What would you think if your child suddenly developed the following symptoms…
- Increased clingyness
- Withdrawing from things they usually enjoy
- Anxiety, shyness, stomach ache
- Avoiding participating in things
- Planning and organisation difficulties
- Increased crying and tantrums
- Changes in eating habits
- Sleep difficulties, nightmares
- Regression to younger behaviours (eg bedwetting, thumb sucking, baby talk)
Would that concern you? Or would you think that was a normal part of growing up? Personally, they seem like signs of a distressed child who is having some difficulties and needs help right now. I wouldn’t call the sudden onset of those behaviours ‘normal’. I would take it as a sign that my child is struggling right now. That something is wrong.
However, these are apparently just some of the ‘normal’ things to expect when your child starts school. ‘Typical’ ways that children react to beginning school. There are many articles online listing these symptoms and many more, reassuring parents that they are very common.
Common, maybe. But normal?
As there are so many voices out there telling us that this behaviour is ‘normal’ and expected, I thought I’d speak up for the other side. Maybe this is not ‘normal’ behaviour? Maybe, as the quote above suggests, we are forcing children into situations that are biologically unsuitable for them. They can’t just ‘get used to it’ straight away. Their body is telling them they need to move and play and run outside. Their time is structured when they need freedom. All that fighting down their impulses and instincts all day is tiring and then they ‘act out’. Maybe then they’re even punished for that behaviour.
Eventually most of them do ‘adapt’, at least outwardly. But I wonder what’s really going on inside. At what cost? Do we really want them to adapt and change to suit a system that doesn’t value their biological needs? Should they have to?
Maybe instead of dismissing their behaviour as ‘normal’, we should listen. The message they are sending is loud and clear and in any other situation it would be taken seriously. But because it’s related to school it’s seen as necessary and expected and therefore not a big deal. Maybe children should be educated in ways that better meet their biological needs. Maybe we should demand that that happens. And if it doesn’t? Maybe we should opt-out altogether.
“Children are designed, by nature, to play and explore on their own, independently of adults. They need freedom in order to develop; without it they suffer. The drive to play freely is a basic, biological drive. Lack of free play may not kill the physical body, as would lack of food, air, or water, but it kills the spirit and stunts mental growth.” -Peter Gray, Free to Learn