Q My daughter is in sixth class and is gutted that she won't be going back to school this term. She is nervous about starting secondary school next September and is really upset that she won't get to say goodbye to her friends. She was crying last night, saying that it feels like primary school has been spoiled. I'm not sure what to say to her. Is there something I should be saying?
A I think the recent announcement that schools won't reopen until September at the earliest has unleashed a lot of upset for sixth-class pupils in particular. I had several queries about this issue in a recent Facebook Live Q&A that I did.
It is possible that your daughter is experiencing something akin to grief with the 'ending' of primary school. Many sixth-class students would have been due to make confirmations, do end of school performances, go on final class trips, take part in graduation ceremonies and other such events that may have marked elements of the ending of primary school.
Endings are important as a way to mark the transition from one developmental stage to the next. Having a clear end allows us to have an appropriate time to feel the pride and perhaps the sadness of finishing something. Marking an ending with some form of social gathering also allows for a sense of solidarity and communal recognition that something good has come to an end.
Perhaps, unconsciously, your daughter has recognised that she will miss this opportunity as her final year in primary school was prematurely cut short. With that in mind, you might like to discuss with her school, and with other parents of children in her class, if it might be possible to arrange something to mark the ending for her and her classmates.
One possibility might be for their teacher to do the equivalent of a university conferral ceremony that could be broadcast in virtual forum, saying a few words about each child in the class which acknowledges their contribution or their strengths.
Some schools have planned to get T-shirts printed with the signatures or a picture of the class on them for pupils to have a physical reminder. Other suggestions from parents include having a jigsaw made up, where each child is responsible for one or two pieces of the jigsaw, which again might include their names or images, or pictures they draw. Apparently, there are companies online that can facilitate that.
Alternatively, every child could submit a picture that the teacher can scan to create a book of those pictures for each pupil. For your daughter, it sounds like she needs more time and the continued opportunity to acknowledge the loss of this 'ending' and the loss perhaps of primary school itself, especially if it was a happy place where she felt secure and cared about.
Your job is to just be with her, warmly and supportively, as she continues to acknowledge what she misses. It will be good for her to know that you understand how sad she feels. Don't be worried about trying to 'fix' the sadness. You can't change the circumstances; all you can do is stick with her while she feels upset.
As she moves through the sadness, you might, over time, take opportunities to remind her how strong a person she is, how well she copes with things and that you have faith in her ability to not just get through this time, but also to be ready for secondary school in the autumn.