August 18, 2021
Summer of Firsts
By Dr Kathy Weston
I finally had enough of scrolling through others’ fancy holiday snaps on Facebook and booked a week in Portugal. On departure day, the plane was pretty empty, which felt both reassuring and oddly eerie. Nevertheless, it was very peaceful until the plane took off. The family in front of us had very young children, and it was apparent that, for the youngest in the family, this was their first ever flight.
Now, I admit that I am a very nervous flyer, and having my innermost fears and phobias articulated loudly by someone else was galling. “What is happening?”, she shrieked, as the plane started rumbling along the runway. “I don’t like this! I am scared, Daddy, I am SCARED”. “Mummy, we are going to die! Please, Mummy stop the plane!”. Every other passenger felt her distress, both in their ears and in their hearts, and were likely all internally scrambling for ideas that might help her beleaguered parents.
Just as we were all wondering how we would manage a 2.5 hour flight with a terrified toddler, the sound stopped. I was two seats behind her and glanced through the seat edge where I could see her eyes and mouth wide open, her finger pointing in astonishment. “Daddy, we are in the sky!!!” “Mummy, I can see far, far away!” “WWWWHEEEEEEEEEEEE”, she shouted gleefully.
Her transformation from petrified to amazed was humbling, and made me realise that I too, should be enjoying the magnificent window view, rather than expecting death! It also reminded me that children are often fearful of all sorts of things, until they actually experience them. Sometimes, we simply have to be a reassuring voice, as they move through those initial wobbles. Her parents were the epitome of calm, gently patting her knee and excitedly reminding her of the wonders that lay up in the clouds.
So, I have described the journey, but I haven’t talked about the packing SAGA that dominated our family life, ahead of the trip to the airport. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say that arguments ensued as soon as I asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of the goggles. Do you think that the goggles and trunks were in the “goggles and trunks” drawer? Answers on a postcard.
After a week of me cleaning, ironing and collating everyone else’s essential items, offspring’s moans that I hadn’t packed the ‘right stuff’ made me consider a piece of advice I often give to others: walk away before you explode!
In my world, the best family arguments prompt a new resource for my digital library; Tooled Up Education. Those of you in my Tooled Up Schools* are now the happy recipients of holiday packing lists for children and teens, as well as a list of jobs that need to be completed before leaving the house for the airport.
In my case, asking the children to read through the packing list was a useful literacy and eyesight check. Soon after he had reached line three, I realised that my youngest was squinting and asking why the letters were doubled up. I was very pleased to squeeze in optician and dental appointments before take-off. The trip to the dental hygienist was as much a test for my teen’s courage and resilience as taking off on a plane for the first time was for that little girl.
During the pandemic, many children have had less exposure than normal to the healthcare professionals that they should see regularly. It was a day of firsts for my teen; he had never had his teeth professionally cleaned before, nor x-rays taken in his mouth (apparently this made his brain fizz!). We had a good old chat about radioactivity on the way home. I managed to debunk some basic myths that they had picked up from The Simpsons and made a mental note to get my scientist hubby to educate them more holistically when we got back.
As jolly and carefree as the summer has been, family troubles don’t take a break over the summer months and my team was very sad to hear about a Wednesday Wisdom reader’s pet loss.
Losing a beloved animal (particularly in a road traffic accident) is devastating, and we send our sympathies. Often, the death of a pet is the first experience of death for children and, in some ways, that makes our responsibility to ease them through it heavier.
Recently, I visited Wrest Park and was touched by the beautiful, circular pet cemetery and the stunning gravestones for much loved pets. One stone read “To Little Dick, Favourite Dog of Lady Annabel Cowper”. Animals have been our dearest companions, trusted confidantes and loyal sidekicks for centuries. Losing one, particularly in traumatic and unforeseen circumstances will trigger a genuine grief reaction. Don’t discount it or dismiss it and apply the same sensitivity that you might when helping a child deal with the death of a loved friend or family member.
Happily, there are specific resources out there to help you navigate pet loss as a family. Here are some important sites that you might want to bookmark:
The Blue Cross pet bereavement service provides free support to anyone who needs it. Call 0800 096 6606 between 8.30am and 8.30pm daily, or email email@example.com for a response within 48 hours. They also offer a webchat service.
Cats Protection’s Paws to Listen service is there to help anyone experiencing pet-related grief. Call 0800 024 94 94. Lines are open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). Alternatively, contact them via their support form.
Animal Samaritans also offers a pet bereavement service. Call 0203 745 9859 for more information.
The EASE Animals website has a wealth of free resources on different aspects of pet bereavement.
Are you a Tooled Up member?
Tooled Up members can read some tips on pet loss and grief within the resource library. This week, we’ve also been thinking about staying safe over the summer holidays. We learned that over 55% of parents are not confident that their child would know what to do if they fell into open water. If you’d like the most up to date advice on water safety before you hit the beach, check out our new tip sheet.
If you are already planning for the return to school, take a peek at our practical Back to School Checklist and our Mindset Planner which will nudge teens into a positive mindset for the new term. Our Settling In Journal is perfect for children starting Year 7 and will take them through the first month in their new school, helping them to focus on their achievements and progress. Anyone moving to a new setting might find it useful to peek at our strategies for making new friends and younger children and tweens who lack confidence in talking to new people might find some of the social prompts in our Making Friends activity helpful. Before school starts, we advise all families to read our back to school advice.
Our Autumn webinar series begins on September 1st, so don’t forget to book your tickets. Tooled Up parents can join us for free! Home organisational expert Tracy Ross joins me on September 1st to share tips and tricks that are designed to save time and alleviate stress. And on September 2nd, professional hockey player and founder of Aspire USA, Holly Cram will be talking to me about nurturing children’s sporting potential.
*Tooled Up is a digital library of evidence-based resources relating to parenting, family life and education. Schools subscribe to this service on an annual basis. For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.