Is your child anxious about school or childcare?
‘How do I know if my child is being treated okay?’ you may be wondering.
Parents can often feel confused about how to help when they are concerned about their child’s well-being at school. One key thing that you can do is listen so that your child feels heard.
Imagine that your child makes a comment that concerns you.
Getting to hear what’s really going on depends on how you listen. This especially matters if you are worried about your childcare being anxious or unhappy at school or if you have childcare concerns.
Unhelpful responses some parents make:
Child: ‘I don’t want to go to school.’
Parent: ‘Ah, you like school. All your friends are there.’
Parent: ‘Just two more sleeps and then we’ll have the weekend. Then we can have lots of time together.’
Parent: ‘Now be good. And then I’ll buy you a sweetie on the way home.’
These responses aren’t helpful because they ignore your child’s experience of life and they shut down the conversation.
What your child needs is a safe space to be heard.
How to respond more helpfully:
Child: ‘I don’t want to go to school.’
First PARK everything that is going on for you – all those thoughts chasing around in your head and all those emotions that jump up and grab you by the throat.
PARK your own concerns so that you can really be present to your child.
Like parking your car, you can come back and pick it up later. Right now PARK all that’s going on for you and choose to be present for your child.
To really listen, here’s some of what you might need to PARK.
1. PARK your anxiety.
It makes sense that a comment like, ‘I don’t want to go to school,’ can get alarm bells clanging in your head. But your anxiety will get in the way of listening in a way that will really connect.
How to PARK your anxiety:
– Focus on your breathing.
– Focus on being calm.
– Focus on being present to your child.
2. PARK your busy-ness.
If this is important, other things will need to wait. Your child is only going to open up when they sense your undivided attention.
3. PARK your own need to ‘fix’ things immediately.
A safe listening space is the best gift you can give your child right now. Afterwards there will be time to seek professional help, if needed. But you will never again have this first moment of what your child needs to share now. Choose to be fully present for your child now.
4. PARK your judgments.
Thoughts might jump into your head about what might have happened – judgments about the staff, about yourself or about other children.
You might have thoughts like:
‘That worker is a *!*&!’
‘I’ve failed my child.’
‘How could they …’
‘Oooh, this is all so terrible …’
These thoughts will wind you up. You need to be calm to hear your child’s story first.
You might be jumping to conclusions.
Whatever the thoughts are, you can choose to PARK these judgements and focus on being present to your child.
5. PARK any feelings of guilt or anger.
Yes, you may have many strong emotions coming up. But if you allow yourself to focus on your feelings of guilt or anger right now, you are putting the focus on yourself instead of on your child.
So now you’ve PARKed – what next?
When you choose to PARK your own stuff you can cross into your child’s world. Only when your child really senses you connecting will they share what’s bothering them.
Make sure you are calm.
Choose your tone of voice, your eye contact and your body language to connect.
Child: ‘I don’t want to go to school.’
Reflect your child’s words (without adding anything extra) :
Parent: ‘You don’t want to go to school?’
Child: ‘Cos my friends won’t play with me.’
Parent: ‘Your friends won’t play with you? Tell me more.’
Keep your own stuff PARKed. Keep focused on being connected with your child. Reflect what your child says and adding ‘tell me more.’
Hold the listening space.
Keep connected and wait for your child’s answer.
Don’t rush in with more words.
Just hold the listening space for your child. Then reflect what you hear, using your child’s words.
When your child senses the connection, he’s likely to share.
Keep holding this listening space.
You will get to the point when your child has told you all he needs to say.
Whatever your child needs, be there for them.
Reassure them that you will deal with it. Give a cuddle or go for walk. Trust your intuition to give what your child needs.
When you PARK your own thoughts, judgements and emotions you will find you are able to really listen to your child and to sense what ‘s needed, no matter how small or large the issue.
A few extra tips:
#1 Be careful to avoid talking about concerns about your child’s situation in front of your child. Children are listening even when you think they aren’t, and they are going to pick up your anxiety.
#2 Avoid trying to prompt the conversation with your child. If you push or pry or ask questions when your child is not ready to talk, your child will shut down down the conversation like a hedgehog rolls into a ball when it feels unsafe.
#3 Avoid leading questions that can put thoughts in your child’s head that weren’t there before.
‘Did she smack you?’
‘Did she shout at you?’
are your thoughts. PARK them.
Hold a ‘clean’ listening space so your child can share his own story. When you are there to really listen, you may discover that your child’s upset is not big. The connection time will still be precious.
Or if it is a serious issue, at least your child experiences you as his loving and connected ally, who will take action on his behalf.
Please comment on your experiences of your child being unhappy at school or your childcare concerns (But please do not name staff or institutions in your comment).
Please seek professional help if you have any concerns.
Let’s not forget our appreciation for all the staff in childcare centres who are doing sterling work. Many of these are community based, not-for-profit centres. Most childcare workers follow this career path because they are passionate about young children. We all need to lobby for better pay, training opportunities and working conditions for the childcare workers who ARE taking good care of our children.
If you are looking to train or retrain your staff,
Val Mullally is an experienced teacher, principal and trainer in Early Education.
She is also a skilful Siolta facilitator.
She offers regular Parenting courses (also ONLINE) and is available to travel to offer training.
Related posts: ‘Toddler Upset – essential reasons for responsive parenting’
You Are My World – Amy Hatkoff
Why Love Matters – Sue Gerhardt
The Whole Brain Child – Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes – Peter Levine and Magie Kline
Hi Val. I love your updates. My baby girl is just 13 mts. A real joy. On the odd occasion when she is tired, hungry or senses I’m in a hurry she can really cling on wanting up in arms. I find it difficult and takes me alot longer to get sorted. I can get frustrated. Any advice?
I do apologise for the very delayed response. I hear you saying what a joy your baby girl is, yet how you can feel frustrated when she clings to you. I think it’s so important to recognise that ideally it takes a community to raise a child, and that it’s really tough for a single parent or a couple to handle the load of meeting a baby’s needs 24/7. As young as she is, she is sensing your stress and reacting to it. So I’d really encourage you to figure out who are your support team to help you meet your little one’s needs. A book I think you will love is ‘Your are my world – how a parent’s love shapes a baby’s mind’ by Amy Hatkoff. ( A real easy read – ideal for tired parents – yet profound, and such precious pictures!) Here’s the Koemba link to it: http://www.koemba.com/book/you-are-my-world-how-a-parents-love-shapes-a-babys-mind/