Yesterday I did a stupid thing. I took the boys to a party. I know that doesn’t initially sound particularly foolhardy but it was. A party on a Friday night, after a week of school, with a class full of exhausted 6 year olds is undeniably a bad idea. When it also involves staying out beyond Little Bear’s bedtime it is an even worse plan. What was I thinking? Fool.
The thing is that we have become notorious party avoiders. We say no to them all. We have reached a place of comfortably attending family parties or gatherings at people’s house when we know them well but parties involving Little Bear’s classmates are tantamount to torture for me. I hate them every single time. However, now and again, the parent guilt takes over and I feel I ought to let Little Bear try again. Last night was one such occasion. It was an outdoor party involving pond dipping and den building so I thought it might be ok. Surely it would be less stressful than 30 children fuelled up with sugar and charging manically around a village hall, trying to beat three shades of purple out of each other? Surely? Please…
I have to clarify that the reason I can’t bear these parties is not necessarily down to Little Bear and his behaviour. There have been times when the party situation has got too stimulating for him and he has ended up dysregulated and out of control. I have not enjoyed those times, feeling exposed and stressed. I am fairly keen to avoid putting him into those situations, hence carefully choosing which parties might be do-able and actively avoiding the others. However, over time, I’m realising that Little Bears ability to cope is improving and largely he does very well. It is his classmates and their interaction with Little Bear that really winds me up.
Unfortunately (for them) I do not seem to be very tolerant of the less than angelic behaviour of other people’s children. I am well aware of the limitations of Little Bear’s behaviour. I am not somebody who thinks their child is perfectly behaved when they are clearly not. I think if anything I’m a bit too aware of the times he doesn’t comply or doesn’t stay sat down and is running around or swinging from something when he shouldn’t be. However, I am also only too aware that Little Bear has very real and justifiable reasons behind his behaviour. Neglect, sensory needs, communication needs and difficulties with behavioural and emotional regulation all play their part. Whilst I have a good understanding of his needs and the reasons behind them, I do not allow us to become complacent or allow inappropriate behaviours to continue due to his background. I know that we still need to work on the areas he struggles with; we need to work on them much more than if he hadn’t had an adverse start in life. Obviously I try to approach his behaviour therapeutically and we work at a pace that Little Bear is capable of working at. If he isn’t able to sit still for as long as his peers, so be it. All I ask is he tries his best and I try my best to support him.
Little Bear, with our support, has consequently worked extremely hard. We have provided strategies, empathy, consistent boundaries, heaps of praise and encouragement, orchestrated situations to experience success, done a lot of wondering and tried to meet Little Bear in his inner world to forge a way forward together. Little Bear has listened, talked, reflected and worked his tiny little backside off to overcome his impulsive urges, to learn to regulate himself and to behave as best he can. He tries harder than most children have to every day and I knew, before we even arrived, that a party on a Friday night would be extremely testing for him.
It therefore really pisses me off when other children try to purposefully lead him astray; when they do not appear to try to behave as best they can and to be honest, are downright rude and obnoxious.
Some parents just dropped off their little darlings, something I wouldn’t consider doing because I know Little Bear needs close supervision and it wouldn’t be fair on him not to provide it. It resulted in a group of 12 or so kids going pond dipping with a ranger and a few of us parents who had been unwittingly conned into trying to keep control/ preventing anyone from drowning.
When I explain to someone else’s child that pond dipping has finished and the Ranger wants them to put the net down, I don’t expect them to step over the barrier anyway and tell me to “get wrecked”. I don’t expect them to put a crisp packet in the pond when I’ve explained why they shouldn’t. But what really blooming annoys me more than anything is that whilst Little Bear is toiling under the weight of expectation to behave appropriately, his peers, who have not experienced the traumatic start in life he has, are not acting as the good role models he really needs. In fact, the very last thing Little Bear needs is the modelling of rude and out of control behaviour.
As we navigated the walk to den-building, along the side of a huge expanse of open water, the ranger was specific in giving two rules: no running and stay behind him. His communication was very clear and he checked back with the children to make sure they had understood. I knew Little Bear would struggle not to run because in an open space running is his default. However, try he did. Another little boy, I’ll call him Callum, decided he did want to run. He wanted to run in circles around Little Bear and jostle him. When Little Bear still did not run, he smacked him on the bottom. Wanting to nip things in the bud I asked Little Bear to come to me. “But I haven’t done anything wrong”, he said looking crestfallen. “No, you haven’t”, I reassured him. “You are being very sensible but Callum is not. If you stay near Callum you might get into trouble but if you stay here you can show the other children how to behave”. Little Bear, miraculously, walked sensibly beside me and I praised him regularly. How ironic, given all his challenges, that he was now being a role model.
Callum continued to run about. At one point he came behind Little Bear and threatened to smack him again, even though I was about a foot away, glaring right at him.
I continued to get increasingly irate as certain children back-chatted the grown-ups, ignored instructions and generally did whatever they fancied, including running up and down the tops of picnic benches or breaking bits off trees. Towards the end, an informal football game broke out amongst some of the boys. I could tell it was getting a little out of hand and was keen to leave but Big Bear was in the other group of children and not back from pond dipping yet, so I had to just keep a close eye instead. I noticed that every time it was Little Bear’s turn for a throw-in, Callum tried to take the ball off him, to the point of wrestling him to the ground. Little Bear is tough and was not keen to let go. Callum continued to target and goad him. Little Bear got more and more annoyed with it and began to retaliate. When he got angry, Callum laughed and provoked him more.
Part of me wanted Little Bear to punch Callum in the face because he was surely asking for it but Little Bear did not because he has worked really hard at not solving problems with his hands. We have taught him to behave better than that but what I was observing suggested his more restrained behaviour was putting him at a social disadvantage, something which I couldn’t stomach. After another incident of targeted ball-wrestling (and I could tell it was uncalled for because some of the other children began to speak up for Little Bear), I snapped. Why should Little Bear have to contend with this? He is working really hard, despite enormous provocation, to behave himself on a Friday night, after a hard week at school, after his bedtime. Callum, however, who has no excuse whatsoever for his behaviour is blatantly doing whatever he likes and as his parents are notably absent, I take it upon myself to have a little word. Little Bear was doing his bit in trying his utmost to regulate his behaviour and I would do mine in showing him I have his back, no matter what.
I’m not sure Callum enjoyed the conversation but he certainly started behaving better.
Rightly or wrongly I used the behaviour of some of the children as a talking point on the way home. I talked about how some of the other children had not behaved well and specified what they had done wrong. I told Little Bear how proud I was of him for not being sucked into that behaviour himself and empathised with how hard it must have been for him to resist. I feel he has endured enough time being labelled as the ‘naughty one’ in class and it is important for his self-esteem that he succeeds as being the ‘better behaved one’ where he can.
Although we were able to turn a negative into a positive on this occasion, I think we are back to party avoiding. I just don’t see the enjoyment of putting Little Bear into such a negative and challenging environment with such poor role models. It certainly doesn’t do my blood pressure any good either. I just hope that at school, the rules and the teachers keep these things a bit more in check.
Some of the other parents who know me a little have come to anticipate my rising stress levels at parties and find it quite amusing. I suspect they wonder why I can’t be more laid-back about it and just let kids be kids, but I can’t. We have worked too hard. Little Bear has had to overcome so much and I cannot stand by and allow him to be purposefully undermined and exploited by those who are wilier. Bruce Perry says, “Research has consistently found that surrounding a child with other troubled peers only tends to escalate bad behaviour”. Whilst I don’t believe these children are ‘troubled’ they are certainly not good role models and I am not keen on Little Bear being surrounded by them at the present time. I would much prefer to fill his life with positive role models who he can learn from and aspire to being like; the kind of children that he is slowly but surely maturing into himself.