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HELP - coping strategies needed!

(7 Posts)
BeeInYourBonnet Thu 06-Feb-14 17:22:12

DD (y3) has started panicking about school work and instrument practice. She comes home from school panicking that she's done badly in maths, and I'll try to calm her down by asking her to tell me what happened, and then talk her through the solution to show her its no as hard as she'd thought ( its normally a small error that she's blown out of proportion, e.g. panicking over adding two large numbers, completely forgetting shes learnt how and originally found it easy).

However calm I am, she flips out crying, huffing and puffing, in full melodramatic mode. Refuses to engage, just keeps repeating she can't do it, wailing and moaning. doesn't matter what tactic I use, whether I try to calm her, suggest leaving it and looking at it another time, confidence boost her by saying how well sdhes trying etc etc.

She's getting exactly the same with music practice. From the beginning, she is negative, presumes she will do it badly. And with school work and practice she will deliberately scupper herself by not looking in the direction of the music, dropping the instrument, scribbling illegibly, deliberately getting things wrong (e.g. if I simplify a sum to 2+1, she will guess 17, and when I say have another go, you know the answer, it will trigger more drama

BeeInYourBonnet Thu 06-Feb-14 17:24:57

Sorry, posted too soon.

How do I best deal with this? I'm tempted to disengage altogether as its making us both miserable, but I can't just not help her. It just seems like whatever I do, I'm not helping, and inevitably after ages of wailing and drama I inevitably snap which makes things worse!

BeeInYourBonnet Thu 06-Feb-14 21:16:58


PastSellByDate Fri 07-Feb-14 11:09:01

Hi Bee:

My DD2 (Y4) is somewhat similar. Our solution was to acknowledge that to her it's important to be good at things - to be on top table, to be able to 'keep up' with her peers - even high achieving ones, to be pleasing her violin teacher.... So slowly over the years we've developed a routine which ensures she has lots of practice in areas that matter to her:

More reading - encouraging not just reading to me (10 - 15 minutes while sister bathes) but also reading before bed. Violin practice from 8 - 8:30 a.m. - after she's dressed and getting that practice in with me checking through what she's doing at the weekend (don't play the violin, but piano so can read music and can help with notes/ timing - when I have more time and we can extend the practice if more work is needed).

More writing - she struggled with joined up writing so we bought her workbooks she liked and let her work through them on her own. She now keeps diaries and writes little stories in various notebooks. We just keep supplying them and encourage family/ friends to give her notebooks for birthdays/ Christmas/ etc...

More maths - because DD1 had such problems and was seriously struggling and the school was not intervening - we joined mathsfactor (link: which basically is a video/ video game format to learn calculation skills & practice them. It's hosted by Carol Vorderman (of countdown fame) and is amazingly clear and seems to really appeal to my girls. DD2 asked to do this because she was jealous of DD1 so joined late YR and has done it all the way through. It has meant she's usually known how to do things before it's tackled in class - or has a good idea how to apply the knowledge she has to a new type of problem.

other parents here on MN have recommended:


Math Whizz:

Komodo maths:

There are also some great free maths websites which offer a lot of practice but may require you to search through to find appropriate games:

woodland junior school maths zone:

cool maths for kids:

Khan Academy (this is a tutorial but free - based on US curriculum so be aware that US grades are one year behind so 5th grade in US = Y6 in UK - basically they start later but move more swiftly): - on the black menu bar select LEARN and then select MATH and then select the appropriate year (so -1 from year your DC is currently at).

Basically - it's taken a bit of juggling and reordering of our lives (getting up that 15 minutes earlier) - but we've accommodated DD2s need to be 'on top' of maths/ reading/ writing or violin work and to feel she knows what she needs to do. Because she's well prepared she's lest flustered/ upset in class, she tends to be recognised for her hard work (put on top table, promoted from 3rd to second violins in orchestra, etc...) and so that positive reinforcement feeds back into her recognising that a good routine of practice makes a difference.

The routine makes life more straightforward for DH & I - less surprises/ last minute panics on homework late Sunday p.m. - and the girls are clearly getting good results in school & for DD2 in violin.

I think one reality is that in this area the 11+ is highly competitive - it's free here - state funded - but based on selective exam process. The comprehensive options here are pretty dire on the whole - so many parents start gearing up for the 11+ early (as early as Y3) and have their kids do extra work towards this at home - which means that they start to move ahead of peers not doing as much. The nett result is that kids 'falling behind' feel pressure and confused why X can do it but they can't. It is a choice - but it's also important to acknowledge the personality of your child. For DD1 (who left KS1 with NC L1 across the boards in KS1 SATs) it wasn't an issue - she didn't mind - we minded as parents that she was behind but she was happiest to focus on 'catching up' at a slow but steady pace - not trying to do multiplication with the clever kids, but working on addition/ subtraction to get that, because she knew she couldn't. With DD2 it's always been about being in top group and on level pegging with the most able in the class. She has a very large competitive streak - and we've had to accept that it's her personality and doing more work to keep up/ stay on top is what she needs & wants to do.


Meita Fri 07-Feb-14 11:57:06

It does sound like a confidence/perfectionism issue. Where, as soon as she is not 'perfect' in something, her confidence drops to rock bottom, and lacking the confidence, she can't even do 'easy' things, because she is panicking and not in the right mindset.

What might have brought this on? I can imagine that it could be something like PSBD describes. Your DD relied on easily grasping things that were taught. Then suddenly other kids in her class know about things that HAVEN'T been taught (because they were tutored), and she gets confused, thinking she OUGHT to know this too, not understanding that the others know it not because they are inherently smart (and she dumb) but because they have been taught (and she not). All she sees is the others knowing things she doesn't. And it is knocking down her self-image.
It might also be somewhat related to no longer getting instant positive feedback? Could it be that her teacher last year frequently praised her, whereas her teacher this year doesn't praise her for working on her consistently high level, because it is just taken for granted, and only praises her when she has been particularly clever about something? Thus making her think she's not doing as well as she is.
Or, has something made her think that she is not working hard enough? That she could do better if only she put in that extra hour here or there? That could also lead to panic, because, up to getting something wrong she could be holding on to the thought that she did enough, then getting something wrong, starts thinking 'oh if only I had practiced that at home, I really should have' and instead of looking forward and focusing on the next problem, starts panicking about the obviously unchangeable past.

You can of course help her by also tutoring her/providing her with extra learning resources, ensuring that she is no longer confronted with that situation. Or, you can help her understand what is going on and help her develop strategies to deal with it. (nothing to say you can't do both).

Perfectionism is frequently sort of downplayed, like when people say 'oh I am a bit of a perfectionist', it's like saying 'oh I am a bit OCD' when in fact perfectionism (and OCD) are proper issues that can seriously impact on your life. Going in to a panic and meltdown when you got a question wrong is not sustainable, and even with all the tutoring in the world, a time will come where she WILL get questions wrong; or a time will come where she won't be at the top of her group.

You say
'I'll try to calm her down by asking her to tell me what happened, and then talk her through the solution to show her its no as hard as she'd thought'
I'd suggest next time start with the first part as normal, but then don't move on to the solution bit, but rather ask her how that made her feel. Maybe you need to help her in naming the panicky feelings and the distress that arises. Help her observe herself and her reactions, to recognise how she goes into panic. Recognising and naming those feelings is the first step to finding ways of dealing with them.
Then she needs a strategy, something she can 'do' when it happens again. It could be something like deep breath, count to ten in your head. Then respond to the panicky message by a counter-message (depending on what it is).

Just telling or showing her that she 'can' do something won't work with a perfectionist - a perfectionist will always find a reason why it/she isn't good enough. Hence I believe in the long run it is well worth working on learning that 'imperfect' is usually good enough and perfectly ok. And on strategies of how to deal with the panic when it starts coming on.

noramum Fri 07-Feb-14 12:40:28

DD is similar, worries about a word she has to write three sentences down the line. She is afraid of saying anything in class in case it is wrong.

Tantrums are forecasted each time we slightly correct her or advise her of a different approach.

One thing that helped a lot was getting her to listen to relaxation CDs. We introduced them for bedtime issues but they are great generally. She now is able to step back, breathes in and out and can focus again mostly on her own while before we had a toddler style tantrum on our hand. We use Relax Kids

BeeInYourBonnet Fri 07-Feb-14 14:18:52

Thanks so much for your posts - a lot of what you all say totally resonates.

She is definitely a perfectionist. She's been so down about her music, so last night at bedtime we talked about it and I said not to worry if she wasn't doing as well as the others and she'll catch up. To which she responded that she was ahead of the others, yet she still feels she isn't doing well enough!

She has always hated jot being able to do things. She was very slow learning to read, as she used to hate getting words wrong, but when it clicked she improved incredibly quickly and in her SATs was almost off the chart.

Maths is the latest hurdle. I think we need to focus more on feelings, rather than solutions, as you suggest Meita .

Past I worry that encouraging more maths is making things worse. The more I try to help her to feel more confident, the more stressed she gets.

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