Tuesday 16 January 2018

Ask the expert: Will the split in my son's class be bad for friendships?

Illustration by Maisie McNeice.
Illustration by Maisie McNeice.
David Coleman

David Coleman

Advise from the parenting expert on the consequences of friends being separated in a mixed class and on how to cope with children on a long flight.

Question: My six-year-old son is in a class with all his buddies from pre-school and has some great and strong friendships. But next year the class gets mixed with the second class and the school always uses the mix to separate pupils who have been together since Juniors. The school does this to "help children to learn to mix better". But, surely it is more important to build on existing friendships and nurture that bond than to break it up? Could this kind of disruption and separation affect my son from a psychological and emotional point of view?

David replies: Of course, if your son is separated from his friends in class, it might affect him psychologically and emotionally. But, it might not affect him greatly either.

It sounds like the potential for him to be split from his friends may be a bigger worry for you than for him, if he is even aware yet.

Children and their friendships can be fickle things at the best of times. In many situations, it can be more distressing for children if there is an unexplained break-up in a friendship.

So for example, if your son's best friend decided to become more friendly with another boy and started to leave your son out of games, or wouldn't talk to him in the yard, I think your son would find that experience of apparent rejection harder to deal with.

It is easier for children to be pragmatic, and to move on, when they don't feel any sense of rejection by their friend choosing not to be a friend.

Even the loss of a friend, like when a friend's family moves away, is easier to bear when the reason for the separation is more transparent, and due to the decisions or actions of others.

Your son or daughter may still feel the loss of their friend, keenly, and may be very upset about it. But, they are often quicker to recover, including branching out to make new friends when they know that their friend didn't make an active choice to leave them.

So, while your son may be headed for some disappointment if he and his 'buddies' are split up between classes, I could imagine that he will be well able to cope with it.

Notably, you talk about your son having "some great and strong friendships". Straight away that suggests that he is not dependent on one single 'best' friend.

Rather he has already made several good friends whom he feels equally close to.

In practical terms, assuming the class gets split two or three ways, he is still likely to have one or maybe two of his close friends in class with him. So, while he may miss the opportunity to be with some friends, he is unlikely to have to start from scratch making entirely new friends. Unless there is some kind of segregation in the yard, I presume, too, that your son will still be able to play with his current friends during break time. If so, there may, practically, feel like little change in the status of their friendship.

You will also, I'm guessing, have plenty of opportunity to keep him with his friends at after-school activities like sports, or music or whatever extra-curricular activities he and his friends currently do or may have the chance to do next year.

You might also want to talk with his friends' parents about the impending split and, if you are worried that your son may be isolated, make arrangements for play dates to allow the boys to meet up in each other's houses as well.

You do seem worried that your son is going to miss out, in some way, if he doesn't get to continue to be in class with his 'buddies'. But, in truth, your son sounds like he has all the skills required to make friends easily.

If so, then next year, like the school predicts, may be a real opportunity for him to extend his friendships and to get to know some of the other children better.

While you may only, currently, notice the negative aspects of a potential split for your son from some of his friends, there are also some positives that you could focus on.

Certainly, for your son, next year, it will help that you can understand his upset if he is not with his friends, but you then also need to be ready to help him cope with the change and to seize the opportunity it may create.

We're flying to the US this summer. How will we cope with our little ones on the long flight?

Question: How lucky for you to have a generous brother! It is great that you have this opportunity to travel but you are right to anticipate that travelling with small children can be stressful.

David replies: I think you need to accept that you will have to work during the flights. You need to be prepared to actively engage with your children. You may find that if you are mentally and psychologically ready (or resigned!) to play, sing, doodle and read to your children that in fact you will end up doing less than you expect. Make sure you book with enough time to be able to select seats altogether. Also, if there isn't automatic priority boarding for families with your airline, then book this ahead as the quicker boarding and less time queuing is a godsend with children.

Hopefully both of your children are equally happy to be minded by each of you. That way you can pass the baby over and back rather than one person being stuck under the baby and the other feeling exhausted trying to occupy and entertain a pre-schooler.

Bring a regular-sized cabin bag as hand luggage for your pre-schooler, even if she or he can't manage to carry or wheel it alone. That way you can fit in more toys, books and games to amuse them in the air. Remember to pack a favoured soft toy, comforter or blankie if something like that is relied upon for sleep.

If your children do sleep on the flight, then use this as an opportunity to get some rest for yourself. Write your name and your seat number on a piece of paper and pin it to your pre-schooler in case they wake up and wander around the plane while you are still snoozing.

Do ensure you pack enough nappies into your hand luggage to last not just the flight but the first night too.

We once arrived in France on a Sunday but our extra nappies, in the main luggage, got lost and didn't arrive for two days. Trying to find an open shop, in France, on a Sunday to buy nappies was more traumatic than the flight!

Bring more baby wipes than you think you might need. They are great for children and adults alike. Bring at least one full change of clothes for each child in your hand luggage. Remember too to pack some Ziploc or other sealable plastic bags to contain any wet or soiled clothes.

If you are not breastfeeding, then make sure you have enough formula and other food for the baby. Never assume that your pre-schooler will like, or eat, the food on the plane so bring things like cheese or carrot sticks, crackers, dried fruit, fresh fruit and yoghurts.

Pack an empty 'sippy-cup' so that you can put water or juice in it during the flight without having to worry about spills. Sucking and chewing actions can also help small children with the effect of the cabin-pressure on their ears.

The air on long flights can get very dry and you might find that the little fresh water misting sprays (make sure they are small enough size to get past airport security) are very refreshing on the face and the back of the hands. Something like that can really reduce that flushed, over-heated state that pre-schoolers especially can get into.

You also need to be prepared to amuse and entertain them while waiting for luggage and also while queuing for a hire car or your onward transfers. These are often the bits that really catch us out because we have invested all our energy in getting through the flight.

After all of that, just enjoy your holiday before doing it all in reverse!

We have a three-year-old and a seven-month-old. They are great children and we don't have any problems with them. I have a brother in America who has just offered to fly us all out there later in the summer to visit him. We'd love to go but I dread the thought of having them cooped up on the plane. While they are great kids, it is still a drama trying to get us all out to the shops, never mind get us to America. Some people are suggesting antihistamine medicines as it might make them drowsy, but even they won't keep them asleep for the whole trip.

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