The last few weeks of school and most staff are counting the weeks if not days, or should I say more specifically, ‘get ups’. Time speeds up…so many extra things to get done, reports, trips, sports days, assemblies, parties (or graduation balls- still can’t get my head around the fact that 11 year-old’s go to ‘balls’ in limousines ).
And in the midst of it all, children are hurting. This is the ‘Season of Orphans (Outside of Africa)’
It is well known that as things get more off-timetable, some children thrive thinking it is the best thing ever and others really struggle with the change in routine. For them it is a change in predictability, a change in knowing what happens here, a change in how safe I feel in this place.
It has really struck me recently how for so many schools the process of children moving on up to a new class, or key stage, or school has been turned into an event and labelled. We say ‘transition’ and infer meaning of extra visits to new classrooms, social story books with photos of new desk, peg, teacher etc. Don’t get me wrong, these are all helpful activities, but still we miss the main point… The same way we say the word bereavement and miss the agony that the actual process of being bereaved often involves.
If a child has a home life that is barely ‘good enough’, if their relationships with adults there are not safe, consistent and good, then you can bet those children will probably have dared to invest themselves in ONE key relationship in their school world. That relationship is sometimes their teacher, more often it is their TA or LSA; Mrs X.
For them this time of year is nothing short of hell on earth. They realise the end of term is coming, they start to realise they have to move on, and the penny starts dropping that really, what that means is they won’t be with Mrs X any more. If you have had an experience in life when you found out a parent or special grandparent, or someone very close to you was going to die soon, you might be able to come close to the feelings of what these children are trying to navigate (although for them it is probably even more intensely).
You may think I am being over dramatic.
I’ve heard it said that “it’s really not such an issue”, that “children are resilient.”
For many children I would agree, yes they are resilient, and they will navigate transitions in school and in life with probably nothing more than some nightmares, sick feelings, worries and excitement. However for the children I work with; children who do not have such ’emotional resilience’ because they have already been hurt by life, this is the understated truth for them. Their world is different.
We say ‘transition’
What it means to these children –
I am being abandoned
I am lost without her
No one else ‘gets’ me like she does
I only feel safe when she is nearby
I feel vulnerable
I’m Angry that she is going to leave me
I am totally terrified to have to face all these changes and new things on my own
No one else is like her
Utter heart breaking, life changing, loss
Why is this happening?
I am totally powerless…
School is supposed to be my safe place – why are they doing this to me?
Suggestions for honouring children through this time.
- Do not say to a child you know how they feel. You don’t. Show them some respect in acknowledging that you can’t imagine how they might be feeling.
- Do not expect they should be able to keep a lid on it, behave normally, or get used to it.
- Do NOT say to them, or try to persuade them it is going to be exciting, as you will totally alienate a child who is already feeling alone and not understood.
- Give them chance to actually find out and express how they are feeling…and hear it without trying to change or diminish their feelings (if you tend to need to fix things this will be harder than it sounds).
- Acknowledge this is really, really, really hard and you are genuinely sorry they have to go through it.
- Have the special TA spend time with the child making 2 duplicate memory boxes of things only the 2 of them know. The TA will keep one, the child will keep the other.
- Have the TA and child together make a list of all the special things she knows about him.
- If he thinks that it is important for his next TA to know, the TA could write a letter to the next one, with a copy for the child to keep too.
- Whatever your role in this, keep your own emotional memories of being bereaved close to mind to help you keep your honour and respect for this child and what they may be going through, real.