Affirmation in Parenting

As usual I have a complex knot of thoughts in my brain that I am going to attempt to commit to my keyboard. My thoughts have come from a range of sources including a film, a meeting we had in school and some clumsy comments. It has taken me a while to figure it out but the theme running through them all is affirmation – the act of getting emotional support or encouragement.

More specifically, as parents, do we ever get any affirmation? What happens if we don’t and what difference does it make if we do?

I have written before about my lack of parenting confidence when I had Big Bear (see Goodbye Adoption Leave  ). I can remember those times well. Other parents can be very competitive and instead of taking a ‘we are all in it together’ attitude, they can make you wonder whether you really have made the right decision to feed your baby from a jar (from the shocked look on their face perhaps you really might be setting them on a straight course for Scurvy) or co-sleep with them (you might still be doing it when they are 18). Deciding not to use Controlled Crying caused many a shockwave and invited comments that suggested I was bringing my baby’s sleep problems on myself. Finding my own way was difficult. Whatever I did felt wrong and I rather suspected that every parent out there was doing the parenting thing better than I was (with the involvement of more organic butternut squash, more sleep, a tidier home and a brain that could actually think in a straight line).

Those suspicions continued into preschool and even the first years of school. Thankfully I have now stopped dragged around a heavy load of parenting doubt. I am by no means cocky or complacent about my parenting but I feel quietly comfortable with the way I’m going about things. I have Little Bear to thank for that. His constant development and flourishing have undeniably taken place since his arrival, not prior, so we must be doing something right somewhere.

Whilst I am no longer constantly self-flagellating for my inadequacies, I am not immune to self-doubt or being wounded by a careless comment. Neither, I suspect, is any parent. The thing is we are all just doing our best. We make the parenting decisions we think are right at the time. Crucially, we make the parenting decisions that feel right for our individual children. My own two children have very different needs and sometimes I make different decisions for each of them, because that is what I think will work best for them.

Most of the time I go about my day to day life, analysing, thinking and making decisions about how to parent my children without too much fuss. Grizzly and I might have a chat to decide whether x or y is better. We spend more time analysing and wondering over Little Bear because being adopted does add another layer of complexity. I suppose if I think hard about it we do put a lot of time and energy into trying our best for them but it is not onerous and I don’t think either of us feels we require praise for it. We just do what parents do, like everybody else.

However, there have been occasions recently when I have felt that my parenting is being judged and that the person doing the judging feels that Little Bear’s behaviour might be better were I to parent him differently. The examples I’m going to share are only little things, unfortunate comments, but they bother me, usually by implication.

One such comment was, “Are you going to send Little Bear to Beavers? You should get his name down!” (Made in the context of perhaps if Little Bear had something more exciting to look forward to, he would eat his dinner). It sounds innocuous enough but the implication that came with the comment was “I cannot believe you don’t send Little Bear to Beavers. EVERYONE who is ANYONE sends their child to Beavers. If you do not send him, he will have absolutely no future.” Clearly I exaggerate a little but this is exactly the kind of comment that really irks me because it is so passive aggressive and such a thinly veiled attempt at hiding the speaker’s real view that they are in fact a super-parent and if you don’t do what they think you should do, you are a rubbish parent.

No. Why does she think it is ok to do that? She doesn’t know my reasons for not sending him. She might want that for her children but why do I have to do it for mine? Little Bear is blooming exhausted after trying so hard at school all day and goes up to bed at 6pm. I can’t contemplate sending him to a club after tea yet. Also, I don’t know any of the staff at Beavers and I don’t feel comfortable sending him somewhere he doesn’t know anyone yet and where no one knows him and what he needs from them. I know that I don’t actually have to explain myself, what with my parenting being my business, but comments like that make you start to question yourself.

The same person has also made comments about the snacks I give the boys when I pick them up from school (it’s chocolate, shoot me), why I didn’t send Little Bear to football club earlier and how Little Bear always chooses a baked potato for lunch.

Grizzly says I should just ignore it but I can’t. I think what really pushes my buttons about it is the judgement and inference that I ought to listen to her because her parenting is in some way superior. It’s so unhelpful and a good job I am no longer lugging about my parenting doubts because I would now be feeling very bad about myself. I’m sure she does it to other people who are currently feeling like failures.

No. We are all parenting and doing our best. We should be supporting and affirming one another. People do things differently and that’s ok. Perhaps I should write her a Social Story!

I don’t think loads of gushing compliments are needed but certainly less of the judgment. I think you just need to know from time to time that you’ve got this. You’re doing ok. You are not breaking your children. People can see you are trying your best.

When we have meetings about Little Bear at school, I sometimes feel that there is a suggestion that it is something we are doing that makes him behave as he does in the classroom. There have been comments about him “coming in not ready to work” as though I’ve spun him around 50 times on the way in or laced his breakfast with sugar. As lovely as school are (and they genuinely are mostly lovely) I think there is something in the culture that leans towards blaming parents.

This week, someone from our post-adoption support service came to one of the meetings. It was surprising how good it was to have somebody there who not only values our opinions but made some positive affirmations about our parenting. She made sure school knew that adoptive parenting is hard and that we are putting a lot of effort into this. She made it clear that what will change things (and already has been changing things) for Little Bear is our therapeutic parenting (as well as a therapeutic approach from school). She affirmed our approach, our strategies and that these match Little Bear’s needs.

I think having those things affirmed by somebody who is so knowledgeable was really powerful for me and was something I didn’t know I needed until I got it. It made me feel more confident to fess up to some things I didn’t feel so sure about and to ask for help with them. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable to ask for help if I had felt judged. I came away from the meeting feeling a little lighter and with a little spring in my step.

I suspect the reason so many of us adopters like Twitter is because there is a very safe and supportive community of other adopters on there who don’t judge and are quick to give positive re-enforcement and affirmation. We are probably all very aware of how great a need our children have for affirmation and are therefore fairly natural at dishing it out in general.

During today’s chats I came across a blog by @mumdrah about the difficulties in getting affirmation as a single adopter and the impact this has on how your child views you. As well as making an eloquent point, it includes some pointers about how you can make positive statements to support your partner/ others in their parenting. You can read it here: http://www.mumdrah.co.uk/ducks-in-a-row/

The film that got me thinking (and laughing) was Bad Moms. It’s very far-fetched but illustrates perfectly how negative and harmful a lack of affirmation mixed with competitive parenting and one-up-man-ship can be.

We are all in this together. Let’s stop with the judgement and pat each other on the back now and again. We’re doing our best but the doubt can creep in. Sometimes it’s hard and a little positive comment on those days can go a long way.

 

 

 

Cuddle Fairy
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Affirmation in Parenting

The Bears Talk Adoption

In November of last year I asked Big Bear if he would mind writing his thoughts on adoption down for me. He knew about my blog and was very excited about the idea of his words being published on the web. This was the result: Adoption by Big Bear

At the time he was 7. I have been wondering, now that another year has passed and he is a year older and we are that bit further into the adoption, how his views have changed. He was excited at the prospect of being famous (!) again so we agreed to try an interview this time. Here it is:

Me: What do you think adoption means?

Big Bear: Adoption’s like when um, when a family, a normal family, have loads of children who they can’t handle. They’re like naughty and stuff and they can’t handle them so they go to live with foster parents who try to look after them for a period of time so then, erm, so some very kind people who want to adopt the children, they go to visit the foster parents and have a little talk with them, like how well behaved the child is and gossip like that. Then they start having little time with the child, you know like to settle them in? They have a little journey to the adopter’s house then they, erm, they like settle down, look at their bedroom and see what toys they’ve got and then they think ‘I like it here, it’s not bad’. When that happens, it’s really like very kind to the foster family and the other family.

Me: Ok. Do you think there are any good things about adoption?

Big Bear: Yeah. Adoptions like thinking you’ll have a family forever and you’re not gonna move. It’s like staying in the same place.

Me: Do you think there are any bad things about adoption?

Big Bear: Well yes I do because the children that have been adopted will probably miss their foster parents and just say that they want to go and see their foster parents.

Me: If there are any people reading my blog, like another child who might be getting an adopted sibling, do you have any advice for them?

Big Bear: I’ve got a lot of advice. So just if you don’t wanna see them to start with you can just stay in your room for a bit but like then you need to start playing with them and they’ll start liking you more and they’ll just think you are a superhero to them. They’ll think you’re amazing if you start playing with them. You don’t really have to let them do anything with your stuff. You don’t have to let them in your room. You just have to make them happy. If you don’t want to play with them sometimes it’s absolutely fine but you’ve got to play with them sometimes because you might actually think it’s fun.

Me: So now you’ve had an adopted brother for 2 years, how are you finding that?

Big Bear: I’m finding it fine. But when we started having him it was a nightmare but now I think he’s quite good. I play with him a lot and it’s quite amazing really because his behaviour has come on a lot. He used to be a nightmare when he came but now he’s good as gold. Like really, just get playing with them and they’ll get better.

Me: So are you having fun with him now?

Big Bear: Yeah I have a lot of fun. They start doing sports that you like and yeah, you have a lot of fun.

Me: Does it make any difference that he is adopted?

Big Bear: No. It’s not an excuse for anything. No, he’s just a normal person.

Me: Is there anything I have missed? Is there anything else you would like to tell people?

Big Bear: Really, if you want to adopt somebody, you need to be kind people. If you are not kind people, don’t bother. Just settle them in.

Me: Do you have any advice for helping children settle better?

Big Bear: Yeah. Just get them stuff they can squeeze or punch. It calms them down. They can always like bring them into class if they’re struggling at school because it could just calm them down. It helps them a lot. Like a squeezy thing or a fidget spinner.

Grizzly (not wanting to be left out): How do you think it feels for a child to come to a new family?

Big Bear: Well, um, I think it’s pretty scary at the start. They have to get used to the house. When they’ve got used to their environment they’ll get used to their parents and when they’ve got used to them they’ll get used to their brothers or sisters and then they’ll get used to their friends and then to their school. Then they’ll get used to sports and doing spelling.

 

Bless him! This is the edited version as Big Bear was in his element and chatted for a good ten minutes. My initial thought is that I probably need to do more work with him about why children end up in Care in the first place! I certainly haven’t told him it is because they are naughty. It is a little scary how I can hear some of my own words coming out of his mouth though – like ‘just try playing with him you might actually think it’s fun’.

Overall I think it does reflect his chatty, thoughtful nature and the relationship he has with his brother. He is certainly less in denial about liking him now which I’m pleased about. I’m glad he can be honest though, we have worked hard at making sure his views are listened to and ensuring that he is comfortable to say how he really feels, whether positive or negative.

 

I have been really mindful this year that I would love to let Little Bear have a voice on my blog too. It is trickier with him because it is hard to make sure that he fully understands what I’m asking of him and what I’m going to do with the information. I explained that I write about adoption and that I’d like to interview him too. He was up for it and co-operated for a short time. Here are his thoughts:

 

Me: What do you think being adopted means?

Little Bear: You live in a different house and you come here.

Everybody in my class is adopted but not in Big Bears class.

It’s really nice.

Me: Being adopted is nice?

Little Bear: Yeah

Me: Why is it nice?

Little Bear: Because I just like it.

Me: Do you think there are any good things about being adopted?

Little Bear: Being good and being protected.

Me: Do you think there are any bad things?

Little Bear: No. (Gets distracted thinking up all the bad things he can like getting shot or murdered. I felt he’d had enough of my questions).

 

 I have to say I was pretty surprised by what Little Bear had to say. I’m amazed he said “being good and being protected”. It is typical of him though to be a man of few words, but to hit the nail squarely on the head. It was also one of those brief glimpses into his complex internal world: there is so much going on in there.

I was most surprised that he was so unswervingly positive about it. I genuinely thought he would have talked about missing his foster carers and perhaps he would on a different day. I’m not naïve enough to think he will always be this positive as there is still so much Life Story work to come but for now, what he has said has been lovely to hear.

The point he makes about everyone in his class being adopted is because he knows that there are 4 others in his class who are and that nobody in Big Bear’s class is adopted. This came about because recently he started listing people we know to find out if ‘they came out of their Mum’s tummies or not?’

 Hopefully, if both Bears are ok with it, we’ll have a similar chat in a year’s time and see how things have changed.

 As always, I’m extremely proud of them both and grateful that they humoured their Mum and answered my questions.

 

 

 

The Bears Talk Adoption

Alleviating School Worries

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how Little Bear was doing at school (School Worries), the apparent desire to keep us at arm’s length and my concerns about the school’s ability to support and educate him. Little Bear’s behaviour was spiralling and his teacher was tearing her hair out. It was going badly and I was very worried. Since then I have had several conversations with his teacher, parent’s evening and we finally had the big meeting we had been asking for.

The landscape now is very different. I think they are getting more right than they are getting wrong and Little Bear is starting to thrive. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things we/they have done that have made the difference:

A Timetable

Don’t ask me why but when Little Bear started Year 1 there was no set timetable of what he would be doing each day; sometimes it could be Maths then literacy, at other times Phonics then Maths etc. His teacher realised after a few weeks that he might cope better if the expectations were clearer and his day was more predictable. They created a timetable for him but things were still going awry. I wondered aloud one day whether Little Bear was able to see the timetable himself. It turned out they were showing him the black and white typed adult version which was of course entirely meaningless to him.

Little Bear now has a timetable made up of digital photos of him doing all the different tasks. This is working fabulously

He knows the routine and seems much happier to get on with what he is meant to be doing. Plus he actually likes the timetable because he is in it and is therefore much more motivated to engage with it

Choose time

As Little Bear finds it difficult to concentrate for any length of time we agreed that he would do a short work task and then a fun task then a work task, then a fun task to keep him on track. The fun task would be used as a carrot in a NOW work, THEN fun task kind of way. The fun task might also involve moving about to give him a physical/sensory break from sitting still. The fun tasks have been chosen carefully so they are still educational (they might involve developing his play skills or turn-taking or creativity etc.) and are actually motivating to Little Bear, not just perceived to be motivating by an adult.

The choices are presented to Little Bear in photo form (with him in the pictures) and he picks in advance of each work activity.

This is also working brilliantly to the point where some mornings he is now able to complete all the work tasks on his timetable and doesn’t need any fun tasks at all.

A consistent approach

None of the above would be working if it wasn’t for this. The teacher and TA have now figured out their strategy and are being much clearer with Little Bear. There is no shouting one minute then letting him off with something the next any more. I think they have settled on a calm, firm approach much like we use at home. They have realised that the rules need to be clear and they can’t change from one day to the next.

They have also realised that Little Bear benefits from some extra rules where other children wouldn’t. For example, if he is tired one day and therefore allowed to read just one page, instead of 3, he will expect that he can do the same thing the next day. If he can find a chink in the armour he will exploit it. However, if there is a blanket rule e.g. every day we read 3 pages Little Bear knows where he is at and is much happier to adhere to it.

I think his TA was feeling mean but has found out the hard way that Little Bear actually feels a lot safer when he knows exactly what is expected and adults around him are consistent with their boundaries. If he doesn’t and they are not, his anxiety will spike and his behaviour will become increasingly challenging. Now that he feels safer, he is much more open to learning.

A discipline re-think

I have to say that whatever errors school have made I am extremely grateful for their willingness to listen (in the end) and to try something different. A little willingness goes along way for our children.

The school as a whole were using the Good To Be Green behaviour system, which involves children getting an amber warning card when they do something they shouldn’t and then a red card if they do something else or do something violent. Thankfully they did see early on that this didn’t work for Little Bear. There are the immediate issues with public shaming but for us the main problem was that once you get an amber or red card you can’t work your way back to green that day. Once you’ve got in bother and already had a red card, what is the point of trying to control yourself for the rest of the day? You might as well just go for it and do whatever you like. It is a very negative system.  Also, Little Bear was getting upset by the card changes because he isn’t naughty, he just finds controlling himself really difficult. He was frequently very annoyed with himself for seemingly having failed, which impacted his mood for the rest of the day.

Thankfully school recognised that they couldn’t continue with that system for him so came up with Magic 1,2,3 to use instead. They didn’t want to single Little Bear out with his peers so have changed the system for the whole of his class, a very sensitive gesture I felt.

I’m not sure that I love Magic 1,2,3 per se but it has an accidental benefit which is crucial for Little Bear. Basically the teacher counts each time you do something you shouldn’t so you get 3 chances to make amends or make a different choice. If after 3 chances you still haven’t co-operated or you have had 3 separate misdemeanours, you have to sit on the thinking chair.

Now, I know a lot of parents won’t like it because it is basically sitting in the corner. However, for Little Bear it gives him the calm down time he desperately needs.

I have struggled to get school to understand that when Little Bear is thoroughly pissed off the last thing he needs is someone lecturing him, talking at him and verbally chastising him. He needs to sit somewhere quietly until he is ready to talk. At home, we just ask him to sit wherever he is. He sits on the floor and we stay nearby and usually he’ll say “I’m ready Mummy” after about 3 seconds (a ‘time in’). However, it turns out that school weren’t ever allowing him this time so it wasn’t any wonder he was nearly blowing a gasket sometimes and going straight from one incident to another.

Sitting on the thinking chair gives him just the de-compression he needs. Also, it is in the classroom so he is not isolated or left alone.

I don’t think this would be the right thing for every child but it is suiting Little Bear much better and his behaviour has calmed enormously.

Praise & positive re-enforcement

Little Bear’s behaviour was becoming such an issue in school that I felt all the positives were getting lost. They had pretty much got to the point of thinking there weren’t any.Other than me pointing this out I don’t really know what changed but the teacher and TA have certainly got better at looking for the positives and making a big fuss about them.

Again this wouldn’t work for children who can’t handle praise but Little Bear really thrives off it. School have cottoned on to this and whenever Little Bear tries hard or produces something good, they encourage him to share it with the class. He absolutely loves this and I think it helps his peers to see him as someone who is successful, not just someone they think is naughty.

Working as a Team   

I do feel that school have recognised that they had cut us out of the loop and are now keen to include us more. I think they can see the benefits and that when there are meetings it is not because we want to tell them off or be difficult it is because we genuinely want to work in partnership. We have 2 further meetings arranged before Christmas which has allayed a lot of my concerns.

We have agreed common goals e.g. to extend Little Bear’s reading from 3 pages to 4 in one sitting and to encourage him to work independently for 2 minutes instead of 1. The goals are achievable and measurable which is exactly as they should be and because we are working on them at home and at school I’m sure they will be met more quickly.

A key part of the meeting we had was to share information about Little Bear’s history with his new TA. She didn’t know how long he had been with us, what his developmental starting point was etc. I have pointed out it would have been much more helpful for her to know all this at the start because then she could have adjusted her expectations accordingly from the outset. However, we can’t undo the past and at least she is now armed with all the facts.

Communication

To help school to communicate with us in a way that works for us, they invited us to have a frank discussion and be clear about what we actually want to know. We have agreed that they will comment on Little Bear’s behaviour each day and how he has got on with his independent working, hopefully in a one thing that went well and perhaps a thing that didn’t go so well sort of a way.

I can’t honestly say how well this is working yet but I’m hopeful.

Lateral Thinking  

School have been great about being open to different ideas and ways of doing things. Sometimes they still struggle to get Little Bear to have a go at things; he might flatly refuse or say he hates whatever it is. They have agreed to try things like offering Little Bear the opportunity to go and show his brother his work if he tries hard at it. I think he will be extremely motivated to do that and Big Bear is happy to be involved and relishes the added responsibility.

As the TA directly asked us for some advice on how to manage this, we were also able to talk about wondering and empathising e.g. “It must be hard to get your work done if you hate English. I wonder if that’s because you find it tricky” rather than a dismissive, “You don’t hate it”.

 

It meant more than they probably realised to be asked and to be considered a source of knowledge about our child. The Head teacher also apologised to us and admitted they had got the transition badly wrong. He asked what could be done differently next time.

We left the meeting feeling reassured, listened to and that Little Bear is in safe hands. They might not get it right all the time but at least they know that and are not afraid to admit it and ask for help.

I feel hopeful now.

 

Alleviating School Worries