On Friday morning one of my parents brought one of her children to school in a very bad mood. The child had obviously been crying and was clearly distressed. My Pupil and Family Support Worker picked up the child and took her to her class where she went straight to the back of the room and sat on the sofa in the book corner. In the meantime I was at the main doors alongside my Assistant Head welcoming the children to school and chatting with the parents and carers, running messages to class teachers and generally picking up ‘stuff’ that needed dealing with.
The parent came out and as they have recently had a new baby I asked how they were getting on and congratulated them. This parent has an interesting relationship with the school. She has worked really hard to get herself into a situation where she can apply for work. She has aspirations for her children. She cares passionately about the school. But there is also a strange dichotomy in that she is also deeply unhappy with us as she feels her children are bullied and unhappy here.
She told me that her child had had a tough morning and hadn’t wanted to come into school. I said that it might be as there was a new baby in the house, but she answered that she was adamant that it wasn’t. I told her that I would talk with her daughter to see if she would tell me what the matter was.
I went into her classroom where she was sitting on the sofa, crying. With a bit of gentle cajoling I persuaded her to come up to my office where I would read her a story. We read A Chair for Baby Bear together. She read really well and was engaging in making predictions and making links with Goldilocks and chatting away very happily. She had stopped crying. Once we had read the book I began to ask her what had happened that morning and why she hadn’t wanted to come to school. It was fascinating. She did want to come to school. She loves school. She doesn’t want to leave and her mum has said that she is going to move her. She fights with her elder sister and that upsets her. Her little brothers get her into trouble and that upsets her. She feels her mum hates her and that upsets her. I asked her if there was anything in school that was worrying her (she has told me before when she has had an issue with another child). She was adamant that school was fine but that she was very unhappy at home.
This morning she had had a big row with her mum about putting her coat on. That was why she didn’t want to come in. She had said things to her mum that she didn’t mean. I asked her if she could make everything better, what she would do? She said that she would want her sister and herself to stop being ‘rude’ at home. She also said that her little brother sometimes lied about children in school hitting him. All the time she was talking about home and her family she was in tears. Sometimes hiding her face behind the book, tentatively reaching out for the odd tissue now and then. We talked like this for a while and although she was upset, she seemed relieved to talk, smiling across the table at me through her tears.
Once I felt we had talked enough, we read another couple of books together, had a bit of a laugh about how much water had leaked out from her (and so she needed a drink) and what it would be like to have a Gran who was an alien, as we had read The Trouble With Gran.
For me, there were two important things about this conversation: firstly, she was able to tell me what was upsetting her and secondly, it was clear that her perspective on things was very different from her mother’s.
Earlier in the week a similar situation had occurred when a parent talked to my Assistant Head about her child being bullied but it turned out that her social worker hadn’t been in touch and she was in a bit of a state herself. When the ‘bullying’ was unpicked, there wasn’t really an issue there but things at home were in a bit of a mess.
The challenge for myself and my PFSW on Monday is to try to help this mum to see that school is not the issue for the child. This is going to be particularly hard as mum is so adamant that there are no issues at home. She would not accept that a new baby might be upsetting for her daughter, or that her relationship with her sister might be hard for her. She is in the middle and it seems that she is simply not sure where she fits in.
It feels as though school sometimes receives the projections of overwhelming feelings within a family that the family can’t manage. These feelings seem to manifest themselves as the parents complaining about issues in school. We then have to find a way of managing this so that the parents are able to work with us in order that we can both do the best for their children.