Emotions

The beginning of the school year is demanding for everyone:  teachers, parents, and children.  The community around us shifts as we head back to the classroom.  This year in the Pacific Northwest, even the weather has shifted, bringing rains and wind for the first time in five months - an abnormally long and hot summer for us.

As the summer days ticked down, I felt restless.  Teacher meetings were positive, but they did not bring the full school feeling back.  The night before the children came, though, found me anxious.  It took me a few hours to recognize that feeling, and to link it to the start of school.  So, I have been wondering, if teachers are affected, what about children?  What about parents?  What about our colleagues?  There is often an intense focus on activities and learning routines at the start of the year; I wonder how we can support ourselves and each other during this transition without dragging it out.

Last Wednesday was our first day of school.  The school is relatively small - only 18 children - and they all arrived between 8:30 and 8:45, playing in the yard before we all gathered together.  Our school director drew all of the children in close, with parents and teachers surrounding that group.  The children were asked to say goodbye to their parents.

Many of the children said goodbye, walked to the door, and entered school.  A few had lingering hugs.  Two could not be consoled; their parents entered the school with them, helped them with their coats, and tried to say goodbye.  These two clung to their parents with emotion:  possibly sadness, possibly fear, perhaps something else.  What an experience, to be left in a strange location, with strange people!  I helped one parent make the transition; I held D's hand as her parents left.  I let her walk around the room, look out the window, and be sad as she transitioned into the day.  The other child who had a visibly emotional separation, E, was with another teacher on her lap, next to a teacher who was singing.  He wailed as he was bounced up and down with the song.  I have taken this route many times, and probably use distractive methods often without realizing it.

So, which option do we lean towards?  With young children, we often try to distract from emotions.  I am a practicing teacher - I do not claim to be the utmost authority on children's emotional wellness.  In the situation last week, I tried to see it from the child's perspective.  When a child has big, powerful emotions, and we know the cause of those emotions, why should we distract them?  If a friend told me they had been feeling depressed, I wouldn't drag them off to an amusement park.  I would be there to listen, as a sounding board.  My job is not to "fix" a child's sadness or a friend's depression with shiny objects and jokes.  Children have emotions, and we cannot be afraid to see a range of emotions.

A conversation between Emily Plank and Kelly Matthews was posted on Emily's site, Abundant Life Children, at the end of last week.  This conversation articulates this point of children's emotions as something to recognize and respect, not something to smother.  Kelly and Emily share:

Kelly: Children who feel big feelings when their loved ones leave are in need. What happens when we use toys to distract children is that they feels like no one understands them. When kids don’t feel understood, they feel unimportant. Like we don’t know their big sadness.

Emily: It also must feel so scary. Like the powerful adults in their lives are oblivious to their sorrow.

Kelly: But that’s the thing. Adults are not oblivious. They know exactly what’s going on. They see the tears, the clenched fists, and the sorrow, but they do exactly the opposite. They try to entice children with toys or shake rattles or try to end the crying as soon as possible. Those acts of trying to calm children by distracting them from their sorrow, in effect, is communicating to them that what they are feeling is not happening.

Truthfully, we know that they are upset. We see it. And yet we act like the opposite is happening. We act like upset children are giving us cues that they are ready to play when it is clear that they are not at all ready to play.
— http://abundantlifechildren.com/2015/09/03/helping-children-say-goodbye-without-distracting/

Social and Emotional development are an enormous part of the young child's life, and so they should be at the forefront when we think about our own image of the child.  The emotional being - the child who wants to sit in your lap, to be alone, to be loud, to be angry - is the child, not a momentary slip into another being.  As we spend these first few days of the school year getting to know children, I hope we can all find the space to respect them in all situations - sadness, fear, and anger included.