My son wasn’t “bad”. He was lost.  

“It was a bad time for us as a family. I was at my wits’ end. Morale at home was low. We fought, we cried, we did research, we made plans to help him. Then a  phycologist friend recommended that I take him to see clinical psychologist Dr Manfred Janik. This changed our world.”

Grade 1: A Bad Start

In the second week of my son’s grade one year, I received a call from his teacher to come and see her and to sign an ‘admission of guilt’ form.

The teacher explained that my son had spit on another student’s apple. My son explained that he had told the child not to litter after he’d dropped a wrapper on the floor and in the process a drop of spit accidentally landed on the apple. 

This was just the beginning. 

Every other week the teacher would send a message home of another wrongdoing by my son. 

He came home crying every day. He started having nightmares and did poorly in school.

I set up a meeting with the principal to discuss the situation, upon which she insisted that my son meets with the school’s preferred occupational therapist. 

So we did. 

The occupational therapist’s evaluation indicated that my son was touch sensitive, which explained why he didn’t like sitting in a circle on the carpet in class because other children would inadvertently bump into him. It was why standing in a line irritated and triggered him, because the nearness of the other children intruded on his personal space. His reactions to these triggers were disruptive to the class, but he didn’t have an understanding of what was going on and had no way to control the situation.

We let him continue with  the occupational therapist’ therapy sessions. These involved listening to classical music on headphones while doing brain-stimulation exercises. He began to throw up after his sessions. After a while he would get nauseous just hearing classic music. But he had to continue the sessions, as demanded by the school. 

His classmates teased him for needing therapy. They also teased him for struggling to read out loud. 

It was a bad time for us as a family. 

I was at my wits end. Morale at home was low. 

We fought, we cried, we did research, we made plans to help him. 

Then a phycologist friend recommended that I take him to see clinical psychologist, Dr Manfred Janik. This absolutely changed our world. My son had 26 sessions with this amazing man who observed the following: 

  • My boy has an adversity to change. The change from a Montessori environment where he had been since the age of 18 months to the mainstream schooling system had had a major impact on his emotions. 
  • When he feels emotionally challenged, he acts out. 
  • He had zero impulse control, which is what caused him so much trouble at school. 

Dr Janik worked with him to recognise and acknowledge what he is feeling and why. Together, they worked on coping methods and tools that he could use to calm himself down when he was feeling upset, angry, confused, or any other big emotions.

After every session, Dr Janik gave me tips and pointers too, that could help my son. Everything was starting to work! Yay – we WILL survive. . 

Dr Janik was sending monthly reports to the school to explain our process and progress. Unfortunately, my son’s teacher had a different idea about how best to navigate the situation and so, in the classroom at least, the focus remained on my son’s problems.

Fed up and tired, I cried myself to sleep over my son many a night. 

Then Dr Janik suggested that I take my son out of school for 2 weeks in an effort to break the negative cycle he was in. The school wasn’t happy about this, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I followed my gut and Dr Janik’s advice. 

It was around this time that my son’s teacher went on long leave. The substitute teacher who was sent in her place turned out to be a godsend. 

She told my son that they were on a clean page.

She embraced the tips and suggestions Dr Janik had given and implemented these in my son’s daily class routine. These included standing behind him at his desk while putting her hands on his shoulders and gently pressing down at the beginning of class. This grounded him and made him feel safe. She talked to him in a positive way, encouraged him to work harder and praised him when he did something right. Slowly we saw his marks beginning to improve. 

Grade 2 – 3: Almost There

There are angels on this earth. 

The following year at the beginning of the new school term, I met with my son’s respective grade 2 teachers and told the entire soppy story from the start, explaining again what we had learned about helping him to manage his behaviour. Mercifully, they were both on board with implementing the techniques we’d used the previous year and he thrived. 

We saw marks picking up, although he still struggled with phonetics. We’d just gotten him extra help to deal with it when the next big hurdle hit us: Covid. 

Change….it felt like we were back to where we’d started. Nonetheless, I decided to implement a very strict routine at home to help him feel secure. The online learning was chaos, and our mother-son relationship was in shambles. We screamed, we cried, we bribed… But after a month of sticking to our routine things started to look up. Covid passed and we were still alive, albeit barely. 

Grade 4 – This Again?

After much deliberation, thoughts, talks with friends,family and professionals, we decided to move our boys to a new school for various reasons. 

This time, I decided not to inform the new school of my son’s ‘history’, at least not right away. Perhaps I hoped that all would proceed normally and we’d be done with that chapter. However, in week 2 the teacher phoned. 

She wanted to find out if there was a chance that my son wasdyslexic and/or had ADHD. 

Another assessment at a Child Psychologist showed nothing. In fact, he tested well. (We have tested 3 times before and all the tests were the same). 

The report stated what I already knew: 

  • He’s not good with change. 
  • He needs structure and routine. 
  • He needs to know exactly what is expected of him. 
  • He is very clever with a high IQ.

I sent the report to the school and arranged a meeting with all his class teachers and HODs. 

I explained my son’s history to the teachers and what I know works for him emotionally and physically. They got on board with implementing the techniques used previously and once again he began to thrive. 

It was the onset of written exams and for the first time we realised that my son’s spelling was terrible. We enrolled him in a 6-week Literacy Links course at school and it worked wonders. His spelling improved by about 20% and I could see a vast improvement in his homework. In his report the Literacy Links teacher wrote that my son was clever, learned fast, and needed a structure as well as knowledge of what was expected of him. Sound familiar?

The teacher also recognised that because of my son’s terrible emotional state throughout Grade 1, he had missed several important building blocks that were necessary for learning, reading and phonics, and which now caused problems with reading, comprehension, and conveying his knowledge. And whenever he struggled with something, it made him insecure, which affects his emotional state and keeps the vicious cycle going. 

Luckily, by now I knew how to anticipate issues and we could handle anything that came our way. 

Today, my son continues to get help with his phonetics. He’s managed to learn valuable coping skills from his sessions with Dr Janik, from his teachers, and from other professionals. 

Here’s what I learned from our experience:

  • Children are not too small to learn how to manage their emotions. 
  • The sooner they learn that seeking help is not something to be ashamed of, the better for all of us. 
  • Find the RIGHT professional for you. Talk, read up on different options, and if your first attempt does not work for you or your child, move on and search until you find the right person to help. 

Clinical Psychologist: Dr Manfred Janik