YOUR STORIES AND QUESTIONS

18th September 2017

From a parent of a year 7 boy who has just started secondary school whom I worked with when he was in year 6 (via email):-

"I cannot thank Thumbs Up enough for the work they did with my son.  He was so worried about going to high school, and when Thumbs Up went into his school, he was even scared about talking to them about it.  When he realised that all the other children were feeling the same way it made him feel loads better.  By the time the programme had finished at my son's school, he was actually starting to feel quite excited.  Now he has gone to high school, he can't believe how everything Thumbs Up told him has helped.  He asked me himself to email you to tell you, as he is so grateful.  Thank you Sue and team, I am so glad my son's primary school had you there".

REPLY FROM THUMBS UP:- We are so pleased that your son enjoyed our sessions and found he got so much out of them.  Part of the reason we like to work with year 6 children, is to help them to realise that they aren't 'on their own', and by normalising their worries and feelings it can make them accept the way they are feeling in themselves.  It sounds like your son has made a positive start to his new school, I am so pleased and long may it continue.  Thank you for getting in touch to let me know.

From a year 6 pupil going to their induction day in the next few weeks (via email):-

"Dear Sue, I am really worried about my induction day at my new high school.  I know you have given me loads of advice and help in school, but now you have gone, I have gone really anxious, how can I be confident on the day, please help me? Thank you so much"

REPLY FROM THUMBS UP:- Firstly, you are not alone, pretty much every child who is going to their induction day feels the same way as you, these feelings and emotions are perfectly normal - I promise, we call this 'normalising' your feelings, and in doing so, make it easier for you to deal with it.  Secondly, when you arrive, there will be people (staff and older students) to greet you and make sure you know where you are going, and then from there, you will be with your new class and teacher(s).  Then the most important thing is communicating, don't be afraid to talk to a new classmate, ask them questions - this is so important, 'what school are you from?', 'how are you feeling?', 'what is your name?', just three easy questions, finding out something in common with somebody can immediately make the nerves calm down.  Then put your shoulders back, smile, this will then send signals to your brain that you are feeling confident and happy and then you will suddenly find that you actually do feel happier and more confident and people will feel more inclined to talk to you, than if you bury your head into your hands and not look at anyone.  Four words for you - 'you will be okay' - that much I promise, the work you put in on this day, you will get out - enormously so.  Good luck and let me know how you get on.

Sometimes parents need the help too, and the parent of a year 6 pupil has contacted Thumbs Up to ask how they can support their child as they go through SATs and into the last few weeks of primary school:-

REPLY FROM THUMBS UP:- Firstly to admit you are worried or struggling with this change for your child is not a weakness, and to admit you need help is absolutely the right thing to do.  Sometimes we feel the change as much as our children do, and therefore our anxieties are the same.  However, it is important that your child doesn't see how anxious you are, as that may pass onto your child, and increase their level of worrying too.  Secondly, what you are experiencing in perfectly normal, every parent has some level of worry and fear over their child starting a new school - 'will they make new friends?', 'will they settle in?', all perfectly natural feelings and emotions.  By bringing your worries into the present moment, you are increasing your levels of anxiety, and in actual fact, you can't do anything about it NOW, so... enjoy the time your child has left at primary school, enjoy the summer holidays, and then deal with each and every issue that may (or may not) arise, once your child has arrived at their new school (which I can pretty much guarantee WILL NOT be as bad as you think it is!).  I hope that helps you.

From the parent of a year 6 pupil that has received the Thumb Up Programme over the autumn term:-

"My son has really enjoyed his sessions with Sue and Debbie, and says he feels that he has learnt a lot over the four sessions.  He sometimes felt too shy though to say that he has worries about his anger.  He has asked me to email you so that perhaps you can give him a couple of ideas on how to stop getting angry, thank you so much"

REPLY FROM THUMBS UP:- You have no idea how common this worry from primary school children is, so firstly let me rest assure you that this is normal and it is okay to get angry - it is a natural response to a particular situation.  What your son needs to be able to do is to learn to control that anger, and channel the energy he uses to learn to respond in an alternative fashion.  I taught your son about his 'pause button'; that perhaps is his first avenue to go down, and also to start to notice the physical symptoms of his anger - for instance does he get hot, does he feel queasy, does he get a pain in his tummy?  Once he starts to recognise what happens prior to his 'outburst', he then is better placed to press his pause button and find that alternative response.  Maybe he could listen to music or talk to you/a loved one, maybe he could play out in the garden or go out on his bike.  All these suggestions will distract from the level of anger he feels and enable him to learn to calm himself down.  Also he could undertake some relaxation exercises (we taught your son about some mindfulness techniques). Many thanks for your email.

From a year 5 (year 6 in September) child who is very anxious about their 11 plus (CEM) in September:-

"I am really worried about taking my 11 plus in September because I am worried if I fail, my parents will be angry with me and I will feel like I have let them down.  I don't really mind which school I go to because I have friends that are going to both schools, but I feel so worried about everything that I can't stop thinking about it.  How can I deal with this?"

REPLY FROM THUMBS UP:- What I would say is that 'you can only do your best', and if you feel prepared and calm on the day, then I am sure that you will indeed do your best.  In worrying about the exam is not going to improve your preparation, it is only going to make you feel worse and more anxious on the day.  Talk to your parents, and assure them that you will try your best, and of course they will be fully supportive of you.  The 11 plus is designed to enable 'the system' to put you in the right school for you, so we have to trust 'the system'.  On the morning of your exam, try to be relaxed as possible, try some breathing exercises just to regulate your heart beat and the calm you down (7/11 breathing is very effective, breathe 7 counts through your nose, and blow gently out for 11 counts through your mouth).  Maybe listen to some calm music and eat well too, and try to get the best night's sleep you can around exam time.  Every feeling and emotion you are experiencing is NORMAL; please don't think that you are the only one feeling this way - you are not, I promise you.  But at all times remember - YOU CAN ONLY DO YOUR BEST.  Good luck.  Sue x

From a very anxious year 6 pupil who is struggling to come to terms with the move to secondary school:-

"Sue, I can't sleep because I just worry all the time about moving to my new school.  I am really scared about induction day because I only have one friend going to my new school and they might not be in the same class as me and then I won't know anyone.  Will you tell me how to stop worrying please Sue"

REPLY FROM THUMBS UP:- The way this child is feeling is perfectly natural, and they should realise that many many children will be feeling exactly the same way at the moment.  Of course the move to secondary school is incredibly scary, it's the next chapter of your lives, however it is important that you look at it in a positive fashion in order to reduce the level of anxiety towards the move.  Induction day is a great place to start the settling in process; whether you arrive at your new school with a friend or on your own, just remember that there will be other people in the same position as you, and will be feeling the same as you, so hold your head up high, and present a sense of confidence to others.  Ask questions of others, ask where they live, their names, what school they're at etc, this will open up the lines of communication, you may even find you have things in common.  Induction day used wisely can relieve a lot of the nerves for September, ask people you talk to on that day for their phone numbers, maybe you could meet up in the holidays or just text each other.  Make the most of looking around the school and familiarising yourself with your new surroundings, and don't be afraid to ask questions of the teachers if there's something you would like to know.  Remember, if you make a good impression on this day, it will stick with you when you start in September.  Lots of luck.  Sue

From a year 6 pupil who has had the Thumbs Up Programme in their school who wished to ask me a question prior to returning back to the school in July.  He is beginning to feel very nervous about his SATs this year and worries about it at night, and it is keeping him awake:-

As I tell all the children, worrying about events in the future is very very normal; often children believe that they are 'the only one' struggling, and this can often prevent them from sharing their worries with their peers, teachers or parents for fear of being 'laughed at' or belittled in some way, or that they may feel they will be 'the odd one out'.  The truth is, most children will be experiencing some nerves towards their SATs, however, each school handles it very differently.  Some schools do SATs practice, some gently ease the children into it, and many other ways too.  The most important thing for a child to remember, is that if they are feeling anxiety, worry or stress towards ANYTHING, then their ability to perform well in a task will be inhibited by the pressure they are putting on themselves.  As a parent or teacher, the first thing we should remember is not to put undue pressure upon the child.  It is then important that if the child is experiencing stress and worry towards the SATs, that they talk about it with you, and together you can help them work through homework etc in a more rational and organised fashion.  The sense of anxiety can be caused when everything feels just a jumble in our minds and sometimes we have to break those issues down and deal with each one individually to enable a person to see clearly.  I give the children some mindfulness exercises during the programme - just taking some time out - to think, to observe - just to 'be', when a child is feeling stressed, this is incredibly important.

From the parent of a year 6 pupil who has had the Thumbs Up Programme in their school and emailed me with the following comments:-

"I would like to thank you Sue for the work you did with my son. He was having real problems with his anger in school and at home and when you taught him to use his pause button he really tried his best to stop having the angry outbursts. He really tried hard with the pause button and it didn't work all the time, but when it did he was like a different boy. All the family now use the pause button and we encourage my son to do it too and I hope that it carries on working for him because I think it has made such an improvement so far. Thumbs Up should be taught in all schools and thank you Sue for really helping my son when he needed it, he is not so worried about High School now either."

COMMENT FROM THUMBS UP:- It is this type of boy that Thumbs Up and the 'pause button' works so well for. For those of you familiar with the 'pause button' will understand the meaning behind it, for those of you who don't know about this, it is simply an imaginary button that when you press it, it allows time almost to standstill, except for five seconds in your brain, whereby it gives the child an opportunity to allow the thought to enter their brain, and decide what is the correct response in any given situation. I have such great feedback from teachers, parents and children about the 'pause button', and it is perhaps the one subject that gets mentioned the most that the children use time and time again.

From a year 7 pupil who attended a primary school where I presented the programme too in year 6, who was struggling at the hands of another year 7 child:-

This child has messaged me since they have moved to their new school, there was one particular year 7 who was making their life somewhat hard. They would make comments and try and encourage other children to laugh and join in. I reiterated what I had spoken about throughout my programme, and said that the best way to deal with this type of behaviour is to ignore it - Bullies need reactions to fuel their need to bully. This child tried this, he ignored 'the bully' for a couple of weeks, and it worked! Sadly though now, this 'bully' has begun to pick on someone else. The child who contacted me has spoken to the new 'victim' and is now helping them too. Soon 'the bully' will get bored, I can assure you; sometimes new year 7 pupils are trying to find their feet, very often they start this way, and they realise that this is not the correct way to behave, and they mend their ways themselves.

From a mum of a year 6 pupil who is already suffering with a heightened level of anxiety towards going to secondary school:-

When I work with the children in the autumn, I focus very much on the year ahead, and touch on the transition to secondary school. However, when I work with the children in the summer, we focus generally more so on the transition as of course it is more in the imminent future. If a child is suffering anxiety at this early stage of the year, then of course the first issue to tackle is to help them realise that it is still a fair way off, but it also gives them an opportunity to work towards the change ahead with some confidence building exercises and positive preparation. When I work with the children I help them to look at the positives of the changes ahead and not to focus on any negatives that may crop up. I also teach them how to turn negative thinking around by replacing these thoughts with positive ones. If anyone would like the help sheet about confidence building (or any of the others available) in children please just drop Thumbs Up an email.

From a year 6 pupil who attended a primary school where Thumbs Up presented to:-

One particular quiet child asked if they could speak to me at the end of the final session. This person obviously had concerns over the upcoming change. She told me that she felt that Thumbs Up had 'changed her life' and the way she sees herself, and that if she is feeling anxious about High School then other people will be feeling the same way too. She really absorbed the programme and feels she will continue to practice the techniques we have worked on. The Thumbs Up Programme is to be used through all aspects of life, not just at school, and if the children do indeed practice the strategies out of school, they have a better chance of it becoming 'their normal'.

From a year 6 pupil who went to his new school on induction day and used empathy to welcome a child who didn't know anybody at the new school:-

I have been incredibly lucky to work with two schools following induction day and they have been able to feed back to me the results of the techniques I have been teaching them. One particular girl told me that she welcomed a child with physical difficulties and helped her during a PE session; this child was obviously struggling with confidence, and by using empathic techniques and an act of kindness, this child undoubtedly felt happier about her new school. I am so proud of this child, and all the other children who fed a whole host of stories to me about getting to know other children, making new friends, and practicing empathy and respect to others.

From a year 6 pupil who went to visit his new school and used a technique taught by Thumbs Up, and was so pleased with the results:-

A boy fed back to me that he went to a visit at his new school and utilised the 'engaged someone in conversation' technique that I had taught him in session 1 of the programme. I teach the children to ask questions of others, take an interest in what they are saying, and how to maintain a two way conversation. This enables children to forge friendships much easier, and get to know people better - not just in a school environment, but out of school too. It is also a very positive trait to possess in the future into adulthood, attending such events as interviews and meetings. This boy was pleased he had made a friend on this day, and couldn't wait to tell me that he had done this - I was incredibly proud of him.

From a year 6 pupil who is suffering with low self-esteem and doesn't think that they are good at anything:-

One of the exercises I do with the children is to talk about things that they feel they are good out, whether be at school, sport or whether they feel they are good people; it's a lovely exercise and prompts some very good responses. However, of course there are going to be some children who don't believe that they are good at anything. This can often be a 'symptom' of low self-esteem. So as a group what I ask the other children to do, is to feed to the child with low self-esteem what they think that person may be good at. To see the change in the child's demeanour is quite something. So therefore, if you or you know someone is struggling to find something they are good at - tell them, and if it's you ask a close friend or family member to tell you what you are good at. This can raise levels of confidence and self-esteem an awful lot; and then focus on those aspects of your life you are good at, and don't worry about the things you aren't so good at. And remember, nobody is good at everything!

From a year 6 pupil, who has a matter of weeks left at primary school and is beginning to become very anxious about bullying:-

Of course worrying about the 'bigger kids' and bullying is something that crosses every departing year 6 pupil's mind - it's only natural. However, bullying certainly isn't as prolific as it used to be, and schools are much quicker to 'stamp it out'. Firstly, in this situation I will give you the motto I pass onto all the children I see - 'stay away from trouble and trouble will stay away from you'. This may feel like common sense, but sometimes, you have to make the choice to walkaway from trouble rather than let yourself become involved. Bullies feed off reaction - there is no question of that, reaction is their fuel that keeps them going, so if they don't get the reaction they won't persist to bother or bully you. You have to try to make the choice to walk away - that is what is important. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but don't be afraid to communicate with a friend, family member or teacher - it is not 'snitching', it is looking after yourself; communication is incredibly important both at home and at school.

From a year 5 pupil and a poorly mum and the child is scared to talk about his mum's illness at school:-

Firstly, what is important is that the parent talks to the school and keeps them informed of what is happening at home.  As a parent, I believe that it is imperative that your child, particularly at this age, is felt supported in their school environment.  What is a really good idea in this situation, is one particular teacher that the child trusts and likes that he/she can turn to if the need arises during school time.  Also keeping a close friend informed via their parents is also a good way of feeling that sense of support, so if the child is upset or distracted at school, their 'buddy' can maybe talk to that teacher.  Often in these circumstances, it can affect school work, so it is really important that the parents keep the school regularly updated.  Of course mentally, the child will be finding themselves a bit emotionally 'all over the place', and if there are particular anxious issues that are occurring, the school maybe able to offer some professional help/counselling as a child/family. 

From a year 7 pupil who offered me her view of the transition:-

"When I was a primary school, I felt like an outsider and always tried to fit in with the popular group, and never felt fully accepted. I didn't feel I knew where I belonged. A lot of this group went to a different secondary school to me, and I felt that I had an opportunity to make new friends at my new school. When I got to my new school, I liked it a lot and gradually found that there were lots of girls similar to me. When you go to secondary school, there are so many different people, if you take the time to get to know your new class, you will always find someone that you have lots in common with. It is worth putting the time in getting to know others and let them realise the person you are".

COMMENT FROM THUMBS UP:- So many children 'feel the fear' of going to their new Secondary School, and worry that they won't make new friends. I help them to realise that there is a bigger 'pool' of children to chose from, and if they join clubs or groups that involve their own interests, there is a really good chance that they will meet like-minded people. Also by joining clubs etc, it will increase levels of confidence and self-esteem.

From a mum of a child in year 4 who is feeling scared about moving to the 'big playground' in year 5:-

Thumbs Up isn't necessarily just about helping children with the transition to secondary school.  There are many transitional processes the children may have to go through before they even get to year 7.  However, some schools do have separate playgrounds for different age children at primary school, and indeed some schools have separate sites; this in itself can cause anxiety for children.  To some, it may not seem like a 'big leap', but for some children this fear is very real, and shouldn't be belittled and pushed aside, it must be dealt with.  In this situation, firstly I would advise that a teacher is made aware of the child's worries, so perhaps a playtime leader could keep a special eye on them.  Also a year 6 'buddy' system would be very useful, so that year 5 pupils doesn't feel like the 'little one', when they are walking around the playground.  Also playtime organised activities would be advisable to allow the child to achieve some structure to this time which in turn will increase levels of confidence.  I would hope that these year 6 children remember what it is like to be a year 5 in this new big environment and display some empathy towards them.

An inspiring story that made national TV and newspapers for it's wonderful example to others:-

Please take a moment to read this story below; it's children like Roman who inspired me to create The Thumbs Up Education Programme, but also to help other children to reach a level of empathy and compassion so they may just think harder and deeper about children who may suffer low self-confidence and general shyness, and encourage them to 'join in'.  When Roman was greeted at the school gates with children excitedly holding birthday cards to give him, not only did it give Roman the best birthday he's ever had, but I'm pretty sure it would have made the other children feel pretty good too.  With the permission of Roman's mum Molly, I will now be using Roman's story as an inspiring example of the impact of 'acts of kindness', which is part of our session three.  Thanks Molly for allowing me to share this story.

From a parent of a child in year 5 who is suffering with some anxiety towards year 6 and beyond:-

This is the 'bread and butter' of the Thumbs Up Education Programme; children will generally suffer some level of anxiety towards not only the transition itself, but year 6 and what that brings - induction days, finding out what school everyone is to attend, SATs etc.  When a child is struggling with these changes ahead, it can begin to affect school work too.  Then the child will find themselves in a negative thought cycle, whereby their self-confidence may reduce as they encounter year 6 and beyond.  By putting coping techniques and strategies in place in years 5 and 6, can enable the child to begin to make some headway in coping with these emotional and trying times.  At Thumbs Up, we focus very much on confidence and self-esteem building, and how to break these negative thought cycles, by finding 'exit' points which will allow the child to see the issues more positively without that sense of overwhelming.  We also endeavour to help the children to see that communication with teachers is important, and if they are floundering, they can ask for help - not just from teachers, but their parents/carers as well.  Communication at home is in fact a key point of the Programme, and will be encouraged every week in the form of a handout, that we wish for the children to discuss at home.