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Sabotaging College and Emotional Meltdowns

Dr. Catherine Pearlman on

Dear Family Coach: My son is a senior, and he is slowly throwing away all of his options for college. He has excellent SAT scores, but his grades are erratic. He isn't going to class and is missing a lot of assignments. When confronted, he is remorseful but still can't get his act together. He's sabotaging himself, and I'm heartbroken watching him fail. I've tried everything to help him to no avail. What can I do now to stop his downfall? -- Devastated

Dear Devastated: It's painful to watch an accident happening and not be able to prevent it. As a last-ditch effort, it might help to organize a big conference with your son, his high school counselor and his teachers to allow everyone to work on the issues together. Try not to add additional stress and pressure, as that may actually make your son regress further. Instead, focus on addressing his emotional needs, and let the school help with the academic ones.

It's important to remember that while many 18-year-olds head off to the college of their dreams, others take different paths. Life isn't a race. It might do your son some good to step off the college track and find himself first before investing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Working, traveling or taking an extra year of post-graduate classes may help him mature and find some purpose.

At some point, your son has to learn to conquer his own demons. You, unfortunately, can't do that for him. The old saying rings true here: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. All you can do is provide love and support to your son no matter his failures. Try to keep your own hurt and ego in check so you can focus on what he needs. Tell him you are sad for him that he isn't living up to his potential. But also let him know you believe he can become successful when he finds his motivation.

Dear Family Coach: My spirited 8-year-old daughter is having a lot of emotional meltdowns. It can happen if she gets in trouble or if she perceives someone is laughing at her. If she is reading and can't figure out a word, she can completely lose it. How should I address these meltdowns? -- Meltdown's Mom


Dear Mom: Your little girl is struggling with building her confidence to accomplish the tasks that are required at her age. It is difficult for her to deal with the tension between learning a new skill and accomplishing it. Kids her age are building skills at lightning speed. They are being pushed academically, socially and physically. Some tolerate the struggle better than others.

To help your daughter, focus on effort instead of outcome. If she stumbles on a word, remind her it isn't getting it right the first time that's vital; it's working hard to figure it out. If she sulks after being admonished, make sure she knows she can quickly turn things around with better behavior.

When your daughter isn't having a meltdown, talk to her about building her repertoire to deal with emotions. Start by giving her a feelings chart with pictures to identify frustration, sadness and anger. Make a game of acting out emotions so your daughter can learn to express her feelings instead of melting down. Mindfulness strategies and positive self-talk might help to her learn calm down on her own.

Dr. Catherine Pearlman is the author of "Ignore It! How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction." To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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