Ocarina meets Pauline De Falco, child psychologist - Ocarina Player


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    Ocarina meets Pauline De Falco, child psychologist

    Discovering the complex world of emotions in children and adolescents

    20/09/23 Children's education
    Here’s another interview conducted by The pOnd! This time, we meet Pauline De Falco, child and adolescent psychologist.
    Children’s emotions play a fundamental role in their well-being and growth. Understanding how to deal with them is essential, both for parents and for the youngsters themselves.
    Back-to-school is the perfect time to address the challenges children and teenagers face on a daily basis, including the emotions that come with them. Doubts, fears and worries are common feelings that can affect children and their families. Sometimes, these emotions can become so overwhelming that they prevent parents from giving their children the support they need.
    In our interview, Pauline De Falco guides us through the complex world of emotions in childhood and adolescence, and gives us valuable advice on how to manage them and help our children overcome the challenges of everyday life. Happy reading!

    In your experience with children, what are the main concerns a child faces when starting a new school year? How can you help them?

    For most children, the start of a new school year is more a mixture of excitement and fears, which are perfectly normal and adaptive when faced with an unfamiliar situation such as starting kindergarten or a new school. In fact, it’s often at these two stages that parents come to see me with their child to discuss difficulties in adapting to the school environment.

    I would say that the fears they most often encounter are fear of the unknown, fear of change and fear of separation. The fear of being separated from parents seems to me to be more frequent among children in the very early to middle sections, whereas it becomes rarer in the older sections. However, by the end of kindergarten, we can already see that the children have forged bonds in previous years, and express more fear of being separated from their “benchmark” friends than from their parents. This is perfectly normal!
    I’ve worked in many structures where adults worked in teams, and the fears were the same when changes were envisaged by management… This gave rise to very strong emotions and a period of adaptation. The human brain is wired to minimize risk, and consistency provides a predictable environment that reduces uncertainty. The brain is a bit lazy, and prefers to stay thrifty: this is even more pronounced in children, whose wiring in the prefrontal cortex is still under construction.


    But I often realize that parents also have many apprehensions that have an impact on their children’s experience: fear that their child will regress in terms of cleanliness, that he will be brutal with others or, on the contrary, that he will be abused by other children, that the teacher will be too strict or not strict enough, that he will be left alone at recess, that he will find it difficult to make friends, and so on.
    Our children’s schooling inevitably resonates with the school and social experiences we’ve had… For example, if a parent has experienced bullying at a younger age, they may be more worried about their child being rejected by others. But our children are like sponges, absorbing our emotions. Basically, if I’m afraid for my child, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t trust me, and he’ll be afraid too. The first thing to bear in mind is that children all have their own personalities, and some will adapt very quickly, becoming curious and sociable, while others will be more withdrawn and need time to observe before jumping in. And then there are those who will totally panic. Generally speaking, these are children who are already experiencing difficulties separating from their parents, or a certain level of anxiety in everyday life.
    I think it’s important to remember that our children are inevitably different from us, and that their experience won’t be a replica of our own. So the question to ask is: does this fear concern my child or me directly? The reality is that, in the end, there’s not much we can control, because nothing in life ever turns out the way we imagined.
    I see parents who are deeply worried when they learn that their child won’t be in the same class as his friends, and who ask for a change. I don’t think this is a good thing for the child, because it implicitly sends back the idea that he can’t manage without his friends. But children are so resourceful!
    Some children are more attached to their routines, and find this separation very difficult, even to the point of feeling “punished”, and experiencing it as a real injustice. If the parents also feel this is an injustice, the child’s anger will increase, and he or she may tend to victimize themselves over and over again, to criticize the teacher or the activities, when the real subject is the friends they’ve lost. Other children socialize more quickly, turning away from their former friends, who don’t understand what they’ve done wrong. In such cases, it’s important to help the child to socialize, by inviting children from the new class, for example, and quickly making friends with other parents, in a way setting an example for them. A few minutes in the park next door can be all it takes to meet new people. The idea is to teach them to adapt to change, because they’re bound to experience it in life..

    We can help them to become aware of their resources, for example, by asking them about activities they had been afraid to perform and which they finally succeeded in, and by proposing small challenges to them rather than avoiding confronting them with their fears. Cultivating avoidance means demonizing emotions. But emotions are harmless! All it does is inform us about the changes we need to make in our lives.

    The canteen is also often a major preoccupation for parents. Not eating is sometimes a sign that children are “stuffed” with all the stimulation to which they will gradually become accustomed. So you’ll have to be patient and not worry too much if they don’t eat. I see a lot of parents whose first question on leaving school is “What did you eat for lunch? And children often answer “nothing”, or “I don’t know”. Which is a real turn-off for parents! Children need to have confidence in the social environment in which they evolve in order to eat properly. Some will need time to do so, and except in the case of a particular pathology, they won’t suffer from deficiencies. I think we need to calm down on this subject.

    The start of kindergarten is often an important milestone for parents, because it “takes” the child out of babyhood. Socially, he’s no longer a baby, but a “grown-up”, even though he’s still so small! It’s an important change for the child, but also for the parents, who sometimes find it hard to see their child grow up. It can be important to help the child become more autonomous, and to be careful not to treat him or her like a baby. In fact, we often continue to call them “my baby”, while telling them that they can put on their own shoes like grown-ups! So the idea is to try to achieve a certain consistency.
    Concerning the fear of separation from parents, some children haven’t really understood that they’ll be separated from their parents at school. It seems logical to us, but not to them. Don’t we often say to them, “We’re going to school, we’re putting on our shoes”? We can tell them they’ll be staying with the teacher and the kids, and explain what we’re going to do while they’re at school, to make things clear.
    Sometimes they haven’t understood that they’ll be going to school every day either… They think it’s a day like a pottery activity! So sometimes, after one or two days of school that have gone really well, the child starts refusing to go to school..
    Setting up a small visual aid in the form of a weekly planner with school days can be very useful, even for the youngest children. It also seems important to me that school should not be the only opportunity for separation from parents, at the risk of it becoming negatively associated. Multiply the opportunities for separation, by calling in a babysitter from time to time, by giving ourselves time to ourselves outside the house, by telling them about the great things we’ve done in their absence, because sometimes children imagine that we’re sad without them.
    Sometimes, too, we’ve told our children that school is a great adventure, and that they’re going to do lots of things that are just too good to convince them. But the reality is not necessarily so enchanting..

    He had to wait his turn, the canteen wasn’t to his liking, painting when he doesn’t like it… I’d like to tell parents not to make a big deal out of starting kindergarten. You can prepare him calmly by installing a small visual aid for the school days, go and see the school before the start of the school year, re-establish clear routines and rituals at home, buy an alarm clock, rearrange the room a little by sorting out baby’s toys, allow him to choose from 2 or 3 school or snack bags, draw his future school and how he imagines it will look inside, install a visual aid until the day of the start of the school year, etc. The first year of nursery school is a very special time for your child.

    The first year of kindergarten is above all a year of discovering a rhythm with numerous routines, learning social rules, respecting collective instructions and sensory-motor development.


    This is not yet an age of great socialization! Children are still very solitary at this age. So don’t worry if they don’t talk much about other children or criticize others. At this age, they are asserting their individuality, and others are an obstacle to the fulfillment of their desires, since they have to share, wait… all this is very demanding!

    For children entering first grade, the big issue is reading and writing… There are those who already know how to read before they start, and those who don’t seem to be interested yet. But each child has his or her own pace of learning, and the teacher will be vigilant and call on you if there’s a problem. Each child has his or her own area of predilection at different times of life: some will have an overflowing imagination, others will do antics like real gymnasts, still others will draw incessantly, or be very chatty!

    My advice would be to trust their intelligence and open their eyes to everything that works, rather than what doesn’t work the way you want it to. My advice would be not to consider this entry into preparatory school as a crucial stage. It’s one stage among others, in continuity with kindergarten. It’s mainly the form that changes, with tables lined up, a blackboard, a single teacher…
    Homework is a big change for parents, and it’s often a source of stress for them, especially when the child doesn’t seem to take to it with enthusiasm, or when his rhythm isn’t as fluid as his big sister’s…

    Again, this in no way predicts success at school. Remain calm and confident, and talk to your child’s teacher if you feel that something is going wrong. He or she will be able to give you advice on how to help your child become more independent.

    Another common fear among children starting a new school year is that of the teacher… They may have heard some of their elders or classmates criticize their teacher, saying he or she was too strict, or even mean. When you have several children in the same school, it’s important to remember that they may all have the same teacher at some point. If the eldest child has been very critical of him/her, and the parents have not picked up on it, or have even acquiesced, it will be more difficult for him/her to trust the teacher, and the die will be loaded.

    It therefore seems important to me to always agree with the teacher in front of the child, never to discredit. I often hear parents say in front of their children, “That teacher is weird”, “She’s not tender”, or question the teacher’s attitude, which the child has reported. There are many reasons why a child might criticize his or her teacher. Don’t hesitate to ask for a meeting with the teacher, and discuss things calmly, maintaining a cordial relationship. Today’s parents are more demanding than ever before. But we mustn’t forget that classes are full, and that many schools unfortunately suffer from a lack of supervision.
    In your podcast, you give advice to parents on how to behave and handle this period. Can you also give advice aimed directly at children?
    It seems to me that there’s no point in giving advice if the child doesn’t feel the need for it. That’s why, in my podcast, children can choose with their parents the themes that interest them most, according to their current concerns. The idea is not necessarily to listen to every episode! Giving them advice before they even seem to be worried about anything could give them the feeling that this is a serious back-to-school situation! And that would ultimately have the opposite effect.
    But if a child confided in me his worries about the start of a new school year, I’d want to ask him how he imagined it would go… “What games do you think there’ll be in the classroom? What books will there be? I also suggest a betting game: “I bet there’ll be a little girl named Louise…I can’t wait to hear if I win…what about you? What do you bet? This makes the event less dramatic by creating a diversion. I’ll also ask them to draw how they feel about going back to school. Sometimes they’ll draw a doodle, animals, the school… It’s not that important, the idea is to put the emotion at a distance. I won’t try to reassure him, but rather to empathize with his fears, because expressing an emotion and being heard is already halving its intensity! 
    It could be something like “It’s true that starting school can be scary… If your fear were an animal, what would it be? How big would it be?
    What if we What if we made it out of modeling clay? ”.
    Anything that enables him to visualize his emotion through his five senses is welcome… By making it concrete, this gives him the opportunity to act on this emotion: “What color would you like it to be, so that it seems more comfortable? What size would you like it to be?…and would you like us to add something to make it less annoying? Now that we’ve changed all that, how do you feel? ”.
    Often, through hypnosis, children imagine incredible stories that enable them to better control and overcome their uncomfortable emotions. Quite simply, I’ll tell them that you can’t predict how things are going to turn out, because nothing ever turns out the way you imagined… It’s normal to be stressed before the start of the new school year; it’s a perfectly natural reaction of the brain, which goes into “danger” mode when faced with the unknown. It’s the brain’s job to protect us!
    I often give children the metaphor of an airplane: sometimes, pilots navigate in automatic mode when everything is known in advance. But they take control again when faced with a new situation or a threat. We are the pilots of our brain! It’s up to us to remind it that a back-to-school is harmless, and that it doesn’t need to react as if facing a tyrannosaurus.
    Can listening to music and stories help them manage their emotions during this period? Do you have any advice for parents?
    Stories allow children to deal with a whole range of emotions, develop their imagination and learn the vocabulary associated with these emotions… For example, in the emotion of anger, there are many nuances between rage, annoyance, frustration… Stories help create a bond and invite children to project themselves and evoke more easily what concerns them directly.
    Because, quite simply, children sometimes don’t know why they feel certain emotions at school… and these emotions come home to them without understanding why. Storytelling is a way of “revealing” events that they may not have been able to talk about. Storytelling tackles certain issues in a more symbolic way, without any direct link to situations in the child’s everyday life. They often have a timeless, universal character, with an imaginary power that appeals to all children. Their aim is more moral, and just as important for children’s psychic lives: there’s often a hero who encounters difficulties far greater than his or her own, but who emerges at the end of the story grown up, loved and respected by dint of courage and willpower. As Gilbert Keith Chesterton said, “fairy tales are more than real; not because they teach children that dragons exist, but because they teach them that dragons can be defeated”.
    Stories also have the virtue of developing attention and concentration. Sometimes parents tell me that the child isn’t listening to the story…because he’s not standing still. When children continue to play during a story, it doesn’t mean they’re not listening. Often, when they’re playing, it’s like when we’re driving a car… The driving gestures are automated, allowing us to listen attentively to a radio program or chat with a passenger. In fact, it often happens in consultation that children react to an exchange we’re having with his parents, even though he’s been humming and assembling the train tracks!

    In addition, listening to stories develops creativity and increases the desire to read when the time comes, as the child realizes that he can offer himself this opportunity and finds greater meaning and motivation in learning to read.

    Music, for its part, not only sweetens the pot, but also encourages the development of language and speech by reinforcing auditory perception and the understanding of sounds and rhythms. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to develop emotions and relationships with others: some music soothes us or makes us sad, others bring us joy, still others make us nostalgic or make us think of special people or memories.