Koemba Blog

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.

Your child will open up or close down depending how safe he feels.

#3 Avoid leading questions that can put thoughts in your child’s head that weren’t there before.

Questions like:

‘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’

Recommended Reading:

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











Is your child worried or anxious about a change that’s looming?  Whether it ‘s a change of school, a change in the home or even emigrating, discover how to soothe anxious or worried feelings with Parent  Coach Val Mullally MA.

CLICK HERE for more information of upcoming workshop in Kilkenny.



Val Mullally delighted to be presenting workshop on

“ Facing Challenging Times Together  – how childminders can help parents during transition times”

at the Childminders’ Professional Development Day  – Dublin City Childcare Committee on Saturday 20 April 2013.

We need your help!

We need your help!

The Koemba team is doing some research about what parents most need.

If you would please take a real quick moment to answer this question:

What’s your ONE biggest parenting challenge right now? 

(alternative: If you could ask only one question about parenting…what would it be?)

Thanks for your support. We’ll keep you posted about what we discover!

It’s easy to feel pressure from your own parents, in-laws, teachers, or anyone else in your community to get your kids to be ‘good’. Similarly, you’ve probably experienced that nagging doubt that you’re not being a ‘good’ parent.

One of the questions I often hear is, ‘How do I know I’m Parenting right?’ 

Are you worried that you’re not Parenting right?

Confused about what is needed to give your child the best start in life?

How to keep your child safe and help them do well?

There are so many self-help books, articles and television programmes and some of it can be contradictory and confusing. Who has got the right advice? How do you know who to listen to? Whatever way you look at it, how does a parent know what is the right thing to do? How do you know you are being a ‘good’ parent? The thing is what worked in previous generations isn’t working now, because every parent in this new generation is a pioneer parent. What worked (or seemed to work) in parenting for your grandmother’s generation had probably worked for hundreds of years before. But as a parent now, you are facing challenges and opportunities beyond the wildest imaginings of your grandparents when they were young. Words that roll off our tongues were meaningless a few decades ago: Google, Kindle, Facebook, iPad, Skype, Internet, worldwide web, blog, laptop, smartphone, YouTube ….  TECHNOLOGY has created a whole new world. Which means that we need a whole new way of being in the world. So where and how do you find what is needed to parent now? As parents you are pioneering new territory as surely as the voyagers from five hundred years ago left the familiar behind to discover new lands. No one has been there before. You don’t know what the territory is like. You’re unsure of what dangers are lurking along the journey and you don’t know what resources are needed. Parenting in this new territory can feel disorienting, maybe overwhelming or even terrifying at times. Trying to return to the old land of strict discipline and ‘children must do what they’re told’ could easily seem the best option. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that in the long term that’s not going to work.

In the words of Einstein: A new solution is needed for a new situation.

Imagine the adventures experienced by those explorers who were brave enough to journey into the unknown. It makes sense that sometimes they must have felt exhausted. Sometimes they couldn’t imagine how they would have the resources to continue. Sometimes the only option was to keep going forward, even when they didn’t know what lay ahead. And at the same time imagine the thrill of stepping into new territory – new opportunities, insights and awarenesses that would never have happened if they hadn’t stepped out. Pioneering is an amazing experience, whatever the unknown territory is. And pioneering is not something you want to do alone. At times the early explorers came across a person who had journeyed some way along the new path already. Someone who had glimpsed the new territory and could give them an indication of what lay ahead. Someone who had viewed the terrain and could tell them what resources would be helpful. Someone who could give them hope and tell them that the journey would be worth it. The scouts who have reconnoitred this new land of Parenting and who are telling us about what lies ahead are the ones who have journeyed into the previously unknown world of what lies within us. Up until now this landscape has been as unfamiliar as the New World was to what Europe had understood the world to be in the Middle Ages. These scouts are reporting to us about the previously uncharted territory of our emotional world and of the workings of the brain. I’d like to share with you three pieces of really good news about what this means to you as a parent.

The first piece of good news is that some of the key information from the world of neuroscience is as simple as understanding the concept of North, South, East and West. It’s so basic that any parent can grasp the principles, and it gives you a compass to move though the territory of parenting – and relationships in general.

The second piece of good news is that you as a parent have the innate ability to be expert of your own situation. After all, you’re the one who has been there from the beginning, who knows the personalities involved and the dynamics between each of the members of your family. And you’re the one who is going to be there for the long haul. So the good news is that you are the perfect person to be parenting your children.

The third piece of good news is that we’re recognising the value of good old-fashioned wisdom. After all, we wouldn’t have survived as a human race if we didn’t KNOW how to raise our children. So, just as the pioneers to new lands drew on what they already knew and then related that to the new discoveries they were making, you can trust yourself to find what’s needed on your parenting journey. And just as discovering a new continent called for new responses, this new knowledge challenges us to rethink the idea of being a ‘good’ parent. So what’s needed to achieve this?

I recommend that you find yourself a scout, someone who has already taken time to adventure into the territory ahead. Someone who recognised the territory ahead will be different from anything you’ve ever journeyed through before. Not someone to tell you what to do. Rather someone who will encourage your awareness of your own resources and wisdom. Someone who will boost your confidence in your own abilities. And someone who will give you a map of the land, so that you will be able to plan your journey, navigate the challenges when they arise and celebrate your experiences. That’s why I advocate the Koemba Parent Coaching approach. Whether you choose to work on a one-to-one basis with a Parent Coach or whether you prefer a course so that you can journey with other pioneers on this Parenting adventure, either way you have the support to make this the most incredible, unique and worthwhile experience imaginable.

Right now if you are living anywhere accessible to Dublin, whether by air, rail or car, you have the chance to sign up for a three weekend introductory course. Three Friday evenings and three full day Saturdays that could potentially be one the most significant and life-changing experiences you could ever discover. They say that it’s not the things that we do that we most regret later in life. Rather, it’s the things that we don’t do that we regret.

I’m Val Mullally, founder of Koemba, and I will be facilitating the training, with two of the Koemba team, Florence Burns and Anca Lupu.  I am an accredited Parent Coach and a mother of two adult sons. I was a qualified teacher before having my children, but I wish I had known what I know now when my children were young. And I know it’s much tougher to parent now than when my children were young. Don’t miss this opportunity. This is your time and your opportunity to be the parent you really want to be. To be the one who will successfully take the pioneering journey of parenting in a new millennium.  An amazing adventure – and one you will always be so glad you took! CLICK HERE to  find out more. (EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT TILL 10 APRIL!)

It seems to me that being a parent (or carer of children) is rather like the job of a sound engineer. Most of the time nobody even notices the job that you are doing when everything Is going smoothly. But the moment that there’s some flaw or hiccup in the production, everyone becomes conscious that the sound engineer isn’t ‘doing the job properly’. We’ve all experienced those moments when the microphone feedback sends piercing shrieks through the auditorium, or the speaker’s voice is reduced to an inaudible whisper. That’s when we notice the sound engineer.

Likewise, it’s in the moments when something goes wrong with our children that we can feel like all eyes are upon us. And it makes sense that as parents we want to avoid that negative limelight. I’m speaking from experience. My son broke his leg when he was young, and it wasn’t only his pain that upset me, but the disapproving look and not-so-subtle comments from a family member, who gave the message that I hadn’t ‘done my job’. Keeping our children safe is certainly high on the priority  list of parents but, as a society, have we become so safety conscious that we deny our children the opportunity to thrive? Are we so focused on keeping our children ‘safe’ that their health and well being has moved to second place?

I’m thinking, for example, of the time when I was about eight years old when  I broke my collar-bone climbing a tree in our back garden. I am so glad that my mother did not stop me from climbing trees after that incident! I don’t even remember her telling me to ‘be careful’ once I was able to swing myself back up into my leafy haven. Kids falling out of trees was something that happened from time to time. I doubt if my mother worried that someone would think she was a ‘bad parent’ for letting me climb a tree unsupervised. Climbing trees was seen as something kids do.   When I was at the top of the tree in a strong wind, I was a ship captain sailing the wild seas. On calmer days I’d stay still in my overhead lair and watch and listen to the comings and goings of the neighbourhood beneath me. The tree tops were my refuge on days when I felt glum. They were the place where my imagination took flight. They were, without me even realising it, where I developed my sense of balance and spatial awareness. The tree tops were also the place where it was most challenging to keep up with my older sister. I can remember inching along high limbs, quaking with fear, but determined to climb as high as my big sister climbed. This is where I developed tenacity; where I tested my staying powers and my limits. Where I learnt what my body could and couldn’t do.

So my question is, in what ways is our over-safety mindset depriving our children? How is it affecting our children’s health and well-being when we are so focused on safety that we ignore their need to explore, to observe, to adventure, to test their own abilities? We need to think about the message we give to children when we jump in too quickly to ‘keep them safe’.

Perhaps in our well-meaning safety consciousness we are giving messages like:

Keeping your child ‘too safe’

Don’t ever listen to your body wisdom.                  

You don’t know how to make decisions.

Let other people to determine what you can’t do.

The world is a dangerous, unsafe place.

In contrast, through my experiences in the tree tops  I discovered:

My body knows what it can and can’t do.

I can make decisions. I won’t always get it right but then I’ll know how to do it differently next time.

I know how to keep myself safe.

The world is an amazing place.

Life is an exciting adventure to be lived.

I invite you to think back to your childhood experiences of free play. What are some of your favourite memories? Where did you play? By yourself or with others? Write down at least 5 of the messages you received about life without even realising it. What messages about life and about themselves might your children be absorbing, thorough their play experiences? What messages do you really want them to absorb? So what’s working and what might you choose to do differently? When we are tuned in to our own inner wisdom, we’ll sense when we need to intervene to protect our children, and when to quieten our own anxiety and leave them free to be. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about children’s need for free play. Watch out for my next blog in a couple of days, because I’ll be chatting about how focusing on being a ‘good’ parent can get in the way of achieving what you really want.


Perhaps you have one of those ‘school angel – house devil’ children; good as gold when out with others but driving you mad at home? Or perhaps your child’s behaviour is driving everyone mad. Maybe it’s some particular behaviour that you wish you could do something about – get them to listen, get them to be more confident, stop whining, stop fighting, stop bullying, stand up for themselves, do their homework. 
I don’t think that there’s a parent who doesn’t puzzle about what to do when it comes to dealing with challenging behaviour, at least some of the time.

Over the next few days I’m going to share three practical insights about challenges parents face and give you some helpful tips to help you create less stress and more fun in your home. I’m asking your to read this and then take time to REFLECT on what this might mean to your family – and especially to you as parent. It’s easy to read something, think ‘yes, ‘yes’ and then rush on to the next item in your agenda. But the three thoughts I’m going to share with you in these articles over the next few days could move you to a whole different and more enjoyable path of parenting. What it will take is time to let them soak into your mind?

So here’s the wildly challenging thought for today:
Getting your child to be ‘good’ might be bad for your child.

Yes, of course you’d like a ‘good’ child. ‘Good’ would be so much easier.

A child who always does what they are told. Who wouldn’t want a ‘good’ child!

Is ‘good’ what really matters?

But your focus on what you need now you might be overlooking the long-term cost of  ‘good’. That cost may be far too high. That cost might mean low self esteem, it might mean becoming a ‘yes’ person to whatever others demand, which will get in the way of your child’s fulfilment  and happiness in life. You want a child who does what he is told, right? But if that’s what you instil then don’t be surprised if this becomes the teen who does whatever anyone else asks: stealing, drugs, sex. Your ‘good’ child is likely to become a vulnerable target for others’ selfish desires. Because ‘good ‘ is about your child fitting in with your agenda, ignoring their own needs as human beings.
And who decides what is ‘good’?
What parent doesn’t wait for the school report, hoping to read the words ‘excellent pupil’, ‘well behaved’  – anxious about the teacher’s comment. And it makes sense that teachers tend to praise children who are compliant. In most school situations teachers are overburdened with too large classes, administrative demands, a syllabus to complete and the emphasis on examination marks. Our school system is set up to encourage ‘good’, also known as ‘compliant’. But the compliant child is not going to be the mover and the shaker that is what the world needs now. Do you really want a ‘good’ child or do you want to support your child to grow into the full potential of the unique, wonderful, awesome human being that he or she already is? The children who grow up to really make a difference in the world are very often the ones who didn’t ‘cut it’ at school.

Think of Einstein, Steve Jobs, Oprah, Richard Branson. I wonder if there’s a school report lying around some dusty attic for any one of those characters! I bet that would make interesting reading, and I doubt you would find the word ‘good’ on their school reports.
You’d be more likely to spot phrases like ‘daydreamer’, ‘doesn’t listen’, ”won’t settle in class’. Children in touch with themselves and with life don’t put their focus of fulfilling someone else’s agenda. They intuitively know they must follow their own inner calling.

So what are the words that are maybe used to describe your child that cause you concern?

‘Wilful or stubborn’ – They know what they want.

‘Daydreamer’ or ‘easily distracted’ – Their minds are on other more exciting things.  ‘Imagination is everything. It is a preview of life’s coming attractions.’ Albert Einstein knew how to use his imagination. That’s how he discovered such amazing things.

‘Needs to listen’ – maybe your child listens to his or her own inner rhythm.

So if you are dreading receiving one of those school reports, maybe it’s time to think again.
Take time to think about:
What am I actually focused on when I want my child to be ‘good’?
What do I really want, when I think long term?
In what ways could my child’s challenging behaviour actually be a positive?
What do I need as Parent (or support person to the child) to help this child to develop to his or her full potential?

Let’s move beyond ‘good’ to ‘happy’, ‘curious’, ‘interested’, ‘imaginative’ , ‘tenacious’ and all of the other crazily wonderful qualities that make your child a unique person who lives fully.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating wild, out of control behaviour. Rather I’m saying that as parents and people working with children we need to think further than ‘good’. But rather than striving for compliant behaviour we need to know how to create environments that encourage cooperative behaviour. That’s what the Koemba approach is all about. Watch out for my next blog in a couple of days, because I’ll be chatting about how if you  focus on keeping your child ‘safe’ it may not actually nurture your child’s health and well-being.