Helping children manage their feelings

I heard of a child this week who was prevented from going with his class on a school trip due to his behaviour in school on the morning of the trip. He is 9 years old and was so excited and anxious about going on a coach and leaving Manchester that he found it difficult to manage his feelings. He kept interrupting his class teacher and asking questions when she was trying to explain about the afternoon and was clearly feeling more scared and anxious as the time to leave school approached. He has never been out of Manchester and has only left the estate where he lives twice to visit a relative. Just before his class was due to leave he pinched the child stood next to him. It was a reactive act in a split second and I believe was due to his inability to express his feelings of fear and uncertainty. He had to stay behind at school in another class, where he spent most of the afternoon with his head on the desk crying.

There are often clues in the lead up to a school trip that can help school staff to identify the children who may need extra support with this. They may ask lots of questions, behave emotionally more immature than usual, and generally show they are out of sorts. It can be useful to try and help these children at the early stages of the day by distracting them such as sending them to do a job, talking to them about how they may feel, for example, “It can feel frightening doing something like going on a coach for the first time, but remember I will be with you the whole time”. It can also help to go through the itinerary several times on the day to enable them to feel safer as they know what will happen.

If we see school trips as learning, then we need to support children and help them manage their feelings around this change of routine and new experience in their life. After all, we don’t stop children going to do maths if they misbehave, so why stop them going on a school trip?

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