My daughter has just started at High School…..what a see saw of emotions. For children who have experienced trauma, and as a result have attachment difficulties, big transitions like this can be very difficult. Whilst she seems to be taking it all in her stride I know adapting to the incredible changes in expectations and responsibilities will have an impact on her.
For all children the huge jump from primary to secondary is frightening and exciting. From being spoon fed everything, having most decisions made for you, being told where to go and what to do and think sometimes – to having to remember where you’re supposed to be, being responsible for your equipment and supplies to take in and out of school, from being the big fish in a little pond to the little fish is a humungous pond – all massive changes rife with anxiety and challenges.
Adopted children have all the more things to contend with. Most often then not they are operating emotionally at a lower age than they are chronologically. So a child of 11 moving up is actually more like an 8 or 9 year old (maybe even younger sometimes) which means they are no where near emotionally ready for the responsibilities and pressure. They also invariably have issues with processing information, memory difficulties, friendship problems and general lack of identity and self esteem. All these things combined with the hormone changes makes for a messy mix of emotions.
And what about us as their parents? The change from knowing the children they mixed with at primary and their parents, to having no clue who they are with and what they are doing! From going into assemblies virtually every week and seeing exactly what they are learning, having a relationship with the teachers to no clue what they are doing and who their teachers even are for each subject. It’s a messy mix of emotions!
So some things I’ve observed so far for my daughter but also for me:
Control – this is always an issue with everything and for everyone, I am convinced. For my daughter she has much more control now of what she does – I drop her off at the gate but does she go in on time? who knows….she is in total control to some extent. Of course if she doesn’t go in I’ll soon know about it. I’ve noticed though that the fact that she has more control, and not just her but my friends children are the same. they are more prone to getting lost, not coming home on time, forgetting what they are supposed to be doing and where they’re supposed to be. For most children who’ve experienced trauma control is a huge area of difficulty. They want control as they haven’t had it in their early lives and they don’t trust others, but they also can’t handle the responsibility of taking the control. They haven’t built up the capacity and resilience needed to take responsibility and be accountable for the decisions they make.
For me control is also an issue. As I see her trot off through the gate I have to let go of what might be happening in there. I have to trust that she will be able to cope and also that the school will be able to help her. Of course there are things you can do to help the school in that – communicate regularly and try and raise their awareness to your child’s issues and anxieties.
Processing information – for my daughter she finds it incredibly hard to process instructions and information. So when she’s told to be somewhere for a singing lesson, and it’s something the rest of the class aren’t doing, there’s no way she can get there without help. Also really understanding what’s expected of her with her homework for example – written instructions from a teacher or teaching assistant are the best ways of getting this information home correctly.
For me as well there’s not such easy access to the school and my understanding of High School is so outdated now as it was 25 years ago that I left school and things are remarkably different now.
One of the tips for processing information is communication with the school. Make sure you know what is expected of your child and as far as possible get them to help in doing the task required. In our school they do homework clubs every day which is a great help for our daughter and us to be honest, it stops the battles at home over homework and it means she can get the help she needs.
Growing up – for my daughter she is desperate to grow up but terrified at the same time. High School means older kids, lots of swearing (of which she’s horrified at), make up, high heels, boys - all the things that growing up brings. For our children though they are not really ready for this stage in their development – our daughter fluctuates between playing kitchens and teachers to wanting to wear high heels and make up, and having a mobile phone is the best thing that’s ever happened to her!
What about us parents too? Having our children go off to High School means we are getting older! Time to grow up maybe? maybe not! I certainly have to consider and remember how it felt to be at that stage of development – still wanting to be a child, protected, safe and cosy but also curious and excited about this whole new world of possibilities.
As I write this I guess I notice that it’s like a see saw – up and down, good and bad, scary and exciting for them and us. So we’ll have to just stay on the ride and see what happens – sometimes we’ll need to go with whichever side is the heaviest at that time, sometimes we may have to weight the side we want ourselves, other times we may have to take our hands off and let them decide!