As I write this it’s that time of year when the obligatory picture of smiling happy children in pristine uniforms are standing by their front doors on the first day of school. Whether it’s a brand new educational venture for them, or a step up to “Big School”, social media is awash with these shiny new faces.
And there are more and more posts on social media from distraught parents with big anxieties about appeals that didn’t go through so that the child has to go to a school not of their choice; returns to a school where the child has been bullied or singled out in some way; or just simply really nervous about this big new move.
Thankfully, I’m through the other end of it and can safely say we survived. And moving around the world as we did, we had a fair number of new starts and hiccups, which were duly navigated and overcome. And you know it isn’t just school. There can be similar difficulties when change is afoot at the rink, the gym or the pool – new coaches, new clubs, newly arrived athletes from elsewhere – all creating a new and sometimes scary or uncomfortable dynamic.
So I wanted to say a few words to those of you who are helping your young people to navigate change.
Your response to problems, situations, challenges and CHANGE is the example by which they learn. How you handle change is how they learn to handle it. So if you are frantically writing to the local authorities and calling schools about problems and challenges – and they see this – your children are learning “If I have a ‘problem’ or I don’t like something and I tell Mum (or Dad) they’ll do something about it.”
Is this a good thing?
- Firstly, it might worry them that your actions could make matters worse so they might stop telling you, leaving the communication channels closed.
- They might just think “I don’t have to do anything because Mum or Dad will fix it.”
While it’s important that children continue to communicate with you, it’s also important that children learn to think for themselves. They need to solve their own problems as far as possible. Of course if there’s bullying going on this needs to be addressed, and by its very nature your child will be unlikely to solve that on their own. So what should you do?
Listen. Allow your child space and time to talk to you (without any devices or other family members interrupting). Listen without judgement. Don’t be inclined to jump in and take their side – they don’t need you ‘on their side’ – they need you to listen and help them work it through. Ask open questions – the type that don’t lead to just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Avoid questions starting with ‘Why..?’ Why? Because it can sound judgemental, especially when someone is already feeling a bit vulnerable and having the courage to open up to you.
Allowing time and space to get their feelings, emotions and facts (as they see them) out in the open air can also prompt them to see things from another angle. It helps them come up with their own solutions. This is coaching. This enables the child. It helps them tackle similar issues in the future.
But if they bring you a ‘problem’ and your default response is to take their side and get on the phone to another parent or the school (or coach or sports club) they will be learning to dump all their grievances at your feet and expect you to fix it. Not only is that unhealthy for their mental resilience, it will contribute to your own stress (and heaven knows, parents have enough stresses as it is!) and deplete your own wellbeing resources. And if your approach to that other parent/coach/school is in any way aggressive, they’ll be learning that approach too…
You’re a mirror to your child. Teach them by the example you set. Lead them to find their own solutions by giving them the most precious gift of all – your time and your attention.