Helping children through hard times
Hard times happen to every community. Whatever happens to our whānau is happening to tamariki, too, and it's often the time when consistency and stability are needed the most, that the grown-ups can be least able to provide it.
Sometimes, whānau are shy about talking with their tamariki’s teaching team if things are going on at home, but it’s always best to let them know, even if you don’t want to go into the details. Teaching teams work hard to help families and caregivers feel as at home as their tamariki do, and they will always take the confidentiality of the information that is shared with them very seriously.
“It’s hugely important, because they’re trusting us with the children, the most important people in their lives,” says Jenna Stone, Head Teacher at Kidsfirst Vickery Street. “It takes trust to have that open flow of communication and share sensitive information so we can provide the best possible care for their child.”
Rosie Hatton, Head Teacher at Kidsfirst Broomfield, agrees that close relationships are key.
“It’s important to build the trust so whānau feel confident sharing different experiences they might be dealing with so we can draw on those facilities that are out there and organisations that can really help them, too, if that’s what they want.”
The close community connections and small class sizes of Kidsfirst kindergartens naturally lead to closer relationships, whether it’s between tamariki, whānau, or the kindergarten teams and families.
“We know our children and whānau incredibly well,” says Kidsfirst McKenzie Head Teacher, Jane Hughey. “We’re very mindful when people come in if there’s something different and we keep a close watch on those things. It’s about being open, and being there for them. I always say to parents, ‘if you want to talk, let me know.’
Caroline Eatwell-McKeogh, Head Teacher at Kidsfirst Niu, says tamariki are very sensitive to things that are going on at home or in the wider community, even if they don’t bring it up directly.
“Kids are so intuitive. They actually know when something’s not quite right. They don’t always understand what’s going on for them, but they do know that something has changed, and they’re just looking for that sense of security that their life is still secure. It’s something we do here - providing that sense of consistency for children.”
Often, tamariki will let their teachers know something is up, without even using words. Having fewer children than larger early learning centres means that kindergarten teachers get to know children well enough to spot the signs.
“They show when things are different at home, even if we’re not aware of it,” Caroline says. “It comes out in their behaviour. Sometimes they’re more upset, sometimes they’re not their usual selves. We’ll talk with children at their level if that’s the right thing to do and give them lots of hugs - whatever they need. Every child is unique.”
While the grown ups can take quite some time to get over things, tamariki often bounce back much faster - given the right support and a stable, familiar environment.
“Children are remarkably resilient, and I’m regularly astonished by that,” Jane Hughey says. “That’s a really good thing - generally speaking they take things in their stride so long as they know what to expect, how things work, it’s predictable, and the routines are there.”
Pike River, the Christchurch quakes, the mosque shootings, and COVID-19 have all been recent events that kindergartens have played a much needed role in, providing the stability tamariki long for in uncertain times.
Jane says the number one priority in a crisis is to provide tamariki with a familiar, predictable environment and those all-important routines.
“We want them to be able to walk back into kindergarten as if nothing has happened, as much as possible. We’re still there, things are still the same at kindergarten and that that’s the aim every day. Regardless of what happens outside of kindergarten at home and in the wider world, when they come to kindergarten things are the same. It's dependable, it’s reliable, it’s the same every day, so tamariki can walk back in and go, ‘Aaah.’ It’s like coming home again.”
Experienced teaching teams have seen it all before and have an intuitive sense - as well as a lot of experience - in helping tamariki through difficult times, but as a parent, it can be hard to know where to start and what matters most in the thick of a crisis.
Kidsfirst King Street Head Teacher, Jocelyn Cameron, says the most important thing parents and caregivers can do for children is for whānau to provide a sense of stability.
“Children need to see them as their rock. They need to know that Mum and Dad are okay, so I’ll be okay. That’s probably the most important thing, and after that, to acknowledge how a child is feeling and just talk to them: I can see that you’re a bit worried about that, or I can see that you’re a bit sad. Let’s talk about that. Because it’s very real for the child, and their feelings need to be valued and acknowledged.”
When dealing with tough times it’s important to keep an open line of communication between tamariki, kaiako and whānau.
At Kidsfirst Karoro, as in all our kindergartens, helping families through difficult times is always a top priority - and the more whānau and kaiko connect meaningfully, the better.
“We have a parent noticeboard and tools like that which allows us to openly communicate with parents," says Head Teacher Tim Eden-Calott, "but the real one for us is that face-to-face relationship and having conversations with families."
Here's a few things you could do to help if your tamariki is going through a challenging time:
- Talk to kaiako about the situation and keep an open line of communication so the teachers can understand how your child may be feeling.
- Provide tamariki with a familiar, predictable environment and maintain important routines.
- Make sure there is a sense of stability for your child from surrounding whānau.
- Talk with tamariki and continue to check in on how they are feeling, even after things have normalised again.
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