My nine year old DSS is quite a sensitive boy, and I'm worried that he either isn't able to identify how he is feeling (not familiar with his emotions) or he's scared to express himself so bottles things up until they burst out and he cries.
Having done a ton of personal development myself and having some minor qualifications in this area (not psychologist though), I wanted to start doing some small things with him to help him gain confidence to speak up about what he is feeling and that it is safe to do so. But I wasn't sure if this was a good approach or not?
For example this morning we didn't have any white bread and so DH gave DSS toast with ham, cheese and tomato on a wholemeal seed bread that he eats. DSS sat there playing with it, had a few nibbles and wasn't really eating much. DH asked if he wasn't hungry, and DSS kind of shrugged, then I realised it was the seed bread he won't eat (hates any type of seeds). So I asked him, "is it the seed bread honey that you don't like?" and he started crying.
So I said "that's OK, I've got some plain wraps in there, how about we move the filling into a wrap?" He's not being naughty, he's usually good with most food, but seeds have always been a thing. So we did that and he ate it up, but had lots of tears and sniffed right through breakfast.
I said to him "it's ok for you to speak up and say if you really don't like something, you're not going to get into trouble" and reassured him that way. But ultimately I'd like to see him learn to express himself with confidence.
What I would have liked to have done (or could still do?) was to do a little role playing game and get him to identify what it was he felt (if he could - scared, shy, upset, worried etc) and then do a little role play where he repeated after me something like "excuse me Dad, I don't really like the seed bread, is there anything else I might be able to have for breakfast?" and make it fun and see how he feels actually saying that out loud. And learning that the world won't cave in if he does.
Is that too advanced for a nine year old? Would it even help? I thought doing it with something minor and not that important might pave the way for him to get more comfortable with his feelings and being able to name it and then express himself... But I'm not sure.
Any thoughts from other Mums / Step-Mums who have a sensitive child?
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17-01-2016 12:43 #1
Handling a sensitive DSS
Last edited by Summer; 17-01-2016 at 12:47.
17-01-2016 13:10 #2
Handling a sensitive DSS
We do role plays all the time at school and our reception teacher does them with five year olds.
I view them as empowering because, being a sensy myself, even as an adult I can't always find the words to express my problem which can bubble up inside me and come out at the worst times and really badly. It's good to feed him phrases and give him safe space to practice them, and then he can learn to adapt them to similar scenarios.
Also if he's anything like me he mistakes someone being angry/disappointed in him as meaning they don't like him. So reinforcing all the time 'I still love you, I just want you to xyz' or 'it's not that you're being bad' etc.
I don't know how much that helps. Also I realise how I always respond to your posts and I'm seriously not a creepy stalker 😳
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17-01-2016 13:18 #3
Hehehehehe! @harvs you can be my creepy stalker any day I love your feedback and have to say I think I read or comment on yours all the time too!
I really appreciate your thoughts, especially with you being a teacher, that gives me the confidence to know I was on the right track and I really hope I can empower him to learn that what he feels is OK and it's safe to express that, even if it is anger or disappointment. I too, have a lot of trouble with this and would have loved someone to help me with it when I was younger - I still tend to dissociate in confrontation and only later figure out how I really feel and how I could have responded.
I actually do this type of work with adults who have trouble healing emotional wounds, so I do have some experience, I just wasn't sure how it translates to children, but from what you've said having him practice different phrases out loud could help him. We do have a custody thing going on at the moment where we hope to increase time with him, and he may very well have all sorts of emotions about that, and I want him to be able to talk about it if he can.
I have him on my own tomorrow, so I might sit down and do that with him like a game and talk to him about how it is a skill like the skills he learns in sports, just this is a skill with emotions. I think bottling things up and being scared to speak up can lead to a lot of issues as a teenager, so I'd love to start doing some stuff with him now that might help. Thanks @harvs, really appreciate it!
Last edited by Summer; 17-01-2016 at 13:22.
18-01-2016 11:41 #4
So @harvs today I did a little "coaching" session with DSS and it went pretty well. I likened it to sports where you don't know how to catch a ball when you're really little, but someone teaches you and you practice and get good at it - and that knowing your feelings and emotions is the same. And if you can understand what you are feeling inside, then you can talk about it and find ways to help yourself to feel better.
As soon as I mentioned the incident yesterday he teared up, and he had a lot of trouble identifying why he was so upset. So I gave him several possibilities and asked if any of those could be it, but he still said he didn't know. So I said that was OK and we moved into what he could have said and he repeated after me and that was fun, he was giggling after he'd said it a few times :-) And I asked what Dad would have said in reply and he knew Dad would have said it was Ok and no problem. So that was really positive and went well.
Then I asked him if maybe he was feeling upset underneath all the time because of what Mummy and Daddy are going through (custody) and he burst into tears and sobbed his little heart out. So that is a really big thing for him.
His Mum is quite emotionally volatile and appears to be making him responsible for her feelings - she tells him all sorts of adult stuff that he shouldn't be privy to, slanders DH to the max and says things like "Daddy wants to take you away from me" - so he's upset because Mummy's so upset and he wants to fix it.
So I wasn't quite sure how to handle that, so I just gave him big cuddles and talked about how he was a kid and it wasn't his job to fix it, this is something for the grown ups to sort out and it's not his fault at all, and that his parents both love him and want what is best for him and that takes a little bit of sorting out. That it's OK to be upset because it isn't an easy time right now and very confusing and of course he doesn't want to see his Mummy upset.
I think (hope!) I supported him and validated his feelings and let him know that I understood. I told him that he was always safe to talk about his feelings with Daddy or I and that he would never be in trouble for his feelings, but we'd try and help him with them. I gave him lots of love and cuddles and he was fine after a good cry, and he's out playing happily now. So I did my best, but if anyone has any other suggestions of how to handle a kid stuck in the middle of a custody battle I'm open to ideas!
18-01-2016 13:36 #5
I have no advice on the custody part, but I have one very sensitive DD, which with her leads to a lot of low self esteem.
I think the role playing is great, but it won't happen quickly, so even if he still keeps crying instead of using the words you discussed don't give up, he'll get there.
We've been doing role playing for years, (and still sometimes do it a 11) it takes a lot of talking and a lot of practice to get there.
We also did little affirmations in the morning in the mirror, like I am a very clever girl, and I will try my best today...etc
We also talk about certain situations before they happen, if it's a big deal to her, and discuss the different outcomes and how you can react to them.
I try to be empathetic always even when I just want to scream, however, if she is just working herself up far to much, I'll say I really can't understand you when your so worked up, try to calm down at little so we can talk, and I'll let her get it all out.
We've also practiced breathing exercises, (like you would for anxiety) and this has really helped at school, I don't think she has cried at school for almost 3yrs now.
I think it's very important they have support and sometimes just a shoulder to cry on, you sound like your doing a great job!
18-01-2016 15:03 #6
Thanks @sparklebug you've got some really great strategies there that sound like they're working really well for your sensitive little DD. What a fantastic Mum you are to be able to manage her needs and keep empowering her to deal with things in a healthy way!
You've given me some more ideas to work with, so I'll implement those as needed, and I've also just ordered a couple of books for kids online to do with learning about feelings.
Thanks for your feedback that I'm on the right track, now that we've established a bit of an opening to the topic of feelings, I can keep practicing with him when it's appropriate and we'll go through the books together when they arrive too. I won't hound him over it obviously (!) but it's something nice we can work on together regularly that hopefully he will enjoy and will increase our bond having something special we can do together.
Today seems to have worked really well, he's very happy, outgoing, running in to tell me stuff all the time, it's like a weight has been lifted. So even though he couldn't really identify his feelings much more than being "upset", having that safe space to be upset and be validated seems to have helped him a lot. Happy dance
18-01-2016 16:19 #7
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18-01-2016 16:49 #8
harvs this is right up my alley and I'm really happy to feel that I can contribute to DSSs life in a positive way. As the step-mum I'm normally the third wheel a bit, so this feels like a nice way to establish something positive we can do together. And he was really receptive to it, so I feel it's appropriate to continue on with.
18-01-2016 19:31 #9
18-01-2016 21:43 #10
Awww, thank you @MrsA2B *blushing*
I appreciate your kind words! Being a step-mum it's hard sometimes to know where I fit. DSS has a Mum & Dad who love him, so I hope I can build a good relationship with him & offer him a safe, non-judgmental space where he can express himself.
I'm very conscious of not undermining either of his parents, but just being that slightly more impartial, less emotional one that can provide some balance or perspective if he needs it.
Like you, I too went through my parents divorce when I was young & didn't have anyone to talk to, & it was awful. One of the most confusing things was that Mum would tell me horrible things about my Dad & what an a**hole he was, but my experience of Dad didn't match that, so it was really confusing. So I feel for DSS because it's awful to be caught in the middle of parents drama. It's makes me very happy that I might be able to help him a little 😊
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