Your relationship with your pupils is very special; demanding, exhausting, and, at times frustrating, but ultimately special and will certainly have stood you in good stead in helping your pupils adjust to their new class. You have met enormous challenges in returning to school this academic year, and we really hope things are beginning to settle down.

We are delighted that our guest TA, Laura Sykes has taken the time to share her experience of a young lad (whom we shall call James) who found it very hard to settle in.

James’ Story*

We all know that child who finds it really hard to come through the classroom door in the morning, even after several weeks of being at school, and struggles to establish themselves in a friendship group. This term things may be even more difficult for these children as limited contact with their friends, during lock down, means that relationships will need to be rebuilt with adults and with peers.

I remember a little boy called James who found starting school really challenging. His big sister went to the same school so he was familiar with the school run, the building and the playground; he had been to the local preschool and knew a few of the other children so there was nothing to suggest he wouldn’t be able to cope.

When term started, James began displaying aggressive behaviour on the playground and lashing out at children without provocation. Mum was really shocked by James’ actions as she reported that he wasn’t an aggressive child outside school, “Just a boisterous happy little boy”. She said that James had told her that there were “too many people and they were all running everywhere very close to him”. It seemed that anxiety had triggered the fight or flight response and, in James’ ‘case, the default seemed to be fight! He clearly needed coping strategies for the playground and staff tried the usual tactics, sitting him out and talking to him about ‘kind hands and feet’ and trying to include him in friendship groups; but weeks went by with repeated incidents.

Every day, poor mum would look mortified as we tried to make eye contact with her, signalling that yes, we needed to speak again about that day’s events. In one of our conversations, she mentioned that, before he had started school, James had said “I can’t go there mummy, I don’t know any of their names”. We began to wonder whether this had anything to do with his behaviour…

His aggressive actions inevitably brought him to the attention of the TAs and midday staff on duty on the playground, all of whom got to know his name. They began to get to know James and would talk to him or ask him to help with a little job or to hold their hand for a while.

Once James felt that the adults knew him and were looking out for him, he felt safer – the change in his behaviour was remarkable, it was “like flicking a light switch” – James’ aggressive behaviour stopped almost overnight!

For some children, the relationships built with school staff cannot be underestimated. If you have an experience that you would like to share on this page, please get in touch at

*Names have been changed for this story.

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