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Steven Olsen
Steven Olsen, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 1765
Experience:  More than twenty years of expertise in counseling, psychological diagnosis and education
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Please... I am worried about my son's demeanor, sensitivity

Customer Question

For Steve Olsen please...
I am worried about my son's demeanor, sensitivity and school experiences. We have talked before and you have given me great advice. I did decide to hold my son back to repeat 1st Grade again. His first day at school is today and he had a hard time going to bed last night. He was crying histerically at first, then it tapered to a whiny whimper, and then eventually we were able to make him laugh by telling jokes. I didn't know what to tell him to make things better. In the nicest way I could, I gently, but firmly told him that all children have to go to school and all the children in our town/the world are nervous or upset because school is over and now they have to go back to school and do homework. My son loves to play outside with his friends and cousins and loves to play video games. So I semi-bribed him and explained the "2-way street" analogy to him. If he can go to bed early for school every night, focus at school, do his homework and chores after school, then he will get to do those fun things and more, because he is doing what is right... Basically, "if you help me then I will help you"... I just worry about his reaction last night. I know most kids don't want to go back to school, but I just don't remember every reacting to school like this when I was his age and he's already been to 2 years of school and was almost so upset like it was going to be his first day at Kindergarten.
Some other behavioral flags that have made me worry is how much he isn't willing to try new things (especially things that most little boys his age want to try)... My son loves to play sports and is coordinated and I can tell he has the potential to be a great athlete if he wanted to excel in a particular sport. Whenever we ask him if he wants to sign up for soccer, or football (sports that he likes to play)... he always says no. At first, I didn't force him, because I thought that would only make it worse and I overall don't want to force my kids to pursue anything. I would love for them to venture out and pick and choose what they think would be fun and adventurous for their life. Then my husband (who also loves sports) decided to just sign him up for soccer and just wean him into the idea and is confident that once he gets to his first practice, that he will forget his worries and just start playing and have fun.
It is also like pulling teeth to get him to stand in front of people like to do a family number for a talent show or anything similar to that. He will either refuse, or be mad or cry after. He has Christmas and other programs and school where he has to perform with his class. And thankfully, because I think he's up with the whole class, he's able to get through it without and fuss or tears.
I know a lot of other children go through these things that I mentioned above, but I guess I wonder if my son is at one extreme of the spectrum for shyness/sensibility. Not having met him or our family of course, does this behavior sound indicative of something bigger that I should be concerned about? Should I let him refuse everything, hang back and let life pass him by? Should I pick and choose what experiences to kindly force him to do so that he understands that he needs to try things in order to grow? I am a loving, but firm parent. He also has a hard time focusing. I know that he has a harder time than other kids his age, because even his teacher told me that he's really smart and one of the nicest kids in class, but his attention span is a little shorter than the other kids. So after I ask him or warn him about something at home, I'll either give him one or two tries to respond verbally or with action, and then I'll start using a firmer voice or scold him or put him in timeout. Is there something wrong that I'm doing? Does it sound like he already has confidence or self-esteem issues?
He also has a 4-year old sister right under him that does not suffer from "middle child syndrome" at all. She is more outgoing and social than the average kid. She seeks for opportunities to make friends and do brave things like dance on stage. I call her the 4-year old dare devil.
What do you think about my son? That will just be his nature or am I doing something wrong with him? Sorry for the long explanation... I just thought a bigger background would be helpful... Thank you! Any and all adice would be ssoooo appreciated.
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Steven Olsen replied 5 years ago.

Nice to hear from you again. Thank you for requesting me.

True, I do not know your son personally, but I worked with many, many boys his age, have a boy very near his age myself... and have struggled with issues like this with my own children.

First things first: Boys present their own unique issues in parenting. And, contrary to a lot of psychological material that I have read they seem very easy to parent in some areas but hard in others. The hardest area: Social expectation of maturity. (More on this in second.)

Some boys just seem to struggle tremendously with social-educational demands. They act shy, even reclusive, reluctant to try new things, and sometimes seem afraid of experiences that at their ages should be easy to face....Well, as a parent, sometimes you just wonder if everything is okay or not.

My take on this.

I feel you made a very good choice to hold your son back. He will benefit greatly from the added time he now has to mature and develop emotionally. And that is what I feel is being shown here, simple maturity issues, not a significant developmental problem.

Why? He likes to do things outside, with the people he chooses, so overall socialization is good. But he shows some emotional immaturity, like crying and having a difficult time with a social demand like first day of school or participation in a parentally desired activity. This is sometimes referred to as a emotional dysregulation related to maturity. In simple terms, he is younger than his chronological years in his ability to regulate his emotions.

Is this some thing to be worried about? Not really. I am almost willing to bet the farm that this issue will be greatly diminished with maturity and that he grows up to be a sensitive and intelligent man. The traits he is showing seem in line with an introspective personality, and those types tend to be a bit slower to mature and respond to social requests than the more overt types. But, by the time he is a young adult he will should be stellar, of that I have little doubt.

What to do in the meantime? Nothing wrong with reinforcement of "social courage". If you do this thing, son, you will get this reward. That pattern is life quite honestly, and there is nothing wrong with an application of reward for a desired behavior as long as it is used occasionally and reserved for larger goals.

He does not sound at all like he has self esteem issues. Instead, he seems a bit anxious to me, a personality that underneath all the seeming insecurity is actually quite demanding of his own performance. I would guess he is actually quite concerned with how he performs, and tries to simplify his social choices so he does not disappoint you or himself. A new opportunity to you may be a big stressor to him because he is not sure he can succeed. But time will cure that problem, and as far as being abnormal? Not at all. He is fairly typical for a good percentage of boys. I have seem this, a lot.

He does need structure at home. Rules and following process at home is good for his maturity. Praise, from you and others, is needed as well. But he must earn it and that comes by making some home expectations, iron clad. But some have to be more flexible, especially those outside of the home. That is because he is a boy, and forcing him to be more extroverted is rough. Boys will often rebel or withdraw if this bar is set too high. And, at seven, he has years left in him to work through these more complex social issues.

Some boys tend to avoid organized social exchanges like the proverbial dentist, yet they do need some of them in their lives. So, an event or two that is required is not a bad idea. But, for a good while, those events should be group events. Solo activities such as talent shows and similar can take the confidence right out of a boy rather than increase it. But group activities, no issues there. And, like it or not, he should have some exposure to them.

Your parenting style sounds well balanced and secure. Those two things are terrific and encourage social maturity and emotional balance. I think you can relax about your style of parenting causing any of these struggles. Honestly, all children should be so fortunate, as you give him both slack and structure, which is what children need.

Bot***** *****ne: Your son seems like he has some issues with brain maturity, specifically prefrontal cortex control. No big deal. About 1/3 of boys do anyway. So foster that in increase in maturity with organized structure; some demand for social activity (if he can choose one choice between two + activities, the better.) And continue to praise and encourage him. I feel he is sensitive to his own performance so so not hesitate to tell him that he is valued no matter what. But time here is his best friend. As he grows he will mature out of this phase and will stabilize into a thoughtful and caring young man.

As a final thought: Some research shows that Omega 3 Fatty Acid helps speed brain maturity in boys. Some studies contradict this. But as s children often find a way to avoid this substance in their diets it doesn't hurt to ask a pediatrician if he could take a daily dose. My one child does and I feel it has helped him. It is worth asking about. You are doing well and I see no issues with parenting. Keep steady and time will do the rest here.

My personal best to you and your family. Steven

Steven Olsen and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Wow... I'm literally hanging on to your every word. I shouldn't be so naive, not having met you but I'm hoping that you and this website are legitimate.. Which I'm sure you are on the up and up on being a professional. I feel like you hit our family dynamic, and especially my son right on the nose. Thank you for your lengthy response. I LOVE LOVE the background information. I probably have a follow-up question/response, but I will accept now because of the awesome answer.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Thank you again for reconfirming your stance on holding him back. I felt so good when I made the decision and attended all those meetings with Admin at the end of the school year in May.. It was a little disheartening at times because my parents weren't necessarily against holding him back, but were wondering what the big deal was and if it was so important to hold him back a whole school year. We live in the same town and when family members aren't on board with you, it makes me second guess sometimes but I hope I made the right choice. My parents are 'old school' and aren't totally open to that kind of stuff and just feel like i should push him through if he's perfectlt fine in the acadmics and has no major disabilities.
But I felt nervous going into school this morning with him too (but didn't show it) knowing that he's going back to the same grade. But for reasons that I see in him, and because of what happened last night, and because of your explanation, I do feel that ultimately this is better for him in the long run. But I took him to his first day of school this morning and he woke up fine and we had a way better start than last night, then when we got to school he was getting more nervous and then told me that he's embarrassed and doesn't want people to ask him about being in 1st grade again. My heart dropped and I just reiterated to him that this is what he wanted and that he'll be okay and that he wanted to be with his cousin (who's in 1st grade too... And I figured that's a way better and simpler explanation for him to use when talking to people so he doesn't feel like he's repeating that grade because of something that he did wrong and doesn't have to tell people his mom held him back for bigger reasons)... I'm so nervous for him today that there will be punk kids that will tease him for repeating 1st grade and make his already nervousness just over-the-top. If anything like this happens, please tell me that it will subside over the next few days or just totally disappear and kids won't care anymore.
Thank you for reassuring me that I'm headed in the right direction with parenting him. Like I said, it's almost like you've lived in our home all these years and know his personality so well. Although I don't know much about psychology, I would say you're right. He probably doesn't have self esteem issues. Just needs to grow up a little more and especially learn how to control his emotions a little better so he can approach more and more experiences with confidence and not feel so nervous all the time. I of course don't mind being patient and helping him learn how to do it. Being patient with these issues with him is definitely better than having to go to serious therapy sessions for a major developmental issue. I'm so grateful that this is probably not a serious issue. I'm grateful that he is a sensitive and sweet boy and hope he grows up to be sensitive and compassionate toward others.
Can you please give me some tips to help combat any issues with his anxiety from school that he may come home with, because of having to repeat 1st grade? Thanks so much... I want to be as prepared as possible with what how I will respond to him before he comes home today. Thank you!
Expert:  Steven Olsen replied 5 years ago.

Well thank you for the feedback and the bonus.

And yes...I am a real therapist with clients and all. lol This site is a way for me to earn some extra, as it allows me to work when I have computer access and a few moments. And, all that I told you about my family is real as well.

It is not easy to take a direction with your children that is atypical, such as holding your child back a grade. Extended families often balk at those kind of choices, but this one was a good one and well thought through. And letting a child find his/her own way, as if they suddenly could find a direction on their own, that just doesn't happen. Parents at your son's age have to act on the child's behalf. You did, and it was a solid choice that will pay off in the long run.

Your extended family may not understand the full story, but then again, they are not seeing him everyday. You do, and you love him best. And I cannot imagine you would make a bad choice for your son. Right?

Grades K-2 the children are very egocentric. They tend not to pick on other children very much, and your son will soon blend in easily with the rest, if not already. As far as what he should tell everyone: Have him tell the truth, that the school and his family felt he started school too young and this is the right grade for him at his age. That is the truth and it has nothing to do with his intelligence. Again, this will be totally forgotten in a week or two and he will be just another student in the class if it has not occurred already.

Anxiety is expected the first week of school, and as an intervention I would tell him it is normal and totally okay. Sometimes all children need is a reassurance that he/she is fine. If the anxiety goes beyond two weeks you can have him talk about it with you and pinpoint the areas that are most worrisome. When he hits a worrisome area, have him talk it out, a lot. Over and over. The constant exposure of the fear reduces the anxiety enough in children that the trauma tends to go level to a reasonable level.

I really do not see this as something that will become a major problem for him and I doubt past a week or so that he will even be concerned. You did do the right thing and your son will be in a much better place, both emotionally and physically as a result. If you see issues in the next few weeks, write me again and we will revisit this, but I feel he will do well. Steven

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Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Hello again... You know I'd be back soon right? Well overall, things are going better than expected... But now that he's physically at school, he his recognizing that all his classmates from last year have moved up and feeling a little left behind and embarrassed. And a few of them have approached and asked him why he's in 1st grade again. Im pretty sure they weren't inquiring in a mean way, but maybe more that they're confused why he's not with them. He said he gave them his answer and didn't seem to be too big of a deal... It's just hitting him a little more when people bring it up to him, naturally. And I knew there would be a little of that. But still no tears and no melt downs which is awesome. I'm trying to remember that this is what is best for him and that this initial 'feeling down' should pass. I guess I wanted some advice on my approach to this. My nature is if I find out a little thing like that, I keep asking and asking how he feels or what happened exactly during the day. Is this making his anxiety (along with mine) worse? Should I just leave him alone about the whole thing and wait til he brings this topic up to me, or should I ask him more casually just so I'm aware of how his day went, but don't drill him with the million questions.
Also, it isn't as bad as the first day and he's going to school without fighting me, but he told me calmly today that he had a good day at school but he doesn't like school. The thing is I know it doesn't sound that abnormal because most kids of course don't love school but I think most tolerate the work and learn to have fun with different activities in class and recess and lunch. But the tone of his voice sounded so resolute and he's only going because he has to and he REALLY wishes he didn't have to go to school. I mean I'm grateful he's now going without a fight, but does his pitiful attitude towards school sound too gloomy? I want to say suck it up... We all have to go to school, but that's not appropriate for kids I don't think and being that he has a sensitive nature, I don't want to provoke anything. Please help me here!
Expert:  Steven Olsen replied 5 years ago.

It seems your son is doing very well.

Minor emotional and behavioral adjustments to new school situations are so normal that in clinical psychology, for children, no concern is noted unless adjustment problems go beyond thirty days. Your son is not showing any significant adjustment issues: (sleep disturbance, crying spells, nightmares, phobias, etc) and seems like he getting along excellently. A few days, even two weeks, of being a little down emotionally is no cause for concern. It is expected.

And as far as complaining about school and going because he has to, I have three children, each in different schools; high school, middle school and elementary, and all three of them say these types of things on a regular basis. I would say that your son's response is pretty normal, even typical. Let's face it. A few kids love school and want to go all the time. Most do not, and even the best students say these negative things about school. I did, and even faked illnesses and the whole lot to avoid school at times. (Must be a boy thing!)

I know what you mean about wanting to check in all the time with him...Are you okay son? Anybody talk to you about repeating the grade? But realistically, at this point, unless he brings it up I would let it drop as a subject. In a few weeks you could bring it up, very casually, but if he is already showing this level of adjustment; I would just let it go until then.

He will be asked by his peers for a little while why he is not in 2nd grade. That is expected. As long as he appears good with it, his peers, both present as well as the older ones, will be okay with it too. Again, these are younger children, and much more forgiving than the 4th grade (+) crew. I would take the inquiries by peers as simple curiosity. The more he accepts them and treats this as all normal, the easier it will be for him.

Treat this entire situation as totally normal as well. Act fine with it and he will accept it readily too.

Sometimes boys (especially boys) need to see that expectations are set in stone and that there is no wiggle room, for boys are notorious in their ability to try to find an "out". But if there is none, and he knows he has to go to school and that this is what the year will look like, he will quickly adjust. You may struggle more with this than he is, but that is also expected for as good parents we regularly question our choices with our children. But honestly: I see no problems in what you have said here. He is adjusting and should rapidly come to fully accept school and his new classmates and circumstances. Again, you made a good choice, and it was made with detailed thought and had his best interest at heart. Steven

Steven Olsen and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Thanks again!
Expert:  Steven Olsen replied 5 years ago.
welcome. Anytime.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

Hi Steve... Awful awful morning... I really felt like I wasn't going to have to ask you anymore questions for a while. My son did really great the first week of school. He did tell me that he still doesn't want to go to school but he knows he has to and has something good to tell me that he did at school or something(s) good that happened to him at school. He overall comes home happy and I never bring up the whole repeating 1st grade to him anymore. This morning on our way out the door to walk to school, he overheard me tell my younger daughter to get ready for our walk (because her and I going walking in with the stroller every morning after I drop off my son at school). It triggered my son that he doesn't want to go to school and wants to come with us. I told him no and that he needs to go to school and he and I can go on a walk or ride back when he gets back. He cried all the way to school and wouldn't walk inside his class. I was trying to be firm with him (because I was so irritated), but tried talking to him with a 'reasonable' tone of voice. I asked him why he's having such a hard time to go today and he said school is so long and boring. By then the school bell rang 5 minutes ago. So I walked in his class and apologized to his teacher. I told her I don't want to give into him and take him home but I don't want to disturb her class with him all upset. She was nice and said to bring him in and she's sure he'll be fine once he settles in. But she nicely told me that she's worried about him because he always finishes his work so quickly, then he's bored, and she tries to find other more challenging work to give him (which I don't know what the extent is to that), but that because he's advanced, she can kind of foresee this trend with him will continue throughout the year. I briefly explained to her that I knew there would be a little of this because obviously a lot of this is review for him and academics had nothing to do with my decision to hold him back... It was his social/emotional/maturity, etc.... and that's why I held him back. She said that it's not too late to put him in 2nd grade. Class had already started and I didn't want to take her away from her class any longer so I told her if we could finish thiss discussion after school, and she kindly said yes. At that time, my son also told me that maybe he can go to second grade because some kids laugh at him. He had never brought that up before and I'm assuming he chose to tell me that right then since he was feeling so upset about school and wanted to start telling me reasons why he doesn't want to go. I'm sure you can hear the scared in my voice. I don't want to make any rash decisions just because my son's crying.

How can I convince him that this is good for him? How can I convince him to not worry about what other kids say to him about repeating 1st grade?

If his teacher is willing, I would want to get a solid game plan with her... Maybe to have 2-3 things that my son can CHOOSE to do after he finishes his work early (do one of his favorite activities/centers/crafts in the class, do an academic program or game on the computer, give him a task, etc...) What incentives will work? "Son, if you finish your work early and can quietly do a different project and behave in class, then we can have your favorite dinner every Friday or go to the beach every Saturday or pick out a small toy twice a month) I hate to resort bribes often but will it work here? PLEASE HELP!

Expert:  Steven Olsen replied 5 years ago.

Hello, sorry there is a rough patch going on now, but I will help you get through this.

Let's talk about the stages of typical adjustment.

Any adjustment starts with a period of assessment, followed by minor acceptance of the situation, then resistance. The cycle repeats until the person going through the adjustment has longer and longer periods of acceptance. Finally acceptance is reached and remains. This takes in a situation like your son's a few weeks, and unless it exceeds a solid month, is really quite normal.

Some days are worse than others in this process, and he is right at the age where conversations about unfairness and inequity are common as the form of resistance. This is to be expected, and he, as a child, will not play fair...accessing your feelings of fear and uncertainty about this change. That pattern is very common, and children are much more insightful in this way (seeing our weaknesses) than we give them credit.

Teasing may occur a little, but the critical thing is for him to stick to his story and act as though he is not at all concerned. As he does this more and more he will become far less of a novelty. This will pass.

He is academically ahead due to the grade change, and it is also expected that he will be bored. After all, the first few weeks of teaching is a review of easier topics so the teacher can get a feel for the baseline of the class. Your son is off the scale of the baseline, and as a result is noticeable to the teacher. Without a doubt he needs additional material to do, and the teacher should support this as he was not held back for academic reasons but maturity. I would insist on this with her.

I also want to encourage you that rewarding him is not bribery. It is simply reinforcement, and is the way the entire world operates. We do things for reward and the pleasure of it. Long range goals have to have reinforcers and doing so is not a bad idea. Indeed, your particular ideas are very good.

The second grade plea: This decision was made for long term gain. Yes there will be some discomfort and adjustment in the beginning. But in the years to come, especially when he hits 11-13 years this will pay off, big time. The minor comments that he gets now about being held back is nothing in comparison to what a smaller, younger, more vulnerable boy might experience in the hands of his older peers.

The gain is worth what was done.

Yes, some latitude about schoolwork and similar may be needed, and the first weeks will be harder for all. But he is already showing mastery of the material; his abilities and intelligence is marked, and he is equal to these children in physical maturity as well. This is the root of future leadership and position (for him) and will make his life in school, overall throughout the grades of school, much better.

How can you convince him this is a great idea? Not fully I am afraid, as he does not have the insight he needs at his age. You will have to make these decisions for him. You can explain it as you have, and reinforce his patience, but the resolve will have to be yours. Although difficult, tears and so forth will have to be given little regard until he settles in more.

This is rocky, but it is this rougher transition stage that will allow him to adjust, and this pattern will repeat in most cases, with less and less intensity until he is okay with the idea.

He will have to shape his own reaction to the teasing. He will adapt, and he will learn to mask his emotions and be okay with the change. Again as the strangeness of this wears off, all involved will accept it; teacher, previous peers and your son. This is a bad patch of road, nothing more. It will pass. Steven

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Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Awesome... You're right... THANK YOU!
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Steve... Your last paragraphs on your most recent response pretty much answers this, but because a whole month has gone by and my son is still facing teasing, I was of course a little concerned. The good thing is that it appears my son is in a good school routine... Never fights me to go to
School... And most days comes home with fun things to report. He as I made a deal that he tries his best in class and comes home with daily good reports from his teacher and he will earn a reward at the end of the month. This totally worked. He held into our deal and came hike with good reports the whole month and even the teacher (who was not totally understanding of why he wa held back) is now seeing that his maturity level more matches his current grade-level peers and has noticed that he's been behaving more ever since he and I made that deal. Overall, he seems happier...
Again I know you touched on this already, but THE ONLY thing that is making his school days a bit challenging and sad are the older kids and their teasing still. He told me today that it's several kid teasing him as that he tres not to talk to him. I told him that sometimes kids say mean things and don't understand that it hurt people's feelings. I told him to just ignore them and continue to hang out with the kids that he's comfortable playing with. He's not crying when he tells me and isn't totally upset, but I can tell that it bugs him. I guess I wanted to know if you thought that this teasing will slow down and if it doesn't, will it start to eat at him & hurt him deep down? Is there anything else I can say to help him? Is the "just ignore them" advice getting old already? I kbow that he needs to appear that it doesn't bother him when they say things to him, but do kids his age really have the capacity to ignore mean kids and move on? Sorry that a lot of this is repeat but just checking if there's anything more I can do :)
Expert:  Steven Olsen replied 5 years ago.

It is nice to hear an update about you and your son. Thank you.

It is terrific that your son is doing well. He clearly is very motivated and willing to deal with school and the teacher and the work. The fact that the teacher sees that he is a better match to his peers is also excellent. These are all signs of adjustment, and I can see that this was indeed a very good move for your son.

Peer teasing. This will abate. There is only so much focus and interest that will come from a peer repeating a grade. After awhile, even children grow to see the folly of teasing about this subject (more on this in a second).

Ignoring the teasing is still good advice. And no; it is not easy for any child of your son's age to simply cope. Like all of us, learning to manage difficult situations is a maturing and growing experience. It is painful to watch that process in our children, and sometimes it makes us second guess what we have placed them into. But as said before, the choice you made will limit the teasing and much more serious issues that might occur if he was the youngest child in his class.

If this "teasing" goes beyond a few more weeks (mid sept) then the issue is not just teasing but possibly bullying, which is a totally different issue and requires the support of the school and you. But I have a feeling, based on what I am seeing here, that this is just teasing and will resolve.

As far as damage to his emotional, I do not see anything other than an adjustment period. He will indeed need to learn how to deal with these other kids; he will not like it, but the experience will mature him, not hurt him. Just keep an eye open for any signs of bullying, such as any physical confrontations, outright verbal abuse and so on.

But again, based on what I am hearing here; he is well on his way to adjusting to this very well thought out change. I think you can relax. There is good news here and aside from watching your son and encouraging him, you are on the right track, for certain. Steven

Steven Olsen and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Thank you... I'll try not to worry about it so much and let him find his own strength and mature along the way.
Expert:  Steven Olsen replied 5 years ago.
Sometimes we just have to let the natural; progression of things take place. I think as a parent, that is the hardest thing to do. But in a short while this will all be past and you will feel so glad that you did it. It is a great long term investment in his life and health. Steven