There is a well-documented part of labour when the mum effectively ‘hits the wall’ and decides that she isn’t going to carry on anymore. The baby will just have to stay where it is because she has firmly decided that she is giving up and going home. Utterances such as ‘ I can’t-do it’ or ‘I’m leaving this hospital right now’ and other (less print worthy) comments all form part of the story to be told time and again after the safe arrival of little one.
And now, said ‘ little one’ is in full-time school. It started so well: the positive transition and home visits, the excitement and emotion of the first day with the photo shoot of them in their new uniform; new friends (for them and you) and days of coming home in paint/sand/mud-stained clothes. This is what school should be about – you’ve nailed it and you couldn’t be prouder.
And then, out of the blue three weeks in, little one hitting their own wall. “Mummy, I don’t want to go today. I do not like school. I think I’ll stay at home.”
If this sort of comment is being banded around in your home this week, don’t worry. I would bet my last sparkly school sticker that you are in a club with the majority of other Reception parents right now, and before you start frantically ringing round every other local primary school in a fit of worry that you have picked the wrong one and may need to move, be reassured that this is normal, that your child is not horrendously unhappy at school and that it should soon pass.
When your child declares that school isn’t for them anymore it is, in the vast majority of cases, not because they don’t like being there. They do. But what they are trying to tell you is that they are tired of getting up and having to be ready five days a week. They are missing your time together (who wouldn’t prefer to be snuggled up in front of the tv on a rainy morning, especially when a younger sibling can do just that?) It isn’t that they aren’t enjoying school; they would just rather be with you at home. Tiredness, coupled with the real possibility of the immune system being under attack this half term needs handling with stoicism and determination not to give into the temptation to keep them at home “just for today.” Just one day. Which then may turn to two and three, and before you know it you are involved in regular battles of attendance over the breakfast table. It’s a spiral just not worth entering.
To support young children as they begin to tire of the Reception routine:
Send them to school. Unless they are really too unwell to go, send them. Someone will phone you if they need you to collect them early. I could almost guarantee that within three and a half minutes of you leaving them at the classroom door they will be playing and having a whale of a time, tired or not.
Talk to your child about what it is that they are finding difficult. Most four-year-olds can verbalise, given the right amount of time and space. If there is more to it than lethargy, speak (discretely) to their key person who will know them inside out by now and will support with any required intervention. Be prepared to hear school’s point of view before rushing to any potentially damaging judgements.
Remain upbeat and positive about school. Use your parent power to find out something that they have been up to that they have loved and focus a discussion on that. You will subliminally be affirming to them that school is a place of enjoyment.
Consider downtime – are you giving them enough? We try our best to fill our small people with sporting/ artistic/pastoral opportunities in their free time. Do they have enough rest, too?
Children are incredibly resilient; they soon adapt to new routines and with your help should reach half term with lots of positive stories and plenty of new learning, so batten down the hatches and we will see you on the other side!
Lucy Patrick, former headteacher and co-owner of North Kirklees Mumbler.