Welcome back to The Social Nanny! It’s Jessica and I am so ready to dive into what we have planned to talk about today. Before we do, I just want to take some time to reflect on how thankful I am to live in a country where we are all considered equals. With Martin Luther King day just having passed, it is an amazing reminder to be thankful for those who have cleared the path for ALL of us to accomplish things that we never would have been able to without them. We honor all of the trailblazers in our lives and the ones who have affected our lives! Especially Jesus, who has made us all one with Christ and has accepted ALL of us who believe into His family.
This week, we will be talking through the preschool age and elementary school ages of kids. Before we get into it, let’s recap on last week. We talked about toddlers, their growth and maturity through ages 1 to 3 and how we can best help them: by being patient. We saw that in Ephesians 4:2 that we are to be gentle and kind to EVERYONE.. This includes the toddlers that we care for. Patience is so important during this stage, and exercising it may take practice. But it’s so worth it in the end!
After the toddler years, your child will turn 4, which is considered the preschool age. In years 4-5, your child will be developing lots of new skills: motor function will increase, social skills will become more intact, their sentence structure will improve, and those emotions will now become even more acutely expressive. They’ll begin to hop on one foot, jump longer, be more interested in expressing their emotions in drawings or dancing. They’ll want to dress themselves, bathe themselves, obsess over their favorite colors, and play with their friends all of the time. They may even have make believe friends or start to do role play like “playing house” or “going to work” or “being a policeman”.
They will also start to ask more intuitive questions: “Where do babies come from?” “What are you making me to eat?” “Can you teach me how to whistle?” “Can you snap your fingers?” “Is that your favorite word?” This can be such a cool time because your child can communicate fully and hold really great conversations. And they will still be eager to talk; especially if you have been exercising that patience, it will allow for your child to easily approach you with anything that they may want to say.
During this time, communication is KEY. Most kids will be starting school; with this being a new experience, they may feel anxious. Some may fall back into habits that are “comfort blankets” of sorts. Some may start to be more withdrawn and not talk as much. As caregivers, I believe that this time is VITAL for communication. We want to make sure that the kids that we care for can feel free to come to us with anything.
In school, kids can and will be exposed to a myriad of new things: peer pressure, bullying, separation anxiety, fear, doubt, comparison, and sometimes even sexual or emotional abuse. In the world that we live in, it is naïve to think that your child would never be exposed to these things. I am not saying that we should not pray for God’s protection and a shield to be placed around their eyes, ears, and hearts, but we should also not expect that the sinful world that we live in will shield them as well.
The key should be asking them how their day was and opening those conversations with key questions: Is there anyone in school that made you feel happy? How? Sad? How? Angry? How? Scared? How? Do you like your teacher? Why or why not? Do you like your friends? Why or why not? What did you play at recess? What songs did you sing today? And so on and so forth.
These questions are geared to get them to talk about themselves more than the situations at first. As people, all of our favorite subjects are ourselves, and if given the platform, we will talk and talk about ourselves until we feel the need to stop. The same goes with children. Especially during this tender age, they are recognizing more and more social cues when it comes to things that they “should” and “shouldn’t” do. So we as caregivers should be careful that when we respond, we are encouraging more and more conversation instead of giving cues for them to stop communicating. Keep your attention on them: no phone, no busying yourself with other things. If you have five minutes to give them, give them your undivided attention during this time. Look at them in the eye and smile. Breathe deep. Turn your body towards them and watch other signs of body language. Keep your hands unclenched, lean forward, and make sure that your feet are facing them as well. (This is actually a trick that tells both your brain and the child’s brain that you are interested in them AND in what they have to say.) Don’t interrupt what they have to say.
In most cases, your child will have a bubbling brook of positivity flowing out of their mouths. But in some cases, there may not be. If your child says something about their day that shocks, angers, or even scares you, watch how you react. Be sure to speak in even, low tones and reassure the child that they have done the right thing and that you are proud of them. If they seem scared, show them reassurance in the way that they receive love the best: it could be words of affirmation, physical touch as in a hug or a hand on the knee, a gift like a flower picked from the garden, more quality time spent together.. To talk things through more or to even just let them know that they are worthy of your time, or helping them with something like chores.
Don’t react in anger or sudden movements, but instead respond in love. Talk your child through what you will do on their behalf: pray, call a parent (whether that be the child’s parent or another parent), talk to a teacher, call the police, tell the principal, remove them from school, etc. so that they will not be in fear of the unknown. This doesn’t mean that you have to talk through specifics, but make sure that they feel like they are being guarded in this journey by you and guided at the same time. Chances are it took a lot of courage to come to you in the first place, so make sure that they feel like they aren’t being left behind in the wreckage.
After you let them know what you will do, follow through. ALWAYS follow through. It is so important that the child that you are caring for knows that they can trust that you will do what you say. It will help to keep the lines of communication open for even longer because they can trust you.
As this child grows and enters their elementary years, they will start to develop even more mentally, emotionally, and physically. In this time, if you already have those lines of communication open, it is easy to still talk to them about the changes that they may be experiencing and the emotions that come along with them. If you haven’t been diligent in keeping those communication lines open, don’t fret. There is always redemption. Talk to the child that you are caring for, make sure that you ask questions about them, test different things to see what way they absorb love, and give them attention. They will eventually open up and you will be able to talk with them even more.
I can personally attest that for girls, this time can be especially confusing and lonely. With their bodies changing rapidly, they may see things that confuse them and experience things like getting their period that scare them. I remember I was in second grade, going into 3rd grade when I got mine. I was so scared because I hadn’t even talked about that with anyone yet. I thought I was dying… looking back I laugh now! But as I talked with my mom, she let me know that I wasn’t alone, that every woman went through this, and that I could always talk to her about anything that I needed help with. This constant line of communication let me know that I could come to her about anything.. And guess what? I still do!
My suggestion for caregivers is to just be open. If kids come to you about anything, be sure to openly communicate with parents about what was said, ESPECIALLY if it is anything sexual, whether an admission or confusion about something happening to a body. Don’t ever put yourself into a position to where you can be blamed or held accountable for something that can damage your reputation, career, and good relationship with a family. Parents or guardians, be sure to keep those lines of communication open not only for your kiddos during this time, but for those caregivers that work with you as well. I know from personal experience that it is super hard to be open with a family who you think will not accept feedback. So make sure that all lines are open!!
Y’all, there is SO MUCH to be said about this stage of life! For more tips on parenting elementary aged children (or all stages of life), go to focusonthefamily.com and read some resources there. I will also be posting a few books that I and others have found helpful to help parent and coach this age. Join us next week as we take a look at those middle school and high school years. It’s going to be super fun and I can’t wait to learn more with you. Until next week, this is your social nanny.