We are about to go through a big period of change with B. He will be starting High school in September, which will be a huge change. It is a huge change for any child to move from a school with about 250 children to one where there are about 1,200. He has been at his current school, in largely the same class group since he was 3 years old. These children have grown up together, and are largely accepting of each other and their differences. It has been a very safe, secure and pretty constant environment and, against a lot of my expectations, B has done really well and has really enjoyed his time at primary school. Yes, we have had the odd frustration like it taking 2 years for them to actually get around to ordering the laptop because he struggles with handwriting, but these are issues that concern us as parents rather than B in his day-to-day school life.
So there are 2 particular issues that are swishing about at the moment.
1. The class will be going off in a couple of weeks for their ‘school journey’ which for those who don’t know, is a trip away from home for 4 nights with their class mates. I’m not sure if it is a curriculum requirement that all state schools in the UK should be organising for children in year 5 or 6, but nearly every child I know has been on such a trip.
2. There are tests at his new high school which all new students are required to sit.
So, the issue that we, as parents are facing at the moment is how much to prepare B for these events. How much do we need to find out from the teachers / high school staff about what to expect and how much to discuss it with B.
In fact, for us the third of these 3 questions is the easier to answer. We tend to share with B when he asks. Over the years we have come to realise that if we keep on about something then we have a tendency to raise his anxiety rather than alleviate it.
The difficulty is, that if he asks and wants to discuss it or shows signs of being anxious and we think we need to encourage him to share his worries so that we can discuss and plan, we need to know what is going to happen in order to help him.
OK, simple, so we just speak to school and ask them to tell us what the plan is for the trip away, who will B be sharing a room with? what is the timetable? etc. and we speak to staff at high school and ask for details about the tests.
Like most things in life, it isn’t quite that simple. I would love to know other people’s thoughts and experiences around this, but we have found that sometimes by discussing things with staff or other people in advance has given them preconceived ideas and expectations about what B can do and what to expect of him and this isn’t always the best way of supporting him to try new things and to learn to live with new situations.
In the case of the trip away we have made no approaches to school to find out about the trip away. At the moment B is thoroughly looking forward to it and is happily chatting with his friends about it. They have been asked to express a preference about who they will share a room with, but have been told that they won’t find out who this will be until the day of the trip. B seems quite happy to accept this. So, we have decided to leave it at that. We are trying to learn to take cues from him. If he is not worried then we shouldn’t be.
However, there are a couple of things nagging away at me. B wears glasses and this trip is likely to involve lots of outdoor adventure activities. Over the years we have experienced all sorts of issues when carrying out some activities. A lot of places will quite categorically state NO GLASSES, and no amount of explaining, arguing or threats of ‘that’s discrimination’ from us will change minds (effectively excluding B from taking part) , others will say ‘no glasses’ but when we explain that he needs them they will accept it and let him keep them on, others will eventually accept it grudgingly after explanations, contacting supervisors etc. whilst others won’t bat an eyelid and don’t regard glasses as an issue.
The issue for B with glasses is partly the obvious, which is that he can see much more with them than without them, but it is more that he feels he needs them, I think when he is wearing them he feels in control of what he is doing. If he is told he can’t wear them he feels out of control, out of his comfort zone and gets very anxious. He won’t even walk across his bedroom without glasses on, so the idea of taking part in an exciting and unfamiliar activity designed to challenge, build skills and confidence etc. without his glasses is a non-starter.
So, I am thinking that I need to make the staff at school aware of this as an issue, but I don’t want B to know I’m doing it. Not because I want to do things behind his back, but because if he isn’t worrying about the potential glasses issue then I don’t want to be the one to suggest that it might be something he needs to be concerned about.
But, equally, how much should I be getting involved? When should I start to let these issues come up and for B to find ways of dealing with it without our intervention? OK, he is still quite young, but at least on this trip he will be with a familiar group of people. Next year and in the future there will be many more situations where we are not there and where he will have to start to advocate for himself and to make choices based on the information and situations he is presented with whether or not I, as a parent, think the options are fair or right. So, the jury is still out on the count of ‘do I discuss concerns about glasses with school staff or not’!
The other issue I referred to above is the tests that the new high school require all new students to take. We had a letter telling us about these tests a few days ago and the tests are to take place on Saturday. I was aware that the children would have to take some tests, but we have no idea of what the tests will involve. And we don’t know what the environment will be like, so if B does ask questions I have no idea how to answer them.
In this case we did decide that the best thing to do was to phone and speak to staff at the high school to explain the situation and to ask for more information about the tests. They have been very helpful so far and have explained some of the basic organisation of the morning and have reassured me, so that I will be able to answer some of B’s questions if he asks. What I am feeling really pleased about at the moment is that I have been told that if he does get really anxious then we don’t need to make him stay, they will always do some ‘catch up’ sessions even if that is in September, when the environment is a bit more familiar. So far we are feeling very pleased with the attitude of the high school. I’m sure thoughts about this will be material for future posts!
The reason I am writing about this is that, although in this instance we have made a decision to seek more information on B’s behalf, and are feeling quite positive about that choice at the moment there are still potentially some down-sides to intervening in this way. By asking these questions and seeking information are we starting to give the staff at high school information on which to start making assumptions about B? On the one hand we want them to be aware of the things that may cause him difficulties or make him anxious, but on the other hand we don’t want them to make assumptions and choices on B’s behalf that might potentially deny him opportunities for development. Indeed, in this case all I have sought is some information so that I can answer any questions B might ask. As yet he hasn’t asked any questions and seems to have just accepted that he is going to do some tests and doesn’t appear to think they are a big deal, so ‘great – well done B’, but by simply trying to be prepared have I started to feed the staff with false assumptions about B and his ability to cope with new situations?
So, this is where I am going to end, because I don’t have the answers and I will continue to agonise over what and how much information I share with others in order to try to be prepared to help B to anticipate and plan for change.
I hope I have managed to convey my concerns in a vaguely coherent way and I would be really interested to know if other people have grappled with these types of dilemmas and what , if any conclusions you have come to.
Thanks for reading comments and feedback would be gratefully received.