Listening to children :: Reuben’s horrendous preschool experience & a word of warning.

Listening to children :: Toby & Roo, daily inspiration for stylish parents and their kids.

There is little that can rival the crushing sense of failure when you make a parenting cock up, not a little one but something that you think really affects your child. Hearing these little people who are so dependent on us, so needing of our protection and we got it wrong. We let them down. It is one of the things about parenting that really isn’t any fun but something that we will all do at some point.

For us it was sending Ruben to his first preschool. At the time the place had the best reputation in the area, highly sought-after, difficult to get into, what could possibly go wrong? I’m quite a fan of the Montessori style of teaching so it made it even better that it was a Montessori preschool, but unfortunately it was set to be one of the biggest and most prevalent parenting fail is that Adam and I would ever make. Even now Reuben will still spontaneously mention the “horrible preschool” that he used to go to – his words not ours.

I’ve written before about our experience at Reuben’s old preschool but never really about how it makes us feel as parents and how it colours our view of the choices we make. Reuben told us on numerous occasions that he hated that preschool but at the time was too young to articulate why, so we never took much notice until other parents started making comments and eventually the preschool started diagnosing him with everything from ADHD to Aspergers. Reuben will occasionally tell me things now, like he wasn’t allowed to play with the other children because he was a “bad boy” and the other children were told not to talk to him because he was bad, or how he was made to sit inside and work at the age of two when all he really wanted was to play with the trains. Or how he was told he couldn’t have that much milk on his cereal, and couldn’t have a big bowl of cereal, because that was greedy and children don’t eat that much. A part of me thinks it would be fair to say I never knew but in a way we just never believed him and that’s something that we will always regret. I queried the preschool when he came home and said to me that he was a “greedy boy” or that he had had a bad day because he was being naughty. I queried them when they were sending him home covered in poo, but thought it was normal that the reply was “we asked him if he had wiped his bottom and he said yes, so we can’t do anything about that”… until other parents mentioned that their children were often wet or dirty and the reply was the same – it’s only now I understand that actually, yes, they can help a 3 year old wipe his or her bottom, it isn’t against the rules or a (direct quote from the owner here) “violation of the personal space”. As first-time parents when he said he would rather be at home with us and he didn’t like to be at preschool we just thought that was normal, we didn’t listen to the underlying messages he was trying to give us.

As Reuben’s got older I’ve become quite impassioned about listening to him and in the way believing what he has to say rather than questioning it. If I think that he has exaggerated something, or flat out made it up,  I will ask him “Is that true?” and most often he will tell me yes or no. This is the same when it comes to school; he might have a tiff with another child in the playground but again I try my hardest to believe him and work through the situation with him to find out what exactly happened and if in doubt I do ask his teachers for more information. I won’t ever again make the mistake of choosing not to believe him.

It’s vitally important that we listen to our children, of course we question them, but that we really listen and try to find out the truth behind what they tell us. Trusting in our own parenting ability to know our child and dig further if not. It’s not even just at school, but applicable at home too. I’ve asked Roo on many an occasion if he is lying to me, and I always get the same “Nooooo” even if he is, but we now have an understanding that whatever he has done that is unacceptable will have consequences, but if he lies about it, the consequences will be far worse.

I felt the need to share this post after a car ride to school with Roo a few days ago. He stopped and looked at me with those big round eyes, “Mummy, why do we have solids, gases and liquids?” I answered him wondering where on earth that came from and then asked him why he asked, his reply was that he used to have to look at them when he was at his old school. He wasn’t allowed to play outside because he was bad and he had to sit and look because he wasn’t allowed to play with the trains during work time. My heart was broken, it’s been over a year since we’ve been to that place, yet here he was, thinking about it.

The power of listening to children is immense, and the power of trusting your instincts can make this kind of feeling I have now totally avoidable.

H x


  1. October 30, 2017 / 10:38 am

    Oh Harriet this makes me feel really quite emotional. My son went to a (beautiful, lovely, tick all the boxes) Montessori bilingual pre school last year. We had all sorts of behavioural issues with him but he has never been able to explain what was really wrong. When he went up to the 3- 6 class he starting pooing his pants and tears at every drop off. He has an EPIC appetite but if I offered him seconds at a meal he would say “but will it make my tummy hurt mummy”. He seemed happy st pick up and the teachers said he was happy. I have always put it down to the fact it was “bilingual” but actually he was the only English kid, and didn’t have any friends. Not really, ones he could talk to, and he’s such a chatterbox. Once an English speaking training teaching assistant sat in his class for a few days. He came home and told me he had made his first friend. He described her and when I asked his teacher the next day it transpires that it wasn’t another child he was talking about, his best friend was a (lovely) lady in her mid 30’s. I had a littl cry at that. In January he starts K1 at an international school. All English speaking. But we have had to choose it without even visiting because we are moving To the south of France. I’m so nervous.
    Kate x

    Ps sorry for the emotional outpouring. This just really struck a nerve

    • Harriet October 30, 2017 / 12:49 pm

      Sending you a big squeeze. It’s so tough isn’t it? x

  2. October 29, 2017 / 5:06 pm

    Aww this makes me so sad for you guys. It’s so hard to get to the bottom of things when they are that age isn’t it. I can totally see how this could happen, it could easily happen to anyone. I hope you put formal complaints in about the nursery.

  3. October 29, 2017 / 11:59 am

    Reading this makes me so sad and equally angry. We too sent our 5th child to the same nursery (a Montessori) as our others had used. Within a week they claimed he was deaf, unsocialable, autistic and couldn’t see. I still sent him for a further three months and it just got worse, they would telephone me to say he took an extra biscuit when he shouldn’t have. His confidence was shot to pieces and he apologised for everything. I try and remember that I did remove him from this situation, a little later than I would have liked but did trust my mum gut and stuck two fingers up to them. He is now confident and not any of the things they said. It’s all a learning curve, we’re doing our best xx

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