I have a cloudy memory of what I think was my first day of school. The memory is assisted by a first-day photo of me in a school uniform that I did eventually grow into. I remember my school bag feeling almost larger than me. My hair was cut short, especially for the purpose of being school-ready. I don’t remember if my mother was there. I have a feeling I may have been walked to school by my neighbour who was a year older than me so had a good 12 months of school experience up his sleeve. I remember buildings being huge, smells (lots of smells – gestetner fumes, stale apples, chalk dust), and meeting new friends. I distinctly remember being very surprised to learn that one of my new friends had just become an aunty – surely being an aunty was something only grown-ups could do!
I’m always delighted to learn about the things that grab a specific child’s attention and, more often than not, it’s not the same stuff that bothers or upsets grownups. Adults need to be wary of making anxious assumptions about how children may or may not cope.
In the holiday period here in Australia, many young people get casual work. For many, that first causal job flipping burgers, wiping tables, or swiping groceries at the checkout will be their introduction to life in the workplace. The transition to work is a really important part of human development.
Back in the day when I was learning to be a psychologist, I was exposed to the work of a theorist called Erik Erickson. Apart from having a cool, DJ-type name, Erickson proposed a stage theory of human development that extended beyond childhood and well into the adult years. For Erikson, getting work was a sign that a person was moving from the stage of their identity formation through to a stage of developing intimacy. Crucial in his theory about a child becoming an adult was the concept of a child growing to know themselves and then being able to commune or relate with others. Working and the relationships the young adult has with others at work were, to Erikson, very important to their ability to have healthy adult relationships and avoid feelings of isolation.