Back to School Tips

The kids are heading back to school and it can be quite challenging for parents and children to make the adjustment of school routines, worries about academics, fitting in with peers in school and bullying are some of the concerns. Here are some little reminders to get ready for the new academic year.

1. Ease into school routines

Parents, especially those with younger children, can help their kids prepare for school by getting them on sleep, meals, homework, play and extra curricular schedules that are in sync with the school day.

A rested child is generally in a better mood, more motivated and rest improves memory.

2. Academic refreshers

A couple weeks before school starts back give your child short school like assignments from some of their new books or even some revision from their old books. If you send kids to school without a little revision it is harder for them to get back into the groove of academics.

3.  Get to the root of back-to-school jitters

Most school-aged children look forward to the first day back, but for those who are anxious, figuring out why can help. If children are worried about seeing friends again, arrange some get-togethers with friends before school starts. If the child fears having a new teacher or being in a new classroom, schedule a classroom visit before the school year.

Look out for avoidance behaviors, like crying, clinging or complaining of feeling sick to their stomach and asking to stay home.

4.  Bullying

July/ August might have been a reprieve for children who have been bullied at school. Bullying tends to decrease in schools where adults are responsive. Parents should help their children identify trusted adults at school who can help, including teachers, administrators, janitors, counselors or other staff.

Cyberbullying usually happens when kids are at home. Parents must encourage children to say when something on Facebook or email hurts their feelings or causes embarrassment.

5.  Pressure to fit in

Parents of adolescents, especially those entering secondary school, might see some behavior changes as children try to fit in with peers.

Keep having conversations with adolescents about their values and who they are. Make time for family activities like riding bikes or playing football. Parents should have “check in” talks with their adolescents often to make sure everything is going well in school.

6.  Cell phones, computers

Before the school year begins is also a good time to remind kids of the lasting repercussions of sharing photos, video, texting and other forms of social media electronically. Parents also should get familiar with these tools since they will have to monitor their kids use of these tools.

Similarly, remind teens that email is not private and to think twice before firing off disgruntled emails about teachers from the school library computers.

Spotting Sexual Abuse

Last week I had the pleasure of doing a workshop designed at spotting sexual abuse and abusers. This workshop was entitled Protecting God’s Children and was put on by the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission.

Facts About Sexual Abuse

  • Most abuse takes place by people the child knows and trusts and is seldom done by strangers.
  • Most sexual abusers are heterosexuals.
  • Children seldom lie about sexual abuse.
  • Priests abuse children for the same reasons as any other sexual abusers and not because of celibacy.

Warning Signs of a sexual abuse in children;

  • Changes in behaviour, child becomes withdrawn, mood swings, anxiety.
  • Child may become aggressive for no reason.
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss or weight gain.
  • Stop taking time for proper hygiene practices.
  • Sudden decline in school performance.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Unusual interest in sexual matters that are not age appropriate. Regressive behaviour, bed wetting, thumb sucking, etc.

Signs of sexual abusers;

  • They use grooming process to earn the child’s trust. Giving of inappropriate gifts, using a “good guy” approach.
  • They use physical contact. The abuser may touch the child often and inappropriately, each time testing the boundaries of the child.
  • The use of psychology. Befriending the child, giving pro villages the parents may not give.
  • Community – many time abusers are very integrated into the community and is well known by everyone including parents.

Why Don’t Children Tell?

  • They were threatened or bribed by the abuser to keep the abuse a secret.
  • Fear that they will be taken away from their family.
  • Are afraid no one will believe them.
  • The abuser promised gifts or rewards for keeping the secret.
  • Blame themselves or believe the abuse is punishment for being “bad”.
  • Feel too ashamed or embarrassed to tell.
  • Worry about getting into trouble or getting a loved one into trouble.

How do we protect our children?

  • Controlled access – be very careful who has access to the child and for how long.
  • Monitor all programmes – even programmes put on by the church. Drop in unannounced, make sure the events are not in secluded areas and do background checks on persons carrying out programmes with your children.
  • Be aware – listen to what your children tell you, believe what they tell you, be alert to changes in their behaviour.
  • Communicate your concerns – Talk to the person involved and highlight behaviours you are uncomfortable with, talk to a direct supervisor.

These tips are very handy and is the start of the process for recognising sexual abusers but I feel that we as a Caribbean people have to develop our own check-list. Our culture is different from the American culture therefore the classification for detecting a sexual abuser may be somewhat different for our unique society. Although this is a very good start for parents who are unaware we will have to do more research into the Caribbean profile of a sexual abuser.

Healing the Fatherhood Wounds

I had the pleasure over the course of the last weekend to attend the Healing the Fatherhood Wounds Workshop for women at the John Paul II Centre on Fatherhood. The workshop took place for the entire weekend from Friday evening to Sunday evening.
The weekend started with the powerful movie “Akeelah and the Bee”. It was my first time watching this movie in its entirety. The movie had a number of valuable life lessons about the dynamics of the father and daughter relationship.
The second day was where the real work started. There were many fruitful sessions where some real groundbreaking epiphanies were made with all of the women present including myself. I would like to share some if the tid bits that stuck out for me.
I always knew that the father had a great impact on a daughter’s life but this impact was made even more apparent by the material covered. The father is literally a daughter’s first love. She is taught about the good and the bad in the male figure from her father. During the years 0-9 the father teaches his daughter how to interact and be loved by a man. A father during this vital stage teaches a daughter what she will want and will not want in a man in her life in the future.
There are also a number of attributes that fathers are responsible for teaching women that are considered “adult life skills”. These include; to manage, contain, the value of boundaries, to defend, to protect, to compete, to hold onto, to provide, to conquer and to exclude.
During the weekend I also was able to learn some of my father’s healthy and unhealthy characteristics and how these are present in the men in my life. The material was profound because as women we often chose men that are just like our fathers. This action is very unconscious and we tend not to even notice sometimes the similarity.
I also learnt the vital building blocks of self-esteem that only a parent can pass to a child. These building blocks are;
  • Identity – who am I? – This is usually done by the same sex parent. Therefore women would form their identity from their Mother’s.
  • Individuality – What do I love? What do I hate? – This is usually instilled by the opposite sex parent so in this case a Father would be the one instilling Individuality in a daughter.
  • Intimacy – In-to-me-u-see – This is taught by both parents through their relationship with each other.
Another point of interest that stood out for me is the question “why do women tell their stories?” and when I mean tell their stories I mean talk all the time! Answer: Women talk to HEAL.
  • H – Heal tell stories to heal.
  • E – Encourage, especially others.
  • A – Awareness, of the answers.
  • L – Legacy – stories tell our legacy and leaves legacies behind.
So this really explained why we women always chattering!
The last point I would like to share are some unhealthy father/daughter relationship styles that were pointed out to us.
  1. Less than father – father abandons daughter and leaves her yearning.
  2. Abusive father – father is verbally, emotionally or sexually abusive.
  3. Pampering father – this father spoils the daughter.
  4. Pygmalion father – the daughter becomes the father’s companion.
  5. Ruined father – the daughter has to rescue the father.
These were some of the main points of the wonderful weekend dealing with some of my fatherhood issues. I learnt a great deal about how my father has impacted my life both positively and negatively. I encourage everyone to do something like this because it really helps us understand who we are, where we came from and how our primary caregivers, our parents has impacted upon our lives…

Book Review – Common Sense Parenting

I have been reading a book called Common Sense Parenting by Ray Burk, Ron Herron and Bridget A. Barnes.

This book was brought to my attention because it was written by authors affiliated with The Boys Town. The Boys Town is an organization dedicated to assist “at-risk” youths. They had a workshop in Trinidad and Tobago recently and even though I was not able to attend, the information was passed on by wonderful colleagues.

Common Sense Parenting is a fabulous book. It has many very important pointers for parents, especially in these times where parenting has taken on a whole different dimension. I am amazed because exactly what I suggest to parents about managing their children is exactly what is written in this book. There are step by step instructions on how to parent. I feel maybe I could have written this book!

I would like to share some pointers from the book in my blog. I am also still in the process of reading the book therefore as I read I will post pointers that I feel are important to share. Previously, I have written about the importance of parenting, understanding our young people, supporting them and so on. I am also making notes and blogs in small doses since the information is much to digest all at one time. I have been taking my time to read this book.

These first set of notes are about the appropriate teaching methods to teach children. The steps we should take to help them and teach them the valuable lessons they need to learn about themselves, expectations we have of them and generally life.

Appropriate Teaching


You let your children know exactly what they do right or wrong.


You help your children understand the relationship between what they do and what happens as a result of their actions. So there is a reaction for ever action.


You give your children clear examples of how to improve in the future. Clear examples helps them because as parents we sometimes take it for granted our children “know” what we expect of them.


You help you children learn self-discipline (to be in control of their actions and expressions of emotion). In order to do this we ourselves must be self disciplined. Children learn best by example. Therefore if you are positive and self disciplined we can teach by example.


You give your children a chance to show what they have learned. You are an active part of the learning process. You and your children work together toward a common goal.


You become the teacher, the coach. As you give information that helps your children learn to solve problems.

The next blog will focus on positive and negative consequences. Common Sense Parenting gives very specific positive and negative consequences that parents can use with their children. So I will highlight some of these consequences and give examples of some the ways positive and negative consequences can work with parenting your children.

Trauma Workshop

Over the course of the last few days I have the great pleasure of attending a Trauma workshop done by Dr. Palmer. First of all Dr. Palmer has a very impressive resume in which she has experience and research extensively in the field of psychology and trauma. She is the chair and Director of training of professional psychology and family therapy, counselling psychology programme at the department of professional psychology and family therapy at Seton Hall University.

The first day of the workshop was filled with a great deal of theory. Information was abundant and by the end of the day I felt saturated, but not in a bad way. I felt empowered and motivated like a child again, to read and explore an area that is popping up more and more in my work setting.
Children are being traumatized on a daily basis and we need to look at this more closely in order to help them. Working at a residential children’s home is a place ripe with traumatized children and equally ripe with triggers that often sets the children’s behaviour spiraling out of control. The stories children hear at school, in the media and in our lives are causing them to be traumatized more and more everyday.
Palmer’s Wisdom

One of the things that I did not realise before this workshop is that trauma can start as early as the prenatal stage. When the child is born it is very important for the child to get that care and nurturing needed. Otherwise these apparent little things have a serious effect on the child’s development and this contributes to trauma.

Other aspects that were quite informative and interesting is the play therapy techniques taught on the second day. The first exercise was to draw a picture without talking. We were put into groups and numbered off so that persons who most likely knew and were sitting next to each other were placed in a different group. Then each person in the group had to choose a color and draw a picture. No further instruction was given. It was very interesting to see how the different groups approached this exercise differently. Some groups were drawing their own pictures on different parts of the page so the picture was a bit disjointed as a whole but represented each of them. Some groups communicated through sign language and made a picture looking like if they planned it. Other groups looks at each others drawings and tried to add on. All in all it was a wonderful exercise. At the end of it we had to give the picture a title and explain what was done and what group dynamics took place during the exercise.
The second technique that we usually do not use in Trinidad is sandtray therapy. Basically you get a tray and fill it with sand. You can have wet sand or dry sand and provide all different figurines and items for kids to make their own picture. This can be used for children and adults in therapy. The picture to the right is a representation of what our group did with sandtray therapy using rice instead of sand.
The video below gives more information on sandtray therapy.

A Crazy Day in the Life of a Psychologist….

Disclaimer: These little excerpts are from many different sources. They were written for informational purposes.

Story One

Psychologist: so draw a picture of your family for me.
Little child: can i draw a picture of when mommy and daddy used to be together.
Psychologist: Sure no problem, its your family picture so draw whoever you want.
After drawing the picture.
Psychologist: what is that daddy has in his hand.
Little child: A gun.
Psychologist: why does daddy have a gun in his hand.
Little child: to kill mommy.

What would you do in a situation like this?
Story Two
Psychologist: Tell me…what do you do in your spare time.
Child: Watch TV
Psychologist: What else to you do besides watching TV?
Child: Play games on the computer or the DS.
Psychologist: Anything else?
Child: No that’s it.
And we wonder why our children are not creative.
Story Three
Child: Miss I know sometimes that teachers come in and you know they in a bad mood or they had a bad day they might have problems at home that day, but Ms. X just has problems because like her day always bad!!!!
We must not our children think this of us.
Story Four
Mother: I don’t know what to do my 6 year old is throwing temper tantrums.
Psychologist: What do you do to discipline him.
Mother: Discipline him, well I do not beat him.
Psychologist: Ok but what consequences are in place for when he throws tantrums or does something wrong.
Mother: I am supposed to have a consequence for tantrums.
There must be consequences for actions. Good consequences for good behaviour and negative consequences for negative behaviour. Parents must be consistent in their discipline.
Jenna Samaroo

Parental Control on the Internet

I had the opportunity over the course of the last few weeks to set up Internet parental controls. This was a very interesting experience for me. I had to set up the controls because I have 8 to 12 teenage boys using the internet. I marvelled at how parenting has changed over the years.

Children these days are growing up with more exposure to everything at a younger and younger age. These days 3 and 4 year olds know how to navigate the pc and internet. When I was 3 or 4 years I was now learning to play with my dolls or build blocks.

This exposure comes because over the years access to information good and bad is generally more available. There is the internet, music, tv, cell phones, peers and so much more that influences our youths. And everything is so accessible because the advancement in technology is making to world smaller and smaller everyday.

Now the whole guarding the internet thing became more apparent to me after I installed the parental controls. I used a free service on xp called k9 from Blue Coat. This service has been working really well. I was also quite impressed with windows Vista parental controls. There two sets of controls help to limit certain sites the boys go on like porn sites, gambling, violence, gaming sites and more. You can also block certain sites you do not want them to go on like Facebook, Youtube etc. I have not placed very strict rules on these sites because I think its good for the boys to have exposure to social networking.

These two sets of parental controls offer an activity report, so I was able to find out on Vista that the boys were trying to look at porn, break my password, programmes opened and more. K9 just gives an activity report for the internet. Xp does not have parental controls built in.

There is one other cool feature that allows me to have remote access to the computers the boys are on from home, so I can see what is going on at any point. The programme I used is Log Me In.

Now all this appears to be like a great deal of controlling or trying to control, but as parents or guardians we have to be aware and move with the times.Teenager will find opportunities to sneak to do things parents disapprove of, but as parents we must not encourage these things to be too easily accessible. So I know the boys will try to look at porn they may get videos and dvd’s from their friends but it cannot be said that I know it is easily accessible online and i did nothing to prevent this easy access. I am trying to be a responsible parent/guardian to the young budding men in my care, so I am taking precautions not to encourage certain types of behaviours to be normalised at home. I am not naive they will find means and ways of getting around accessing whatever illicit material they desire.

This whole parental control on the internet has been an eye opening experience for me. A great deal of the morals and values of the institution I work for, as well as my own values came up again and again. I also did not realise the amount of risks and threats, are just as much as the well, good and wonderful areas of the internet. Our children will be exposed to lots of information we must talk to them, let them know right from wrong. We must be informed ourselves and move with the times. We must learn what things our children are being exposed to and not be naive into thinking the times have not changed from when we were growing up. It is only then we can be effective parents.

Jenna Samaroo

Parenting or lack thereof….

My clients teach me a great deal about life and parenting. I have one young lady that plainly told me “its best my parents just spilt up because they quarrel too much”. Then I have another child telling me she is soo sad because “daddy doesn’t live at home anymore”.

The notion of the nuclear family is changing rapidly. The “normal”, “nuclear” family is almost non existent in today’s society.What I am finding the most, is that the daddy’s are missing in action. Firstly a good portion of fathers are not with the child mother when they child mother brings the child to see me, and even if the fathers are in the household they are too busy with work and other women to take the time that is needed for their children.

Beside the issue of the larger portion of fathers being a waste of time in terms of parenting because of different and diverse issues, there is the problem of basic parenting. Firstly the times have changed so no longer does society or the community take the time to discipline a child. There is a saying it takes a village to raise a child and in the times before the village used to take a valid interest in their children and take the time to correct them and raise them properly. But capitalism stepped in. Let me tell you capitalism is more than an economic phenomenon it is a world wide trend of a change of life. Society now only cares about itself. The village no longer cares about the next door neighbor’s child.

Ok back to my point on parenting. Times have changed and one of the problems is that parents go to different extreme with their kids. One extreme is to go to “well in my time” it was this way so you will have to do it this way. The youth of today will deliberately do it the opposite way because you just said back in your time!!! Young people will automatically rebel when we tie the ropes too tight when it comes to discipline and parenting. But then there is the other extreme of letting the child do as he/she pleases. Children need structure both parents cannot be working and leave the child at home unsupervised for a long period of time!!!!

In order to discipline children they need to have rules, guidelines and structure. Therefore leaving a 6 year old at home alone after school for 2 hours spells of disaster when that child hits 13 or 14. The cute 7 year old that throws tantrums and will ” grow out of the phase” spells disaster because chances are the tantrums will get progressively worse. Dressing a 8 year old in halter tops and short skirts is cute but when she reached 12 or 13 that will spell disaster…
Letting the child do what he/she likes with no consequence for action spells DISASTER!!!!

Therefore it is not the responsibility of the counsellor or psychologist to “fix” the child. Parents need to start taking responsibility. Fathers needs to have a input into their children’s lives. Mothers cannot do everything! When fathers and mothers fight, argue and are at wits ends with each other no one else suffers but the child. The child can manipulate the situation and play one parents against the other to get what he/she wants or they can be sad and frustrated with the situation. Whatever the child chooses to do is an equally destructive path. I remember calling one father to come in to speak with me because the child cries and becomes very sad when she misses her father. You know what that man said that he has NO TIME!!! What kind of fathers we have out there that has no time for their CHILDREN!!!! The child is quite distraught when the father makes promises that he cannot keep. The disappointment the child feels when the father calls to say I coming in 5 mins and it takes him 5 hours, 15 beers and some time by the other woman first!!

Its time for parents and society to be more responsible. Children cannot parent themselves, they need love, support and GUIDANCE. Its time for parents to step up to the plate and start working to save our youths.

Jenna Samaroo

The Importance of Listening to our Youths

This thought struck has been in my mind for some time now. We need to listen to what our youths have to say some more. Young people, time and time again, have discussed with me the problems they have with the parents, guardians, teachers, authority figures, elders etc. not listening to them.

There are many types of listening parents and elders have to do in these times. Firstly we have to realise that our children have changed from the time when we were children. Even me myself, when i first started working with young people, I felt the generation gap! I had to readjust and not be judgemental of the experiences of the youth of today. I had to realise that my time, even though it was no so very long ago, is different from the experiences of today’s youths. I had to remember that these young people are not me and did not grow up in my era, in my circle of friends, in my family. I had to learn about the different challenges young people face today I had to listen to them to learn what is going on in their lives.

We have to actively listen to our young people. When I say listen, again I don’t just mean chatting in the car on the way to school. We have to actively listen. I think some parents need to block out a half hour and do the essentials of good listening. Eye contact, genuine interest, minimal questions, undivided attention. A number of times we are not listening to our young people when we are doing other things, washing the dishes, watching TV, driving in the car, etc, but that is not always a healthy and effective way to listen. Also we are always itching to ask questions to our young people but if we just let them talk all the information will come forth. No matter what, young people want to feel a sense of empowerment, a sense of worth, and when they are sharing what is going on with them, by all means give them the attention they desire and rightfully deserve.

Another way we can listen is by observing the body lauguage of our youths. Many times we feel afraid to ask questions when we see something out of the ordinary. Sometimes we can take it to the next extreme and ask too many questions. Its all about observation and balance. I think every parent should be able to pick up on the changes in the body language of their children. If you see changes in behaviour, maybe they have starting some acting out behaviours. There is always a reason for that behaviour. The behaviour in fact will happed in small doses before it gets to a grander scale. Why did my youth get out of control? some parents ask….well its because the little changes were not observed and addressed. A simple way to deal with a change in behaviour sometimes is to offer an ear to the youth. Let them know that they can talk to you about anything, they won’t be judged. And if they messed up and made a mistake that they will still be loved.

Many times youths come to see me and they claim that they act out because they are tired of trying to get their elders to listen to them. Sometimes they feel that their elders won’t understand why they might have messed up in some area of life. The youths are often afraid that their elders would pass judgement on them and they would loose their love. Sometimes the judgement has already been passed and the young person decided to respond to the self fulfilling prophecy. So the youth might say to himself/herself “ok so you think I am bad, ok, I will show you I am bad!!!!”

All of this goes back to the point. Talk to the youths and listen to them. Actively listen by giving just 30 mins of undivided attention from time to time. Listen not only with your ears, but your eyes and other senses. Look at when your young person has subtle changes in body language and behaviour. Ask questions and if they are unwilling to talk, leave the door open for them to come to you. A simple way is to just tell the youth “ok I understand you don’t want to talk now about whatever is going on but know that you can come chat with me when you are ready”, and leave it at that no more questions! Just these little reassurances can go a long way for a young person. One of the things that we have to remember is that we CANNOT base what is going on with out young people today on our time. Our time was different, peer pressure was not such a burden, we didn’t even have half the technology that is available now, we were not exposed to so much information about everything and anything, women were not half as independent as they are now, these are to name just a few changes from back in the day when we were teenagers to now when we have our own teenagers.

Listen to what your youths have to say. communicate with them. We can change the world one young person at a time. I believe that and I am trying my best to do my part, are you?

Jenna Samaroo