Last week, my 4-year-old son started school. My post about that important milestone said that I didn’t feel sad, despite feeling lots of other emotions. But after a week and a half of him going, I’ve been experiencing an entirely unanticipated emotion:
Why guilt, you wonder? Is it because I’m enjoying the extra child-free work time I get while he’s at school? Hells no – not guilty about that at all.
I feel guilty because he is struggling to settle in, and I don’t know how to help him.
What’s going on
When I picked him up on the first day at school, the teacher took me aside to say that his behaviour is “challenging”. He doesn’t like to share and starts screaming in distress sometimes if somebody encroaches on what he sees as his territory. He has trouble transitioning between activities – he gets upset if they ask him to move on from something before he’s finished. And sometimes he just plain old doesn’t listen or do what the teacher says.
On the walk home from school on that first day, I was holding back the tears the whole time. My son wasn’t unhappy about his first day at school. But I was so disappointed about the teacher’s negative report. I didn’t want my son to know how much it upset me.
On the second and third days of school, I got more negative reports from the teacher. The teacher asked that I pursue a referral to a paediatrician that had been commenced back when he was at nursery. I felt like the only mum in the whole school whose child wasn’t settling in smoothly. I didn’t see the teacher talking to any of the other parents after school.
Over the weekend, we started using a pasta jar as a reward system. Good behaviour = a piece of pasta. Bad behaviour = lose a piece of pasta. Full jar = a special treat. It worked well for us at home and we told him that he would get lots of extra pasta for good behaviour at school.
The teacher reported a lukewarm improvement. Then I didn’t hear from her for the rest of this week. Apparently, however, she told my husband that his behaviour was “too complicated to say whether it’s good or bad”.
I’ve got all the feels (and neuroses)
Talking to the teacher makes me feel so uncomfortable! I feel like I’m the one who’s been naughty. I feel like my son’s behaviour is my fault. I feel a bit like it’s a parenting fail.
I also feel powerless because I don’t know how to help him. If I could be a fly on the wall and see what he was actually doing in class, then I might be able to better help the teacher manage his behaviour. But that’s not possible, and she is busy with 30-odd kids to look after. I feel guilty for taking up her time!
I actually realise that I’m overreacting a bit. Perhaps these feelings are rooted in my own feelings around school. I was also naughty at school. I had serious issues with authority, and I was a late bloomer in terms of social skills. My reports always said “does not play well with others”.
And I’ve worked hard to reform myself. At university, I was the perfect student. I’m good now and I follow the rules, and I (mostly) play well with others. I don’t want my son to be labelled as a naughty kid, or to not be liked by his peers.
I always blamed my bad behaviour at school on some of the dysfunctional aspects of my upbringing. I’ve worked hard to give my son the most “normal” family life possible. His upbringing is much different from mine and much more stable.
So is being naughty at school, like, genetic or something?
Why I’m sharing
The reason I’m sharing this information with my readers is that I suspect I’m not alone in getting upset about my child’s behaviour at school. I’ve talked to other parents who feel equally as powerless to help their children improve in areas in which they might be falling behind. These other parents often feel as though they are being blamed – that teachers and others have implied that bad school behaviour starts at home.
Is it our fault? I’m not sure if there’s a clear cut answer to this.
But I have to say that it makes me a little angry that so much is made of a child not behaving well in his first week at school. Starting reception class asks an awful lot of little 4 and 5 year olds. It entails long days, a new environment, new people, different food and a complete change of routine.
Was it really necessary to take me aside in the first week and already label my child as being naughty?
And of course there’s always the different implication that my child might have special needs, which brings more worry and the stress of the protracted diagnosis process you face within the NHS.
Ticking all the boxes
I feel our education system can sometimes suffer from a tick box culture. No doubt many of you will be familiar with the Early Years Framework, which is used in nursery and pre-school as well as at Reception. It aims to ensure that all aspects of the children’s developmental needs are meant, and has 6 areas of focus:
- communication and language
- personal, social and emotional
- physical development
- knowledge and understanding of the world
If your child went to nursery, you probably received occasional charts that showed whether your child was achieving as expected for their age group in each of these areas.
It’s great that childcare and education settings are aware of important development areas for children, and that they’re trying to develop all of the areas and help to shape a balanced person as the child grows.
But what bothers me is that it seems like they are so quick to raise concerns if the child isn’t achieving in every area. My son has above average literacy and numeracy, but he falls behind in personal, social and emotional development.
Does that really mean there’s something wrong with him? Or could it be that he is only 4 years old, and he’s only human, and he’s developing in his own unique way?
So if you’re experiencing some of the same issues as your child starts school, just remember that you’re not alone. That you’re trying your best. And that every child develops at their own pace.