Each Other

I have written previously about the need to look after ourselves when parenting a child with SEMH, or trauma and attachment needs ( Self-kindnessSelf-Care, Parental Mental Health) . Recently, on a much needed date with my husband, I realised I’ve written little about the need to also look after your relationship.

Modern life is pretty challenging. It’s busy, people work hard, hours are long and the bombardment from e-mail and social media is constant. Long-term relationships are tricky enough within the context of passing like ships in the night, or when one or both of you are glued to a screen, without the additional challenges brought to the table by a small person constantly screaming your names at the top of their capacious lungs. Sometimes, it all just gets a bit much.

I think within a stressful life (late home/work pressure/deadlines/personnel challenges/financial concerns etc. etc.), it is all too easy to turn tensions inwards – to become tetchy or short with your partner; to not give them the time to offload their stresses; to consider your path difficult enough without whatever they have going on too. Add into that mix the usual concerns about running a home, running cars, remembering birthdays, booking holidays etc. and things can start to fray. Add the parenting of any child into the mix and there is immediately a whole other layer of logistics, concern and juggling. When the parenting of any of the children is relentless, difficult, keep-you-up-at-night-worrying, unremitting in its challenge to your emotions; you can quickly approach the ledge between stress and the end of your tether.

Now, some people are not doing this crazy parenting thing from within a relationship. Some are doing it alone, and as usual, I salute them. I’m sorry, if that’s you, this post won’t really be relevant, by my goodness I do take my hat off to you.

I wrote – a long time ago now – about My partner in adoption . And I fully stand by what I said. Grizzly really is a crucial cog in the survival of this machine. He is often not here for weekday bedtimes and sometimes he goes away for a couple of days at a time. He’s often out the house for longer than twelve hours and obviously he can’t be at home every day of school holidays. But those things don’t really matter, because if I Whatsapp him to say I’m being driven insane or one of them has done X or I’ve been called into school again because of such and such a thing or one of them is fully doing my head in or one of them did x AGAIN and I honestly can’t understand what possessed them, he will unconditionally understand. I can say far worse. I can voice the deepest, darkest, most unpalatable thoughts I might have about parenting at any given time and he will not judge me. The things you can’t say out loud, to anyone, I can say to him. And him to me.

I can’t really overstate the importance of that in maintaining ones sanity.

Despite his hefty workload, Grizzly does school-drops offs and pick-ups where he can. He prioritises school meetings. He is more than happy to take the kids off my hands at a weekend to give me a break. He doesn’t necessarily wait for me to ask – sometimes he’ll say I Iook tired before spiriting them off somewhere. He’s a good egg.

Earlier in our parenting career, I’m not sure we had that many breaks. BB was a terrible sleeper which made it difficult, then LB struggled to be left/ made life for whoever was looking after him very difficult and consequently we felt a weighty guilt about escaping.

More recently, I think my attitude has changed. I’ve come to realise that aspects of our parenting life are arduous and unrelenting and anyone would get tired. I’ve written before about how self-care and self-kindness are important, not just for your own wellbeing but because they inadvertently make you a better parent too. When you’re worn down and shattered, you haven’t the same resilience to deal with difficult behaviours, or to be calm no matter what, or as therapeutic as you’d like. Keeping yourself topped up makes sense for all involved. And now I’m given to thinking that your relationship deserves that TLC as well.

I don’t want the long hours and the daily irritations to erode our relationship. I don’t want those issues to turn inwards because we’re too tired or too stretched or too distracted. This family requires a well-oiled parenting team to function the best it can. Perhaps I mean it deserves one. Either way, it does mean that Grizzly and I need to ring-fence regular time that is just for us.

I think you don’t always realise you aren’t connecting the best you can until you go out, have fun, relax, and remember what your relationship was all about in the first place. We’re pretty good at keeping the lines of communication open in our daily lives, but inevitably, when everyone is tired after a long day, no one is particularly keen to discuss the relative merits of this home-improvement project over another or how big birthdays almost a year away should be celebrated or to go into anything but necessary detail. It is only when we go away and are not rushing back for pick-ups that these conversations tend to happen.

Not only that, but although our family time is fun and raucous and a little crazy, I probably wouldn’t describe it as relaxing. There is very rarely a moments’ peace. Any adult chat is constantly interrupted by an urgent, loud, attachment-needing voice. Even if we are engaged in something supposedly fun, like a game, we still need to heavily manage the situation to make sure everybody copes. Which does tend to reduce the fun element. We both find early mornings quite intense, woken as we are most days by the heart-rate raising noises of dysregulation and potential imminent meltdown.

One night away every couple of months is a surprisingly welcome balm. Fun can be had without worrying how others will cope. Conversations go uninterrupted. Meals can be long and relaxed. We don’t even drink. It is not as though we want a night on the tiles and a child-free hangover. It is just so refreshing to have a little space to be us.

We haven’t been as good as we should have been about booking such things in – it is another thing to add to the long old to-do list after all – but as we are just back from a mini-break, I have renewed enthusiasm for making it happen. Not just because it’s lovely but because I can finally see the necessity of it. I used to feel tremendous guilt for leaving the children, even for a short time, as though I were shirking my responsibilities. I also worried about the grandparents, who could be having a testing time. But now, I see that we need it. I need it, Grizzly needs it and as a parenting-team, we need it. The children didn’t even miss us this time, so I suspect they needed it too. We forget that the getting fed up of each other thing works both ways – a night with grandparents in charge is probably a lot more fun than usual.

We have happened on an ideal scenario for minimising fallout too. We now take the children to school on a Thursday, then go off on our travels, returning for Friday pick-up. This way, grandparents are only on duty for an evening and overnight and can lie down with a cup of tea at 8:45 am the next morning if they feel the need, duties already complete. I think it gives us longer than the brisk 24 hours we’d allow ourselves on a weekend and the children don’t notice we’re gone in the same way, as we’re here for Saturday and Sunday. It works for us, anyway.

Now to get the next one in the diary. I’m finding that having something to look forward to helps with trickier days too.

 

Each Other

Stop. Collaborate & Listen.

No, Ice is not back with his latest invention, it’s just me, yattering on about relationships between home and school again.

Since Little Bear started school we have had our fair share of concerns (see School WorriesSchool-Parent Partnership and Dear Teacher ). We have worked hard to overcome them as best we can and around this time last year I wrote Alleviating School Worries about some of the positive practical changes that had been made.

A pattern seems to be emerging now where the first part of a new school year is hard work, stressful and leads us to the brink of crisis before we somehow manage to get school to listen and things improve considerably. The improvement part is fabulous and more of a relief than I imagine when it finally happens. The fact we have to go through the hard bit first, not so much.

We worked extremely hard on Transition this time so I don’t honestly know what else we could have done differently to avoid the tricky bit. It feels as though no matter how clear we are and how much we labour the specifics of Little Bear’s needs, the new teacher doesn’t hear us until they have experienced what we are talking about for themselves. It’s as though they need to approach him in the way they think (taking our information with a pinch of salt), using the strategies they usually use, only to find out the hard way that his behaviour will escalate. They then cynically have a go at the things we suggest, leading to a miraculous transformation. At this point, they seem to start listening a bit harder.

As you can see, I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know (yet) how to prevent this pattern. However, along the way we have learned a lot about developing the relationships we need with teachers and making change happen. I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts and ideas:

Things for teachers to think about

  • Parents of children with additional needs of any nature, but particularly adopters, are often a vocal and knowledgeable bunch. You might find we e-mail more, ask for more meetings and try to talk to you more than the average parent. I understand this is time consuming and potentially a little full-on. Please try not to run a mile or hide under your desk when you spot us coming. The best way to tame the over-involved-parent beast is to talk to us. If we see that you are listening and that you want to work with us, we will be a lot lower-maintenance.
  • (The little chat I’ve made a point of having with Mr. Teacher at the end of each week has made a huge difference to our relationship and to his understanding of Little Bear.)
  • Please don’t interpret our involvement and commitment as ‘over anxious parenting’. We think working in partnership is best and that laying the groundwork before problems arise is preferable to waiting for crisis (We’ve been there before, it isn’t fun).
  • Unfortunately, if you don’t respond to our e-mails and won’t meet with us and won’t consider other ways of doing things, we are left with no other options than to escalate our concerns to the SENCO/Head/Board of Governors/Virtual School. This isn’t meant as a threat. We don’t really want to do these things – it’s a hassle/it takes time/ it takes emotional energy we don’t always have – but we will because parenting is about being a voice for our child when they don’t have one and if we don’t fight for them, who will? We won’t be quiet and we won’t go away. It’d be so much better for all of us if we could do this the easy way: together.
  • When a child challenges you in your classroom with their behaviour, please don’t automatically assume it is due to ‘parenting’. Familiarise yourself with the child’s history; read their file, talk to other staff who know them. Is there trauma in their background? Do they have speech and language needs? Do they have attachment needs? All of these things could be the root cause of difficult behaviour.
  • If you are unsure how to support a child or your usual methods aren’t working, that’s okay. Parents are often experts in managing their children’s behaviour and we have many, many tricks up our sleeves. Ask us. We won’t think you’re crap at your job, we’ll feel valued and respected as the people who know our children best. If you are having moments of feeling out of your depth, we probably are too. Let’s work together.
  • Some of the strategies we talk about (especially for children with developmental trauma) might feel counterintuitive and opposite to the things you usually do. Please be brave and try them. Give them a good go, because once or twice isn’t enough. If you want to know more about the theory behind the strategies, we can point you to sources of information. Even if you don’t ask, there is a high likelihood we’ll be printing things off and giving them to you anyway. We’re sorry about that but getting things right for our children is kind of important to us.
  • If a child comes to your class with a visual timetable/social story/ communication aid/ calm box/worry monster/ chewy tube/ sensory diet/ other useful item, please get it out and use it. These things do not work in cupboards or drawers. If you’ve given it a good go and it doesn’t seem to be meeting its aims, talk to us about it. Maybe we could come up with a solution together.
  • Children will not learn in your classroom if they don’t feel safe and secure. This isn’t my opinion; it’s a fact. If a parent, or a child themselves, lets you know they aren’t feeling happy and comfortable in the classroom, try not to take this personally. Our children struggle to form relationships with all new people – it is not a reflection of how nice a person you are/aren’t (though I understand how it can feel like that). I understand why learning a child is unhappy in your classroom might make you feel defensive. Please see that it is not a personal attack. Also, if anyone understands how uncomfortable this feeling is, it’s us. Imagine how rejected and impotent you would feel if your child didn’t feel safe and secure at home, with your parenting. We’ve been there and felt that. We totally empathise.
  • However, it is a problem and in order to fix it, you will need to accept that the child isn’t feeling safe. Telling parents that a child is behaving in a certain way ‘for their benefit’ or ‘to get attention’ or ‘to manipulate adults’ isn’t okay or helpful. Instead, ask, ‘what could be done differently to help them feel safe?’ and be open to the suggestions that are made.
  • A child will feel safe in your classroom when they feel safe with you and in the relationship that you have. Get to know them and their individual likes/dislikes. Is there something you could bring in especially to show them? Could you give them a special job or responsibility? Could you find 5 minutes each day to spend 1:1 with them? Part of feeling safe in a relationship comes about when a child is really clear about what your boundaries are and knows what will happen if their worst behaviour spills out. Ideally they will know that you will be in charge even when they lose control; that you will be calm and that you will still like them. Often the only way they can find this out is by testing your boundaries. Expect some challenges. Don’t panic. Be firm. Consider your strategies carefully: avoid punishing dysregulation. Consider calm-down time and giving the child a break (in a physical sense of letting them use a quiet corner). Talk with them afterwards. Wonder aloud as to why they may have acted as they have. Empathise. Remember to separate behaviour from the child themselves – it is imperative we don’t shame children who already feel worthless. If in doubt, imagine you are them: consider the incident through their eyes.
  • (Little Bear’s teacher coming out of his classroom door in the morning and having a bit of ‘banter’ with Little Bear has made a huge difference to him going into the classroom. It’s a small thing but it’s completely overturned school refusal.)
  • I understand that it is difficult to cope with a child with social, emotional or mental health difficulties in your already busy classroom. You are already working hard trying to balance everyone’s needs with the demands of the curriculum, meeting targets etc. Our children needn’t be another challenge: with the right support they are pure potential. With the implementation of a few strategies and tweaks to your approach, you could be the difference in our child’s education.
  • (Now that Little Bear is back on track, he is on target for making more than a year’s progress in year 2. That’s amazing.)

Things for parents to think about

  • Be as quick to praise the good as to highlight problems. We are a vocal bunch and it’s only right that we expect a high standard of education for our children. However, let’s not be moaners or doom bringers. Let’s save our complaining for when it’s needed and be fair about it. Let’s balance our complaining with positivity: when school get something right, tell them. They need to hear the praise and affirmation as much as any of us.
  • As frustrating and upsetting as our interactions with certain teachers can be, always stay on the moral high ground. If we want to be respected as professional parents, we need to act professionally. I have sworn and cursed and badmouthed in the privacy of my own home but never anywhere else. I have been direct and I’ve shared my feelings but I have never been rude, raised my voice or been in any way offensive. If we hope to achieve good working relationships in the future (surely, always the aim?) we need to be careful not to do anything that would cause irreparable damage to those relationships. For that reason I think it’s wise to avoid venting our spleens in Whatsapp parent groups or Facebook groups or on the playground. Firstly, it’s not cool. Secondly, these things have a tendency of getting back to teachers and head teachers. Thirdly, why do anything to jeopardise the relationships we are working so hard to build?
  • (Note to self: be extremely careful when blogging!!)
  • I think the key to getting good relationships with school is communication. I’ve found that e-mail is not a great medium. Often you don’t get a reply which is pretty irking. When you write the email it is difficult to pick your words correctly so as not to leave anything open to misinterpretation. I certainly think I’ve caused defensiveness (totally unintended) with some of my attempts. I have now ditched email in favour of a face to face chat. I’m particularly partial to a playground ambush!
  • It is tempting to stop chatting when things are going ok. I think there is a danger in this that the teacher begins to associate a chat with you with a problem; further compounding their desire to avoid you. I think it’s good to keep up the chats and to be able to have really positive ones – they make everyone feel better.
  • Don’t be scared of spelling things out. I am an increasingly big fan of directness. Previously I have assumed it is obvious how I might be feeling but it seems it isn’t. I sent one email to Little Bear’s school team saying, “When you don’t ask our opinions or include us in big decisions, it makes me feel as though you don’t value our expertise as parents. This is upsetting because we believe that working together is in the best interests of LB.” This was swiftly followed by an apology from school and the penny seemed to drop about why I was ‘fussing’ again. People are busy; they probably don’t have time to stop, think or notice. It’s ok to explain how you feel.
  • Teachers are humans too. We need to remember that they don’t just have our little darling to think about but at least 20 others as well. They have ridiculous demands on them to meet this, that and the other standard and every professional who comes in asks them to do something else in addition to the myriad things they already do. I don’t think it hurts to acknowledge we are aware of this. It isn’t going to stop us asking them to put things in place for our children (they are our priority after all) or to give us their time but we can be thankful and empathetic when they do.
  • (I am genuinely grateful that Little Bear’s teacher found an hour and a half for me yesterday after being in school on Monday evening for a writing exhibition, having his class in the music afternoon yesterday and then needing to build a stage after I had gone for next week’s nativity, and I told him so. He has a home to go to too.)
  • As much as we want teachers to respect us and our knowledge of our children, we need to respect them. I’m not a teacher. I don’t know all the ins and outs of the curriculum or the different methods of teaching Maths. Ideally they bring their knowledge to the table and we bring ours – kind of like a bring and share work lunch. We aren’t aiming for us and them, we’re aiming for us.
  • I strongly believe that a consistent approach across home and school is the most effective way of supporting our children to feel safe and to reach their full potential. This is what drives me to keep politely approaching the teacher, keep repeating the same points, keep coming up with possible solutions even when I actually feel like crying or slapping somebody.
  • Remember to practise self-care. This whole managing school malarkey can be really bloody hard work. A bad drop-off can set a worrying tone to the whole day. You do need confidants who are safe to vent to (maybe people who aren’t involved with the school) and you do need to look after you. You can’t afford to run out of energy because who fights the fight then?
  • I also think it’s important to keep the Big Guns up your sleeve for when you need them. Don’t underestimate how exhausting this can be and how alone it can make you feel – like a tiny whisper standing up to the behemoth that is school. Sometimes it gets too big to do on your own. Don’t be frightened of bringing someone with you to meetings. I tend to wheel Grizzly out when I’ve had enough – he isn’t frightened of being extremely direct and sometimes that’s needed. I also know that we’ve got the post adoption support service there if we need it and we have called on them to be in meetings when things are going awry. Unfortunately, schools can be more likely to listen when the person telling them is a professional. That doesn’t make us feel good but as long as the message gets across, we need to not concern ourselves too much with how.
  • Equally, if you aren’t sure what is going on in the classroom and you have some concerns, getting another professional that you trust in there can be really effective. Many professionals (speech and language therapist/ OT/ educational psychologists) do school observations as part of their work. I know that when the speech and language therapist did an observation as part of her work with Little Bear, the feedback she was able to give me was really enlightening.
  • Ask for regular meetings and always book in the next one at the end
  • Make notes and keep your notes
  • Ideally have a home-school book for day to day information. We’ve had a few discussions about the type of information that is needed in there – “LB found it hard to sit still during the English lesson on expanded noun phrases” is a lot more useful than “good reading”.
  • Keep the faith. It is never too late to turn things around (though I totally see that in some situations the only solution is a different school or home-school. I don’t see that as giving up, but finding a workable solution)

 

I’m very sorry for another lengthy post. I promise to write something short and sweet next week 😉

Stop. Collaborate & Listen.

Dear Teacher

Those of you who know me in real life or even on Twitter, will no doubt have heard me complaining on and off about Little Bear’s teacher. We got off to a pretty good start (see New Teacher ) but unfortunately things seemed to head downhill from there. Last week, I was feeling particularly exasperated and wrote the piece below. Efforts have been made on both sides since then though, to the point where I feel a bit bad posting it. However, last week it was true, so I’ve added a bit at the end to reflect what has happened since and hopefully provide some balance.

 

Dear Teacher,

I don’t think Little Bear likes it in your class. I think this because at bedtime he tells me he doesn’t want to go to school tomorrow. In the morning, he wakes me with “I’m not going to school today” and as we arrive at your door, he clings to me and says he wants to come home. I have to be honest: you leaning against the wall inside your classroom like you’re too cool to speak anyone isn’t really helping. Equally, saying “Get in, sit down” in a gruff voice is not exactly encouraging for a child who doesn’t want to come in. Perhaps if you moved yourself and crouched to Little Bear’s level (you are massive compared to him, you know) and said something fun or enticing, he would want to come in. I tried to help you the other day, I really did. “Mr. Teacher,” I said in a jovial voice, “Do you have something fun planned for today?” Unfortunately, you didn’t seem to get where I was going with this, replying, in your gruff (?grumpy) voice, “Well, I suppose we might be able to squeeze something in for 5 minutes”. I have to tell you that if I thought I was only going to have five minutes of fun in the whole day, I probably wouldn’t want to come in either.

I understand that Year 2 is serious and has SATS and blah, blah but you know, exaggerate, tell a little white lie. Pretend your Maths lesson is fun at the very least, even if you can’t summon the energy to actually make it fun.

You see, I need you to meet me in the middle. At the moment I feel as though I am the only one trying to solve the problem of Little Bear not wanting to go to school. It is me that tattoos a heart on his hand and my hand every day so that he knows I love him and he can still feel close to me when I’m not there. It is me chatting to him about his concerns and worries. It is me staying upstairs with him when he’s trying (but failing) to fall asleep at night. It is me trying to ensure I give him extra 1:1 time so he feels loved and nurtured and less worried. It is me bundling him into your classroom despite him not wanting to go there. It is me he gets cross with because I am supposed to be a trusted adult and am not supposed to make him go into situations where he feels unsafe or scared. It is me leaving drop-off every day feeling upset and worried about how his day is going to go. It is me the other parents see trying to entice my child out from behind a pillar or back from the other side of the playground because he really doesn’t want to go into your classroom. It is me causing a spectacle.

What exactly are you doing to help? I just wonder, because it kind of seems you are only leaning on the wall.

One day, it was pretty bad and I decided I had to speak with you. Do you remember that? I said, “Little Bear is really unhappy and doesn’t want to come in” and you said, “Well, we’ve been talking about this and we think he’s doing it for your benefit.” Mr. Teacher, I am not great when put on the spot. I had lots of witty and clever replies for you when I got home but at the time I was pretty stunned you had just said that to me. My first thought was, “Wow, he thinks Little Bear won’t come in due to bad parenting.” Of course, like any parent would, I then began to wonder whether that was in fact true.

As I stood ruminating on your doorstep, my child still hiding round the corner, I was struck by another thought. It was thus: I am a professional person with actually quite a bit of knowledge of trauma/communication/children and I have a very supportive husband, family and wider support network, including post-adoption support service. If you are immediately reducing me to a quivering, self-doubting wreck because my child is refusing to come in, what hope would I have were I a young mum, a single mum, a mum already on the brink of crisis? At that moment, the battle lines were drawn. I would not pipe down or accept your nonsense because if I did, what hope would there be for anyone less fortunate than myself?

Mr. Teacher, when a child is struggling in your classroom, it is not okay that your first reaction is to blame the parents. Similarly, it would not be okay for me to assume you can’t teach. I began the year assuming you were a good teacher; you should have assumed I was a good parent. Equally, when you began a sentence in a meeting with my husband with the words, “I don’t think you are going to like this, but…” perhaps that should have given you an indication that the next words were not wise and should not have been spoken. Those words were: Your son is getting very good at manipulating adults.

No, Mr. Teacher, my son has a traumatic background and is seeking a feeling of safety. Yes, he will test your boundaries, we told you that. If your boundaries are inconsistent with someone else’s boundaries, yes, he will exploit that because it makes him feel unsafe. Yes, sometimes he will get dysregulated and his behaviour will challenge you. Of everyone in the world, we know how challenging our son can be. Here’s a thought: instead of lashing out, why don’t you talk to us? I’m in the playground every single day. On the few occasions I’m not, you have both of our e-mail addresses. Talk to us about situations or behaviours. We. Can. Help. You.

When you don’t communicate, I will come and find you. When I approach you on the playground, don’t think I haven’t noticed the look of “Oh Jesus, what does this bloody woman want again?” crossing your face. Know this: you aren’t exactly approachable yourself and I don’t really want to come and have an overly polite interaction with you again either. However, I will, because I want the best for my son (and others like him) and I will not shut up until his needs are met appropriately.

I get that I’m probably pretty annoying. I don’t leave you alone. I keep sending irritating emails and copying the Head and SENDCO in and I can’t get my child into your classroom and you think it’s all my fault, I get all that. Do you know what though? Imagine that ferocity on your side. Imagine if we worked together. Think of the power we would have! I’m your greatest ally, if only you would allow it. If you would listen to me and at least acknowledge that we have a problem, we could move on. If you would work with me, I could stop involving the senior management team. This doesn’t actually have to be a battle.

If the truth be told, I’m tired. I’m already tired of sharing the same information again and again. I am tired of educating the educators. I’m tired of having to battle for my son to have his needs met at school. I don’t want a war. I want to be allies, but you need to meet me half way.

We are also busy, Mr. Teacher. Do you know how much time it takes to draft and send e-mails, getting the words just right? How long it takes to schedule meetings and re-arrange diaries to make them? We don’t want this, any more than you do.

Oh, and one last thing – when that little girl was crying this morning because she didn’t want to come into your classroom either, it was not ok for you to say, “sit down, there’s no need for tears”, like you were telling her off for crying. She’ll be the judge of that. She evidently felt like crying so there was a need for tears.

If you don’t like having children hiding behind pillars and crying in your doorway, may I suggest a change of approach? Because otherwise you’ll end up with parents crying on your doorstep and I can’t imagine you’ll enjoy that.

Sincerely,

That Mother Who Can’t Get Her Son Into School

 

Dear Teacher,

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me when I sought you out on the playground again. Thank you for not pulling the “Oh my God, it’s her again” face and for smiling at me – it really did make the chat easier.

I appreciate it is tricky for you that I am reporting one thing at home and you are seeing another thing in your classroom. I tried to be a bit braver in our chat this time. When you said, “With all due respect, he seems happy in school,” I managed to say that I understood that but that you need to understand that from my point of view, as his Mum, it is very unpleasant for me to hear him saying he doesn’t want to go to school all evening or pretending he feels sick when he should be going to sleep. It is also unpleasant when he wakes me before my alarm to tell me he doesn’t want to go to school today. That is difficult for a parent to hear. Thank you for acknowledging my viewpoint, when I said that.

I also tried to tackle the way you engage with my son on his arrival at school. I didn’t really know how to say it and I didn’t want you to feel I was attacking you. I’m glad that when I mentioned some small things that had made a difference such as having Golden Time to look forward to or when his TA asked him for help with the photocopier, you realised you might need to change what you say to him to something brighter or more encouraging.

It was helpful for me to get some insights into the issues you might be facing with him in the classroom and for me to see that you do like him and you do spend time puzzling over his behaviour. You said you appreciated me coming to speak to you, rather than e-mailing and I said I found it useful too – perhaps we could speak more often?

I think our chat helped because this week, I haven’t had to propel Little Bear over the threshold at all. I noticed you came outside of your classroom door yesterday morning which was nice. It made you much more visible and easier to speak to. It’s a lot friendlier than the leaning.

I know you felt bad calling me over at the end of school a couple of days after our chat to tell me that Little Bear had called someone a name and had been a little over-familiar with his personal boundaries. I didn’t mind you doing that at all. I would far rather you spoke with me. It meant that I could chat about personal boundaries and social rules at home (over dinner, as one does) and I could send a consistent message to Little Bear: the rules are the same at home and school. It is good for him to know that we talk and that we agree with each other. I suspect you will see improvements in his behaviour if we keep it up.

We’re taking it a day at a time but hooray for a better week so far!

Let’s speak again soon,

The Slightly Less Stressed Mum

Dear Teacher

New Teacher

You may have gathered, from my last few posts, that Transition has been the theme of the summer season here. See This Year, Last Year Fear of Loss if you don’t quite know what I mean.

Little Bear’s angst has been building for several months in anticipation of moving to Year 2 and getting a new teacher, reaching its zenith this week when the Big Move actually happened.

The first we knew about Little Bear’s sense of impending doom was in April-time when he announced he was scared of the Year 2 teacher. I’m going to call him Mr Jones for ease because Mr New Teacher is already feeling unwieldy. Mr. Jones seemed, from what little I knew of him, to be perfectly nice. He does, however, cut a substantial figure. I don’t mean he’s overweight but he is certainly taller than average. Grizzly is also a taller man so I wouldn’t have thought it would have been particularly noteworthy for Little Bear but evidently the broader build, deep voice and towering height were creating some level of fear for Little Bear. I suppose he must seem giant-like to a 6 year old.

We tackled this by chatting with Little Bear’s Year 1 teacher (whom I have never gifted with a pseudonym but I am feeling sufficiently guilty as to rectify that right now. She can be Mrs Potter henceforth.) Anyhow, we made the teaching staff aware and they made sure that Little Bear spent more time with Mr Jones in a non-threatening way. Mr Jones is a bit of a joker and told Little Bear that he doesn’t bite; not hard anyway. Little Bear found this pretty funny and it was one of the rare snippets of school he actually shared with me. Over time Little Bear got more used to Mr Jones until one day he announced he wasn’t scared of him anymore.

This was great but such was the state of Little Bear’s anxiety that where one fear was allayed, another immediately crept in. Now that Little Bear had allowed himself to accept he really would be going to Mr Jones’ class, the realisation hit that he would consequently be leaving Mrs Potter behind.

As for any child who has experienced severed relationships and developmental trauma, the loss of another key person is very triggering – it drags up the emotions of previous losses, wobbles the present and makes you question the certainty of the future.

I don’t think I’m over stating the situation when I say that Little Bear loves Mrs Potter. She has played a big role in his life so far. She visited him in pre-school and was a key person in his transition from pre-school to Reception class. She set him on course for his whole formal education. She has been responsible for him learning to read, write, do Maths. She has stayed with him for two full school years and in that time has been a safe, trusted adult who has stuck with him through some pretty testing times and challenging behaviour. Little Bear adores her and Mrs Potter makes it clear to him that the feeling is mutual. No matter what.

It was completely understandable that Little Bear would be bereft to leave her. To be quite honest, I was also a little bereft. It’s no secret that navigating the education system as the parent of an adoptee is tricky. It can be extremely difficult to get the system to understand your child rather than wanting to constantly change them. As a parent of a child with additional needs, it can be hard to get your voice heard and to be recognised as an expert in your child and seen as a valuable member of the team. At times in Little Bear’s education so far, I have struggled with all of these things. I have also had moments of utter panic at the level of Little Bear’s delay and how on earth he will ever manage to catch up (see LINK). Throughout these challenges, Mrs Potter has always been there. We have somehow managed to develop a really honest and mutually respectful relationship, something which I know is difficult to achieve. I also felt the fear of leaving that safety behind and taking a large leap into the unknown. I felt the fear of having to work really hard to create that relationship again, with another teacher, as well as instilling in them the same level of understanding of Little Bear as Mrs Potter now has.

This transition was a Big deal for all of us.

We tried to allay Little Bear’s fears by reassuring him that Mrs Potter was not disappearing from his life. She would just be next door, in her classroom. He could go to see her whenever he needed to. We (Mrs Potter was very involved in this) reassured him that she would not forget him and that she would still love him, even when he was in Mr Jones’ class. Little Bear and I made a present for Mrs Potter. I made a big deal of how she would think about him every time she looked at it and Little Bear really did pour his love and a few of his other feelings into the picture.

Little Bear started to feel better about moving on from Mrs Potters’ class but such was the state of his anxiety that where that fear was allayed, another crept in.

When we were getting organised with teacher gifts, I made sure to get one for Mrs C, Little Bear’s TA. Although she was going with Little Bear to Year 2, I wanted to thank her for everything she had done for him so far. Of all the teachers in Little Bear’s life, Mrs C has been on the biggest journey. I feel okay to say now that when they first met it was something of a personality clash. It was a disaster and I genuinely believed the wrong appointment had been made. I suspect Mrs C was pretty confident in thinking she’d easily sort Little Bear out with a bit of firm discipline. However, it was more like a head to head stand off and the harder she went in, the more he resisted and the more creative he became in testing her boundaries. I’m pretty sure he gave her the full works, including a few kicks and scratches and caused her to go home in despair on a daily basis, wondering why on earth she had taken the job.

However, I have to credit Mrs C with a very important trait: she has been willing to listen and to try something different. She was prepared to persevere and she stuck with Little Bear where others would certainly have thrown in the towel. She changed her approach, she read what we gave her, she listened and she has now become another trusted and consistent adult in Little Bear’s life, who understands him and is able to effectively support his learning. I would now be absolutely gutted if she left and feel as though she is the crutch that will bear the weight of this transition for Little Bear.

As such, I felt it was important I expressed my thanks. When I mentioned I had got her a gift, a flash of panic darkened Little Bear’s face. “Mrs C is going with me to Year 2 isn’t she?” he asked, evidently fearful she wasn’t. Yes, we reassured, she is. However, over the course of a few days, Little Bear made more comments indicating he thought she wasn’t really. I suppose it is hard to fully trust even your trusted adults when you have been so let down before.

On the last day of year 1, I didn’t really know how Little Bear would be but taking his gifts in seemed to be a handy distraction. Mrs Potter cried over him several times and both she and Mrs C gave him a cuddle in exchange for their gift. Little Bear was absolutely made up that they loved their gifts and evidently Mrs Potter let him believe that his gift was her favourite.

Surprisingly, the day ended much more positively than I had anticipated and much more positively than the end of Reception class which had involved a lot of throwing and screaming. I couldn’t even see Little Bear when I went to pick him up and it turned out he was so nonchalant about the whole thing he was busy sharpening his new pencil instead of being upset. Mrs Potter had bought each child a notepad, pen and pencil and Little Bear was so delighted that he came home and immediately started writing?!

Then, that Friday night, at 5pm, Mrs Potter and Mr Jones both came to visit Little Bear at home. This was absolutely above and beyond the call of duty and not something they usually do. However, because they understood Little Bear’s anxieties and are prepared to do things differently to help him, they wanted to. Little Bear loved the visit and I really feel it assuaged his worries. We had the calmest weekend we’d had in several weeks. It felt particularly poignant because it reminded me of when the foster carers came here to visibly give Little Bear their permission to be happy with us. I felt Mrs Potter was visibly saying “Mr Jones is taking over now and he’s a safe person too. I am ok with you being happy in his class” and that was so much more powerful happening in our home.

The preparation had gone as well as possible but we were in no way complacent. We had no idea what Monday morning would bring.

It actually brought a very happy Little Bear who was excited to be in Year 2. He skipped straight in without a backward glance.

My anxieties rose a little after school because Little Bear did his usual trick of not telling us anything that had happened/ telling us a clearly fictitious version. Later in the week I made sure to have a quick catch-up chat with Mr Jones – both to set the expectation that we need to be in regular touch and also to put our minds at rest.

Obviously I am far from having the relationship with him (yet) that I had with Mrs Potter but the chat felt positive. Mr Jones doesn’t feel Little Bear is testing him which is a good indicator that Little Bear feels safe and settled. Mr Jones has been laying out his boundaries but has not removed Little Bear from class or used any cards. He told me that Little Bear had not engaged well with a particular task but he had evidently gone away and pondered why that might have been and then asked Mrs C’s thoughts, knowing she has more expertise when it comes to Little Bear. I feel these are good signs of willingness to listen and look beyond behaviour and hopefully bode well…

I don’t want to count my chickens (especially after our recent fox-induced henmageddon) but at the moment it looks as though the anticipation of the transition was the biggest problem for Little Bear and that the measures everybody put in place to support him helped a lot. I have been really touched by the level of support we have recently received from school – it has come from a place of genuine care. As well as thanking the individual teachers, I have now e-mailed the Head Teacher to make sure he knows how hard members of his staff have worked and what a difference their commitment and support has made to us. I would be quick to speak up if the right support wasn’t in place for Little Bear so I feel it’s imperative that I am also willing to speak up when things are done well.

I am under no illusion that year 2 will be plain-sailing. Mr Jones has already discussed his aim of taking Little Bear from working towards Year 1 levels to achieving expected levels for year 2 in a year’s time. This is no mean feat and I don’t honestly know if it’s achievable. We also have the spectre of SATS on the horizon and a school residential. But for now, on the wind-down to the summer holidays, I am grateful for having got this far. The new teacher, myself and of course Little Bear are all taking our first tentative steps into this new situation. I just hope that we find a way to walk together.

 

New Teacher

The Other Parents

I realised the other day that I am completely unsociable when it comes to the parents in Little Bear’s class and, unfortunately, I think it has to be that way.

Having already done the school-mum-thing with Big Bear I know that it can be fine. It’s all very awkward to start with as everyone tries to get the measure of each other and you try to suss out who might be potential friends. Now that he is in year 4 I have reached a comfortable place with the other parents from his class. I have one proper friend, who I hang out with outside of school events but if I happened to be sat next to pretty much any of the other parents for some reason (excepting one or two) I would feel comfortable chatting. I would know a little about their family and vice versa. There wouldn’t be any awkwardness. I don’t think there would be any topics I would be actively avoiding.

I’m probably not the most sociable of parents within the playground in general – I don’t like playground gossip or competitive parenting. I also don’t drink so I’m not fussed on a boozy night out. But I have been to quiz nights, craft fayres, meals, make up and jewellery parties along the way and have built up comfortable alliances. I suppose I know where I’m at amongst that group of parents and everything is tickety-boo.

Now over a year into Little Bear’s schooling, I am finding things with the year 1 parents quite different. I haven’t really built any friendships and tend to keep myself to myself. I realised it the other day when standing alone, feeling a little conspicuous, waiting to pick the little dude up. Why? I wondered. Why am I holding back and purposefully avoiding eye contact? Why aren’t I even engaging in a bit of chit-chat?

I mentioned it to my friend when I was away at the weekend and she said “I think its self-preservation love”, in that way that old friends who know you better than you know yourself can. I’m pretty sure she’s right. I don’t think it is just because Little Bear is adopted, though that is part of it. I think it is also a lot to do with the fact that he has emotional and behavioural difficulties and is not without his educational challenges. Relationships with other parents are certainly more of a minefield when it is your child who is disrupting the class.

I have been in the playground long enough to know how these conversations go. You start chatting about the one thing you know you have in common: school. Inevitably someone asks someone else how their child is getting on. You can try to be generic: “they’re tired” you can say, “It’s a big jump to year 1”. But it is never long before things get more specific. “Yes, it’s a nightmare trying to get all their homework done now they have phonics books isn’t it?” And already you have a problem because your child doesn’t have a phonics book yet. You are faced with the choice of lying in a nodding and smiling kind of way or ‘fessing up. But if you go down the fessing up route it is inevitable that you have to start talking about your child’s needs and how they got them.

I don’t want to discuss Little Bear’s needs with all and sundry. I don’t want parents of children he is in class with to know about his difficulties in any detail. I don’t want to tell them he’s adopted.

However, if you go down the nod and smile route you can never move beyond the superficial.

I am not against discussing Little Bear’s needs per se – I talk to many of my friends about them and obviously I blog about them for the whole internet to see (it’s different, its anonymous) but I want to build up a certain level of trust with somebody new before I go into that kind of detail. I need to know that I can trust them to be discreet and not make Little Bear the talk of the playground. It is very difficult, I am finding, to develop that level of trust with the parents in his class prior to the types of discussion I outlined above. It’s all a bit chicken and egg so I think the easiest thing is to hold back and not enter into these situations in the first place.

All of this is notwithstanding the behaviour. Little Bear tends not to come home and tell me all about what has happened at school, though I hear the most sensational bits when I get called in by his teacher. However, I’m sure that most other children in his class have more advanced language skills and are only too happy to inform their parents of what antics the other children have been up to. I’m also pretty sure that Little Bear’s name, amongst a couple of others, will feature fairly frequently.

I can’t help but wonder, while standing alone in the playground, what the other parents must think of me. Unless they are particularly well-informed about trauma and speech and language difficulties I can only assume that they think Little Bear is naughty. I imagine that most people would then make the not very big leap that his behaviour could well be due to our parenting. Perhaps I am being a little paranoid but I don’t think so, its human nature to wonder and cast aspersions. I can only imagine the conversations that have gone on behind closed doors.

Though I am well-informed about behaviour and the whys and wherefores, if I’m very honest, I don’t think I am entirely comfortable with being the mum of ‘the naughty boy’. I think if the truth be told no parent would want that, for them, or their child. It feels very exposing.

In fact, my avoidance of the other parents has fanned out from the playground and now incorporates out of school events such as parties. I hate taking Little Bear to parties. To start with I was all keen and dutifully took him along to everything but I have quickly lost my enthusiasm.

The problem with parties is that because I am all too aware of Little Bear’s behaviour challenges I don’t take my eyes off him. Other parents pay little heed to their children though and therefore don’t witness what I witness. They don’t see their little darling goading Little Bear or winding him up. They just hear A LOT about it when he finally snaps and thumps them. The children themselves see fit to come and tell Grizzly or I what Little Bear has done and deny their part in the event, even though we have seen it with our own eyes. The children are quick to blame him, too quick. They know he gets himself in bother and therefore it is easy to blame him. People (their parents?) think he’s naughty anyway.

We went to one party and I had to leave in the end because steam was practically coming out of my ears. There was nothing enjoyable about seeing my boy in such a no-win position. I didn’t want him in that situation and I didn’t know what good would come of it.

Grizzly thought I was a bit mad and over-reacting so I suggested he be in charge of taking Little Bear to the next party. He was and suffice it to say that we haven’t agreed to any invites since.

The no-show at parties is probably doing little to help my position with the other parents. No doubt they think I’m aloof and unfriendly, as well as bad at disciplining my child.

I do try to smile at people to balance things out.

In Little Bear’s class there are (strangely) 4 other sets of adopters. You would think that I might find solace in that group. I am friendly with one of those Mums but that relationship grew because we are neighbours and knew each other way before the dawn of the school situation. I began to get friendly with one of the other adopters when the children first started school and although his child does also have some difficulties with his emotion and behaviour regulation, he does not struggle academically, something which his Dad likes to make clear to me. I find competitive parenting difficult at the best of times, not least when you haven’t a chance of being in the competition.

I don’t want it to sound as though I am only able to be-friend other parents of adopted children with SEN. That certainly isn’t the case. Many of my friends who have grown their families through conception and whose children have no difficulties at all are extremely understanding and supportive towards me/us. In fact, you don’t need to have had children at all to understand that navigating Little Bear’s school life could be hard. You just need to be human and empathetic.

The thing is that many of the parents in Little Bear’s class could be just that. If I tried to talk to them and make them understand, they might well. They haven’t done anything wrong. Although I’m not breaking up with anybody, I do feel the urge to say “it’s not them, it’s me”.

It is me. I’m holding back. It’s self-preservation. Because having a child with a range of needs is tough enough. I haven’t the energy to test the relationship waters or overcome the myriad of possible issues with the other parents. It is bad enough standing there with baited breath at the end of each day wondering whether I will hear the most feared five words from a teacher in playground history: Could I have a word? And if I do hear that, I need to steal myself for whatever issue has occurred now, pretend that no one has noticed I’ve been called in again and gather my thoughts so I can respond in a contained and constructive way.

I’m like the playground armadillo – I look cold and unfriendly but my shell is just for protection.

 

 

 

 

The Other Parents