Colleen Figg

We need to pay attention

2008-08-01 09:20

Colleen Figg

We as parents should be more careful about who we allow to look after our children while we are at work.

This week some stories were shared on my blog, on the subject of trauma suffered at school and it seems from these and other stories that it is not at all uncommon for most children to go through something really horrible, that scars them forever afterwards.

Parents take for granted that a teacher will be morally and mentally sound and unlikely to do anything to wound their children. This is an unrealistic view based on perceptions of certain roles in society and has absolutely no bearing on reality, for the most part.

When my daughter was about two I arrived at her preschool unannounced, much earlier than parents usually arrived, to pick her up. I walked right into the school and found one of the teachers facing a row of silent terrified children, shouting at them and calling them stupid. She went on to say, before she caught sight of me, that if they continued being naughty, their parents would not come and fetch them at all.

Children are innocent and completely inexperienced, so if their teacher, whom they idolise, tells them that they are likely to be abandoned by their parents that afternoon, they will, of course believe every word.

The fear of abandonment that is natural to humans is exacerbated in this case by abandonment being promised by the teacher. For weeks after this ugly incident my daughter became very anxious about going to her (now new) school as she was not sure I would actually come to fetch her every day. I'd venture to say a residual trace of the fear and confusion of this event remains etched in her psyche to this day, thirteen years later.

For a teacher to manipulate young minds so heinously may seem an uncommon occurrence, but do some research, ask people about their own school experiences, and you will soon see that is not the case.

We should not simply assume that because a nursery school has got pretty walls or a decent programme that our children will be safe there. We should not imagine that because a teacher in a primary school has a degree or diploma that she is free of the urge to be ignorant and cruel.

There are many kinds of abuse besides physical cruelty or sexual exploitation which are the two parents usually look out for. While we can never truly know any teacher we can make sure we keep talking to our children, asking them what the teacher said, or what they did, and the perfect honesty of children will guarantee we will soon be able to deduce if things are fine or not.

Also we can burst in unexpectedly, at odd times, and see whether our children's nappies are changed, whether they are clean, whether they are being treated well, or cruelly. We can make sure we do not accept things at face value and that we truly listen to what our children say.

We need to pay attention.

Send your comments to Colleen.

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