My child is feeling bad at school: who should I contact for help?
In modern psychology, many schools and directions. How to understand what is close to you? At the Genesis Conference # PRO approach, authoritative specialists from different therapeutic areas told how they would build work with a given request.
Imagine the situation. Mom comes to a consultation with a therapist alone, without a child. The essence of the request is this: her son (daughter) of ten to eleven years old is not well at school. There are no friends, classmates do not like, teachers are “fools,” he doesn’t want to go to school. The child was watched by a neurologist and psychiatrist and concluded that development and behavior were normal. Moreover, the school is considered good, prestigious (lyceum or gymnasium), it is difficult to get into it. Question: what to do?
How does an Adlerian psychotherapist work with such a case?
Psychologist Marina Chibisova talks
In working with parents, not only the therapeutic, but also the educational component is important to us. We do not set ourselves the task of remaking parents or children. It is important for us to explain to the adult what drives his child and why. To help understand what purpose he pursues.
One of the key ideas on which our method is based is the concept of life style. This is a system of attitudes (and ideas about the world), which each of us forms in early childhood. Our life style is influenced by different circumstances, family, our innate features. But perhaps the most important factor is our freedom to draw our conclusions about ourselves and other people.
“Children are wonderful observers, but poor interpreters,” said Rudolph Dreykurs, a follower of Alfred Adler.
Children carefully monitor others, but do not always draw the right conclusions. Often they create a lot of difficulties for a child. But they can be recognized and move in a different direction, which makes our work extremely optimistic and productive.
What will I do when I work with my mother’s request?
First of all, it is important for me to understand which attitudes of life style underlie the behavior of a child. I will ask my mother about the situation in which the child grows up, whether there are other children in the family, what is the age difference between them. It is important for me to understand what values are guided in this house, what is the family atmosphere.
We will analyze how parents react to certain actions of the child. For example, he comes from school and says: “Nobody is friends with me. I’m lonely, I’m sad. ” How does mom react? Does she feel sorry for her son (daughter)? Or are these words annoying her? Or does she feel insulted for a child? All this is indicative of understanding the purpose that the child is pursuing.
The fact is that each of us, according to Adler’s theory, has a social interest. Everyone seeks to take their own, special (does not mean first) place in the group, to feel their involvement in it (first it is a family, then a collective in kindergarten and school). If everything goes well and the child feels bold, competent, he always moves towards the group and strives to do something socially useful.
But if, in the event of failure or for another reason, his sense of belonging is impaired, then interest in cooperation is replaced by a desperate attempt to confirm his social significance. He directs all his attention to this goal. Rudolf Drejkurs identifies four “erroneous goals” that a child can pursue:
- To attract attention. A child can decide that he is important only when everyone sees him. And he will by all means seek attention.
- The struggle for excellence. He thinks: “I mean only when I am stronger than everyone and no one can command me.” His goal is to be stronger in any situation than others, including adults.
- Revenge. He thinks: “I cannot be loved. And since nobody needs me, I will take revenge and hurt others. “
- Demonstration of one’s weakness. When a child believes: “I am weak and useless, I can’t do anything”, his behavior will be aimed at avoiding failure. He is trying to convince adults that he is unfit for anything, so that less demands are made on him.
And if we want to help the child return to constructive behavior and social adaptation, we must understand these erroneous goals. Working with parents, we teach them to recognize what purpose underlies the behavior of the child. In this case, focusing on the Dreykurs model, I would suggest that the child pursues the first or fourth goals – that is, seeks attention or avoids failure.
Depending on which of the goals is confirmed at the first stage, I will tell parents what motives and wrong beliefs may be hidden behind his unwillingness to go to school. And then we will reorient the behavior of the child, try to set him in a movement in the other direction, towards new, socially useful goals. Together with parents, we will develop new strategies for responding to child behavior.
Among them are encouragement (not praise!), Involving the child in the search for solutions, introducing and following democratic rules, developing the child’s sense of responsibility and, finally, involving all family members in the discussion of tasks. It’s difficult to master all this from the first time, we train these skills from meeting to meeting.
And gradually, the parents themselves learn to recognize what purpose the child is pursuing. And also master new ways of behavior, learn to behave differently in familiar situations. This changes the behavior of the child, the feeling of the parents themselves. Everyone is feeling good. That, in fact, is the final goal of our work.
How does a gestalt therapist work with this case?
Psychologist Alina Aleksanyants tells
Many parents come to a meeting in the hope of getting clear, valuable guidance on what to do and how. But the psychologist gives neither advice, nor, moreover, instructions.
Gestalt therapy is contact therapy. We work with what a person experiences directly here and now. Moreover, he lives at once on three levels: bodily, emotional and intellectual.
In the proposed case, I have an appointment with the schoolboy’s mother. How is everything going? A woman came with her pain, fears and worries about her son, and I focus her attention, helping my mother to notice those moments that cause her the most powerful emotional experiences. I appeal to her emotions, thoughts, bodily sensations.
I am interested in: how what is happening now in the office is reflected in her real life, how similar to what was in the past, and how it is connected with the future. Trying to find out what her own goal was, what unmet need brought her to my office?
After all, even when she talks about the child, she talks about herself. It is impossible to know which solution would be best for her. But as a gestalt therapist, I help her find her own, the best way to solve at a given time.
In the Gestalt approach, the client-therapist relationship is built as a dialogue of equal people
It often turns out that her current anxiety, despair, or powerlessness resonates with the events of her own childhood. For example, her parents never entered her life, and she really lacked their attention. And so now she unconsciously behaves the way she would like her parents to behave towards her.
Or vice versa, the parents were too involved in her life and the woman has an attitude that it should be that it is right. But in her real relationship, this attitude does not work and causes conflicts with the child. Or it turns out that mom is overloaded with guilt and shame in front of teachers or relatives.
Or he is afraid of how the situation will affect the future of his son, and shifts all responsibility for what is happening. That is, during our work, mom begins to see a new state of affairs, and this makes it possible to find a way to resolve the problem.
In the Gestalt approach, the client-therapist relationship is built as a dialogue of equal people with life experience, knowledge, complementing and enriching each other.
As a result of our work, mother can come to the conclusion that she needs to deal with herself first and this will help in solving her son’s school problems. Or it will be meaningful to come next time with the child. Or she will decide that she can talk to him herself and discuss everything. She will choose what will be relevant in solving problems, what she will be ready for and what she will have enough internal strength for.
How does a cognitive behavioral therapist work with this case?
Psychologist and psychiatrist Dmitry Frolov tells
In my work, I use the direction of CBT as rational-emotional-behavioral therapy (REPT). My task is to help the client realize the connection between his thoughts, emotions, events and behavior. And show that it can change any of these variables.
REP is considered one of the most directive, active, pragmatic, educational approaches. But still, this mother, who came to see me, I can not directly say what to do. First of all, we find out what happened, how it relates to what happened, what emotions it experiences and how it behaves in connection with this.
If her emotions are healthy, functional, then I can only equip her with skills to solve specific problems. For example, she may lack communication skills to talk with teachers at school or with her own child. Maybe she is too focused on thoughts, and then I will teach her the skills of switching attention, distraction and other coping strategies.
But most likely, it can be assumed that she is still experiencing great anxiety. This is one of those dysfunctional emotions that interfere with life and which we have to translate into healthy, functional excitement. To do this, find out what irrational beliefs lie behind this emotion.
For example, this may be an absolutist requirement for a child to study just fine. Either a feeling of being a bad mother, or an exaggeration of the consequences of poor school and their catastrophic perception (“Awful, he will certainly become a drug addict!”), Or the idea that she will not endure these problems.
We will also talk with this mom about values and goals. After all, she may not even know why and what she wants from a child
We must help her challenge her irrational ideas (this is the main task of the REP) and change to rational. By various methods, for example, using a Socratic dialogue, I will help her understand that our desires are just desires. That neither we ourselves, nor other people, nor the world are required to comply with them.
But, fortunately, we can try to influence ourselves, others and the world so that our desires become a reality. And in fact, each of us is not generally “bad” or “ideal”.
Each has advantages, disadvantages, achievements and failures, the significance and scale of which are subjective and relative. Let me remind you that, although there are a lot of very, very bad phenomena in the world, but really terrible things are less common, and we can bear these bad events and find the strength to cope, no matter how scary we are.
We will also talk with this mom about values and goals. After all, she may not even know why and what she wants from a child.
My goal as a therapist is to help this woman change her attitude to the situation and understand that she does not become a bad mother if the child has problems, and that she does everything that depends on her, but is not in her power to completely control his life. It is important for me that she understands her goals and values and learn how to use skills (problem solving, communication, attention management, awareness, stress resistance).
If this woman can describe her experiences as functional and understands what she can do, and does it, I can consider the task completed. In the end, this should help to cope with a difficult situation, improve it, and if this is impossible, then accept the situation as it is.
Read about the principles of work in the methods of systemic family psychotherapy, intermodal therapy with expressive arts, and existential analysis here.
The material was prepared based on the results of the conference “# PRO approach: different psychological schools in one space”, organized by the Genesis publishing house in October 2019.