Jamie had been excited about going to school until the big day came.
Suddenly she was clinging onto her mum’s shirt, her arms wrapped tightly around her as though she would be washed away by the tide of excited new pupils.
Her mum was embarassed that her ‘big girl’ was suddenly reduced to tears.
‘Now what do I do?’ she thought. The thoughts raced through her head, ‘Traffic’s going to be heavy today. Got to get to work. Can’t leave her here like this. What do I tell my boss? The other kids are going to laugh at her if she’s blubbing like this.’
Four year old Amy wasn’t as vocal as Jamie about her protest. But in the last few days before school started, she’d been very quiet and seemed to lose her appetite.
Both Jamie’s and Amy’s parents are worried about whether their child will settle at school.
What can a parent do when your child’s anxiety is eating away at her like a mouse with cheddar cheese?
The good news is that you, as parent, can make a big difference in how your child copes with school.
I came across a magical little formula about Anxiety recently on the cover of Chip Conley’s book, ‘Emotional Equations’.
Anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness
Even though this isn’t a Parenting book, Conley’s approach can be helpful in responding to unhappy children. A parent can reduce a child’s Anxiety by increasing their sense of Certainty and reducing the sense of Powerlessness.
There’s a number of ways that you can help your child with this. Here are a few Parenting tips if your child’s anxious about starting school that will increase your child’s sense of certainty and give a sense of having some power in the situation, and this can significantly decrease your chid’s uncertainty.
1. Firstly and most importantly, no matter what stage of schooling your child is at, ensure that your child knows that his experience matters and that you are trying to understand. (Discover more about how to connect with your child so that he feels heard and validated: Childcare Concerns: How to Listen to Your Child)
2. Think what choices you can give him:
Discuss if he would like to meet a friend at the gate and go in together.
If he’s anxious about saying goodbye to you ask if he wants to say goodbye at the school gate or if he wants you to walk to the classroom door with him.
Give him a choice of what he’d like for his snack.
3. Ensure that he has the information and skills he needs, e.g. where’s the toilet, what’s the teacher’s name, how to open his snack box
4. Make sure he is being collected by someone he has a secure and warm relationship with. (Ideally Dad or Mum, or someone your child has a close, connected relationship with). Explain who will be there to meet him, and make sure that the person is there well ahead of time.
A final tip:
Remember emotions are contagious. If you are stressed, frustrated or anxious your child is very likely to ‘catch’ that emotion.
So prepare everything well ahead of time to avoid last minute stress and focus on being calm and centred.
‘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.
Your toddler throws a tantrum in the middle of a store. Your preschooler refuses to get dressed. Your fifth-grader sulks on the bench instead of playing on the field. Do children conspire to make their parents’ lives endlessly challenging? No—it’s just their developing brain calling the shots!
In this pioneering, practical book, Daniel J. Siegel, neuropsychiatrist and author of the bestselling Mindsight, and parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson demystify the meltdowns and aggravation, explaining the new science of how a child’s brain is wired and how it matures. The “upstairs brain,” which makes decisions and balances emotions, is under construction until the mid-twenties. And especially in young children, the right brain and its emotions tend to rule over the logic of the left brain. No wonder kids can seem—and feel—so out of control. By applying these discoveries to everyday parenting, you can turn any outburst, argument, or fear into a chance to integrate your child’s brain and foster vital growth. Raise calmer, happier children using twelve key strategies, including
• Name It to Tame It: Corral raging right-brain behavior through left-brain storytelling, appealing to the left brain’s affinity for words and reasoning to calm emotional storms and bodily tension.
• Engage, Don’t Enrage: Keep your child thinking and listening, instead of purely reacting.
• Move It or Lose It: Use physical activities to shift your child’s emotional state.
• Let the Clouds of Emotion Roll By: Guide your children when they are stuck on a negative emotion, and help them understand that feelings come and go.
• SIFT: Help children pay attention to the Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts within them so that they can make better decisions and be more flexible.
• Connect Through Conflict: Use discord to encourage empathy and greater social success.
Complete with clear explanations, age-appropriate strategies for dealing with day-to-day struggles, and illustrations that will help you explain these concepts to your child, The Whole-Brain Child shows you how to cultivate healthy emotional and intellectual development so that your children can lead balanced, meaningful, and connected lives.
An essential guide for recognizing, preventing, and healing childhood trauma, from infancy through adolescence—what parents, educators, and health professionals can do.
Trauma can result not only from catastrophic events such as abuse, violence, or loss of loved ones, but from natural disasters and everyday incidents such as auto accidents, medical procedures, divorce, or even falling off a bicycle. At the core of this book is the understanding of how trauma is imprinted on the body, brain, and spirit, resulting in anxiety, nightmares, depression, physical illnesses, addictions, hyperactivity, and aggression. Rich with case studies and hands-on activities, Trauma Through A Child’s Eyes gives insight into children’s innate ability to rebound with the appropriate support, and provides their caregivers with tools to overcome and prevent trauma.
This is one of my absolute favourite parenting books. A great gift for parents of a newborn child. Exquisite pictures that melt the heart and very little words to read. But the words that are written are profound. This book has the potential to inspire parents to be the parents their little one needs them to be.
This book is one of the most profound I have read about creating environments for young children to thrive. It’d not an easy read – but well worth it. Don’t skip over the very intense chapter on young children and stress. This chapter alone makes the book invaluable.
Val Mullally MA, The Parenting Expert and author. Val is an Accredited Coach and is passionate about empowering people to create happier, healthier, more meaningful relationships.