school today": How to Help Your Child With The Right Questions

By Seow Lim*

What is inside a child's mind is just so amazing. If you just ask, you might be treated with some surprises.You might see their amazing sense of emotions, their thinking process and have access to their true feelings.

My two boys, one in 2nd grade and one in 8th, are both very different from each other. I used to be more concerned about how much food they ate for dinner, their scores in tests, and if they finish their homework. Why? I was a "tiger mom" - read about my story here.

I realized  that just asking them "How's your school?" "How's your homework?" "Did you score in your basketball game?" after I see them after school every day is completely insufficient. Yes, I knew what happened to them that day, but I didn't know what went on their little brains and hearts. I didn't have any feel of their emotional beat any day. Unless, if they come home one day, and truly volunteered to tell me that "Mommy, this guy A bullied me in school by calling me names and I am feeling really bad", else I would never have found out.

As the founder and CEO of Povi Family Connect app, of course, I am also the first beta user of the app. I have been testing the app every day. The questions are designed by Daphna Ram, PhD, Developmental Psychologist in our team and reviewed by other experienced clinical and school psychologists. I have made it a habit to ask one question one the car ride back when I pick them up, one at the dinner table, and one during bedtime routine. I find bed time routines to be typically the most effective time for my 2nd grader to share his feeling with me, while with the teen it is usually at dinner table.

My 2nd grader's first week in school after a long summer was just last week. He went to summer camps but he also spent a lot of time with me at home and at work. Yes, I brought him to office and he had to sit in our meetings and be the little assistant. So he still has that 'departure anxiety' going back to school.

On the 4th day, during our bedtime routine, I asked him one of  Povi's question: "Why do Daddy and Mommy have to go to work?" He thought for a while, he said "Mommy, can you don't go to work and stay home with me all the time like during the summer? Can I study at home?" I asked him "Why?" His answer: "Mommy, I am lonely in school. I like being with you. I don't want to leave you."

I know in my heart that's not all his story... I asked again,

"Did anyone upset you or bully you today?" He said no.

 "I thought you really enjoy playing with your friends last year. Don't you want to learn and play with them?"

He thought for a while, and answered: "All my friends from last year whom I like to play with are in the other class. Recess time are not so fun any more."

Knowing that he is a bit slow to warm, I asked " Did you join their games? Or you have been watching?" He said: "I have been mostly watching because I don't know who I should join".

Now I know what are the issues. We went on to discuss each and every one in his class, how well he knows them, and if he sees them playing something that he likes when he was watching. We then concluded that he wants to play four square the most with these other few boys, and I encouraged him to go and asked them if he could join them the next day. I recorded it in my Povi journal and set a reminder that I should talk to him again tomorrow morning about this.

When we were on the car the next morning, I reminded him again that since he likes playing four square he could take the lead to ask them if they would let him join. He thought for a bit,and said "I will try, but I am not sure". I told him " I will be so proud of you if you ask. Even if they don't let you join, at least you have tried asking to join a game that you like playing. Or you can also ask other kids if they want to form a team with you playing the game. Give it a try."

That evening, when I picked him up, he was so happy that he said: "Mommy, I had such a great game with four square today. The boys let me join their game." I said: "I am so proud of you that you are brave, you asked, and got to do what you like. So, are you still feeling lonely today?" He said:  "No, I am not lonely, but mommy I still think of you a lot, whenever I am not playing or learning." He is so sweet.

I was wondering to myself is it common for kids to feel loneliness? Frankly, this is pretty sensitive and negative type of feeling, I was a bit surprised that he actually knows the word and what it means. So, I have done a bit of research around it, writing it down to share with interested readers.

Firstly, I asked Daphna Ram, PhD, Developmental Psychologist in our team, what are her thoughts about loneliness. "There is some evidence to suggest that an effective way to help individuals feel less lonely is by helping them reframe the way they are thinking about their experience. "she says. And she also validated my initiative, (what a relief!) : "Encouraging your children to think differently- such as by telling your son to ask the children to play with him rather than waiting for the children to ask him- is a great strategy.", Ram commented.

She also added some other tips on how to deal with this experience: "Helping your children explore why they may feel lonely and allowing them to realize that it may not be about them _ sometimes other kids can be mean _ is also important. Relatedly, helping children understand that the situation may not be intentionally hurtful is helpful as well. Bringing up situations in which your child may have inadvertently hurt someone else's feelings can illustrate that sometimes people unintentionally hurt others' feelings.", she says.

I like the checklist from this article:
Should I Force My Lonely Child to Socialize More?
By Child Mind Institute, Understood Founding Partner

Is she shy or anxious around other kids?
Is she being bullied at school?
Is she showing any other signs of emotional upset?
Is she having trouble “fitting in”?
Does she just prefer spending time alone in her room reading and drawing?

I think this is a great checklist, at least for me I was using it mentally to diagnose my son's loneliness situation.

Loneliness is what I'm feeling
feelingsShrivelled up like a tiny bean
Everyone else seems as happy as can be
But to me they are so mean.
Being kicked out of the group 
Makes me want to scream.
Standing up, facing my fears,
Smiling and wiping away my tears.
I'll make new friends and I'll have them for years.


Is Your Child a Loner or Alone?
How Parents Can Help Children with Friendship Issues

Does your child have difficulty with friendships? Here’s a look at possible causes and what you can do about it.  

I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to talk through the loneliness feeling of my child and give him some encouragement on how to deal with his issue. If I hadn't asked him, he might not have told me about it. I am glad that he has been made a habit to share his feelings with me on a daily basis.

*Lim is the Founder and CEO of

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