In the minds of the children

Today I had an interesting conversation with NB's Playgroup leader about the (increasingly likely) possibility of him leaving us soon to move on to a new family.

"What shall I tell the other children when he goes?" she asked.  "I'd really like your advice on that."

Eeep! I have absolutely none!

What do you say to a group of toddlers and pre-schoolers that can possibly make any sense within their view of the way the world is?  I could only share with her what some of my friends have said to their young children - that NB's Mummy isn't able to look after him and that we're going to find him a new family that will be able to take care of him always.

In truth, I don't really know how far this explanation has seeped into their understanding.  I well remember the toddler daughter of another friend conflating the ideas of dying and flying in a plane, and becoming convinced that Grandma had died when in fact she had merely gone to Crete!  So often they seem to know what we are talking about, and yet what we have said  is just rattling round their brain in an endless game of Chinese Whispers until what they actually understand bears little relation to what we said!

And Playgroup Leader had another good point.  That explanation might be all very well for two children living in a very secure family environment, but many of the children at NB's Playgroup live lives that are already uncertain and unsettled.  There are absent fathers and unwell mothers, children temporarily living with grandparents, and signs of poverty all around.  What harm might it do to plant the idea in a vulnerable young child's mind that it is possible for you to just leave your family and be put with a new one?

The end of our conversation didn't bring a particularly satisfactory conclusion.  Playgroup Leader was tending to lean towards simply telling the children that NB had moved away (which wouldn't be untrue), on the basis that many of the children would be off to big school by the time I turn up at the door with OB in September and so wouldn't be confused by my sudden reappearance.

It was the best we could come up with, but I'm not sure it's the only answer there is.


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