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Make an emotional connection: enjoying a little face-time with your child every day may save you thousands in therapy.

Children and parents need a strong emotional connection. Fact, one of life’s biggest challenges is taking care of another human life. However, keeping them clothed and in school is one thing; it is far trickier ensuring that they are well-adjusted and emotionally stable.

A child’s life is a pretty intense series of lessons, which all parents hope will foster positive growth and sound personal direction to build solid character. But, in the growing years, this is a gradual journey that can sometimes be thrown off course, revealing itself, perhaps, in a personality change, a drop in school marks, a change in friends… and you can’t be sure if it’s thanks to growing pains or something irregular and self-destructive.

So, I want to learn a little more about what today’s children are really struggling with to gain some insight into where they need us the most. And, most importantly, to find out how to build a strong emotional connection.

Big and strong in all respects

According to Cape Town-based clinical psychologist Rafiq Lockhat of the Psychological Society of South Africa, “Parents are more aware and informed than ever before, and they don’t take chances, so more and more children are attending therapy these days”.  However, unfortunately, this growing need for therapy is often because parents simply don’t have time to deal with obstacles themselves.  Lockhat is finding that this shortage of a quality emotional connection between child and parent is resulting in worrying and misguided, attention-seeking behaviour. “I deal with body image obsession, especially thinness, in eight and nine year olds, cutting behaviour in older children – not restricted to those with borderline personality disorder – and suicide attempts that are often nothing more than copy-cat, statement-making behaviour.  It is also disturbingly, and successfully, being used against parents as a weapon for manipulation.”

When suicidal behaviour is accompanied by tearfulness, parents should indeed worry and take action, says Lockhat. When it is accompanied by tantrums and the threat repeatedly crops up when your child is not getting their way, the answer is to not give in and buy those R1 000 sneakers. “I see many guilt-riddled single parents that are particularly vulnerable to these tactics,” says Lockhat.

Presenting problems

Lockhat is also seeing children with poor discipline and concentration skills, symptoms that many parents are mistaking for ADHD. “Many children simply haven’t been trained to focus.”

Then there is the fair share of scholastic problems. “Many children are not doing well at school. Their reading ability is not up to scratch for instance, which is essential for other skills such as maths,” states Lockhat.

Children are also coming to him with a variety of emotional problems caused mainly by divorce and bullying, and many children are presenting with depression symptoms. Lockhat also deals with a high instance of child-on-child abuse. Often, simply due to unchecked internet usage. “Children are being left to their own devices too often, and they’re observing a huge amount of sexual content, online, which is causing curiosity.”

Read more….what the law says about bullying.

The parent before the professional

The resounding message from the professionals seems to be that there is no substitute for your time. If you’re connecting with your child regularly you’ll be more aware of how they’re coping with life.

Set the example

Nelspruit-based educational psychologist Ria Scholtz says. “Understand that children feel upset, sad, alone, down, jealous and more, just as adults do. The big difference is they do not have all the cognitive abilities to express these appropriately.” They are only learning these now while growing up, which is why it’s important that you understand the concept of healthy expression, so that you can demonstrate it to your child. If your children are privy to your road rage or you are snapping at their dad because you are “stressed at work”, you are modelling an inappropriate expression of feelings, in the same way as your child hitting a friend, when angry, is.

Make time for special time

Make time – not for chores, homework or even to watch a movie, but for engaged fun together. As little as 10 minutes a day is good enough, says Lockhat. Talk to your child and, more importantly, listen.

Read up or talk to someone

Knowledge is your best weapon – if there seems to be a problem, talk to your child’s teacher to ascertain what they observe. If there is a specific diagnosis (such as autism or ADHD), gain the knowledge and then support, says Scholtz.

Ask questions relating to the behaviour

Was there a change in your routine? What is different in your home, family and life? Was there any trauma? “Often I will get answers such as ‘granny died, we moved, he started at a new school, we were robbed, we are fighting in the house, dad is now working far away, I have started working late, we have a new nanny’,” says Scholtz.

Keep your emotional tank topped-up

A depleted mom and dad can offer nothing.

Implement strategies

These include behaviour charts, rewards and routine.

Build on your child’s strengths

Find the positive aspects of your child’s personality or behaviour and celebrate that.

Wait and see

If there is no change in troubling moods or behaviour, take more action. “Look out for sudden, definite change or extremes in your child’s behaviour or emotions that are worrisome, intense, out of the ordinary, and seem to stay longer than just a week or two, and for which you have no explanation,” says Scholtz. If there is an improvement, recognise that you have made the emotional connection that has helped your child effectively through a difficult situation and likely equipped her with a life-skill or two in the process.

What professional help looks like


Therapy helps a child to learn about their problems, emotions, thoughts and behaviours. It also teaches them how to respond to challenging situations. Talk therapy, play therapy, sand-tray therapy are all good examplese of psychotherapy. Likewise, using books, stories, games and other techniques the therapist may be trained in are also useful.


Your child’s doctor might recommend that they take certain medications. Seek a second or third opinion if you feel the need. Upon doing thorough research you’ll know best practice for your child. “I was hesitant to try Ritalin with all the negative publicity, but it really helped my child to focus. I needed him to learn, and had to try it,” says Cape Town mom *Barbara, whose son was diagnosed with ADHD.

Parental guidance

The therapist can help you with guidance, information and plans to deal with routine and behaviour. “Play therapy was amazing. *Greg loved it. We worked through issues of cooperation and emotions, and I discovered effective disciplining tools that helped me to understand and not get frustrated with him,” says Barbara.

Information compliments of Dr Ria Scholtz

*Names have been changed

Lucille Kemp