This is Part 5 of a special five-part Global Life Q&A with Simone Courso. Click here for Part 1: On Self-Care.
There are times when we all need help. It might be from a trusted friend, a family member, a teacher or a coach. One of the questions I answer a lot as a PCI Certified Parent Coach®, is about the difference between a coach and a counselor. This is a great question.
As a parenting coach, I focus on day-to-day challenges we all face in parenting – feeling overwhelmed with information, feeling stressed about little things, not having enough time for oneself, struggling with powerful influences streaming into the family such as messages via screen technologies, desiring a particular positive outcome with a child’s learning and/or behavior to name a few.
My focus as a coach is on creatively collaborating with parents as they seek (and get!) more out of their personal and parenting life. These parents are not in survival mode in their lives – they simply want to reduce stress, consciously improve their situation even more and/or enjoy the ongoing learning process of parenthood to higher levels. A parent coach is NOT a counselor. Coaching is different in that it’s something we may want for ourselves to enhance and feel invigorated about life rather than something we need to cope in a crisis situation.
However, in life, times may well arise that your child (and possibly you) will need the assistance of a counselor. Counseling is especially designed for dealing with crises. It’s important for a parent to know when to seek the help of a counselor for their child.
Simone Courso, a professional school counselor, describes some clear situations that you may face that are particularly important for you to consult a counseling professional to support you and your child. We, as parents, should also courageously seek the help of a counselor (and not a coach) when facing some of the major challenges that Simone outlines for the Global Wise Parenting community.
Q: What are some situations and signs that a parent should consult a school counselor for support regarding their child, tween or teen?
A: Parents are often reluctant to consult with the school counselor, which is something I understand as a parent, but of course, having worked in this position at international schools, I would say that it is best to involve the school counselor in some instances such as:
- Death in the family
A grieving child might need support at school. Sometimes children don’t or can’t express their feelings in the family and the counselor will have enough emotional distance to listen to them and talk to them about the grieving process. The counselor can reassure the child, explain that it is normal to experience strong emotions, particularly sadness or anger. A counselor, with the permission of the parents, can also tell the child’s teachers, who can be supportive without having to discuss anything with the child.
- Cancer or serious illness in the family
Often parents try to protect their children when somone comes down with a severe ilnness in the family, but children will perceive their parents’ stress and anxiety and anyway, it’s very hard to keep a secret like that. Children react in different ways than adults and may have fears that differ from their parents’ fears. They might also be hesitant to share their feelings with their parents as they don’t want to worry them even more. That’s why a counselor would be a good person to listen to them and be there for them in a time of turmoil for the family.
- Separation of the parents
Children love their parents and want them to be together. A separation can be traumatic and children will often feel responsible for it. It is good for your child to speak to someone who’s neutral and understands how he/she feels.
Bullying is very common with tweens and teens and is taking new and more hurtful forms with the access to social networks in which people post things that they would never dare say to the face of their victim. The pain is exacerbated by the fact that the photo or comment is public and that other people will either “Like” it or add more comments.
If your child experiences harassment whether it is at school or online, he/she might not tell you so that you won’t get involved. What you might notice is a lack of involvement in activities, poor grades, irritability, withdrawal, and possibly sadness.
If your child does talk to you, initially you would encourage him/her to speak to the person who is victimizing, but sometimes that is very difficult, and there might be fear of retaliation. If you child can’t handle the situation alone, don’t hesitate to consult with the counselor sooner rather than later. As a rule, counselors will discuss with your child what has been done already, what else could be tried out, and the counselor might also be able to intervene indirectly by asking teachers to observe the parties involved, in class or in the hallways.
- Excessive stress
Stress can be a good thing as it makes us try harder but at times, particularly in international schools these days, there is a lot of pressure placed on students and some of them experience too much stress. They can’t sleep, work too long, don’t know how to manage their time and also don’t know what to do to feel better. Some parents might think that it is a sign of weakness and often teachers don’t even notice how stressed a student is because he/she keeps it together in class but falls apart at home. It is a good thing to discuss this with a counselor as he/she will be able to identify the causes of stress and give some suggestions to deal with it.
Sometimes, when young people are too stressed or don’t know how to express or get rid of their emotional pain, they will harm themselves. Some parents think it’s just their child’s way of drawing attention to themselves, other parents get very alarmed and worry that their child might be contemplating suicide. This is rarely the case, but self-harming is definitely a cry for help and a sign that the child couldn’t think of healthier ways to cope with stress or pain. Besides listening to the child and making a decision whether he/she must seek help from a psychologist, a school counselor can also help parents understand what drives children to hurt themselves.
- Psycho-educational assessment
Again, I have found parents to be very cautious about sharing the fact that their child was assessed by a psychologist. Deep down, I understand the fear of being labeled too early on, but on the other hand, these assessments are very costly and the best thing about them is the recommendations that are given to teachers and counselors to help and support the child in school.
About all of these issues, should a family feel uncomfortable speaking to the school counselor, I advise them to get help outside of school.
Simone Courso was born in Alsace, a province in the Eastern part of France. With her husband and her three children she has lived in Switzerland, the Principality of Liechtenstein, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Simone has a Masters Degree in Linguistics and in Counseling Psychology, and is certified with the National Board of Certified Counselors in the US. For the last 18 years she has been working in international schools counseling and supporting students and their parents mainly in the areas of cross-cultural adjustment, difficulties with relationships, stress, sadness and self-harming. In her free time, Simone likes to travel and explore new countries and cultures, read, watch movies, or simply spend time with her family.