Keep it Happy! Memory making matters…

Given that the present will always become the past, I think we can make a real difference at this moment in “future proofing” memories and maybe lessening the impact long term. Written by trainee Ollie Coach, Deborah Stephenson

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“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it be-comes a memory” 
 Dr Seuss 

How lovely it has been to hear girls giggling on our garden again. That distinctive, light, mischievous laughter, infectious and happy, restored to us with the easing of lockdown.

The change in the rules came in just before my daughter’s 11th birthday. Up until then, the possibilities for celebrations seemed bleak, but the announcement brought sudden excitement as she pleaded with us to let a few friends come round, at a distance, in the garden. In a flurry of texts it was arranged.

I was nervous. The girls hadn’t seen each other for nearly three months, they hadn’t been in contact by phone or text much, and what were they actually going to do sat on separate picnic blankets spread out (suitably far away from each other) on the grass?

I need not have worried! Once they had been shepherded (slightly awkwardly) through the house, via the hand sanitiser, and out into the garden, it was like old times. They were delighted to see each other, didn’t bat an eyelid at the new socially-distant picnic blanket concept, and for the first time in three months our garden was filled with excited chitter chatter, giggles, and shrieks of laughter.

Similarly, my teenage son met up with a friend of his in the park this week, also for the first time in nearly three months. Again, they fell easily into conversation, and aside from the longer hair and a little extra height, it all felt strangely normal.

I don’t know what I had been expecting, but I felt surprised, relieved and reassured!

Across the country, thousands of primary school children have returned to a very different classroom experience, including our Year 6 daughter. There are markings to follow and new rules to keep, hand washing, separation, more hand washing, and a new kind of non-contact-play play time, but from the first day back the children accepted it, and more than that, they took it in their stride with confidence.

Again, I don’t know what I had been expecting, but I was relieved and reassured!

Kids are amazing, resilient and adaptable.

It is harder perhaps for the younger ones with the shelves of colourful books cordoned-off and cuddly toys locked in cupboards, but at a school I work with, they also adapted quickly, adjusting and accepting this environment which must seem so alien for them. Not one of those little children cried on their first day back and given that many of them only started school in September (with the usual tears, fears and wobbles), and that they’ve had a challenging and disruptive three months away, I think that is pretty remarkable. Kids are amazing, resilient and adaptable. My admiration also extends to teachers everywhere who are doing so much to smooth the way.

There are of course huge challenges still facing all of our children as they cope with the sudden unplanned diversion from the well-worn path of “normal” growing up. The longer it goes on, the longer it reinforces the difficulties and the harder it may be to revert. We don’t yet know what the effect will be of constantly telling a three year old “No, you can’t hug your Granny” and urgently reminding them to “move away from your friends,” but I think that many of the children going through this will gain a certain strength.

And there’s something else too…

We know that a big driver in how we feel about something now, is how we felt when we first encountered it.

At Ollie coaching we think of the mind as a kind of library where memories are filed in boxes under the emotion we felt when that memory happened. If we felt scared the first time we saw a spider because we were very little and our older sister shrieked and ran away, then we will file spiders in a black box under “Scary”, because that first encounter frightened us.

Given that the present will always become the past, and following the principle of emotional filing, then I think we can make a real difference at this moment in “future proofing” memories and maybe lessening the impact long term.

I’m not saying we can or should make everything happy all the time, because we need to stay real and all emotions are important, but helping our children (and ourselves) to file the memories of this time with as many positive feelings as possible will make a difference to how we remember this time in the future. Storing a difficult memory with “This is tough, but I’m ok with that because I’ve talked about it and feel reassured,” is better than storing it with “This is tough, and I’m lonely and scared”.

Children are also affected by how other people react (remember the scary spider and the sister that ran away). I remember how, even as babies, my children would be agitated if I was anxious or stressed, and calm if I was contented and calm. The way we handle things will also be a factor in how children will file an event, so we can help them there too.

For all of us, it is inevitable that some memories of this time will end up being stored in darker boxes, but we don’t need to panic about getting it absolutely right now - none of us will. Boxes can be changed in time given the right help, but the fewer we have to deal with the better.

Every child’s journey through this will be different, much of it it will depend on and what’s going on for them in the background, and there are likely to be issues in the future, but we can only deal with what we have in front of us today, in the best way we can. Certainly what I have seen and heard in the the last couple of weeks has filled me with positivity and hope.

There is a long way to go, but the next sounds I’d love to hear again would be the four o’clock front door banging open, the thud of heavy school bags dumped in the hallway, teenage boys voices raised in complaint about French homework or maths, the thunder of their feet on the stairs, and the door to my son’s bedroom slamming behind them. Who knew I’d miss that so much!

Deborah Stephenson, Ollie Coach trainee

I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far. 

To get in contact with Deborah, email info@ollieandhissuperpowers.com

To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com

Caroline Chipper

Director, Subconquest Ltd - Ollie and his Super Powers

Co founder of Subconquest Ltd, that trades as Ollie and his Super Powers. My many years of commercial experience is being put to good use managing the business side of Ollie, including working with our Ollie Coaches, and managing our contracts. In everything we do its about making a difference to those we work with. To find out more go to https://www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com/pages/about-us

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