How long is long enough?

How long is long enough to provide the support that vulnerable children need in order to develop? It’s a constant question we ask about our own children, but also from the many educators we work with. It seems that we’re always looking for an end date. Six sessions? Two months of support? A term of therapy? Six months of a dedicated key adult?

The problem is for many of our children it will take a lot longer than a year or even the whole time they are in school to ‘fix’ them. A life time probably is more accurate. I know the question often comes from a funding or resource challenge; we need to know how long we’ll have to provide that intervention for so we can cost it out. However, what generally happens is the child seems ‘better’ with the support, so we then take the support away as they don’t seem to need it anymore. Inevitably the child’s behaviour then reverts to whatever it was before the intervention.

The problem is we are always trying to fix the child, to make them normal again! That’s not what we need to be doing. What they may have experienced will always be with them. Hopefully the impact will get less as they grow older, and through the many interventions they may need to integrate their experiences into their life story. We need to move away from sticky plaster mentality and move towards relationship building that empowers resilience in children.

If we could change the approach ALL our staff have to a child then they wouldn’t need a dedicated key adult, for example. If all our classrooms were equipped to manage high anxiety with calm areas and music. If our behaviour policies were based more on developing intrinsic motivation than extrinsic rewards and sanctions that shame children. If our focus could be more on developing strengths than pointing out weaknesses. If all these things happened then the child wouldn’t always be fighting to survive and feel safe, they could be able to learn and develop with the strengths they have and become well rounded individuals.

The reason I’m thinking about this subject at the moment is that we’re nearly at the end of another holiday and our children are getting ready to go back to school. Often children and young people will regress when there’s a break from school and as they come back next week it may be a challenging week for some.

The picture I’ve painted above of a whole school approach I know might be a long way off for some of your schools. The very least we can do is make sure the support is in place if needed – just because the child may appear to be ok doesn’t mean they are. Knowing the style of Attachment helps. For example, an avoidant child will always give the impression that they are ok. They won’t ask for help or demand attention. However, they often get missed in terms of support and as a result are underachieving and very anxious.

An ambivalent child on the other hand will let you know if they are struggling, not by telling you but by their behaviour. Watch for changes, heightened fizziness or attention needing behaviour. For some children who may be more disorganised in their Attachment style, when you start to pull away the support they will feel frightened and increase their negative behaviour to keep adults close.

Whatever style of Attachment you may be dealing with, please remember relationship is key. This next week as you come back think about the feelings they may be having – anxiety, fear, excitement, apprehension or despair. This can be the most difficult term as the anxiety around moving up sets in. Think about transition and how to keep those connections with children over the summer break too.

So how long is long enough? How long is a piece of string? For each child it is different of course. Give all the support you are able to give and understand that if they are coping better with the support then that is as a result of the support – DO NOT take it away.

Nicola Marshall
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Nicola Marshall

With over 13 years working in personal development Nicola Marshall has attained numerous skills and a genuine care for others. She is a fully trained coach, adoptive parent as well as the founder of Brave Heart Education.
Nicola Marshall
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