Listen and learn from your child

Heart to heart: Be open with your child about why they are unsettled in class.

It’s better to talk gently to kids about why they are unhappy at school, says Helen O’Callaghan.

CHILDREN enjoy school because they need to be industrious and occupied and to be in a social setting with their peers.

“So, if a child says ‘I don’t like school’, parents really need to listen and to explore this with them,” says Áine Lynch, CEO of National Parents’ Council Primary.

But children don’t necessarily pick the best time to tell you important stuff. “When a parent’s distracted, it can be easy to dismiss the child — saying something like ‘you have to go anyway’ or ‘lots of people don’t like doing things, but they still do them’,” says Lynch. Ask the child why he feels this way, then listen to what he says rather than trying to fix it, worry about it, or put your own explanation on it.

“Listening straight away makes the child feel valued and heard,” she says. Use open and closed questions. ” ‘What’s wrong’? can be a very big question to answer. Break it down into smaller questions. Asking ‘which subjects do you enjoy most?’ and ‘which do you enjoy least?’ provides an opportunity to explore if there’s a difficulty with lessons. ‘Do you enjoy playtime’ and ‘who do you play with’ give an opportunity to explore issues around making friends.”

Parents want to fix problems, but the child best understands the situation, because they’re living it. “We need to parent them, so they develop into adults with their own resources to solve problems,” says Ms Lynch. Help the child to see possible solutions by asking: ¦ What would fix this for you? ¦ What would make you happy? ¦ How would you like the situation to be next month?

“Perhaps the child can come up with their own solutions and then the adult, with extra resources, can supply more,” Ms Lynch says.

If the solution involves talking to the teacher, it’s helpful if the parent role-plays the conversation with the child.

Ask the child ‘when do you think might be the right time to bring it up with teacher? Maybe break time? What do you think you’ll say?’ It’s important for the child’s self-esteem that they’re involved in decisionmaking. But if the child’s solution won’t keep him safe, the parent needs to step in.

“While you want to empower your child, you’re not handing over the parenting role.”


¦ Listen to the child.

¦ Children may find talking face-to-face too intense. Encourage talking (and parental listening) while you are doing activities, like setting the table or driving the car.

¦ Involve the child in decisions.

¦ Check in to see how things are going.


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