The significant relationship
Experiencing a significant relationship with a key trusted adult is vital for our most vulnerable, at risk children. Relationships that provide children with a sense of protection, connection, understanding and care enable children to feel secure, valued and settled within school. As the school year is ending, we often see a change in the relationship dynamic between the child or young person (CYP) and their trusted adult. This time of year is full of uncertainties and, for some children in particular, endings and uncertainty can cause a great deal of difficult emotions.
Emotions and behaviour
The anticipation of a significant relationship ending is very overwhelming. Children who rely on this security will be finding it difficult to manage and make sense of the range of emotions that they are feeling. These emotions will be difficult to process and these uncomfortable feelings such as anger, sadness, anxiety, fear may be expressed as behaviours that challenge for example rejection of trusted adults, refusal, outbursts or withdrawal. In addition, attempting to sabotage a relationship with trusted adults may be an attempt to avoid the sadness of losing this daily familiarity, reliability and trust. It’s easier to walk away from something that isn’t going well than to experience the sadness of something so significant ending. This will be hard for the CYP and the adults involved.
Considerations for supporting a CYP and their trusted adult throughout transition
- Be mindful of how the CYP is feeling and what may be underlying their behaviours.
- Address this difficult time and support openly throughout. Emotions need acknowledging, validating and supporting. Try not to dissuade or distract children out of difficult feelings, but simply be with these feelings together, attuning and validating the legitimate feelings for what they are.
- Provide time for the trusted adult to talk with the CYP about how they are feeling and address the changes that will be taking place. For example this may be done through drawing or using visuals.
- Provide the CYP with the language to make sense of their emotions within this context. Provide a narrative that gives reasons why these changes are happening and makes sense of their emotions and explain for why they are feeling this way. It is important that they can understand it as a period in time and can make sense of it within their thoughts.
- Give clear reasons for this ending or change so that the ending is not interpreted as a rejection. Create a positive memory book of shared experiences and fun times as a frame of reference to draw upon and look at. Use phrases to make sure that the CYP knows that they are being held in mind ‘I will be thinking of you when…’, ‘do you remember when we…?’
- In daily interactions, let the CYP know that they are thought about, known and will be remembered. These mental state verbs are important in supporting the CYP to develop self identity and are used as language for attachment. Being able to see oneself and be thought about in the past, present and future support to create positive self constructs and greater efficacy in managing adversity.
- Make something together that you can both wear or take away so that the CYP knows they are held in mind and the connection still remains
- Consider drawing out a visual for the CYP so that they know that the team of adults or special relationships can still remain, new ones can be developed and this is alright. If you know that the child will be working with a new significant adult, arranging an opportunity for the three of you to meet will be helpful in setting that new relationship within the secure base of their present relationship.
- As a significant adult to a CYP, remember that you have provided them with a positive relationship and this is vital in supporting them to go on to develop new positive relationships, knowing that they are known, thought about and remembered.