It’s been a funny last few days, getting uniforms ready & being against the clock again… There are valid reasons for & against sending kids back to school, but for my 6 year old, it has felt like the right thing to do. For me, this is not about ‘academic learning’ but the opportunity for healthy change, to re-discover his sense of self and the sense of belonging that comes with being with other kids again (albeit, compromised) especially as he’s an only-child…
And, most importantly, he wanted to go. The world has been full of far too many ‘no’s’ for children recently, the opportunity to say to our children ‘you decide’ virtually absent.
I know returning to school is a massive worry, for both parents & teachers alike; if not now, then in the future; so I’m sharing three things that helped the transitions a little smoother for my son. They’re not the ‘right’ ways (I don’t believe in them), they’re not perfect solutions, but they helped me leave my little boy at the school gates with more confidence…
1) “You Can Feel Whatever You Feel”
On Wednesday, I asked my son how he felt about returning to school the next day and he replied ‘excited’. As he was getting ready on Thursday I asked again. He reminded he (in the tone of a 13 year old, a skill he’s mastered during lockdown) that he’d answered this yesterday.
So I talked about how emotions can & do change… That he might not feel excited anymore, or that he might still feel excited, but anxiety may also be part of the picture now. (“Like when you’re going on holiday & you get on the plane?” he said; A much less complicated scenario helped the penny drop).
Kids can’t manage their emotions if they’re not aware of them, so teaching them to ‘tune in’-and regularly ‘check-in’ to what they’re feeling is a useful skill to teach (even if they huff at you for it…)
2) “Tell Me If You’re Worried”
Asking questions like “Are you worried about anything?” can be uncomfortable. We worry we’ll actually exacerbate any anxieties simply by asking, or that we’ll inadvertently tell our kids that we think there’ll be a problem.
But when kids have the chance to tell us what they’re worried about, we can then help them prepare for the ‘what if?’s. For example, my son isn’t boisterous or football-mad like many of his friends, and so finding someone to play with can be a bit of a challenge sometimes. Most likely, he’d have been fine anyway, but I felt a whole lot better knowing that we’d been through this possibility & he had the tools; i.e. who to ask & what to say; if this dilemma arose.
3) “I’m Looking Forward To Hearing All About It”
Luckily, my son has never cried about going into school, but this week I noticed how, even at 6, he was resistant to hugging me in front of his teacher.
Not showing your vulnerability is a pretty normal defence mechanism in this situation, but I know that us separating after months of 24/7 together is really a big deal. I accepted his apparent apathy, but still expressed my wish-and more importantly, my faith-that he would had a fantastic day & I that was looking forward to hearing all about it at pick up.
4) “You’re In My Heart & Mind”
Items from home are not allowed in school of course, but I know the power of a ‘transitional object’; a little item that symbolises you that the child keeps with them during separation. Scent is the most primitive and powerful of all our senses, so I sprayed a little of my favourite perfume onto a tissue so a little bit of ‘me’ was only as far away as his pocket.
What’s more, he could access this ‘little bit of me’ without anyone even needing to know (because, even at 6, bravado is an effective way to shield the world from your vulnerability)
Of course, I asked him if he needed his tissue once he was home… ‘only once’, I was told…
I think that probably means I miss him more than he misses me, but my little boy has re-discovered a sense of autonomy, belonging & competence, and so my ego can cope with that…
All in all, as challenging as separations can be right now, just like in those early months of life, now is the time to build children’s sense of self and their place in the world; to trust in their own competence & capability to navigate their world-on their own, but not alone.
(This image is taken from a new resource I’m developing to help children deal with transitions, change & endings…. watch this space)