First encounters

15th September 2000 at 01:00
Martin Saunders finds it's good to talk

When a five-year-old child asked me to come home and be her dad recently, I came uncharacteristically close to tears. It turned out that just a week earlier, in a flurry of violence and screaming, her father had moved out of home, making her the 19th child in a class of 30 to go home to a single parent each night. And so a pretty little blonde with a penchant for skipping and laughing has lost her sparkle. She doesn't understand what is going on, yet she is desperately talking about her emotions to anyone who will listen.

That so many children live in single-parent households is no longer shocking. We are so numbed to the notion that we have eradicated the phrase "take this home to Mum and Dad".

Over the course of a term-long teaching placement, I found that while Year 1 children, like my little blonde friend, are desperate to tell everyone how they are feeling, by the time they get to Year 5, their emotions have been pushed down deep inside. Why this loss of openness and innocence?

Good communication has always been the best method of solving problems. During the course of mydegree, I've been taught the value of drama, dance and visual art in expressing emotion and relieving stress. The creatively expressive child is therefore seen as one who is content and "normal". This may sometimes be true, but we must not equate a loud and theatrical or artistic child with a happy one. It can be the opposite, as an unhappy child throws him or herself into performance in order to gain attention.

Children often become embittered long before they even understand what the word means. Over the course of their primary life, they can turn from carefree playmates into angry and resentful non-communicators.

There's no simple solution, but there's no substitute for talking to these children. Be careful though; the things they will tell you could drive you to tears.

Martin Saunders is a BEd student at Homerton College Cambridge and the editor of the Cambridge Student.l Are you a PGCE or BEd student, NQT or new classroom assistant? Want to earn pound;100? Send no more than 450 words to First Encounters co Jill Craven, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Email:

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