Fiona McCade: Stuff pressure of school teddy bear

Primary school children are encouraged to take teddy out for treats. Picture: TSPL
Primary school children are encouraged to take teddy out for treats. Picture: TSPL
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Any parent who gets seriously worried about looking after the school soft toy for the weekend needs to get a grip, writes Fiona McCade

You know how it is. It’s Friday evening; you’ve worked hard the whole week; you’re exhausted; all you want to do is come home and put your feet up for 48 hours. But you can’t, because something has happened that means you can’t rest at all. The weekend is destined to be a flurry of overwhelming activity. You can’t escape; you have to get out there and do something wild, exciting and, most importantly, impressive. Why? Because your child just brought home the class teddy bear.

For those of you unfamiliar with this tradition, let me enlighten you. In many primary schools these days, there is a class soft toy – usually a teddy. Every weekend, or over the holidays, a different pupil gets to take the teddy home. So far, so easy. However, Teddy comes complete with his very own diary, which must be filled in before he returns to the classroom, detailing everything that he’s been up to.

For most of us, this is no big deal. Unfortunately, for a significant number, having the bear for the weekend can become a nightmare of competitiveness. The Times Educational Supplement recently looked into the practice and discovered that some schools are starting to abandon it because hosting the bear can turn into a “trap” for any parents who fear that other parents might judge them “harshly” for not entertaining the bear satisfactorily. The editor of the TES said: “Parents find themselves nosing through the bear’s diary to see what it has been up to on previous weekends and they start to judge and compare… We’ve seen, through online discussion boards, that some parents have been reduced to tears over having the bear for the weekend.”

I know, I know, it’s priceless, isn’t it? Fear of playing host to a soft toy – it might just be my favourite First World problem ever. Like me, you may want to take a stunned moment to contemplate the fact that there really are people out there who are sobbing into their 600-thread count Egyptian cotton pillowcases because they feel they haven’t showed a stuffed animal a good enough time.

I suppose if you buy into the mindset, it might be a tad irritating to see that Teddy went to the Maldives for Easter and you didn’t, but come on, for every exotic trip Teddy has taken, he must have been around B&Q at least ten times.

The trouble starts when Class Bear meets Tiger Mum and unfortunately there seems to be no shortage of parents who can’t help but see Teddy’s visit as a challenge. British school bears are rarely to be found rummaging through bins and attacking people. Instead, they have become used to more rarified activities, like going skiing, enjoying exhibitions and concerts. Some have even been photographed doing PowerPoint presentations. Not to be outdone, some parents have also been known to provide DVD evidence of their bear-related exploits.

I remember the bear from my son’s nursery class. I found it slightly odd, because none of the kids were of reading or writing age, so I wondered who the diary was really meant to be for. I never asked, preferring to assume that we could write whatever we liked and the collected entries would go to make up a story that we could read to the little ones.

So, when Teddy came to stay, I chatted to my three-year-old about what our visitor should get up to and it ended up being a toss-up between going to buy a chocolate frog and being wounded in a vicious battle with a T-Rex. This was an easy choice, although I had to explain to a disappointed tot that it would be a bit of a let-down for next week’s host family if Teddy died of his wounds.

It never occurred to me that any of the other parents would read our entry and think: “Good grief, those show-off McCades invented a time machine and took the damned bear back to the Cretaceous period! We’ll have to go one better than them!”

I’ve always thought that this concept was created to remind some parents to focus more on their kids and take a more active role in their education. Perhaps that’s why it’s often them – rather than the child – who has to plan and write up the weekend’s adventures. So if the little one occasionally gets a bit of extra attention because an otherwise negligent parent is showing off, I have no problem with that.

In my limited experience, the children really enjoy entertaining the bear, so it seems a real shame that their pleasure might be curtailed, simply because some parents can’t control their competitive impulses. Not to mention all the fun those poor bears will miss out on.

Bringing home the bear should be a chance for the child to exercise its imagination, not for the parent to exercise its one-upmanship skills. Equally, any parent who starts getting nervous and upset that they aren’t being the host with the most risks spoiling the whole experience for everybody involved. Including the bear.

Angst-ridden parents, please, relax and stop comparing yourselves unfavourably against everybody else. In fact, you should thank your lucky stars that you only have to deal with a stuffed toy.

If you don’t get a grip soon, you’ll wake up one day and find yourselves in charge of the class hamster, or an exchange student from Kazakhstan, then you really won’t know what hit you.

It’s up to you if you want to feel inadequate; nobody else can do it for you. But rather than allowing your personal hang-ups to ruin your kids’ enjoyment, why not let them come up with something for Teddy to do? There’s no end to the weird and wonderful – and free – things that might happen.

Just don’t go down in the woods with him, or you’ll be in for a big surprise.