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My son runs away and hides crying when he has trouble completing an assignment.

I'm maybe a little harsh on the kid telling him to just suck it up and keep going, but this doesn't seem to work; he keeps having the same reaction; but the other family members are not as harsh on him, and it doesn't seem to help either, so what do we need to do as a team to get him to just do his school work?

It's not as if we aren't giving him assistance when he works, we are. But this is a behavioral problem, and I want it to stop it.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Stephie Dec 29 '20 at 9:07
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    Hell, I'd probably cry too if someone keep telling me to suck it up when I was struggling. – axwr Dec 29 '20 at 20:10
  • @leeand00 Does your child react the same way (avoidance) to other types of challenges? Also, has he always been this way or is this a new behavior? I have one child that has always been very averse to failure, challenge, etc. He’s rigid in his thinking, very sensitive, and generally kind of “high maintenance” emotionally. So he’s always been like you describe. One of my other kids is “determined” by nature but all of a sudden started running from his work, chores, etc. when we started distance learning. Obv the approach we use for each is different. – Jax Dec 31 '20 at 2:13

11 Answers 11

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Find out why

The first thing to do is to find out why he's running away and crying. I am deeply concerned that no-one in your family has apparently even thought to ask him that. If you had, then I would have expected to see that as a major part of your question.

If in fact you have, then please edit your question to give us this crucial information.

And if you haven't, find a time when there isn't homework happening and your son is calm, and talk to him then. Make sure you're clear that it's not about telling him off, it's about finding out what he's feeling and how you can both solve that together. Or get someone else to talk It through with him, if he won't talk to you.

In my experience as a parent though, there are three really common causes of this, and natural solutions to all three.

Fear of large amounts of work: Teach him divide-and-conquer

Children don't have much of an attention span, and a large chunk of work can simply frighten them. Teachers break down class work into small, manageable chunks which the children can deal with, and that's the same approach you should take. Look at the assignment and see how you could break it down. If it's 20 maths questions, tell them they can have a break after 5 questions, get a cookie or a drink or something, then get back to it. If it's a writing exercise, let him brainstorm some bullet points and then you can divide it by those. At 6 he shouldn't be getting much homework so you can also split it over more than one night.

This is how you do it at work too, of course. You work while you've got focus, then you take a coffee break, then you get back to it. His period of focus is just shorter than yours, because he's 6.

Frustration with not being able to do it: Mentor him

Children can easily get frustrated if they can't solve a problem, or if they repeatedly get it wrong. Teachers aren't always good with giving kids the individual attention they need to grasp things.

At 6, your son absolutely should not be doing homework on his own. Someone should be sitting with him to check what he's doing, and mentor him with his work.

You need to be very careful not to do the work for him. As with all mentoring, you need to watch how he's doing it, and when he goes wrong you need to have strategies to deal with it. If he's getting mental arithmetic wrong, for instance, get him to go back to number lines.

I remember having a conceptual issue with subtraction where I was counting the initial value and everything was off by one, because I literally had not connected subtraction with numbers to "taking away". Had anyone thought to give me a number of stones and say "take away 7", I would have got that concept more easily.

Again, we're back to solving this in the same way you would at work. You don't just throw a teenage apprentice at a metal press and say "make me this", because they'd lose fingers. You show them how to do it well, and then you let them do it under supervision until you can see that they've got the idea.

Fear of failure: Get him used to checking his answers, and show him how to check them

He shouldn't ever be afraid to get things wrong. Make sure how you pick up mistakes is constructive. But more than that, get him to do his own checking.

If he's doing subtraction exercises, have him get to the end and then add the subtracted value to the result. If they come out the same as the initial value, great. If not, try again. If he's got a writing assignment, get him to read it through afterwards and see if he thinks he's got his spellings and grammar correct.

Again, I take this back to work. I'm an engineer, and I've worked on stuff where if things go wrong, people die. So I check what I've done, and then I get someone else to check it too. The principle is that everyone makes mistakes and it's totally normal, so we do some checks to make sure we're getting things right.

Keep it constructive

This is the overarching principle. If you want to relate this to work, professionalism doesn't just mean doing a good job yourself, it means working constructively with other people too. You don't insult them or shout at them for making mistakes, you point out the issue and work together to resolve it. If they get emotional, you don't raise your voice too, you keep calm. All this translates just as well to helping a child do their homework.

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    @leeand00 Thanks - I'm glad it might help. Really do talk to him though. Kids don't just react like that for no reason. Whatever the reason is, even if it doesn't seem significant to you, it is to him. – Graham Dec 28 '20 at 15:52
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    ... And like I said, do think about professionalism on your end. There aren't many jobs where saying "just man up and get on with it" is the best way to motivate a newbie. – Graham Dec 28 '20 at 16:20
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    And above all, I'd recommend avoiding any form of "It's easy". There's nothing more disappointing than failing at an easy task :/ – Matthieu M. Dec 29 '20 at 13:16
  • A suggestion on breaking up work: my son gets math papers with 100 addition or subtraction problems on them (he’s 8-3rd grade) and even though he’s GREAT at math he freaks out a little at the volume. I found even if I said do one row, or whatever, he’d still SEE all those problems and panic. I took a piece of card stock and cut a hole in it that only lets him see a few problems at a time. I move it around the page until he has them all done. The other advantage is he can’t see the answer for similar problems and “cheat” (6+4 and 4+6). – Jax Dec 30 '20 at 15:45
  • It’s entirely possible the child doesn’t know why he feels this way. At 6 he most likely lacks the ability to effectively communicate why or what he feels. Many adults struggle with it; naming emotions isn’t easy, because they often mix together. Its kind of like asking a kid to look at brown paint and name all the colors used to make it. – Jax Dec 31 '20 at 3:15
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Your child is six years old, and what you’re describing is a normal, developmentally appropriate reaction. Your job as the parent is to help him learn how to approach difficult tasks, by being supportive and positive, by modeling good strategies, and most importantly by never dismissing his feelings. He feels like it is too hard, and that is okay; the important thing is for him to learn how to overcome “too hard” things.

Remember that your son is six, and isn’t expected to be learning particularly important things in terms of actual subject matter right now. If a child started learning to read at nine, they’ll be fine; same for basic math. We aren’t worried about the actual subject matter at this age; we are worried about the children learning good habits and learning how to learn. Focus on that: don’t worry about the outcome, just the process.

Don’t give him the answers or even worry about if the answers are right - get him organized, give him strategies for how to approach the problem, point out what he can use to find answers. Get him focused on the small tasks - if it’s a four step problem then focus him on one of the steps first.

I’d also note that I hope you would have a different approach to an employee, as well; I’ve certainly had times when I didn’t know how to approach a problem, and my supervisor or senior coworkers helped give me perspective instead of telling me to ‘suck it up.’

I would also talk to the child’s teacher and see what they think. They can tell you if they think the child is working at an appropriate level or not; they know from experience what’s reasonable to expect. Work with them and get their advice for how to help your child.

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    Start reading at 9? He can read right now at 6....maybe I'm expecting too much, I didn't know if that was normal or not, but I was really happy about it. He's been able to read since he was probably about 4 or 5 years old. – leeand00 Dec 28 '20 at 1:06
  • I just thought that my parents and grandparents babied me too much and when I got to the real world I was kinda angry that nobody taught me what it would be like with a boss with a tiny budget telling me to suck it up because they don't know how to solve the problem either! – leeand00 Dec 28 '20 at 1:08
  • I wanted to make sure I wasn't being a Dr. Spock parent: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Spock – leeand00 Dec 28 '20 at 1:09
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    Certainly it’s common to read by six or so - my point is that if you didn’t start teaching a kid to read until nine they’d still learn to normal levels quickly. – Joe Dec 28 '20 at 1:12
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    @Joe To add to that, the odd idea to use a child's age to somehow consider him a success or failure (read by x yrs old, walk by x months old, potty trained by ...) is really odd. Real developmental issues are not assessed like this, and most activities have a fairly large expected range (like walking, talking, reading). No amount of pressure actually fixes it, so most of the stress of a child's development are largely self-inflicted by the parents. If you're concerned, get evaluated by a professional, but don't pressure the kid to "suck it up". – Nelson Dec 29 '20 at 3:08
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I’m gobsmacked. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that perhaps in your efforts to be concise you were a little harsh on the way you portrayed yourself?

Ok, firstly, homework at age 6? Yes, absolutely, it’s about learning good habits and demonstrating what he’s learned in class, and it should also be about bonding with loving parents over time spent together discussing the task.

It’s important for both you and your son to learn that he will not always get the answers right. His teacher needs to see which bits he/she needs to go back over in class. You also BOTH need to learn that the world will not end if he makes a mistake.

Please hear that.

Also, please note that he is NOT failing, he’s making mistakes.

The 2 best things you can do for your son are

  1. have a chat with the teacher and just make them aware of what’s happening. Perhaps they can stop setting your son homework for a week or 2 (it’s quite likely that he’ll want to do homework if all his friends are... it’s also really important that ‘no homework’ doesn’t come across as a punishment in this scenario)

  2. play with your son... play games, starting with non-competitive ones, and build your relationship. It sounds like your son may have low self-esteem. Praise him for everything he does well. Pay attention to the little things - “you were really polite to grandma today, good job!” Help him to recognise and celebrate his achievements. Remember he’s only 6 so you might think some of the things are a bit obvious, but they’re not obvious to a child of his age.

We all appear on this planet like little aliens and it takes us time to figure everything out. It helps if we have someone who loves and cares about us to guide our journey, but even then we sometimes get things mixed up. It sounds like your son may have processed something as “I have always got to do my work perfectly” which results in ‘I’m scared to make mistakes’ and ‘something bad might happen if I can’t be perfect.’

Playing games allows children to experience frustration and lack of success in a safe environment, so play games with him. Gentle games. Child games. I’m including jigsaws and toy cars and painting/drawing in the ‘games’ category here.

You probably need me to say this... the point of playing games is to have fun, to try out different situations, to problem solve... this is NOT about you winning every game because he needs to know how to lose. This is about you having fun with him, doing things together, encouraging him to explore ways of meeting his goals. And remember to praise him. Be the warm, cuddly dad you wish you’d had.

And if you cannot do these things stay well out of the way and let his mother or grandparents or someone else help the poor kid.

Good luck!

(Worried about future employers?! He’s 6!!! Or were you intending to stick him up a chimney?)

I have over 20 years of experience in working with children and teens

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I think you should take a step back and perhaps put yourself in your son's shoes. As a six year old, his highest priority isn't these assignments. It's playing. It's running around and jumping or hanging out with his friends at a park. A mental shift has to occur to get in the mindset for doing schoolwork and it won't happen for a while - years even.

This is something I dealt with teaching my now nine year old. When I take a look at his assignments, they are easy for me. Of course they are, I'm an adult who has experience and knowledge. I've been to school. I have my degree. I work every day on harder issues.

Your son is, I reiterate, six years old. This is all new to him. Of course it is a little terrifying and uncomfortable. While you may say that he needs to suck it up, you have to suck it up also. He's not employed and you're not his employer. You were charged with his care from the beginning and you can't fire him.

These are all conclusions that every hard working parent must come to. It is a conclusion that I had to come to. Teach him to enjoy the challenge so he doesn't run away and be more patient. Someone was patient with you once.

He's six. You're way older. Wear those shoes for a bit.

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Well, here's some things for you to think about - a few slaps to warm your ears.

Firstly, from your description it seems that you are far too harsh with your son, and you seem unempathetic. A child needs to know that their parent love and respect them, and that they can come to you with any problem at all and find comfort and understanding - and possibly even good advice.

Secondly, you focus only on your need: you want this behaviour to stop. So to be a little harsh with you - if that is your only goal, put him in an orphanage. What I'm trying to say is, you need to refocus - this should be about his needs, not yours. You need to provide what he needs from you: love, caring and respect - everything else will follow from that.

I know that it is hard to be a parent, certainly the first time. I'm a grandfather now, so I have been through it, and I have had to learn, and maybe you are as stupid as I was at that age, but it is not hopeless; after all, I managed to become a reasonably decent father. We all make mistakes in the beginning, but if we are willing to improve, we can still be successful.

Just because your son doesn't want to do his assignments, it doesn't mean that he isn't learning. Children want to learn, they can't stop learning, but sometimes they don't learn what you think you are teaching them. I'm sure you want your son to be a good student and learn whatever they school teaches - but it seems what you have actually taught him is that doing homework is traumatic in the extreme, and his dad is bad news. Maybe you should change tack, maybe you should simply spend time with him, ask about school - not his homework, but his friends, what they get up to and what he likes best. The aim is to teach him that being with you and confiding in you is nice and safe.

The world is full of parents who put their own wishes first, and the result is children that grow up to be just as selfish. My own father used to issue scintillating pearls of wisdom, like "Children should be seen, not heard" and "Your will is in my pocket" - he wanted to teach me disciplin and for some reason, to "eat whatever was put in front of me". The direct result was that I became anti-authoritarian and it took me years to teach myself disciplin at work, after I had broken all contact with him. And there are still certain foodstuffs that I absolutely loathe. When I got children, I did everything I could to avoid being like my father - I advice you to do the same.

Focus on love, caring and respect, because nothing is as important.

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  • "The aim is to teach him that being with you and confiding in you is nice and safe." - This is key, perhaps the asker assumes this is a given whereas as you say, it needs to be TAUGHT and reinforced. Maybe to the OP with his adult perspective and control "it's obvious" that a father loves his son and will always be safe toward him, whatever might get said in the course of a homework argument. But from the child's point of view, who has no overarching control over this situation, there is no "goes without saying". There is only what is said, and OP makes this pressurised and failure threatening – benxyzzy Dec 30 '20 at 11:17
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It is always worth discovering if there is a real reason for fear. It's possible this is not oversensitivity but a reaction to some past event.

Do you remember when the behaviour started? Was it immediately, the first time homework was assigned? Or was it after the homework was first submitted?

Adults can sometimes unwittingly use phrases that work for one child but not another**. Children re-invent bullying anew every generation, no matter how peaceable their parents. It's worth checking if there is an actual fear of consequences whether founded or not.


** Here's a very educational clip. Although it is from a comedy program, it nevertheless shows a real aspect of childhood and that different children can react very differently to the same words..

When David Mitchell was a child of five or six, he was scared of the sun. Somebody had said to him that if he looked at the sun he would go blind. So when outside he was obsessive about keeping his eyes on the ground. If ever his eyes did flick toward the bright star he panicked he was on the way to “perpetual darkness”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKc32jQIY0w&feature=emb_logo

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If you are helping with homework during the Covid-19 stay-in-place, that is not mentioned and also may be a big contributor with anxiety that your child is experiencing in addition to the push to do homework. Parents need to step back during the pandemic and lessen the stress on children, not add to it. As an advocate for disabled students for over 25 years, I've never seen the point of homework for young children. If dealing with remote learning as a 6 yr old (in first grade?) if any at all, most child development experts believe it should be minimal and involve no more than 10 minutes a day during a school week. There may be an underlying issue as to WHY the child does not want to do school work that could have nothing to do with the work itself, but involves the undercurrent of anxiety regarding remote learning during the pandemic. Children at this age need to play. They learn with play. Over structuring this time with your child may create long-term problems going forward with homework. I'd talk to the teacher about shortening the assignments (or removing them altogether) until your child feels less stressed. Just because he's six doesn't mean he can't be affected emotionally by the pandemic. There is nothing wrong with asking for a homework "break". I've requested it as a written accommodation in Individual Education Plans for disabled children many times. https://namica.org/blog/impact-on-the-mental-health-of-students-during-covid-19/ https://arhsinflight.com/1183/feature/amount-of-time-spent-on-homework-for-each-grade-level/

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  • I do not understand why this forum gave me a "teacher" badge. I do not want to mislead people into thinking I'm credentialed in that area. I'm an advocate for families with disabled students and work with school personnel to help ensure a student receives supports needed for success. I'm new to this forum and don't understand the "badge" business, but want to clarify as to ensure I'm not misrepresenting myself. This was my first post. – Sonja Luchini Dec 29 '20 at 22:03
  • Don't worry about the badge names. SO automatically awards badges for various "achievements" here and anybody who answers a question with at least one upvote gets the "teacher" badge. It's not in any way a claim of credentials. Other people can't even see your badge names without going to your user profile and clicking on the "badges" tab there. – Geoffrey Brent Dec 30 '20 at 1:12
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Ask the teacher to give you one good reason based on sound pedagogical science why he/she is assigning homework to very young children? Hint: there isn't one. Then tell them you won't force yours to do it because it's not developmentally appropriate. Honestly, this breaks my heart. He's running away because it's hurting him. One thing I'd like to add as a parent of a child with a language processing difference is if you have any reason to suspect a learning difference? Family history (dyslexia is genetic), or when you read to your child they are not leaning a few basic words? There are simple assessments you (or the teacher, but don't hold your breath) can administer. If there is an issue, there are excellent interventions for language based processing issues that are highly effective if implemented before the age of ten. In fact, the earlier the better. Don't wait if you suspect your child is having difficulty, and don't expect the school to help you. A very young child who hates homework is normal, but it can also be a sign it's harder than it should be.

Here's a link to one example of an at home assessment you might try: https://www.sess.ie/dyslexia-section/early-primary-school-signs-ages-5-7-years

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    I can give you a good reason, and it's not about the child, it's about their parents. If the parents take zero involvement in schooling, educational outcomes are way worse. Starting their parents on active involvement in their child's learning from the start is a big win. At 6, it should be clear to any adult that the child needs supervision with homework. Better to train the parents now when it's easy, because it'll be harder later when the parents don't know how to do it themselves. – Graham Dec 28 '20 at 9:34
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    I don't really believe the answer here. The younger you are the more brain plasticity you have, and thus, the sooner you start learning the better. – leeand00 Dec 28 '20 at 20:40
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    @leeand00 let me encourage you to look into the definitions of “learning”. Please don’t confuse learning with formal schooling or education. The former is a much wider concept than the latter. – Stephie Dec 29 '20 at 9:12
  • @leeand00 This isn't just about getting some facts and concepts into him, it's also about learning how to learn. If you're teaching him that education is something unpleasant to be afraid of, then you're setting him on a path for failure for his whole life. – Graham Dec 29 '20 at 15:07
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    I can't believe I had to scroll through 9 answers to find this, which is the only correct answer. It's absurd to be giving homework kids at age 6. – Ben Crowell Dec 29 '20 at 23:24
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Firstly, I'd like to echo Graham's answer to find out why. This is the root of solving almost all complex problems. It leads to a solution which is appropriate to the problem and its actual cause.

However I wanted to add a few things either I think the other answers miss or on which I disagree.

On the matter one user suggested of having a cookie after completing a certain proportion of the work, I think it is a great idea to have a break and ensure hunger is dealt with, but a bad idea to use sugary treats as a reward. Food is to nourish the body and to use sugar as a reward can lead to people growing up eating for the wrong reasons, eating sugary food as a pick-me-up when they feel down, despite not being hungry, and that is a maladaptive and unhealthy behaviour that can cause obesity and other health problems such as diabetes.

In terms of the causes you may need to address, there are others that can lead to this behaviour, which your son may be unable to identify for himself at the moment:

When kids are hungry or tired they can behave inappropriately. Pay attention to the times of day when this behaviour happens. Is it a long time after mealtimes? Did they get to sleep at a decent hour the night before? Is it too late in the day to be doing homework? Ask your son to stop for a minute, sit and do nothing, pay attention to his body and how it feels. Can he observe that he is hungry or tired?

When my kids have eaten sugary or processed foods it can also lead to bad behaviours. Pay attention to how his behaviour follows sweets and processed foods. In my experience, once you do this, it's shocking just how much difference it makes.

On the "employer won't stand for it" comment. I think it's valid to explain to him that this behaviour is going to have to stop at some point. But I agree with you that life IS hard. It's still survival of the fittest and the weak will fall to the bottom of the pile. As populations grow and famine becomes ever more likely, we may not always have the luxury of the weakest being provided for by others. Of course a 6 year old is rightly shielded from this reality but you should be titrating his exposure to it rather than over- or under-exposing him to it. Give him just enough "life is hard" experience that he can deal with and grow into, and slowly ramp it up as his abilities to deal with it grow.

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Is someone in his life yelling at him when he has difficulties? Because that would cause him to react that way.

"I'm maybe a little harsh on the kid telling him to just suck it up and keep going"

That person doesn't happen to be you does it? Do not take his having difficulty personally.

"...but the other family members are not as harsh on him, and it doesn't seem to help either"

Doesn't matter. If just one person does that it could cause him to react the same way to everyone.

If that is indeed the case, all I can say is stop whoever is doing that from doing that and be prepared to live with him reacting like that for a long time until he unlearns it.

I am 35 and to this day my muscles instinctively tense up when people old enough to be my parents (usually coworkers) yell or raise their voice around me. They don't even have to be addressing me, or anybody in the room, or anybody on Earth for that matter. They could be yelling at someone over the phone, or just cursing to themselves. They just need to be in the vicinity.

Apparently, it also taught me that my parents would side with my teachers instead of me. This resulted in me getting unjust detentions more than one time when teachers gave everyone in the area of an incident detention, whether or not they were actually involved, whether or not they were even playing with each other. I only discovered that at 22 that they would have believed me if I had told them. One particularly egregious example was when I was watching the fancy new Apple multimedia computer in the library. Not only was it playing VIDEOS they were in COLOUR! With a MOUSE CURSOR instead of command line text. Anyways, the guy on it was apparently a student from the nearby junior high school who had wandered over. He locked everyone out of the computer and I got a week of detention for it. I was in grade 2 and had never touched an Apple Computer before in my life. But now I'm rambling.

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At such a young age, this is not a surprising reaction, for my kids around this age they were either overly curious or scared of these situations.

I agree that this is a response pattern that you do not want to reinforce, or reward, but also you cannot use force and should try to avoid bribery/rewards as a mechanism to change this behavioural / emotional response.

A solution that has worked for me is to establish a pattern of when to complete homework and assignments, in our house we call it "homework club" and 3 nights a week we sit down at the same time and work on "our" homework in the same space, not necessarily working together, but in an environment where we can ask each other for assistance.

Its like going to the Gym, sure we can all work out at home, but somehow being in the presence of others all working out individually in the same space there is passive positive reinforcement and assistance and advice from those around us when we need it.

This helps to eliminate the "Run away" or flight response to problem solving, especially when there are positive roll models around who are also working on challenging tasks. If you don't have other kids then take this time to work on your own homework, or the cross word in the day's paper, be approachable when or if assistance is needed, but also demonstrate yourself asking for help, talk out loud as you reason through the options available to you.

We all deal with challenges and different emotional states in different ways, often as parents we hide many of our challenges from our children, so they don't get to see use experience frustrations in the same ways that they do, or the things that frustrate us are not relatable to them, so we need to create an environment that they can relate too and manufacture scenarios of our own to guide them on postive ways to react to and manage their issues.

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