When Kevin was five and started primary school, he started to become aggressive towards his mother. An only child, Kevin had never known his father, but suddenly he saw other children being dropped off by dads at the school gate and he wanted to know: “Where’s my dad? Why don’t I see my dad?”
His mother, Louise, 40, who works full-time for local government, sought advice from a parenting course on how to tell Kevin, a bubbly, energetic boy, that his father had not wanted anything to do with raising him. She was advised to tell him, “your dad lives far away, he says he’s not ready to be a dad”.
“I hoped it would calm him down,” said Louise. “But he would shout back, ‘why can’t we visit dad? Why can’t he come here?’ He began to push and shove me and then he began to hit me. In the morning I would serve up breakfast and he would push me away and shout, ‘no, get away, this seat is for my dad, I want my dad to sit next to me’. At times I was in tears and wanted to scream, ‘go to your dad then’, but I also knew he was feeling a pain I could only imagine.
“Once I heard a friend from school say, ‘ha ha, you haven’t got a dad’ and Kevin said, ‘I have got a dad, he just doesn’t live with me’, which was a brilliant response, but when we got home, he really let me have it.” Things came to a head when Kevin was asked to bring in photos for a family tree and the teacher asked a distraught Louise, “have you tried Place2Be?”
Place2Be, the charity at the heart of our Young London SOS campaign launched last week to tackle the rising crisis of mental health among children, is the UK’s largest school-based counselling service. They operate in 150 primary and secondary schools in London, including Kevin’s school in Harrow, but Louise had mistakenly thought they were only for older children.
“Kevin started weekly one-to-one sessions at Place2Be in November 2019 and then continued after being disrupted by lockdown until December last year,” said Louise. Did it help? “Kevin liked Place2Be and called it his special class,” she said. “I noticed a big change in his level of aggression. He calmed down a lot and stopped shoving and hitting me. He doesn’t ask so much about his dad anymore, so something must have settled inside him.”
Place2Be helped Louise develop strategies for her own parenting, helping her to be less disciplinarian and more praising, and they also gave advice to Kevin’s teacher, ensuring consistency towards Kevin in what the charity call their “whole school approach”. Heidi, the Place2Be school project manager at Kevin’s school, said: “Kevin was able to use role play to work out feelings around his father and get beneath the anger to the sadness and sense of loss and longing for something he couldn’t have. He could have repressed these and become more aggressive later. We find that if children have a space to be vulnerable and express themselves when a problem arises, you are saving yourself and your child a whole lot of problems when they hit adolescence.”
This was Louise’s concern. “You might say Kevin is only five but I know of so many stories of boys in single-parent households growing up and falling into the wrong company, so I wanted to nip it in the bud. Whatever he is angry with now should be dealt with now. Thank goodness the school had Place2Be. It has made all the difference.”
Names have been changed
You can support the Young London SOS campaign by donating to Place2Be HERE