Sometimes it’s hard

People tell me that I’m quite a calm person and seem to take most things in my stride. It is partly good acting but these days it is mostly true.

Since becoming an adopter I have had to work hard at my calm skills and have had to learn to use them in the face of defiance and provocation. I’ve had quite a lot of practise. My usual tolerance for provocation is fairly high and most days I’m pretty cheerful about parenting, accepting the blips as par for the course. However, in the words of Rag’n’Bone Man (and often sung by Little Bear) I’m only human after all and sometimes the parenting thing gets a bit hard.

I think it started last week with the arrival of school Reports which seem to stir up lots of feelings in me every time. I tried to blog it out on Thursday but it didn’t have quite the same therapeutic effect as usual. That afternoon there was a drop-in parents evening. Unfortunately Grizzly couldn’t be back from work in time and none of the grandparents were about. Rather than missing it I decided to just pop in with both Bears in tow. I had thought they would be able to run around in the outside part of Reception class while I had a quick word with the teacher. However, it turned out to be quite a formal, everyone (including several other parents and children) inside the classroom affair.

I tried to speak with the teachers about Little Bear’s need to improve his behaviour (as stated in his report). They talked about how he still hits the other children sometimes but that he kicks items over in the classroom less frequently. I hadn’t been aware there was any kicking of items happening and it is certainly not something I would tolerate at home.

The teacher began talking about how many of the boys are fixated with technology and screens and how their social skills are underdeveloped as a result. I tried to explain that we limit screen time and although Little Bear enjoys the IPad this is not why his behaviour needs to improve.

The teachers talked about Little Bear acting the class clown, a trait they remember from Big Bear and suggested this might be due to our family ways…

They talked about how they try to intervene with Little Bear before he gets beyond the point of no return and how important it is that we do that at home too (!).

For the first time I felt blamed for Little Bear’s behaviour. Were they suggesting that things we are doing at home are making him behave this way?

It is hard to talk about the progress he has made and how Little Bear used to be swinging-from-the-lampshades-wild and how we work extremely hard every single day to improve his behaviour when, in perfect synchrony, Little Bear is taking a teddy from the younger sibling of his friend and is running around the classroom with it held aloft, taunting it’s owner that he can’t reach it. It is hard to conduct a sensible conversation or appear a credible parent when your child is not listening to you and is cooking up a merry rumpus.

We made a hasty retreat.

It was hard to pay attention to Big Bear’s books in his classroom as Little Bear found a model sword and persisted in touching it and flailing it about despite me continually telling him not to. It was hard not to feel like a bad parent when Big Bear’s teacher had to tell him to leave the sword alone and he didn’t listen to her either. I wanted to give Big Bear his fair share of my attention so mainly decided on ignoring Little Bear for 5 minutes which was hard given he was launching himself at the beanbags and trying to run out of the door. I felt conflicted.

We had a talk (another one) about behaviour and expectations and good listening on the way home.

By bedtime I was shattered. It was hard when Little Bear decided it was not going to be a sensible bedtime and I needed to check on him every few minutes until 9pm to ensure he wasn’t doing anything ridiculously dangerous.

In the morning Little Bear came to see me in bed. We had cuddles and chatted. When I sat up he climbed into my lap and pretended to be a puppy. He pretended to rub his head on my face but went in too hard, head-butted me and split my lip. To his credit he did feel bad about it and was sorry, especially when he saw blood. Nevertheless, it hurt and was not the ideal start to my day.

That afternoon when I picked Little Bear up from school he announced that he had punched two of his friends because they wouldn’t give him the Lego card he wanted. I duly e-mailed school to find out the details.

On Saturday it was our village fete. It is held on the school field and is a very busy event. Big Bear went off on his own. I knew I could trust him to stay on the field or to find a grown-up (of which there were many he knew, including Grizzly who was volunteering at the event) if he needed one. I knew I could not afford Little Bear the same freedom. It was hard to keep track of him. I had been very clear about the need to stay with me and the possible consequences of not doing so (getting lost etc.) but Little Bear found it hard. I needed eyes in the back of my head. He is small and whippet-quick and easily distracted by things that catch his eye. He wandered off or I turned my head for a split second and he was gone on several occasions.

It is hard spending three hours at a busy fayre literally tracking a child. It is hard being the parent who doesn’t find much joy in what is apparently a fun event. It is hard when you turn away for a second e.g. to buy a raffle ticket and your child has completely disappeared when you look back and you are filled with panic. It is hard then making them hold your hand the entire time when their peers are off enjoying some freedom. It is hard being the parent who calls time on the event and takes their child home when everyone else is still there having fun.

It is hard when this comes on the back of the rest of your week and all of the others mini-incidents that have occurred, including the Judo teacher needing to speak with you because the little dude hit someone in her session.

I’m just going to say it: sometimes parenting Little Bear is hard. It is hard when you feel you are trying your very best every day and giving parenting everything you’ve got yet it doesn’t seem enough. It is hard to always see things from your child’s point of view when actually their behaviour is sometimes embarrassing and you do wish they would actually just do what they are told. It is hard to always have a thick enough skin not to think that their behaviour is a direct reflection of you or that others think it is.

My feelings about Little Bear’s behaviour are no reflection of my feelings for him as, despite all the antics, I adore the bones of him and nothing is better than a big snuggle with him (minus a head butt). The rational part of me knows that there is reason behind Little Bear’s behaviour in pretty much all of the situations I have described. I know that he was probably aware that the teacher and I were talking about him and he was already tired from a whole day at school and taking him to his own parents evening was an error. I know that allowing him to take his Lego cards to school at all was risky as he is not used to swapping and would not have understood what was happening if he gave one of his cards to a boy who then refused to give one back. I can see why he resorted to solving that situation with his fists. I know that taking him to a busy event like the fete on a Saturday after a week at school and a swimming lesson was probably going to be one challenge too far.

I know all that but I’m only human after all and sometimes it gets a bit hard to stay calm and take it all in my stride.

 

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Sometimes it’s hard

Reports

It is school report time here at Bear HQ and once again it has got me all reflective. This time last year in Achievement I wrote about how standardised assessments and age-related expectations are not going to be the right way to measure Little Bear’s achievements.

Back at the start of his time in Reception class I had a bit of a wobble about how much was expected of him and how unrealistic it would be to ask him to meet those expectations by the end of the academic year (you can read about that in Little Bear Starts School). The expectations that are in place do not take into account a neglectful first several years of a child’s life or the significantly lower starting point that they are beginning from. After all, it would be impossible to expect a child to go from not being able to count to knowing all their number bonds to 20 in one year; or expecting a child who cannot write their name when they start school to be writing little narratives by the end of term. You wouldn’t expect a child with significant speech processing difficulties to be able to read fluently in one year or a child who is extremely resistant to adult direction to be fully compliant every day.

We did not expect Little Bear to meet the expectations as it was an impossible ask. I am not surprised therefore that he hasn’t met them. However, it would seem that I do have a little bit of an issue with the way the information has been shared.

The Bear’s school have switched to new-fan-dangled online reports. I understand why: OFSTED must love it and it must be much more time-efficient for teachers. However, call me old-fashioned, but I would much prefer an actual piece of paper (you can’t even easily print our ones out to keep for future posterity). There are lots of tabs along the top and you have to click on each to get different information.

The very first tab is a summary of where your child is at compared to expectations. On the left there is a scale with the following descriptors: well above expected, above expected, at expected level, below expected and well below expected. The core subjects are along the bottom and your child’s level is shown through coloured traffic lights. For Little Bear that means a row of red lights across the ‘below expected level’ line. They may as well flash and sound an alarm alerting you to your child’s lack of achievement.

Grizzly and I had a chat about this and he thinks I’m being oversensitive. He thinks it makes perfect statistical sense to do it this way otherwise what are you comparing your child to? My issue is that I don’t understand the point of comparing him to targets which we have already established to be unobtainable. Surely that is setting him up to fail? What I would like to see is a comparison between where he was at when he started the year and where he is at now. I don’t care where he is at compared to average Joe Blogs, that information won’t make any of us feel good. I understand that what I’m asking for is probably a complete data nightmare but in theory it would be a much more positive report because it would show the massive progress that he HAS made not what he hasn’t.

I asked Grizzly how he would feel if Little Bear were scoring right across the “well below expected range” or how he would feel if every report we ever get for Little Bear shows him to be in this “below expected” range. He’s much more pragmatic about these things than me and said well if that is where he’s at it’s where he’s at. Which is of course completely true but I can’t help feeling that this way of displaying data makes getting a report for a child with any level of additional needs a fairly negative experience. It certainly felt different to opening Big Bears and seeing his neat row of green lights.

The rest of the tabs offend me less. There is one with the teacher’s comment, one about behaviour and ones where you can see a list of targets your child is working on and which descriptors they have already met. I do find it a bit odd that the focus is on Maths and English and little else. What if your child excels at PE? Or Art? Or Music? There isn’t anywhere in either boy’s report where that can be reflected which could potentially add to the negativity for a child like Little Bear who struggles most with the core subjects.

Anyway, having come back to look at the reports again, I can see that maybe my opinion of Little Bear’s as a whole has been tainted by the red lights. The comments from his teacher are lovely and do mention “superb progress” and that he “has worked extremely hard”. It says he is polite and respectful to grown-ups but his attitude to his peers “needs to improve”. It says that he is happy and settled but that he does test boundaries and is still learning to remain focussed.

All of the above is true but what it doesn’t really reflect is just how spectacularly wrong this year could have gone and in comparison how fabulously he has done. That version might go something like this:

Although Little Bear does not always listen and sometimes hits his friends, he has had less than 20 red cards, he has not been sent to the Headmaster and has avoided getting himself excluded, all of which were real possibilities in September. The fact that he is described as being polite and well-mannered is nothing short of an actual miracle. He could easily have bitten/ scratched/ kicked or thrown something or told his teacher how stupid she is each and every day of term time. The control and self-restraint he has developed is fantastic.

On beginning school Little Bear could not count to 4 for the love of God and we were driving ourselves mad chanting the numbers over and over. He can now count easily to 10, forwards and backwards and is just a tiny bit more practise away from making it to 20. He can recognise all the number shapes to about 13 and is managing some very basic adding and taking away.

In September Little Bear was pretty much unintelligible to people outside of the family. He could just about recognise his name written down but couldn’t recognise any other words. He knew maybe 5 letter shapes. He couldn’t tell you if words rhymed or what sound they began with. He most definitely couldn’t blend sounds together. Now, he recognises all the letter shapes, which he learned surprisingly quickly. After a lot of hard work and perseverance he has mastered blending which is no mean feat and can read at a basic level. He has even gone up one reading level on to Red books which he is extremely proud of. Considering the fact that Little Bear was attending a Special Needs nursery before he moved here and the likelihood of literacy in his future was slim to none, his progress has been phenomenal.

At the start of term Little Bear could hold his pen well and could scribble but his pictures didn’t look like people and he couldn’t write at all. He can now write his name and draw a picture of himself with most of the right body parts. He can form letters really well and can copy from a grown-ups model. He can make some attempts at independent writing.

Little Bear is happy and settled at school. He has learned all the routines. He loves show and tell and is now confident enough in his communication to stand up and talk in detail in front of the class. He has taken part in assemblies and school trips and has behaved appropriately.

The year could have been a complete disaster. Little Bear could have been like a fish out of water. His behaviour could have been out of control. He could have struggled with all the learning and not made any progress.

Instead, I feel he has achieved above and beyond any expectations we could have had for him. If there were a chart for progress, he would have a row of bright green lights in the “well above expectations” row. Instead the row of red lights he does have seems to figuratively piss all over his bonfire. I am not finding some of the other parents’ bragging about how advanced their children are particularly helpful either.

Anyway, I shall brush myself off, endeavour to develop a slightly thicker skin and focus on what I know really matters: Little Bear has had an extremely successful first year at school. We have secured the funding we need to build on his progress next year and I have no doubt he will continue to exceed the limited expectations his early life tried to saddle him with.

Reports

Support

Support can come in many forms and from a range of sources and this week we have experienced some of them.

The first thing was that we got an outcome on the funding application we made to the LA for additional support for Little Bear on his transition to year 1. We had not applied for a full EHCP but for ‘top-up funding’, of which there are several levels. This is short-term funding, just for the next academic year. It avoids a full assessment (which is required for an EHCP) but obviously does not give the long-term commitment and legal obligation of an EHCP. The point of top-up funding is to support “accelerated progress” for those children who need it. We felt this was ideal for Little Bear because given his background (neglect) he does need more support to catch up with his peers and it is difficult to say at this stage whether he will continue to need that throughout his school life or not.

Our application for funding was supported by the school and the Educational Psychologist and we had all contributed to the paperwork. We know that the leap to a more formal education in year 1 will be huge for Little Bear and that he will still require access to the EYFS. We also know that Little Bear needs very specific and 1:1 support to learn new tasks and to move forward with his educational targets – I wrote about the type of support that makes a difference to him last week in Jigsaws. Therefore, we were all agreed that additional funding would be required, on top of the £6000 the school are obliged to provide from their SEN budget.

On Wednesday the SENCO was waiting for me when I came to pick Little Bear up from school. “Have you seen the letter?” she said, “we’re fuming!”. I had not seen the letter as although the LA had addressed it to me, it hadn’t (and still hasn’t) found its way here. She ushered me in and we went through to the office she shares with the Head to read it. The first thing I noted was that the letter referred to Little Bear in his birth name. I have no idea how that came about as he has been legally adopted for over a year now and neither school nor us had used that name on any paperwork. It is quite concerning that the name is still in circulation and still on somebody’s data base somewhere.

The letter itself said that the LA were rejecting our application for funding as it had been sent in on the wrong paperwork (it hadn’t), Little Bear was making “excellent progress” and there weren’t any Speech and Language targets even though we had talked a lot about his Speech and Language Needs (there were targets included with the application). This was very annoying and disappointing. However, school had been very proactive and the Head had already phoned the LA and given them a telling off. He had got them to agree to read the paperwork properly and to take it back to panel, which happened to be taking place the next day.

Although I was annoyed, there was nothing I had to do as school had handled it and I felt reassured that they were on our side and were prepared to fight for Little Bear, just as I would be. I do feel lucky that this is the case as I’m only too aware of others in a similar position where the school would not have supported their application in the first place. Other schools would have just accepted the rejection letter and would not have queried it and the outcome would have been completely different.

When I shared what had happened on Twitter, it was lovely to get virtual support from friends and people I have never met who were outraged on my behalf.

Last night, I got a call from the SENCO. They had heard back from the LA, who had evidently realised they had cocked the whole thing up and who had now read the application properly and have granted us the funding! In fact, now they’ve thought about it, they have seen fit to grant us a level higher than the one we actually applied for.

I’m so happy that this has been resolved as I really feel it will make the difference between a rocky transition and Little Bear being able to do the very best that he can next year. Getting the right support in place for him is absolutely essential and thanks to the ongoing support we receive from school that has now been achieved and they are looking at employing a TA.

 

The second bit of support I got this week was rather unexpected. Little Bear has not been well at all. He had a course of antibiotics a couple of weeks ago but it has made little difference. He has a horrible cough and is just not himself, even though he is still running about all over the place. I have been umming and erring about taking him back to the doctor for a few days now but I had to go myself on Tuesday and sat waiting for over an hour and a half in the ridiculous ‘sit and wait’ clinic they operate. The thought of sitting there for that length of time with Little Bear filled me with dread so I have to admit I was avoiding it and hoping he might miraculously recover. When I saw his pale face and not as enthusiastic as usual running at sports day yesterday I knew I really did have to take him.

I decided to call them and be honest: maybe they could help me out by letting me have an actual appointment slot? I wasn’t too hopeful as the receptionists at our doctors are just like everywhere else – a little scary and you have to basically beg and give them far too much medical information to even have a chance of getting in.

I rang them anyway though and explained that Little Bear has some difficulties with behaviour and cannot tolerate waiting for a long time. I felt a bit fraudulent doing it though I’m not sure why as it is true. There weren’t any slots yesterday but the lady assured me that if I called in the morning they would be able to help me. A while later she called me back and said someone had just cancelled, would I like to book their slot? It was really good of her to take the time to remember us (they must get loads of calls) and to bother to find my number and call me back. This morning she called me again – the doctor had phoned in sick but she had jiggled things about so we could still have an appointment.

We have now been and only needed to wait 15 minutes which was much better. Little Bear was hanging off the reception desk and licking my arm and running about so I think they could see my issue!

Once again I feel lucky that when I asked for the support, it was there. I suppose it was a small thing but it did make a big difference to my day.

 

The third type of support I have observed this week was from Big Bear towards Little Bear. At sports day whenever Little Bear was participating in a race, Big Bear and the entirety of his year 3 class chanted and shouted for him. It was lovely.

 

This week I have also run one of my Communication Workshops. It was attended by prospective and current adopters. I love meeting other adopters in this context as hearing their stories is always so interesting. Sometimes I meet someone who is having a hard time of it and I can really sense their anxiety and worry and their being constantly on the brink of tears. I think it’s because I can see myself in the early days in them. I tend to go home and think about them a lot and hope they have the support around them that they so badly need.

Adoption is not an easy route. There are so many things that we have to constantly have on our mental agendas, so many things we have to chase up and even fight for. Good support is absolutely critical. I am, as ever, incredibly grateful for the support and kindness we have been shown, not just this week but every week. I know others are not so fortunate but I do think it is reassuring for us all that good support does exist and can be found somewhere.

 

Support

Jigsaws

I know this seems a slightly strange blog topic but Little Bear has taken a real interest in jigsaws recently and in doing so I have learned a lot about how he learns and how he needs to be taught.

Up until very recently Little Bear has not shown an interest in activities that require sitting still and concentrating, such as jigsaws. He has had lots of other needs in terms of developing his play skills so I haven’t been too concerned. Having a bigger brother who does sometimes (not a lot as he too doesn’t like sitting still) do these types of activity has helped Little Bear a lot though. If Big Bear is doing something, Little Bear generally wants to do it too. As I have got really strict with screen time and have been encouraging Big Bear to find other things to occupy himself one evening he did sit down and start doing a jigsaw. Of course Little Bear was in hot pursuit and got one out for himself too.

I had to intervene as I knew that the one he had chosen was too difficult. We swapped it for a very simple one with 4 large pieces. At that stage, it was too much to ask of him that he try to complete it on his own. Little Bear put the first two pieces he found together, couldn’t make them fit immediately, growled and chucked them across the room. It would have been easy to abandon ship at this point. However, I was feeling particularly resilient that day and decided to persevere. “Come on, you can do it” I cajoled, shifting the pieces about so that two that went together were close to one another. Little Bear managed to put them together with a surreptitious jiggle of the bits from me. I made a big thing of how clever he was. Could he stick another piece on I wondered aloud.

I began to get concerned because he didn’t seem at all able to see that we were making a picture and with only two pieces left there weren’t many options. He would try to put a straight edge into a hole or a corner piece into the middle. Each time he perceived himself to be failing at the task (which happened every few seconds), he would lose his temper and throw the pieces and sometimes break the ones we had already done if I wasn’t quite fast enough. Rather than losing my temper (which would be easy to do if feeling frazzled) it made me even more determined that he should feel success and complete the task. I think at one point he got up to wander off and give up. It was hard to know how far to push him but I knew that he wouldn’t think he could do jigsaws unless he actually did one so I pretty much made him come back and finish it off. I gave a lot of help and short of actually putting the pieces in place for him, heavily scaffolded the task. All the while a part of me wondered if I was placing too much pressure on him as perhaps he actually wasn’t capable of doing it?

However, jigsaw finally completed, we were able to high five, applaud and do lots of bows. Big Bear is always fabulous in these situations and spontaneously joined in with the praise. Now that the marathon of completing one 4 piece jigsaw was over I thought we could tidy up and go to bed. However, to my surprise Little Bear had other ideas. He wanted to do another jigsaw. So off we went again. It wasn’t much easier the second time and Little Bear certainly wasn’t a natural at ‘seeing’ the picture and matching bits together. I thought back to the discussions we’d had with the Educational Psychologist in which he said that Little Bear’s language scores were in advance of his visual skills, a statement that at the time I had felt must be wrong. However, was this the type of thing he meant? I had to agree that what I was seeing was concerning and that without a significant amount of adult support, Little Bear would not be able to complete even a very simple jigsaw at the age of 5.

We persevered and geed on by his previous success Little Bear was pretty determined to complete the next one. That is not to say that he didn’t lose his temper or become easily frustrated but with encouragement and a calm approach and I have to admit, an element of me refusing to allow him to fail at it, we completed another and another and about 5 more. In the end I had to call time on it and put him to bed.

I was astonished when in the morning he wanted to do more still. He got out every jigsaw we own one by one and we painstakingly completed each of them until the playroom floor was covered. I tried to teach him strategies to make it easier e.g. that one has a straight bit. It is an edge. It goes at the side. Or that was has two straight bits. It is a corner. I pointed at similarities between pieces. Look, that one has purple on it too or the cat’s tail is missing, I wonder where it is.

I repeated myself a lot. No matter how much I said it, the task didn’t seem to be getting any easier for Little Bear, not least I suspect because ‘edge’ and ‘corner’ were new words for his vocabulary. But I had to admire his persistence. I don’t think there are many children who would want to keep going and going at something they are finding so hard. I kept the praise level high and despite Little Bear repeatedly saying “I’m rubbish at jigsaws” I tried hard to re-frame that thought and help to show him otherwise. Once the floor was almost entirely covered, he began to admit that he might be The Jigsaw Master.

This was just a couple of weeks ago. Little Bear still likes to get the jigsaws out but now he can complete a 30 piece jigsaw on his own.

Nothing about this situation is as I would have predicted it and it has taught me several things:

Firstly, when Little Bear doesn’t appear to be able to do things, is it because he really can’t or because he doesn’t believe he can? I rather suspect that he often gives up at the first hint of failure as his default position is to assume that he can’t. This leads me to think that sometimes putting a bit more pressure on him to complete a task the first time he encounters it is the right thing to do to show him that he can (with a high level of support of course).

However, it is hard to know which tasks to target and whether it is realistic to expect him to achieve them. Taking a hard approach to tasks that he might not be able to complete would be really damaging.

Secondly, I do feel there was an element of Little Bear having difficulties learning the task. I don’t think he was ever going to spontaneously figure jigsaws out by himself. However, it has shown that with specific teaching he can learn and he can generalise his skills pretty quickly. He needs specific teaching of strategies e.g. he couldn’t notice the similarities between pieces so I had to verbalise things that seemed obvious. Once he has been taught these strategies and there has been a lot of repetition of them, he can apply them well. I suspect this is due to differences in his neural pathways, caused by years of neglect. However, just because he can’t learn something the usual way, doesn’t mean we can’t find a way around it and create a new neural pathway for him.

Thirdly, because of the first and second point, Little Bear can’t really be expected to try new tasks by himself. He needs a grown up by his side to keep him regulated, focused and to give him heaps of positive feedback. I really hope we get the EHCP funding we have applied for as this is the very reason why he needs it.

I have found at home that if I get the support wrong the first time we try a task that can be the end of his engagement with it forever, so good support for new tasks is essential.

I am genuinely shocked at his progress with jigsaws and at what he can do now. The fact that he was so motivated to succeed, despite all the barriers, is nothing short of inspirational. He allowed countless repetitions of the task over the course of a few days which will undoubtedly have cemented his skills much more quickly. He even sat and helped with a huge jigsaw of the world that the 4 of us were working on the other day. It was hard for grown-ups but he now believes he can do jigsaws so wasn’t unduly phased. He did brilliantly and Big Bear got bored before he did.

I am now thinking about what other tasks we could tackle in this way. We have managed it with Maxi Hama beads – we had the same “I can’t do it”, “you do it for me” situation the first time we tried those but by the end of the morning he was pushing my hand away saying “I do it myself”.

I have also noticed that once Little Bear has mastered a task his attention span suddenly increases beyond recognition. His teacher called me in the other day as she was shocked that he had sat on the rug in a corner of the classroom for a whole hour by himself doing jigsaws. They had all been muddled up and he had painstakingly sorted and completed them. She had never seen him concentrate for more than 10 minutes on anything and didn’t know that he could.

This weekend, Little Bear spent several hours making Hama bead creations until he had used every single bead and I had to make a hasty Amazon purchase.

Evidently confidence is playing a huge role in Little Bear’s ability to learn. Little Bear, you really need to believe in yourself as much as I do because what you have achieved so far is nothing short of astounding.

And thank you to the humble jigsaw, who knew I could learn so much from you?!

 

 

 

 

 

Jigsaws

Continence Issues

This week’s post has been inspired by a fairly innocuous seeming comment from a friend. He said, in reference to his newly adopted 2 year old, “he’s fully potty-trained now, day and night!”, with just the teeniest hint of competitive parenting lacing his voice. He’s rightly proud of the achievement but I have to confess that part of me thought “oh FFS!”. I think I managed a polite smile and no eye-rolling…

It is just that toileting is something of an ongoing situation here with Little Bear and, at 5 years old, we are fairly far from reaching the golden pinnacle my friend speaks of.

When Little Bear arrived, aged 3 and a half, he wasn’t toilet trained. His foster carers claimed it was because he “wasn’t ready” but in all honesty I don’t think they had really tried. Obviously tackling toileting wasn’t very high on our agenda in the first weeks of placement either, as bonding and behaviour issues were much more pressing. We also identified fairly quickly that we would need to sort out Little Bear’s digestion before attempting to get him out of nappies.

On his arrival he was taking prescribed Movicol for constipation and he created several very effortful and repulsive nappies each day. It was distressing to see the discomfort he was in and at night he seemed to be suffering from stomach cramps (he would writhe about in his bed whilst asleep and sometimes fall out). On reading the Movicol packet we established that this could be the cause of the pains.

We also observed that Little Bear barely ate any fruit or vegetables which might well be accounting for his sluggish gut. It was strange because I always assumed that during Introductions we would be given a list of food likes/ dislikes but we weren’t. When I pressed the foster carers on it they were vague, as though they didn’t really know what he liked. Either way, fruit and vegetables weren’t really mentioned or visible and whenever we gave them to Little Bear he certainly didn’t appear familiar with them.

Another observation was that when we first met Little Bear his tongue had a very unusual appearance: kind of lined and cracked looking. It looks normal now so in retrospect we have concluded he was dehydrated. We certainly didn’t really see him drink and if we tried to give him something he would only take tiny sips.

It became a fairly major priority of mine to get him to eat and drink properly, with the end goal of getting his digestion working properly without the need for Movicol. It was possible that there was a physiological reason for his constipation of course but we just weren’t convinced, given the other things we had noticed.

Tackling Little Bear’s diet wasn’t easy as we also had issues with getting him to sit at the table and actually eat. It turned out though that Little Bear would eat pretty much anything if it was mashed or pureed or hidden by gravy and if one of us would feed it to him. Looking back, it seems we might have still been at the weaning stage. The benefits were that I could get vegetable soup or pureed casserole or pasta sauce with hidden vegetables into him and he was having lots of tastes of different foods without knowing it. I also tried smoothie lollies which worked well until he got fed up of them.

It was difficult because Little Bear did and still does use food as a means of control and whilst I felt it was in his best interests to improve his diet, I was also wary of putting too much pressure on him to eat. I did do things like withhold chocolate or pudding until he had at least tried his proper food or eaten a few bits of veg. I know there are a lot of opinions out there about whether this is the right/wrong way to approach things but it turns out that healthy eating and the wider impact of it on health, alertness and behaviour was a big deal for me. It wasn’t something I could overlook.

I also found Little Bear’s behaviour at mealtimes one of the most challenging things to manage in a calm way. Everybody finds certain behaviours particularly triggering and for some reason this is what really pushed my buttons. I have had to work hard at finding a happy balance between meeting Little Bear’s nutritional needs and working on his table manners. As much as it pains me that he gets up every 3 seconds and will do anything but eat at the table, I have recognised that sometimes it doesn’t matter what else goes on, as long as he has eaten something. Little Bear is perfectly capable of feeding himself and sometimes he does so without issue but there are other times where no matter how infuriated I get, he just won’t. On those days it is more important that I swallow my issues and feed him, as then he will eat and if he has a full belly the world is generally a better place. I can just thank my lucky stars that he no longer screams, throws his food about the room or head butts the table.

Anyhow, after a couple of months, we had managed to successfully wean Little Bear off the Movicol and he had developed a regular, healthy bowel habit. It was around this point that we turned our attentions to toilet training. Little Bear knew when he needed a poo and was able to say so, so it didn’t take long to get him into the habit of using the potty. It would have been good, given he was nearly 4, to go straight to the toilet but he was quite wary of it so I went with what he was comfortable with and made that transition later.

It wasn’t long into potty use that Little Bear wanted “big boy pants” so we just went for it. In the early stages everything seemed to be going well. Little Bear was sorted with his bowel movements from day 1 and if we prompted him to go for a wee regularly we didn’t have too many wetting accidents. It was only when we tried to move on to Little Bear going off to the loo as and when he needed it that it became apparent there was a problem: he didn’t ever seem to need it. However, he clearly did as he was wet all the time. Little Bear didn’t seem bothered by this and didn’t tell us. I wasn’t always sure he was aware he was wet.

It feels to me as though some sort of developmental window has been missed so Little Bear has never developed the sensations warning him he needs to go and has grown so used to sitting in a wet nappy that being wet feels normal.

We have had to manage this by going back to regular prompting to help Little Bear stay dry, even though he is not always keen to comply with the requests. We have bought him a special watch, which you can set to vibrate at certain times to remind him to go to the loo and to help him become more independent in his toileting. I do think it’s good and I would recommend it but ideally your child would want to be dry and would be more motivated to do what it tells you than Little Bear. It worked well for us for a while but then he couldn’t help pressing all the buttons (even though it does have a child lock system) or constantly taking it off and losing it. As he is a little bit oppositional the fact that it was telling him to do something just made him want to do the opposite.

However, we have persevered and worked on Little Bear telling us when he is wet. If he does tell us, we praise him for that and try not to comment too much on the actual wet pants. He has made lots of progress with this and mostly does tell us now if he’s had an accident rather than us having to detect it from the smell!

We have also figured out that the first warning sign Little Bear gets is when a dribble of wee comes out. It appears that he can then stop the rest from coming until he chooses to release it. We are working on Little Bear taking himself to the toilet after the first dribble rather than just doing it in his pants. This is definitely improving and just this week, over a year into toilet training Little Bear has said a couple of times that he needs a wee and taken himself off for one. This is a big deal for him and I’m grateful that signs have started appearing to suggest we will eventually get there.

As we are not yet secure in day time dryness, we haven’t even thought about attempting night time dryness. Little Bear’s pull up is completely sodden in the morning and occasionally overflows during the night so I know he isn’t ready.

As with many things I write about Little Bear, none of this is his fault and I can’t help feeling sorry that he hasn’t been afforded the same chances as his peers, who were probably beginning their toileting journeys 12 to 18 months before he was. So, whilst I’m glad for my friend that his little one is gifted with exceptional bladder control I do wash a lot of urine-soaked clothes and bedding and hopefully you will forgive me for also being a teensy bit irritated by his comment.

Continence Issues