Mother's Day – an annual set date in March traditionally used to celebrate mothers across the UK and all they do for their children.
For children and young people who have been removed from their birth mothers for whatever reason and are now living with their foster families, adoptive families or special guardians, this can be an incredibly triggering time (on the lead-up to, as well as the day itself). It can bring up all sorts of big feelings, no matter how old the child at the time of the separation from birth family - see Nancy Verrier's Primal Wound for a compelling narrative around the wound that results when a child is separated from his or her birth mother, irrespective of the circumstance in which this takes place.
At the time of writing this blog, we are also just coming up to the anniversary of a whole challenging year since the country first went into lockdown due to Covid, and the net has widened considerably in terms of those children who may be feeling the impact of adversity, trauma and loss associated with their family unit.
It is likely that many children will process conflicting feelings around Mother’s Day, whether or not they outwardly show it (always be mindful of masking as a survival strategy for children who’ve experienced trauma), and whether or not they are settled with their families now. While it’s hard to predict every potential trigger throughout the school year, Mother’s day is naturally a date to flag up.
So what can you do to help a child or young person around this time at school?
First and foremost, consider the children in your class, what you know about their home situation and pre-empt issues when planning Mother’s Day activities for children and young people who’ve experienced adversity. Where possible, speak with parents/carers who will likely be especially aware of the difficulties key dates and anniversaries can raise for their children and may be able to give you some context around that in case anything comes up, so messaging can be consistent and empathic.
It might be that activities associated with Mother’s Day can be carried out in a small nurture group for children who may find this topic triggering - the idea being that emotions can be explored more easily in a small group and with more attention from an adult to hold a safe space as appropriate. Taking children out to do whole class activities around families away from the classroom obviously needs to be handled sensitively – a sense of belonging is so incredibly important for all children, but especially those who’ve experienced early trauma and loss. It might be that the child cannot manage the session at all and can be taken to one side to do something else. You may find alternative ways to manage the situation.
The key thing is to really be aware of the sensitivities around Mother's Day, to plan for and adapt lessons which have ‘family’ at the centre with those sensitivities in mind, work in partnership with parents/carers as appropriate, and to ensure enough support is in place for any child who may potentially be triggered by the subject matter.
Emma Spillane is an education trainer and consultant who specialises in attachment and trauma. She is currently taking bookings from primary school settings for 'trauma-informed approach to wider school reopening' training sessions (co-delivered with Bristol Lead Practitioner (Theraplay South West) Catherine Eveness).
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