It’s that time of year again with many children starting school for the first time.. or even just a new year in a different grade/school.
A wonderful insight into what some little ones might be thinking.. written by our wonderful co-founder Anne-Marie from The Annex Project..
Children who come from loving and caring homes can struggle with first days at schools, imagine then how much more it impacts on children, who through no fault of their own, have experienced pretty bad stuff in their early lives.
This little person has not had any huge trauma’s in their lives, just the normal stuff.
I am so scared – I’ve got my new clothes on. The one’s my Mama bought me AGES ago. I really liked trying them on and showing Daddy and I didn’t even mind my Granny taking photos of me and telling me how grown up I was. The jumper is a bit long and if I pull it down you can only see my shoes sticking out at the bottom. That made me laugh yesterday but not today. And these shoes – I LOVED them yesterday when we stood in that packed shoe shop trying them on. We took a number and waited our turn. We had a ticket with our number on it. Mama said I will learn my numbers in school but what if they ask me today. I can’t remember them!! It looked like a balloon on a curly stick – what did she say that number was. What if my teacher asks me!
My Mama said that there were 2 children from my new school in the shop. She told me to say hello but I don’t know them! When did the rules change. She ALWAYS tells me not to talk to strangers and yesterday she told me that I have to say hello. I don’t know why she did that.
My shoes are squeaking; my jumper feels funny; I want to wear my blue shorts. I’ve worn them forever and today I have to wear all my news clothes. I don’t like them. What WAS that number that I’ll need to know at school today. A balloon with a curly stick – please don’t let the teacher ask me.
All the grownups look strange, like there are trying hard not to sneeze. They keep looking like the sun is in their faces and they are wiping their eyes with the strangest of smiles. They don’t look happy! I don’t want to be sick so I’m gonna stay hidden behind my Mama.
Who IS that lady that keeps smiling at me as if she knows me? She’s got her hand out and is telling me it will be ok and MY MAMA is pushing me towards her. This is NOT right!!! Mama told me ‘DON’T GO OFF WITH STRANGERS – EVEN SMILING LADIES ARE STRANGERS – EVEN IF THEY HAVE A DOG” And now she wants me to be stolen and not live with her any more. Why? What have I done wrong? Where is she going? Don’t go Mama; Don’t go!
I turn to look at the teacher lady, the stranger and am so scared that she will ask me about numbers that I freeze for a moment. When I turn back my Mama has gone! Where is she? What’s happened to her? Is this stranger danger but they take mummies too? I am so scared that I dare not make a sound. I look at the floor and scream inside. The stranger teacher says that she knew I would be fine and tells me to come with her because we have a lovely morning planned. We’re going to learn our numbers!
How can we change this common and heart-breaking scenario? Planning Planning and more planning but maybe not in the way you imagine. Of course, do all the pre-visits and use photos of the school and classroom to help your little loved one feel things are more familiar but there’s more.
For me it’s about talking openly and honestly about how scary going to school can be. Openly naming their feelings, fears and anxieties. If we sugar-coat everything by telling our little ones how much they will love school and make loads of friends, that might not be true. They may not love school and by saying it will be fine doesn’t validate their feelings. It may make our children feel more anxious that we not attuning to how they are really feeling.
By being accepting about their feelings but still holding boundaries about going to school; having empathy with how hard doing something new feels but also being connected and playful to help them manage this better will build better, more connected brains for your children as they grow. Using connection can repair worry for so many children.
By being open and honest about their fears and naming their emotions, we help them to manage their worries and not inhibit their feeing – so very important.
If we prepare our children for new situations by being Playful, Accepting, Curious and Empathic we can help reduce anxieties and build better brains that are open and ready to learn. Instead of telling our children that ‘they will be fine’ and that we know how they feel, tell them how you imagine they may be feeling. Connect to their emotions and look behind their behaviours.
It might feel really scary knowing that you are going to be at school without Mummy. You’re used to having me near and you might worry about lots of things like how you will manage meeting people, where the toilets are and what you need to do at school. It’s ok to be worried. I’m pretty sure lots of kids are worried to. I’m not going to be at school with you but I have met your teacher and told her that sometimes it’s hard for you to say goodbye to Mama. She knows that about you and she will try and help with that feeling. Mama is going to come into the classroom with you and have a look round but she can’t stay all day. We will see if we can find Peter, who will be wearing the same clothes as you. I know you get tummy ache sometimes if you think you might not be wearing the right clothes. All the children will be wearing school uniform.”
Let’s not forget first day at school children are not grown-ups. They are baby children and we are allowed to help them manage their feelings and fears by connection.
By naming feelings, you are not putting thoughts into your children’s heads – they already have them. You are just letting them know that you understand and accept how they are feeling. They still have to go to school but you know it’s hard. You know there will be times that they feel sad but there might be times when they feel ok. Let them know that you have chosen this school and you know that the teacher knows that children get really worried sometimes.
Let the teacher know that your little one struggles to leave you and make sure she knows that you won’t be sneaking out without saying goodbye to your little one; that you won’t be inventing a reason that you have to leave. Say goodbye so they can hear you and don’t leave until you think they are ready for you to go. Now, if it is your own anxiety that is stopping you leave we may have to write another blog about that!
Let your little one know how you will be spending the day; don’t promise things you cannot carry through. Tell them where you will be waiting at the end of the day, arrange a spot and make sure you are there on time.
It can be really tough and scary but most children manage school. It’s just that they need to do it on their own agenda and by reflecting and naming feelings you are helping them to be ready to learn.
Now leave, go home and they will be home soon!