I never thought that my MiniMocha cried at preschool, but I also never asked her either.
Not long ago, a friend posted on Facebook that she had recently moved her MiniMocha to a new preschool. I connected with her uneasiness about the move. There is a natural anxiety when we put our children in new situations, even when those changes are good. One afternoon as I picked up my MiniMocha from school, her teacher began to explain that something greatly upset Mini making her cry. Something about that bit of information really struck me.
From that day forward I started asking specific questions to learn more about Mini’s day and her feelings about her experiences. Now, I ask her a set of open-ended questions every day:
- What happened at school today?
- What did you do at school today?
- What was your favorite part of school today?
- What part of school today didn’t you like?
- What made you cry or (made you sad) or (hurt you) today?
I always start this conversation in private, never at school in front of any of her teachers. My reasoning is that if there is something happening to her that is upsetting her, she is more likely to tell me in a private, quiet moment. Sometimes, I ask a question (usually #1 or #2) in the car; sometimes over dinner; during bath time or after story time right before bed.
Asking open-ended questions prompts greater sharing.
I have been surprised at how much I have learned about Mini’s day and her thoughts and feelings about her friends and teachers. After using these questions for only a few days, I uncovered a situation with one of Mini’s teachers. In response to question #5, Mini said, “New Teacher won’t play with me; she doesn’t like me. It made me sad.”
I had noticed a slight tension between her and New Teacher, but I attributed it to a difference in personality – that Mini’s favorite wasn’t New Teacher. Concerned, I approached Lead Teacher the next day and asked about the relationship between Mini and New Teacher. A couple days later New Teacher approached me privately. I expressed my observations about the tension between the two of them, and I shared the feelings Mini shared with me. It brought her to tears. She shared that wanted to connect with Mini but didn’t know how to be intentional about it. I shared with her a little about Mini’s personality and offered some suggestions for ways to connect.
For the next week, Lead Teacher (one of Mini’s favorites) created opportunities for New Teacher to have more one-on-one time with Mini. It worked. Just that little bit of intentionality helped to forge a stronger bridge between Mini and New Teacher. Now, Lead Teacher is still Mini’s favorite, but she has a better, more fluid relationship with New Teacher with a lot less tension. Mini often says (unprompted), “New Teacher is my friend.” I probably would have never known about the need to intervene had I not asked Mini specific, open-ended questions to learn more about her feelings.
Try this strategy and see if it works for you. You could also use these questions to learn more about the experiences your little one is having away from you (beyond preschool) as a check to see if anything has happened that they found upsetting or hurtful.
Of course, this post assumes that your MiniMocha is verbal.