School Worries

Last week in Adoptive Parent: Behaviour Detective, I wrote about my growing concern for Little Bear. Although I was struggling to narrow down the possible reasons for the changes in his behaviour, I was seeing warning signs that school could be at the root of it.

I was pinning my hopes of resolving the whole thing on a meeting with them which we had scheduled in for Tuesday. Hopefully a good chat and picking through the issues together would help us get back on track.

On Monday I got called in again. Would it be ok if we cancelled the meeting? They just felt that the things they have recently put in place (a timetable) need more time to bed in and they don’t have any updates for us.

I wasn’t really ok with this because Grizzly had re-jigged his ridiculously busy work diary so that he could attend. Although school don’t feel they have any information to share with us, we certainly feel we have many unanswered questions and do not yet have a clear picture of what is actually happening in the classroom.

We feel in need of a meeting.

However, I have always liked Little Bear’s teacher and feel I have to try to trust her. Although I tried to suggest the meeting would still be beneficial she was immovable. Mrs C, the TA, had already been told it was cancelled. She really felt it would be better to wait – its parents evening next week anyway. This didn’t reassure me much as Grizzly will be in America then and I’ll only have a ten minute slot…

It would be useful if Grizzly could be there because I’m pretty sure school have me down as a neurotic mother.

Not wanting to be completely fobbed off I asked about Little Bear’s behaviour as I stood there in the classroom door. It isn’t good. He is frequently refusing to do any work or anything he is told. In the whole class group he is silly and disruptive. He keeps getting himself sent out of class.

It sounds as though the TA has a lot of training needs. She is currently vacillating between getting cross with Little Bear and letting him do whatever he wants. Her management of him sounds inconsistent.

Evidently Little Bear doesn’t know where he is at with her. Unsurprisingly this is leading to a spike in his anxiety. He is pushing the boundaries because he needs to feel them there, sure and sturdy. Without clear boundaries Little Bear is anxious and out of control. He tries to claw control back in other ways like refusing to comply. When he pushes against a boundary it is because he needs it to stand firm. Predictable, consistent boundaries make him feel safe. If the boundary keeps moving or is there sometimes but at others not life is very confusing and unsafe. Life is how it used to be before he was truly parented: when he was in charge of his own survival.

We know this because we have lived with and parented Little Bear for 2 years now. We have introduced boundaries into his life (because we had to for everyone’s safety) and we have stood firm and united against the full onslaught of his behaviour, day in, day out, until he began to trust us and feel safe. Consequently he is unrecognisable from the out of control firework of a child who first swept us, quite literally, off our feet. At home he is now usually co-operative, able to listen and to engage appropriately in family life.

I don’t mean to sound full of my own self-importance when I say this but we are the experts at managing Little Bear. No one else understands his challenges or has as many strategies that work as we do.

I don’t think school know this or believe this.

I haven’t spelled it out in as many words but I have offered countless times to help. Perhaps we could meet? Perhaps we could problem solve together? Perhaps we could share ideas and agree a common strategy?

It is essential in my eyes that we work as a team – the consistency shouldn’t just be within our home or within school but across both settings too. This will undoubtedly help Little Bear to feel safer and less confused about what is expected of him.

School do not seem to want us to engage with Mrs C in this way though. In fact I feel they are actively keeping us apart. I’m quite confused as to why. Yes, I ask a lot of questions and I e-mail and I pop my head in. I guess I take up their time but I have never been cross or anything less than pleasant.

I can’t help feeling that they don’t value the contribution we could make. Perhaps they’d rather do things their way.

I reassured Little Bear’s teacher that no matter how well Mrs C is or isn’t coping with Little Bear, we appreciate that she is keen and willing and we completely empathise with the challenge he is providing her with and how this might be making her feel. Because we have lived this and we have felt those feelings. We get it.

We could help her.

In the meantime we are becoming increasingly frustrated and concerned. Each week that passes is another week of Little Bear being the class clown or naughty boy. It is another week of wasted potential.

I wish I could say with confidence that it is one week closer to a breakthrough but what if it isn’t? What if it is one week closer to not coping with mainstream education?

Sometimes it doesn’t do to have too much knowledge. Sometimes knowledge feeds fear. I keep abreast of adoption in the media. It hasn’t pass me by that one of the biggest stressors for adopters where things have gone wrong is navigating the education system for their child.

Ironically this week I’ve also visited a new school in my professional capacity. It is billing itself as a last chance saloon for children who haven’t coped in any other school. It is going to be the one place that won’t give up and that provides children with all the therapeutic input they need as part and parcel of their education. It sounds brilliant. I don’t think I can work there though because every time I drove up to the building a deep seated fear would be awoken: would this be Little Bear’s future? Is he going to become one of these children who is misunderstood, mismanaged and ultimately failed by our mainstream school system?

I told Little Bear’s teacher that I am worried, that the situation is worrying. Yes, she confirmed, it is worrying. Even Grizzly is worried and he usually says everything will be fine.

The worrying is tiring. I have a virus I can’t get rid of and two cold sores. It is not surprising.

The not knowing and the not being given updates and the being kept in the dark about what is happening day to day is only fuelling my anxiety. I would feel much better if had more information. I have mentioned several times that unless the teacher or TA tells me about things that have happened I won’t know about them. Little Bear does not come home and tell me. I am not psychic. We can’t talk things through with Little Bear and help with understanding what might be going wrong or what strategies could be put in place if we don’t know what the problems are.

Neither Grizzly nor I are any good at sitting around and just waiting to see what happens. We are both naturally pro-active. Just waiting and seeing does not seem a good plan when things are evidently going tits up.

I worry.

Post script:

Since I drafted the above, there has been a development: I got a phone call from the Head Teacher. He informed me that, on Tuesday, instead of the meeting we had asked for, they had had an internal meeting about Little Bear. Yes, a meeting without us. They had concluded that things were not going well and they would require some external support to help them.

He sounded very pleased with himself as he announced that he had done some research and found a great organisation that would be able to help us, had I heard of them? Err, well, yes, as a matter of fact I had because they are our post-adoption support service and I work for them sometimes! He went on to apologise that it had taken them a while to sort this: they needed to figure out what the right sources of support where.

It took me all my strength not to scream “why didn’t you just ask me?!” It’s so incredibly frustrating because once again we have been passed over and dismissed. I could give him a detailed account of the organisation in question and their offering. I provide part of their offering. We could have had a free consultation from the service, which I had mentioned several times but evidently this fell on deaf ears as a referral has now been made for costly assessment/training instead.

The Head also mentioned that they feel Little Bear is presenting with ADHD and that his behaviour in Year 1 “has taken them by surprise”. I’m baffled about how they are surprised. We are not surprised. We have described several times his behaviour at home and how his behaviour has changed over time. What they are now seeing is probably about a tenth of the behaviour we dealt with for the first 6 months or so of having Little Bear. We warned them before he started school what they might encounter.

In fairness, Little Bear surprised us all in Reception by taking the start of school pretty much in his stride. Looking back, I suspect very few demands were made of him in Reception whereas now the demands are constant throughout the day. It is obvious (to those of us who know him well) that this would lead to increased challenges.

Whilst I had to rant quite a lot yesterday and steam was coming from my ears, I have to focus on the salient points. An organisation which I have deep faith and trust in is now in Little Bear’s corner. I know they will help us. I am confident they will help school to see that we do know actually rather a lot about our son.

I was direct with the Head Teacher about some of our concerns: crucially that we need them to recognise us as part of the team. He was placatory but I fear still dismissive.

I am quite disappointed in myself that I have somehow come across as irrelevant. As a professional person working in the field of adoption and being an adopter, you’d think I might have a voice. I dread to think how other parents are made to feel.

I still worry.

 

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School Worries

A bad bedtime

Last night’s bedtime for Little Bear was like stepping back a year in time. It took me completely by surprise. In fact, it’s funny how quickly I have forgotten the full extent of the challenge we used to face every single day. Last night was certainly a challenge though and if the truth be told I was quite unsure how to handle it. Even now, having reflected about it on my drive back and to work this morning, I am still none the wiser about what a better way of handling it might have been.

The thing is that we are quite familiar with dysregulation. I wrote about it in my last post as it tends to pay us a visit on Saturdays. Little Bear’s usual dysregulation is reactive: it doesn’t come out unless we make a demand of him like asking him to go to the toilet or eat a meal. Left to his own devices in an imaginary demand-free zone I think his behaviour at these points would probably seem quite calm and nothing out of the ordinary. When a demand is made, he will resist and refuse and might lash out. However, if we left him alone he would not come looking for trouble.

Last night’s uber-dysregulation (I’m clearly making up terms to suit myself here), however, was on a whole other scale. Last night’s dysregulation was combative and purposefully provocative and very difficult to manage.

Things seemed like they were going awry when Grizzly picked Little Bear up from school. He was scowling and grumpy: not his usual default demeanour any more. The teacher didn’t need a word though and although we had a bit of resistance on his arrival home, Little Bear settled quickly. We spotted the signs so fed him and let him rest in front of the tele. Tea and in fact the whole evening went without the need for remark. It was only when I said it was bedtime and insisted after some refusal that Little Bear did need to turn his I Pad off that I knew I was in for it. It’s hard to describe but there is a visible change in him at these points. His body language, facial expression and whole comportment were different. He does not seem like the same child when this happens.

I persevered with bedtime, keeping everything the same as usual. I asked him to go for his “night night wee”. He went into his bedroom. I asked him again. He rolled around on the floor. I began to count as I always do. I got to 3 and he looked me directly in the eye and didn’t move. I said “ok, that’s one story gone”. He usually has 3 books and we regularly use their removal as a consequence if needs be. This upset him and he began to cry but did go to the toilet. I could see the way this was going and tried to reason. I explained that he had made a bad decision so lost one story but if he made some good decisions now, he could still have 2. He called me an idiot. I removed another story. He started chanting “mummy is stupid” so I removed the third. It’s hard because I knew he was dysregulated but it isn’t ok to call me names every time I do something he doesn’t like. Perhaps I should have tried to ignore it instead.

As he was now quite miserable and grumpy, I tried to cajole him. “If you get ready super quick and are really sensible, you can win 2 of your stories back”. I felt this was fair. I was giving him a way out and most children would have seen that 2 stories was good, it was what they wanted and I think they would have tried to buck themselves along to get them. In fairness, I think Little Bear would have on a usual day. In fact most of the time when he loses stories I don’t give them back and he usually accepts that. Not last night though. No. Last night he began getting his knickers in a twist because he thought I should let him win 3 stories back. Perhaps I should have just let him but clearly I can match him in a battle of who is most stubborn (oh dear) and I felt it was the wrong message.

I was able to distract him though and we jumbled our way through getting into pyjamas and doing teeth well enough that I did let him have his stories. He listened well and enjoyed them. We had a nice 10 minutes of quality time together. Little Bear seemed his usual self. That is, until the second I put the books back onto the shelf. At that exact instant, Dysregulated Little Bear was back. It was literally as though someone had flipped a switch.

Me: “okey doke, lie down in your bed then”. Little Bear does not. Me: “come on, Mummy let you win your stories back and we’ve had a lovely time. Let’s be sensible now”. Little Bear: “no”. Me (probably sounding exasperated) “Little Bear, you’ve got some choices now. You can either lay down and be sensible or not. But if you don’t, you know there will be a consequence. It’s your choice but I think you’re really tired and a big sleep would make you feel better”. Little Bear (continuing to hang his legs over the side of the bed): “no”. Me: “ok”. At this point I left the room and sat on the landing so I could still keep an ear out for him.

I was swiftly followed by something (probably a dummy) being pelted at the door then various other items. I could hear a range of crashing and bashing, wall kicking, bed-rocking etc. Little Bear then started shouting and hurling insults. I chose at this stage to ignore him because I knew all this behaviour was designed to attract my attention. However, being stubborn as I am, I have previously sat outside his door and ignored him for a very long time in the hope he would run out of steam but he didn’t. I wasn’t entirely sure that ignoring would work this time either. I pondered my options.

It is difficult in these situations because there are not many options and of all the options not many are favourable ones. I feel that at these times Little Bears WANTS me to lose the plot with him. He wants me to shout and ball. Sometimes I think he wants me to hit him. Sometimes I really feel like it. I think this has something to do with Mirror Neurons though it is odd because to my knowledge Little Bear has not been in a domestic violence situation and has not been physically abused. Nevertheless, he is sparring for a fight and it sometimes feels as though nothing will work until he has managed to escalate the situation and got whatever it is out of his system. Obviously I never do hit him (and don’t think hitting is ever an actual option) so need to have a better strategy.

When he had been shouting for a while, he started saying “why aren’t you speaking to me mummy?”. I said that he wasn’t behaving very well at the moment but I would speak to him if he spoke to me nicely. I asked if he was ready to speak to me nicely. He said he wasn’t and went back to shaking his bed about.

At the point when I felt his bed might actually fall down I decided I had to try something different so I went in to speak with him. I gave him another chance to make a different choice and lie properly in the bed. He did not take it and probably called me something inappropriate so I decided to get him out of the bed and try a ‘time in’. I sat him a couple of feet from me on the landing, making sure there was nothing within his reach that could become a missile. I could see him from the corner of my eye. His behaviour continued to be provocative – moving from the spot I had told him to sit on, trying to turn around, trying to move behind me. It felt like a battle for control.

I distinctly remember sitting in Prep Groups talking about managing behaviour. We were talking about distraction and why that is so much better than a consequence and one lady piped up saying “but then you’ve let them win” and we all inwardly groaned because we knew the whole lesson was about not making it a battlefield or about winning or losing. As a parent you have to be the bigger person. You have to let some things go purposefully unnoticed. You have to pick your battles. You are meant to be therapeutic.

However, how do you distract a child at bedtime? I don’t want to distract him, I want him to go to sleep. I also have to be very careful with Little Bear because the rules need to be the rules. He knows where he’s at then, without any uncertainty. Consistent rules make him feel safe. I can’t have a rule where you aren’t allowed to bounce on your bed except when you’re feeling rubbish and then you can. That doesn’t work. The rule is that you can’t bounce on your bed. If I made an exception one day, the next day, Little Bear would think he could do it again. Last night, he was checking all the rules and I felt I had to make sure they were still there.

I also felt that he was spiralling out of control and on some level he needed me to make sure things stayed under control so that he felt safe. He needed me to keep him under control. In that way it WAS a battle for control.

Needless to say that having all these thoughts and insights is all well and good but you still have a spiralling child who you have now been trying to get to sleep for 2 hours. I did eventually lose my temper and shouted at him and it was a shame because although when he first arrived you could practically explode and he wouldn’t bat an eyelid, he does now look pretty frightened if one of us shouts. It took holding him for a while and some more discussion and wondering to get him to calm down. Even then he still said he wasn’t ready to go to sleep sensibly.

I left the room again and after a minute or so, he said “mum, I happy now” and when I went back in it was as though the switch had been flicked back again. Whatever “It” had been was over. We had kisses and cuddles and he settled down.

I didn’t feel good about my handling of it. I wished I hadn’t shouted at him in an angry way. We have found before that unless he has a good cry and gets everything out of his system he won’t settle and somehow you have to make the escalation stop. I’m open to suggestions if anybody has any wise words.

The saving grace is that he could have been having that meltdown at the school disco which would have been MUCH worse.

I don’t know what was behind it but I’m hoping that the Easter Holidays are going to be just what we all need.

A bad bedtime