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September is here again and so the new school year begins. Perhaps your child is changing from Primary to Secondary education and is a bit nervous at what lies ahead or maybe they are starting with a new teacher and not sure if they will like the change. The ever shifting situations in school life can potentially undermine a child’s sense of stability or at worse make them school phobic.

I have worked with many children and teenagers over the past 20 years, in a variety of settings, and have found that one effective method to improve levels of confidence, emotional intelligence and resilience is by asking the right questions in the right way. Solution-focused questions help individuals focus and reflect on how they would like the future to be and do not encourage negative rumination on past mistakes,difficulties or failures.

The first question I can recommend, which will empower your child and establish a positive focus within the discussion is:

“What would you like to be better in your school life this year?”

Notice the word is “better”, not “different” or “less negative” – there is an implication in using this word that things can be improved and you’re not looking back at difficulties or focusing on problems. Of course, your child may reply with a negatively past-focused statement such as, “I don’t want to be teased and bullied about my lisp.” The cruel reality of school life can unbalance the happiest of children and although we can’t change how other children behave, we can help our own children feel and think differently about situations. For the response above, a reframing towards future change and potentially transformed feelings is helpful e.g. – “So it could be good to learn how to feel strong and not bothered by unkind statements.” Again you will be focusing on improvements in the future and working towards a solution.

I am not suggesting that we ask children to “toughen up” or ignore their feelings but we can help support them develop coping strategies and methods to feel and react differently to stressful situations.

So the second question I would recommend after isolating and possibly reframing the difficulty would be:

“And what shall we do together to make this better?”

The word “we” helps the child see that they are supported but at the same time responsible for making either external or internal changes.

For emotionally based difficulties, such as the teasing and bullying, of course together you may decide to speak to teachers or even the parents of the other children if possible. Although I’m not averse to that approach, and it may have a positive short term result, it may not future proof your child to stress factors in the coming years. So it may form part of your plan together but you could also help empower your child by developing internal strategies such as visualisations of a protective shield, which I use extensively with children (and sometimes adults too) and external strategies – how to behave or react when threatened or stressed.

So here’s to the next school year – with a focus on creative solutions and empowered children and if these questions are useful for your child, you might want to try them in your life too.

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