Finding help is easy -- just pick up the phone

December 14, 1997|By Susan Reimer

Your child's backpack looks like a recycling bin, and he can never find his homework, and you don't know how to keep him organized.

Your oldest and youngest can't be in the same room for five minutes without a screaming fight, and all you seem to do is scream at both of them.

Your teen-ager has entered high school and ordered you out of her life, and you don't know how to keep her safe.

Something about your child is troubling you, and you aren't sure you are doing the right thing.

Pick up the phone on Friday.

Anne Arundel County school psychologists are waiting on the line to tell you what's normal or what might need a closer look, what you are doing right or what you might try instead.

The hot line is open on the third Friday of every month during this academic year for parents who have concerns about their child's development, behavior or struggles with learning. And you don't have to be an Anne Arundel County public-school parent to call.

Though only modestly advertised, the hot line received 28 calls during the first three Friday sessions. Most of the calls come from parents who need a chance to vent their frustration or who need a little reassurance, as well as from parents who need help navigating the system with a learning-disabled child.

"We aren't Dr. Laura," said Virginia Dolan, the psychologist at Meade High School, who has helped staff the hot line. "But we hear anything and everything. From kids getting picked on to kids who won't do their homework. Parents want to know what to do, but they don't know where to go or whom to ask.

"One mother called from the airport because she didn't want to miss us."

The hot line was offered last April to celebrate National School Psychologists Month. But it was such a success that Barbara Schwartz, coordinator of psychological services for Anne Arundel County schools, asked her staff to field calls once a month this year.

"A lot of parents are calling to check on what they see when their child comes home from school," says Schwartz. "Many of the problems are not of a magnitude to call a meeting with the school staff."

What the psychologists hear over the phone line is not far different from what they see every day in the elementary, middle and high schools where they work. Families today are under increasing stress, and it is showing up in the kids.

"Life is much more complicated now," says Dobie Rath, a psychologist who covers schools in the Severna Park area. "Both parents are working. Families are separated from relatives. Parents are divorcing. Technology and media bring everyone else's life into your home, and you are bombarded with information.

"I believe parents want to do the right thing. And most of the problems are very solvable. It is just that at the moment, the parents can't see it."

Sometimes parents can't find the words to describe the problems their children are experiencing, let alone find the professional to help them.

"We have learned to trust in a mother's intuition," said Dolan. "They are struggling. They don't even know what questions to ask. But they know something is going on with their child."

Though calls have come from parents of children at every grade level, the problems can often be reduced to a common denominator, says Schwartz.

"Who has the authority? The parent or the child? Who is going to exercise it, and when?"

When a parent is stressed out, the answer to those questions is not always clear.

"They try to do their best. But they may not be coming at their child at 100 percent."

"Or," she says, her voice colored with foreboding, "they may be coming at their child at 110 percent."

Pauline Prince, a psychologist for several schools in the Millersville-Severna Park area, says so much of what is not working in families could be fixed if parents found the time to listen while their children talk.

"As we've become an increasingly busy society, our conversations at home tend to be conversations of necessity. These are not conversations that have to do with 'How was your day?' These are not open conversations in a relaxed setting where you could deal with little problems before they become big problems.

"If you just sit and listen to your child, you can hear them tell you what is wrong and what they need help with. They need an opportunity to do that. But we get so busy that I'm not sure we do that for them."

That is just as true for parents. Talk long enough, and you will often hear a solution come out of your own mouth. If only we could find someone with the time to listen to us.

This Friday, and on the third Friday of every month through May, you can find someone to do just that by dialing 410-923-0770 or 410-222-3850 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A psychologist with Anne Arundel County schools is standing by to take your call.

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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