How do we support our child effectively when they come home from school and let you know about a problem they have been having at school? It is probably one of the hardest things as a parent to not react when our child tells us they have been hurt or had a hard day. We are often quick to jump in and try to solve the problem for them, or escalate in our own emotions as we are worried about what might happen.
Here are some effective ways to support our child while remaining calm.
Firstly, our children need to be heard and have their feelings heard when they have a problem. Just talking about with an adult can be soothing in itself and all the child needs. Children need at least one person in their life that truly understands how they are feeling. Giving emotional support starts with effective listening where we truly hear and understand how a situation is, how they are feeling and how it is impacting on them.
Often we are quick to step in and offer solutions, ask questions or give advice but what children really need is to know that you understand how they are feeling, regardless of whether we agree with what they are saying or regardless of the situation (guidance around making good choices comes a bit later in the discussion).
Research shows that just helping children to label an emotion is enough to lessen the stress response and decrease anxiety. So how do we do reflective listening? When your child talks to you about something, truly listen to what they are saying without jumping in with advice, comments, questions, solutions and judgements that are often affected by our own emotional reactions. Keep your own perception around the issue separate and just hear what they are saying and listen out for the emotion they are expressing. Keeping your own emotions in check is so important, as this is about the child and their feelings.
Reflect back what they have said by summarising the content and the emotion e.g. ‘so you had a really tough day today and you felt really hurt by your friends.’ Children will soon let you know if this summary is in the ball park of how they are feeling and what happened. Don’t worry about getting it all exactly right, it’s the intent that counts.
Children know when parents are really listening and trying to understand their situation.
Once you reflect back how they felt and what happened, then they will most likely share more of what they feel and what happened. This can be a real challenge for parents, as it’s so easy to fall into the trap of problem solving for children to ease their pain, however to ease emotional suffering children need to first express their feelings in the arms of someone who cares. Once all feelings are expressed, then it’s time to help children solve the problem (if there is something to be solved) and this can be done by encourage them to develop effective problem solving skills to build their resilience. It is important to remember that not all difficulties need to be ‘solved’, just supporting someone who has had a bad day by listening is often all we need to do.
When parents step in and start to ask questions and try to ‘investigate’ what is happening in their children’s lives, we can probably guarantee they will shut down and be hesitant to share. It is easy for parents to become emotional and start asking all sorts of questions in an attempt to solve or remove their children’s distress, however their child’s distress will not be heard or comforted as the conversation quickly becomes about the parents emotions, rather than staying focused on the child’s emotional support.
Children really dislike it when parents start asking direct questions and can sense parent’s anxiety in seconds and it doesn’t take long for children to shut down and stop talking. Children won’t go to a parent who is ‘cracking it’ or ‘losing it’ when they speak to them about what is going on – they need and really like it when parents stay calm and focused on the child’s emotions.
When using the reflective listening technique, parents can see how easily their child will open up and share their feelings, share their day, share their worries and share their friendship issues. When a parent just reflects back what the child is saying and is not focused on their own anxieties and questions, children just keep on opening up and most importantly feel supported. As hard as it is, one of the most important skills we can learn as a parent, is to keep calm when our children are upset, and just be a comfort to them.
Once a child has shared their feelings and what has happened and really felt heard they are able to move on by their doing something that relaxes them or using a favourite coping strategy. This will help them to relax and calm down from a tough day or experience they had. If they have a problem that actually needs to be solved, then parents can support their child in this process so it empowers the child and builds their self-efficacy. Next week I will be sharing some effective ways to help children problem solve. In the meantime, have a go at just listening mindfully to our children, partners, friends and see just effective it is and how it strengthens relationships.
From Georgina Manning (Director of Wellbeing for Kids).
You Can Do It!
You will have seen work around the school that shows since the beginning of this year all classes have been engaging in the You Can Do It! Educational program. The programme aims to identify the social and emotional capabilities that all young people need to reach their academic potential in school, to experience wellbeing and create positive relationships with others. This links in well with the Resilience Project as many of the ideas and priorities are shared.
The Resilience Project
We are so excited to begin our work with the Resilience Project. All staff members have attended an information night with Martin Heppell and attended professional development sessions regarding the curriculum and teaching of the Resilience Project. On Tuesday June 18th all students attended a session with Martin Heppell as part of the project.
We are strongly encouraging all parents to attend the parent information night on Wednesday July 17th from 7.00-8.30. The school will be providing babysitting on the night.
Martin’s background is unique. He spent a considerable amount of time growing up in Borneo (whilst his father studied an Iban Dayak headhunting tribe). He was also educated in different parts of South East Asia. He is heavily influenced by the morals and values that he and his family were surrounded by whilst living with the Iban.
After finishing high school in Melbourne, Martin spent 3 years in the AFL system, playing AFL football for St Kilda and Melbourne and then for Norwood in the SANFL. Subsequent years were then spent travelling the world backpacking for nearly 3 years, and upon return to Australia, Martin studied primary teaching.
After completing his degree at Melbourne University, he commenced teaching at Auburn Primary. After 4 years, he was appointed as the Assistant Principal at Auburn Primary where he held that role for another 4 years – focusing on student well-being, educational leadership and cultural change.
He has also coached AFL football at the Box Hill Hawks, and as First XVIII coach at both Carey Grammar and Xavier College. In all environments, he has thrived in situations that have presented challenges and have required optimism. He is passionate about children being given the opportunity to be raised in a positive manner that evokes confidence and a zest for life.
Student Wellbeing Leader