When Your Child’s Head Explodes: Do’s and Don’ts

We’re all under stress right now, kids included. An exploding head may seem like a minor issue compared to the financial and health issues we’re all concerned about. But to a child, it’s an emergency.

On Monday, my daughter’s head exploded (metaphorically, of course).

Pertinent to my last post about executive functions, I had to go into executive secretary mode.

Margot’s online math lesson was about finding the surface area of nets. Remember from middle school? These things:

Triangular prism geometric shape projection of dashed and straight lines in black. Shape with sides in form of regular triangle and rectangle vector

I know it seems hard, but stick with me. You have to turn the shape into a “net,” like this:

You find the surface area of each of the three rectangles and each of the two triangles, add it all together, and voila!

I wrote that last sentence after — not before — spending over an hour watching Margot’s class video with her and then watching her solve five homework problems. At my first glimpse of the shapes, my instinct was to hide. Or call in my husband, the engineer.

Margot didn’t need an engineer, though. She needed her mom.

Here are some common signs that a child’s head is exploding: crying, yelling, throwing pencils, slamming doors, eye rolling, outright refusing offers of help, questioning a parent’s intelligence, questioning their own intelligence, tearing things up….

Let’s go back to the mom who commented on my last post:

“(She) goes back and forth between wanting me to sit next to her and wanting a lot of support and wanting to do it alone. I want her to be independent, but she’s often stubborn and won’t listen to my advice (ex. Why don’t you listen to Mrs. G.’s video again if you don’t understand? Or why don’t you email her and see if you can have a google meet with her so she can explain?).”

So let’s focus on those times when your child won’t listen to your advice. Sometimes this means they’ve got things under control, and you can just back off. Sometimes, this is a sign of an exploding head.

Remember, I’m Margot’s executive secretary. The secretary has many jobs beyond providing needed supplies and snacks. My mentor’s secretary also had to manage his moods. If it was a bad day, she closed his office door, and let fewer people through to him on the phone. She warned annoying graduate students away whenever she could. She saved stressful tasks and interruptions for later.

She didn’t try to do his job for him, or tell him how to do his job. And she certainly didn’t discipline him for his appalling behavior.

Here’s a handy guide for when your child’s head is exploding:

DO

  • Drop whatever you’re doing
  • Keep your voice calm, use fewer words
  • Get close to your child if possible
  • Sit with your child
  • Touch your child
  • Listen to your child
  • Offer food

DON’T

  • Suggest possible solutions
  • Do her work for her
  • Talk about your own skill in the subject area, and her good fortune at having you as a parent
  • Badmouth the teacher, and come up with a better way of teaching the material
  • Punish your child, but do place limits on how close you’ll be if she’s really out of control.
  • Expect your child to return to work until she’s calm. This might take longer than you think.

We’re all under stress right now, kids included. An exploding head may seem like a minor issue compared to the financial and health issues we’re all concerned about. But to a child, it’s an emergency. Just support them. Tomorrow will be a new day, I promise.

On Tuesday, math was still about those blasted shapes. But Margot FaceTimed a friend, and they got it done together.

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