Transitioning back to school can be tricky for many children, especially those in care. It can often trigger insecure attachment style behaviours that are linked to their past.
Sometimes the very act of going to school, where there are rules and expectations can trigger children to feel unsafe. This is a place where they are expected to hand their power and control over to the adults and this can be very hard for a child or young person who has spent all of their lives surviving by keeping as much control as they can. Some triggers might be:
A new teacher
Creating a new relationship with people can be tricky for children in care, most people have let them down in the past and so trusting somebody new can be hard work! They just got used to the last one and now the teacher has changed again! It is hard to trust someone when you have had so many people leave you in the past.
Knowing you will see peers again and become part of a group of 30 children can be tough for children in care. They can often struggle when they have to share the attention of adults with others, this can be caused by years of having to compete with siblings to get their needs met ( like being fed). the idea of being part of a large group of children can cause a lot of anxiety around not being good enough, wanted or noticed. Feelings that can be a reminder of past pain. Seeing friends can also be tricky because it means they are required to use social skills like empathy, concern, problem-solving and reasoning which they may find difficult when they feel overwhelmed or worried.
Hearing happy holiday stories
You might have had a wonderful summer with the children in your care but that doesn’t mean it won’t be hard for them to hear about other children going away with their parents or doing nice things. This can trigger feelings of low worth and cause them to get negative intrusive thoughts. Especially if the school ask everyone to write about their summer or share their news. You may even find that they lie about what they did as a way to avoid their difficult feelings.
Loud noises, busy classrooms and chaotic playgrounds can be the cause of anxiety for children in care. Some might have experiences of domestic violence, loud arguments or unsafe homes that all felt chaotic and overwhelming. The trigger of an overwhelming noisy environment can cause children to disengage and struggle with behaviour. They are not being naughty here, they are just overwhelmed!
It might be a hard few weeks for the children as they settle back into school.
Here are some things you can do to help them:
1. Connect with the teacher and explain these points above so that they have some awareness. Be the advocate for your child and help the school see that their behaviour is often a sign that they are struggling emotionally and not because they are naughty.
2. Introduce some calm time before school. You could have breakfast whilst listening to calming music or read a story as they eat. Or increase happy hormones by dancing to music as you get dressed! Help them feel connected, noticed, and loved and help reduce those stress hormones.
3. When you pick them up have a snack and warm drink waiting for them in the car or as soon as they get home. This will help them feel nurtured and help the transition to home.
4. Find out about their day in a non-intrusive way. You could play a game and say, “Name one thing that made you really happy today.” “Tell me one thing that made you interested” “Tell me one thing that you struggled with” and then use therapeutic responses as your answer to ensure they feel heard and seen, “Wow, it sounds like that was hard. Sometimes loud busy times are overwhelming and you needed to get away” instead of, “Why did you run off at dinner? You know you can’t do that!”
5. Do something with them for at least 10mins, it might be some drawing or colouring, a bit of reading or even watching their favourite program with them. 10mins of connection time will help them wind down for the evening and help reduce the stress hormone.
Good luck with the first week back from all of us at TPC Therapy.
Further Information and Resources
You can follow Shahana on Twitter @Shahana_tpc
Read more of Shahana’s best practice tips for school leaders on Headteacher Update – https://www.headteacher-update.com/search-results/shahana-knight/81/1/
Learn more about our Therapeutic School Award here – https://www.tpctherapy.co.uk/therapeutic-school-award
Learn more about our Therapeutic Teaching Course here – https://www.tpctherapy.co.uk/therapeutic-teaching-course
Learn more about our Therapeutic Teaching Course here –https://www.tpctherapy.co.uk/childhood-trauma-and-attachment-course