Category Archives: Parenting Tips

Teaching the Teachers…

Today’s handy tips post comes from Jennifer Jones who runs Inspired Foundations, a West Midlands based organisation that provides support services and training for parents and organisations, on a range of subjects related to children who are adopted, fostered or at-risk. Jennifer shares some strategies that could be implemented in schools to provide further support.logo-with-slogan

It is no secret that children who are, or have been in the care system often struggle within educational settings. In fact if we look closely at some of the statistics, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading, with this group of children being nine times more likely to be excluded from school. Later in life they are also 55% more likely to suffer from depression and also make up 23% of the prison population. But before you stop reading this article, let me explain why I am giving you this information.

I started working with children 13 years ago. Throughout this time I have worked mainly with children who have additional needs, completed a degree in special education and became trained in many types of therapy. However, eight years ago I became a mum – but not just any old mum – an adoptive mum! I adopted two children who were both described as ‘healthy’, ‘meeting their developmental milestones’ and ‘well attached to their foster carers’ – in other words they were perfect. None of this ‘attachment issues’ stuff or being behind in their learning, so it was full steam ahead with being their mummy.

It would probably take me to write a book to explain the years that followed, but in a nutshell it was a slow drip-drip process of learning, understanding and making changes. Most of my knowledge of child development and behaviour strategies had to be thrown out in favour of a therapeutic parenting style. The fact was that my children did have attachment issues and had experienced developmental trauma.

Looking back I feel quite silly and think “how could they NOT have” given their experiences before they were taken into care.

Along the way we met lots of professionals who just didn’t get it. We have had to fight for every ounce of support we have ever got. It is for this reason that I set up a company 3 years ago – pulling together both my personal and professional experiences with an aim to educate people about the issues faced by this group of children. I am pleased to say that things have taken off and we have been able to expand and increase our services to reach even more people and in many different ways.

Okay, so back to the subject area! The statistics are one way for me to gain people’s attention. It often makes teachers sit up and listen. Do they really want little Johnny to end up in prison? Do they know Chloe is more likely to be homeless or self harm than other children? Did they know Karen has a 20% chance of becoming a teenage mother? This gives me a good starting point for encouraging teachers to make changes in the way they work with children.

Before any strategies are put in place by teaching staff it is important that they understand why they are doing them. They need to understand that many children who have been in care will have experienced abuse and neglect, often along with many moves and lots of uncertainty. These events all lead to the child having a very different view of the world compared to other children of the same age.

For a child who has experienced trauma, school may mean;

  • Being separated from their carer
  • Having contact with a range of different people with varying roles (Lunchtime supervisors, Teaching Assistants, Teachers, caretaker etc..)
  • Being expected to know who these people are and how you should act around them
  • Always having to be on the look-out for danger
  • Trying to understand and manage friendships
  • Constantly worrying about food (“will there be enough lunch left for me at dinner time”)
  • Trying to do work which may be too difficult
  • Receiving praise and rewards when inside they feel worthless

Responses to these fears can provoke a range of behaviours which may include:

  • Appearing charming and superficial
  • Being indiscriminately affectionate with visitors
  • Being overly demanding or clingy to staff
  • Asking persistent nonsense questions
  • Poor cause/effect thinking
  • Struggling to make friends
  • Poor impulse control
  • Avoiding eye contact (except when lying)
  • Lying and/or stealing
  • Low self esteem
  • Increased shame levels
  • Difficulties with organisation

For teachers trying to deal with such behaviours in the classroom this can be draining and frustrating. It is important that the teacher, or any professional working with the child tries to understand why and how this behaviour would have developed. Without this any strategies lack the required foundations and will have a limited affect.

Below are some strategies which could be suggested as a way to support looked-after or adopted children with school.

Good communication
Regular meeting and discussions are important so everyone involved has a clear idea of current issues or progress made. Make use of a home-school diary when possible.

Thinking out loud
Children often struggle with recognising their own feelings, so ‘commenting’ or ‘wondering’ out loud about the child’s behaviour can help e.g.: “I can see that you get very upset before we leave for school. I wonder if that is because you think I will forget about you when you are at school”. It should be remembered that these are comments, and not questions, so a response should not be expected from the child as that can add lots of pressure to their already anxious state.

Re-thinking rewards and sanctions
Ask the teacher to use low key praise and rewards. Also to avoid ‘time out’ consequences which compound their sense of wrongness and shame. The use of ‘time in’ (where a child is brought towards the adult) is a better option.

Difficulties with change
Ask that the school develop consistent routines to help build a strong sense of security and familiarity. Also request that whenever possible you are told of changes, such as a supply teacher or a change in lessons in advance so you can support your child in advance.

Curriculum topics
There are certain curriculum topics that you should ask teachers to be mindful of such as family trees, those that require baby photos, and subjects such as evacuation and rationing.  There are often many ways to cover topics such as this without excluding the child so ask the teacher to seek further advice from you about this.

Key worker
A highly recommended approach is the use of a key worker. The role of this person is to be an ‘attachment figure’ within school and someone whom the child may grow to trust in time. They may have tasks such as meeting and greeting the child in the morning, checking-in with the child after break times and lunch times, and generally being someone who the child feels able to go to if there is a problem.

Visual support
Request that the school use a visual timetable and visual prompts for areas of difficulty with organisation skills (eg: packing school bag)

Transitional objects
Try sending in an object from home which will remind your child of you (photograph, handkerchief etc..) which will ease the anxiety of being separated from you.

Training and advice
Strongly encourage school staff to attend training in the subject of attachment and trauma where they can gain a much deeper understanding of the child’s needs and learn strategies to support these. You could also recommend that they read some of the books/ leaflets listed below:

Supporting looked-after and adopted children in school http://www.hertsdirect.org/infobase/docs/pdfstore/csf0046.pdf

Inside i’m Hurting, by Louise Bomber (ISBN-13: 978-1903269114)

The boy who was raised as a dog, by Bruce Perry (ISBN-13: 978-0465056538)

It is also important to remember that the intentions of different professionals are often good. They will want children to learn, to explore and to develop. The difficulty arises because learning is not a priority for these children – staying safe and getting their needs met is. As parents or carers we learn this, or instinctively know this. Therefore it is often left to us to try to teach the teachers…

You can find out more about Inspired Foundations here, or email Jennifer at jenny@inspiredfoundations.co.uk 

Introducing another child into your family Part 2

Last week we shared Gem’s story about adopting for a second time(see here), after Pip joined their family earlier in the year. This week, we’re sharing Gem’s top tips for introducing another child into the family….

This is by no means a complete list but things I’ve learned along the way. I’m sure I’ve missed some obvious things so please add to this list.

1.    Keep your child/ren informed as much as possible about the adoption process and what is happening and what it means to them.  Be aware of the timescales involved though.  Be prepared to discuss openly with your Social Worker what you feel is the best approach for your existing child/ren.  You know them better than anyone else.  Feel confident that you can challenge the adoption process and its rules.  I can understand why a Social Worker might feel it inappropriate for you to give details of a new sibling prior to Matching Panel due to the risk of the match not being approved but there is precious little time to do all the practical things you need to achieve after Matching Panel so your child will realise that something is afoot beforehand when you are buying things and making preparations for the new arrival.  Ensuring the strength of your relationship with your child/ren is important so that they can trust what you are telling them.  Trust your instincts.

2.     Involve your child/ren in the preparations. Get them to help to choose bedding, room paint and clothes and toys etc.

newchild23.    Help your child/ren imagine what life will be like with their new siblings. What sorts of things will be the same and what will be different?  Draw pictures.  Show them pictures of their new sibling and imagine the things that they can do together.  Try and highlight some of the real practicalities though so your child/ren can see where things will change.

4.    Help your child/ren choose a toy to give as a present on the day they meet their new sibling.  Also give your new son/daughter a toy as a moving buddy.  We gave Pip a soft bedtime bear which was passed onto his Foster Carer after Matching Panel.  Blue Bear was introduced from that point and is a key part of Pip’s life and bedtime routine now.

5.    Choose a present for your new son/daughter to give to your existing child/ren.  Ask if the Foster Carer will keep it at their house so it can really seem that their new sibling has chosen the gift just for them.  This can help break the ice; distract the children and also help the children feel positive about each other.

6.    Try really hard from the outset to ensure that your existing child is receiving as much attention as you can give them.  This is harder than it sounds because introductions are intense and you will be learning so much about your new son/daughter whilst trying to balance the needs of your existing child/ren.  If you have a partner try to split your time between the children.  If you are a single adopter then take a trusted family member or friend with you.  In our case Daddy spent more time with Katie whilst I was learning all about Pip but we tagged each other every so often so I could spend time with Katie (and all the other foster children) as well.  I won’t lie, it was exhausting! I think we’re only just starting to feel more emotionally calmer five months on.

7.    Once home try not to worry about the housework.  I found this ridiculously difficult to do because the house was/is a constant mess.  Try to focus your attention on the children.  Don’t worry about spending hours cooking wonderful meals at this stage.  They probably won’t eat it anyway.  Keep it all as simple as possible.  Try and stick to a daily routine so everyone knows what will happen each day.  Maintaining two different routines will be tough.  Pip has probably had to adapt more quickly to our routine than Katie did when she arrived although we tried to maintain his routine from his Foster Carer as much as possible.newchild

8.    If your child is school age speak to your Head Teacher prior to introductions start to keep them informed on your timescales and any time off school your child might need and also so they know that your child might behave differently in school.  We were lucky to be able to arrange our introductions the week prior to half term so Katie had half term week at home with Pip (in fact we pushed hard for this with Children’s Services).  Her Head Teacher gave us some latitude after half-term if it was needed but Katie readily accepted that she had to go back to school on the same day Daddy when back to work.

9.    Try to involve your older child/ren in the day to day routine of your new son/daughter.  Encourage them to help where possible and show their younger sibling how to do things but equally accept if they don’t want to be involved.  You can’t rush these things and your child may need to feel angry and uncooperative for a while.

10.    Try to let your children spend time together naturally and try really hard not to jump in to orchestrate things.  This is really hard to do because you are on tenterhooks and have a heightened anxiety about making sure things are moving forward and everyone is happy.  This will also depend alot on the age of the children. They probably won’t be happy to start with.  Life has changed beyond all recognition.  They will argue and probably even hate each other (or more realistically the scenario) at times.  Katie has said that she wishes Pip could go back to his Foster Carer and even said she wished he was dead.  On these occasions we have reminded her that we are all a family now and that no-one is ever going back to foster care (this is to reassure her as much as anything because she may well be worried that we will send her back).  We have discussed how much time Pip takes up with his various needs and how we both feel about that.

11.    Be prepared for some major regression in your children.  Katie stopped referring to herself as “I” and started talking like a baby for quite a while.  We didn’t draw attention to this but kept praising her when she acted in an age appropriate way.  She wanted to wear nappies one day which we allowed her to put on over her pants, reminding her that she could do this for fun to be like Pip but that she didn’t need to wee in her nappy because she was already so clever and able to use the toilet.  We had some very interesting regression behaviour, including massive and quite aggressive tantrums, which we tried very hard to talk to her about how she was feeling rather than react to the behaviour.  Not always easy!  Our Social Worker advised us to respond to her as if she were the age she was behaving and this really helped to see her behaviour differently and feel less anxious about it. When Pip has a temper tantrum I felt very differently about it than when Katie did. Now I try to see the same frustration and anger in them both and respond similarly (most of the time!).

12.    Talk to your Social Worker honestly about how things are going.  I know we worry about things going wrong and Children’s Services thinking that the match isn’t going well and removing the child but they’ve really seen it all before and can offer valuable insight and techniques for helping your children settle in together.  Our Social Workers have offered lots of support and some future psychological input to help us further.

13.    Create  “special time” for each child where they have  your undivided attention.  Ask your child what they want to do, if this is possible.  Katie and I go out for coffee and cake on a Saturday morning.  We are going to tweak this a little bit and alternate between me and Daddy because Katie is currently rejecting Daddy again.  This will encourage her to know that this is her “special time” but that it might be with Mummy or it might be with Daddy.  I try hard to give Katie time after school to do her reading with me and she goes to bed a bit later than Pip to give us nightly story and chat time.  Pip is at home with me so he gets my almost undivided attention during his waking hours.

newchild314.    Give it time.  Be patient with yourselves and your children.  Try not to worry that things aren’t going as well or as quickly as you would like.  You can’t put a time pressure on this process.  Your children are going to feel that their nose is out of joint and their will respond to this, mostly inappropriately.  We are now 5 months into placement I think things are just starting to settle down, for all of us. I feel more confident managing our daily routine and in my parenting abilities and strategies. I feel that I know Pip much better now and know how he expresses himself and what his needs are.  I can predict flash moments more easily and be more prepared.  As a result the household is much calmer.  The children are starting to interact more easily together (although watch this space now that Pip is starting to get jealous) and Katie is definitely less angry with Pip for being here.

15.    Remember Breathe.  Breathe. Breathe.  I found chocolate helps a lot!

Introducing another child into your family Part 1

Today’s handy tips and advice isn’t strictly tips and advice…just yet. Today the lovely Gem from Life With Katie (and Pip) writes about her experience of second time adoption, and next week we’ll share some of her top tips and advice on introducing another child into the family.

For most people, the practicality of adding an additional child into your family is an organic biological process.  For adopters it is a process of unknown length or outcome.  This can make it very complicated if you already have a child.  As a pregnant body becomes more evident you can explain to your child about the baby growing in there and when that baby will become a physical part of their lives.  This is not the case with adoption because there is nothing physical to see until a match has been made.  

When we decided we wanted to go through the adoption process for our second child it wasn’t something we discussed with Katie initially because we knew that the time involved in the process would be too lengthy for her to comprehend.  However the process in itself makes it impossible to hold back for very long because the Assessing Social Worker will need to assess whether they feel your child is able to accept another child into the family. This involves talking to your child about having a sibling and assessing how they feel about it. This is a very important assessment for a child who has already been adopted because regression, and a threat to attachment, are very real issues to prepare for.  Regression happens to most birth children as well but for adopted children introducing another child into the family at the wrong time in their attachment process can create many difficulties for everyone concerned.  So Katie knew quite early on in our process that we were going to have another child.

Then came a very long wait as administrative errors and the birth of a half sibling changed our original plans.  We had originally decided that we wanted to adopt another girl; roughly the same age that Katie was when we adopted her.  Our reasons were creating a playmate of an age where they could interact and we felt that Katie would like a sister.  Katie was quite keen to have a sister (although this did change from time to time).  At this point we discovered that Katie’s Birth Mother was pregnant again.  When the baby was born we were contacted by Children’s Services to ask if we would consider adopting him.  Yes, it was a boy and a baby at that, the complete polar opposite to the scenario we were being assessed for.  Back to the drawing board.  We had never considered the possibility of a baby.  Babies are relatively rare in adoption due to the length of time the court process can take and prospective adopters are told very clearly to get off the bus and head on back home again if they are hoping for a baby.  Not only that but we had been preparing Katie for a sister.  So we started to gently introduce the idea of a brother.  What did she think about having a baby brother?  Would that be OK? Katie took all this in her stride but we couldn’t tell her any specifics at all so had to be very vague about what we said to her.  We hadn’t even been reapproved as adopters at that point.

After approval, and as we got closer and closer to Matching Panel it became harder not to give Katie information. Our Social Worker didn’t want us to give Katie any specific details at all but it became increasingly difficult not to. We slowly drip-fed her information. We talked “what ifs”.  What if your tummy mummy had another baby in her tummy?  What if we had a baby in our family?   How would you feel about having a baby brother, would that be good?  Katie is astute though.  

She knew that more was going on and was starting to feel angry that she wasn’t being given concrete information and I agreed with her.

Eventually we told her that the Social Workers thought that they might have found her a baby brother but that we were waiting to find out more.  This took place over about a month and it was just too long a wait for Katie.  We started to worry that withholding was effecting our relationship so on the morning of Matching Panel we told her that we were going to see the lovely people who said we could adopt her to ask them if we could adopt her a baby brother and that we would pick her up from school and all go out to dinner that evening and give her all the details.  We then informed our Social Worker (at panel) that we had done this.  I don’t think they were overly impressed that we had gone against protocol but were very understanding as to the reasons why.  After a successful panel meeting we collected Katie from school we showed her pictures of her new baby brother and told her that they had grown in the same tummy as each other.  There was a lot to discuss as you can imagine and lots of questions to answer.  We wondered how Katie would feel about having a biological brother and whether this would cause her to regress in the way that receiving her Life Story Book had the previous year.

Waiting several weeks for introductions to start is difficult for any adopters.  Managing that process for a child as well is definitely an added challenge.  It was planned that we would meet Pip first on a Monday and Katie would meet him on the Friday. We decided not to tell her that we were meeting him because we felt that this might undermine her meeting with him.  How difficult would it be for her to know we had met him and she hadn’t?  An older child might be able to handle this scenario better but, at aged 5, this wasn’t something that Katie would be able to emotionally manage.  We involved Katie in other ways though.  Katie and I chose a toy for her to give him and, unbeknownst to her, Daddy and I had chosen a much coveted Build a Bear toy for Pip to give Katie at their first meeting.  She helped choose toys for Pip and prepare his bedroom.  We made room for his toys in the playroom together, creating a visible space in our lives for her brother.

Keeping the fact that we had met Pip secret for nearly a week was excruciating. We wanted to tell her all about him but we couldn’t.  We eventually told her that we had met him on the evening before they had their first meeting so we were able to tell her all about him.  We didn’t specify to her how many times we had met him though.  

The first meeting between the children went very well although, after an initial flurry of interest, Katie wasn’t overly bothered about spending time with Pip.  

She was happier playing with the other children at the Foster Carers home.  Babies aren’t very good playmates unfortunately.  The other children were a good distraction.  Introductions went relatively well, although quite boring for Katie when we were still at the Foster Carers house. We felt that Katie was handling things very well until Pip’s first visit home.  After dropping him back to the Foster Carers house and a quick McDonalds, as it was late, Katie and I arrived home to see all Pip’s toys where we had left them on the floor.  Upon seeing them Katie collapsed in a heap on the floor, screaming and crying gutturally “Where is my brother? Why am I always waiting?”  It was totally heartbreaking to see her feeling this way and it really brought home to me just how difficult this process and all the waiting had been on her, well on all of us really.  I felt awful for putting her through all this emotion and worried about the long term impact on her.

Bringing Pip home changed the dynamic totally in the house, which it does when any child comes into a family.  

The shift in focus of attention was incredibly difficult for Katie, and me.  I felt like I was tearing myself in two all the time, trying to ensure that everyone got a piece of the pie.  One of the reasons we hadn’t initially wanted to have a baby was because of having to physically carry him around and we worried that this would create a barrier between Katie and myself and how this would impact on her.  A toddler is more independent.  We had already been having some behavioural difficulties before Pip arrived home but things intensified with Katie regressing to about the emotional age of 2-3 as opposed to the 5 year old that she was.  Pip had his night-time bottle and went to sleep to the sounds of Katie having a raging tantrum on many occasions.  It was difficult because the age gap between them meant that Pip couldn’t really play with Katie. We allowed her to become my helper, helping to change nappies and feeding him but she would often get bored mid-bottle so Pip wasn’t happy with his milk suddenly stopping halfway through the bottle.  

Katie’s jealousy didn’t manifest in the way we had predicted, which was a surprise.  

She had often pulled other children off me, claiming her territory and saying “That’s my Mummy” so that was the reaction we expected.  With Pip she hasn’t ever reacted this way. It’s almost like she knows that things are different because he is her brother but her anger has manifested in her behaviour by being uncooperative and rude and aggressive instead.  She found other ways of gaining my attention without openly pulling Pip off me.

I was concerned about how Katie would feel restarting school after the half term break. Would she feel jealous that Pip was home with me all day and refuse to go to school?  We didn’t have any difficulties with this in reality.  Katie and Daddy went back to school and work on the same day and Katie totally accepted this.  She was excited to be seeing her school friends and I think it helped to get her back into her school routine.  Doing the morning run with a baby in tow was a big change and challenge.  Pip is the king of needing an 8.41am nappy change if you know what I mean?

Throughout all these difficulties I was totally honest with our Social Worker about how things were going. Pip was very settled, bonding and doing well.  Our concerns were for Katie and the ever increasing intensity of her temper tantrums.  I asked school if they could do some additional emotional work with her, which they agreed to start at the commencement of Year 1.  We tried various parenting techniques and, above all, I tried to give Katie as much of my time and attention as was humanly and practically possible, which is really tough.  We started going out for coffee and cake after her dancing lesson on a Saturday morning, which we still do now.  Our Saturday mornings weren’t a cure-all and they certainly didn’t always go to plan.  Temper tantrums ensued on many of our girly mornings out and I worried constantly as to whether we had done the right thing.  Katie told me on several occasions that Pip took up too much of my time and asked if he could go back to the Foster Carer.  We explained to her that Pip was here to stay, just like she was, and that we were all a family together.  The school summer holidays were pretty awful all in all. We don’t have much family around so I had the children on my own for much of the holidays. Because Pip was sleeping in the mornings we couldn’t really access our usual social activities with friends, although bit by bit we got braver about encouraging Pip to sleep in the buggy.  On many occasions though I felt very lonely and isolated.

Bit by bit though things have started to improve.  The start of Year 1 was initially quite tough with Katie’s behaviour getting even worse but over the past month things have improved dramatically.  Pip is so well bonded now that he is starting to get jealous when Katie is sitting with me or cuddling me so this is now our new issue to resolve (if that is ever possible).  There is still a long way to go but I think hope we’ve turned a corner.

Tips for Dealing with Aggressive and Abusive Behaviour

Some Weeks back I (Sarah from @puffindiaries) asked for some help with aggressive and abusive behaviour from my youngest son. He was, and still is on occasions, hitting and lashing out, plus speaking in a very aggressive and rude tone to all members of the family.

 I want to thank everyone who gave such useful and understanding advice, so much so that I thought it would be a good idea to summarise it all here.

A No Fuss Consequence from @SuddenlyMummy

A consequence for certain behaviour is decided on and communicated to your child, for example removal of certain privileges or use of items, maybe the computer or a Playstation.computers

If the child reacts further or behaviour escalates then have a further consequence in place for this eventuality.

When the behaviour occurs the consequence is implemented immediately, with no discussion. If possible the item to be removed is moved away.For example placing the Playstation in a cupboard.

The consequence should be consistent and the same each time, so the message is clear.

This helps you stay in control and keep calm as you already know how you will react to the situation.

 

Positive Reinforcement from @LinsCummings.

Use a chart or reward system for when the child does not react with the negative behaviour.

Make the chart achievable, for example if the behaviour happens daily reward the child for reaching the end of the day without being aggressive and the gradually extend the length of time.

Use lots of positive comments alongside the chart, praising your child for unrelated positive behaviour as well. For example if they play well with another child or sit calmly for an activity.

Allow the child to select the reward, with your guidance to ensure it is something they wish to try hard to obtain. Sometimes it is best to start big with your rewards to ensure motivation but decrease in time as the child becomes more accustomed to the required behaviour.

Always ensure you and your child knows clearly how the reward system works, use visuals or a poster with rules on so the child understands. The child can be involved in designing or decorating the chart or making the poster to help them feel inclusive in the process.

Make sure you can put the time in and follow through with all rewards or consequences.

 

The Removal Technique from @Fran_Proctor

When you see behaviour you find unacceptable, remove the child from the room for a pre – agreed amount of time. This is about removing attention from the child.

Before the child is allowed to return to the room, explain to them why they were removed and ask them to apologise. If they do not apologise they do not get to return to the room.

Remember to be consistent, calm and to follow through and as @FranProctor says “Keep it simple, straight to the point and move on.”

 

Dealing with Abusive language from @3beesandahoney

Ignore as much as you can and respond to the child only when they speak to you in a polite manner.

If you do respond use calm and understanding voice and try to recognise your child’s emotions, these phrases from @3beesandahoney are perfect ‘thank you for letting me know that you are finding it hard to cope at the moment’ or ‘I am sorry you feel like that, just remember you may be feeling mad at us at the moment but that doesn’t stop us loving you’. DSC_0038

Help the child find silly acceptable words to replace the particularly abusive or sociably unacceptable words. This is particularly useful for the school environment or social situations. Again @3beesandhoney suggests the word “fudge cake” and we have certainly used the word “fudge”.

 

Final Thoughts from @newPyjammas

Some children find an instant consequence easier to understand than having to wait for the impact of their behaviour. This can help if a child has difficulty with the idea of cause and effect.

Allow family games where the children are allowed to be play rough and tumble with each other or being load. I love her idea of holding up sheets of newspaper so that children can smash through with their fists.

A great idea for colleting praise is to give out pasta for good behaviour that goes into a jar, when the jar is full you can cook something yummy with it.

 

So lots of great ideas for dealing with aggressive and abusive behaviour. I think it must be said that not all approaches suit all children, especially children that have lived with early life trauma and who struggle with attachment. However, lots of these methods rely on several of the same ingredients and these ingredients are imperative for successful parenting no matter what.

Stay calm,

Be consistent

Be clear and keep it simple,

Once it’s over move forward,

Don’t beat yourself up if doesn’t quite go as you would have hoped, this is a tough job and you’re doing your best.

 

 

Changing schools – useful tips and things to ask

 Today’s Handy Tips and Advice comes from our very own Vicki, who also writes The Boy’s Behaviour. If you have advice or tips to share too, then please do get in touch.

I’m in no way an expert, but I’m currently looking at moving my child to a different school. There’s a host of reasons why, but I won’t bore you with those. Instead I wanted to write about the things I’ve found useful – tips given to me, questions to ask. If you have anything else to add, please do so in the comments below.

Making the right decision

If you’re thinking about changing schools, then it’s for a good reason. However, I know some people have tried to put us off moving our son, and suggested we reconsider – indeed our social worker said:

Try to resolve the issue at your current school. Moving schools may not address the issues you’re facing, and indeed moving may create more anxiety and worry, and cause more disruption.

We were also advised to consider the following, before we made any definite steps towards moving our son:

  • Each school has it’s own way of teaching – how will your child cope with learning in new Glasses and booksways, with different rules?
  • Children who transfer after exam subjects have been picked may find their new school doesn’t offer the same subject – bear this in mind.
  • Think about how well your child will be able to settle, how quickly they make friends, and if this might impact on their ability to learn.
  • Consider uniform – you might need to buy a whole new uniform – from Blazers and special PE kit right down to different colour socks. Is this manageable for you?
  • Do check whether your other children will be able to move to the same school. Have you thought whether it will be a problem for you to have your children attending different schools? There is no automatic right for your other children to transfer to the new school, either now or in the future.

Talking to your child

Whether you discuss it with your child right at the very beginning, mention it casually, or keep it to yourself until you find a place elsewhere is your call. Here we decided, given our son is only 6, to mention it in casual conversation, kind of sounding him out really, but we won’t say anything else until we know we can find a suitable school for him – no point worrying him, and I don’t want him letting on to his current school what our plans are.

Speaking with admissions and choosing a school

The next step is to contact your local education authority and their admissions team specifically. Our own local authority has a form that is downloadable from their website, which we print, fill in and send off, with 3 schools named as options.

Our local authority advised us to look on their website at the list of local schools – there are hundreds, but I narrowed it down to about 8 that were either within a reasonable distance to us or seemed to have specialisms in some of our areas of difficulty. The advisors in the admissions team were happy to look up those schools to see if they had any spaces. In our case, most haven’t got any spaces in the Year we’re transferring within. But we were advised to check out the websites and prospectuses of all we’d initially picked, and base our decisions on the schools, not whether they had spaces. Sometimes, depending on how the school is governed, they can make a space available. If your child has a statement and is still considered LAC, then I was advised that the new school would have to take the child. *There’s a handy tip there…if your child is in the middle of getting a statement, wait until they have it before you try to move them, it could prove a useful tool*.

Ofsted website

So after looking at websites, OFSTED reports and speaking to schools directly I narrowed my choices down to 4, which I’m visiting this week – only one of them has spaces, but one is governed differently and might be able to make a space.

Remember to look at a mix of large and small schools. Just because you’re experiencing issues with a large school now, doesn’t mean you should only consider small schools. Large and small schools all have their own pros and cons – big/small budgets, lots/hardly any friendship opportunities, little fish/big fish – opportunities to stand out, or get lost. Consider every aspect.

What to ask

I have a standard list of questions and they’re in part based around the things my son struggles with, but you might find them useful to adapt:

  • How big is your intake/what size are your classes?
  • What is the daily routine like?
  • How often do you have assembly?
  • What is the mix of female/male teachers?
  • Have you experience of children with attachment issues?
  • What is your SEN provision like?
  • How often do you review your IEPs?
  • Can I meet your SENCo?
  • What is the school’s approach to discipline?
  • Do you have a nurture group?
  • How many TAs are there in each class?
  • How would you manage transition from old school to here?
  • How are you moving forward on your OFSTED recommendations of a,b and c?

I also explained a little about my son’s needs, and asked if they were daunted by them. And how they thought they could support him.

Going with your gut feeling 

I’ve been advised that the most important thing is the feel of the school – several people have told me that I’ll know as soon as I step through the doors whether it’s right or not. Think about how you feel when you look around? Is there a good atmosphere? Do the children seem happy? Is safety evident? Are they obviously only showing you the good bits? Are the displays fresh and new? Are they interested and taking pride in the children’s work?

And if you’re allowed, see if you can ask the children questions – are they happy? Do they look forward to school each day? Do they like their teachers? Do they like the playground and it’s facilities?

Finally, try to strike up a bit of a rapport with the headteacher. Get a good relationship going before and during the application process… it’ll help in the long term.

Next steps and submitting that application

So my next step is to finish the application by adding the 3 schools (or less) that I want my son to transfer to. One of the schools advised me to add as much additional information as I possibly can, so I’m calling on our Post Adoption Social Worker to write a supporting statement, and I shall be adding a (hopefully) strong statement about why I want to move my child, and why I’ve picked the schools that I have.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to look at and things about, but I’ve tried to pull in the questions, advice and information I’ve been given, and hope you might find it useful too. The most important thing I think is to be prepared – go and visit schools knowing a bit about them, knowing the transfer and admissions process – that way you can ask the relevant questions.Bookbag and school shoes

IEP an Introduction and Understanding

Here one parent gives an overview of the IEP……

An IEP or an Individual Education plan might be something that a school issues for your adopted child. The aim of an IEP is to create a focus on specific targets for a child that may be struggling in some area of their education. My children have both had IEP’s since the first full years at school. I never once considered this inappropriate and have always felt that they have been integral to the progress they’ve made. I think the very positive way in which they have been utilised, and the importance which is placed on these plans in the school, has formed a frame work for the support they gain. 

IEP

I am also aware that many parents do not always have very positive experiences on how IEP’s are used in school.

Often they are a paper pushing exercises which hold no weight in how the child is supported.

Often they are completed without consulting the parents, further alienating the teacher from those who know the child best. I have attended every IEP meeting ever held about my children and it has only helped to strengthen the relationship I have with school. I know not everyone has a school where the staff are as approachable or supportive so I asked our SENCO to give a brief over view of their IEP procedure. I hope that maybe this will assist some parents in knowing they can expect more and give them the confidence to insist on more.

 

The IEP (Individual Education Plan) process

 We are a large Primary School with additional places funded for children with Statements of SEN.

If a class teacher has a concern about a child in any area of their development they fill in a referral form which goes to the SENCO.

The SENCO will then pass this on to the relevant people in order to access interventions.

A meeting will then be called to determine what action is required.

We generally hold an IEP meeting three times a year.

All those people involved with the child are invited to these meetings, including parents.

Targets are set which are small, achievable and measurable steps.

These are often shared with the children, if relevant, so that they are aware what they are aiming for and can see success when they achieve them.

We usually set about four targets so that there is not too much to work on at once as this can be overwhelming.

Following the meeting a copy of the IEP is sent to all those involved.

If the children continue to cause concern and do not make relevant progress then the school may need to consult outside agencies and the SENCO would be involved in the IEP meetings. All agencies involved are then invited to the meetings.

We also include behaviour agreements as part of the IEP process, if this is needed. This enables us to devise a positive behaviour plan with the child working towards rewards for desired behaviour.

These are shared with all staff coming into contact with that child and work very well to ensure a consistent approach.

………………………………

Over the years our IEP’s have had a wide variety of targets on them. Usually each IEP will have a combination of behaviour and academic targets here are some examples…

“to learn to use the quiet corner as a place to calm down”

“to take turns with an adult or a child”

“to identify emotions sad, happy, angry or worried”

“to write words along the line of the text book”

“to place Capital letters at the beginning of a sentence and a full stop at the end”

“to create a finger space between words when writing”

to stop spitting”

On the report the target column is the followed by a column headed “Teaching Programme”. Here the process for achieving this target is outlined. Each target becomes something the teacher will aim to work on with the child, a focus for learning.

I hope this is in some way helpful to those who may feel mystified or unsure of the value of an IEP. Hopefully knowing it can be used in a positive way will help some to ask for more.

Preparing to meet your child – Part 2

Last week we posted a great piece from Suddenly Mummy on Preparing to Meet Your Child, specifically on Meeting the Foster Carer. This week’s follow up focusses on Preparing the Introductory Materials

Part II – Preparing Introductory Materials

Once your match has been approved at Matching Panel, you will be able to send introductory materials that your child’s foster carer can use to introduce you to your child before the big first meeting takes place.

These can take a number of forms but are most often photo albums, home-made DVDs, audio recordings, etc.  These don’t have to be created to professional standards, so don’t feel under too much pressure.  The idea is to allow your child to see and hear you, and to see your home, garden, local area (local park, etc.) and maybe a selection of special people so that they can build some familiarity with their new life before it actually happens.  You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg!

I recently worked with an adoptive parent who produced some really well-thought-out introductory materials for the three-year-old boy she was adopting.  Here are some of her great ideas:

New Home

1. She sent a photo album, DVD and audio recording.  I was able to introduce these items gradually so that he didn’t get too bored with looking at the same thing for weeks.

2. Prior to creating the materials, she bought a soft toy (a bunny) that featured heavily in the photos and DVD.  This bunny came to first meeting and stayed with the little boy at my house throughout introductions (it was a big success!)

3. The DVD was very simply created but started at the front door and then toured the important rooms in the house, including his new bedroom, as well as the local park.  The bunny featured throughout, sitting in the bed, peeping out of the toybox, going down the slide.

4. The photo album showed many of the scenes that were in the DVD which was great reinforcement and gave me chance to talk about what we were seeing in more depth than with the film.  She had created it as a sort of ‘Where’s Wally?’ with the bunny hidden on each picture for the little boy to find and he really enjoyed that game.

5. This parent had clearly paid a lot of attention to what I had said during our meeting and to the photos I had shown her.  For instance, I mentioned that he was very interested in whether his new Mummy would have a car, so she ensured that the DVD showed her driving her car.  One of the photos I had shown her showed the little boy having huge fun with a garden hose.  One of the photos in her album showed Bunny in a very similar pose with the hose.  There were several other photos that mirrored pictures I had shown her, as well as attention paid to the little boy’s interests at the time (mainly trains and planes).

6. The photo album included a couple of photographs of special people who would go on to play a big part in the little boy’s life.  As a single adopter, this lady was then able to bring one of these special people along to support her during the introductions (it was long-distance involving hotel stays) and the little boy was able to meet her.new pets

7. The audio recording was of the adoptive parent reading a book which I had told her was one of the little boy’s favourites so she knew he would be familiar with it.

This lady’s approach is just one way of doing things.  She had some great ideas, but the materials you create will need to reflect you and your family and your lifestyle.  If you remember back to a time when you went somewhere new – first day at big school or first day in a new job for instance – it will help you to imagine just how disorientating the big move is going to be for your child.  Anything you can do in your introductory materials to make the unknown seem more familiar to your child will help to smooth the process of introductions and transition considerably.

And finally – enjoy yourself!  Don’t be nervous – your child isn’t an art or film critic.  Just have fun making the materials, let your personalities shine through, and be prepared to have them as keepsakes forever!

Many thanks to Suddenly Mummy for this great two-part series. If you’d like to contribute to our Handy Tips and Advice section, please do contact us.

Preparing to meet your child – Part 1

Suddenly Mummy is a single adoptive mum, and also a foster carer. She’s put together these Handy Tips on Preparing to Meet Your Child as a two-part piece. This week you’ll see it’s about meeting the foster carer…

Part I – Meeting the Foster Carer

Although it can be daunting, meeting the foster carer is a vital step in preparing to meet your child or children, so it’s important to approach the meeting positively so that you can get the most out of it.  Here are a few suggestions that might help to make the meeting a success:

1. Make sure you know where you’re going!  It sounds like a simple thing, but the last thing you need on this important day is to be driving round in panic, lost and late!

FC questions
2. Decide on a few questions in advance.
The nature of these will depend on the age of the child or children you are adopting, and also their backgrounds and any issues you are already aware of.  Think about practical things such as routine, feeding, naps, bedtimes, etc. and clothing/shoe size, favourite activities, toys, books and so on.  Ask about washing powder/fabric softener so you can start making your house smell like the foster carer’s house.  You will also want to ask questions about medical needs and/or educational/developmental/behavioural needs, depending on your child’s profile.

3. Allow the conversation to flow freely.  It’s important to ask questions to get the specific information you need, but at the same time you are trying to build up a rounded picture of the child and their life with their carers, so don’t be concerned if conversation strays from your prepared questions as you might be able to learn unexpected and precious details this way.

4. Be aware that the foster carers may not be able to answer all of your questions. Sometimes foster carers simply don’t have the information you are looking for – they may not even have all the information that you have been given.  Sometimes, things that are important to your lifestyle will not figure in the foster carer’s lifestyle, so they may not be able to answer questions about that.  For instance, if you are very outdoorsy, you might want to know whether your child enjoys digging in the mud, but this might never have come up in the foster family.

5. Ask to see plenty of pictures that the carers have taken.  Of course, you want to see pictures of your child, but also take special note of what is happening in the photographs.  Try to see what your child is doing in the pictures (playing with trains, looking at books, playing with the water, etc.) and make a mental note of what you see – this will be useful when you are preparing your introductory materials.

6. Offer the foster carer your email address.  I like to swap email addresses with adoptive parents so that I can email them about things I may have forgotten, and send new photos periodically to keep that contact going while we all wait for matching and introductions.

7. Relax!  Although it can be downright scary meeting the foster carers, remember that they are not your competition.  Foster carers work hard to prepare children for adoption and, although we do get attached, we know that there is great joy mixed with the sadness when we hand our charges over to their forever families.  Of course, the foster carer’s ways of doing things might be different to what you have experienced and planned, but be assured that they will want the adoptive placement to be a success and will aim to work with you to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Part 2 looks at Preparing Introductory Materials, something that many adoptive parents approach with trepidation. Be sure to check back next week.

And, if you have any knowledge to share like this Handy Tips post, please do get in touch.

Tips for Changing Behaviour

Lindsay from Grey Street has written top tips for us before (on running errands with children in tow), this week she shares her tips on Changing Behaviour.

There are hundreds of different strategies to changing behaviours and hundreds of different ways to reward and consequence a child for behaviour. What strategies and methods you choose is dependent on your child’s needs and abilities and also your time and means to achieving a behaviour goal.

Underlying reasons of why a behaviour is occurring needs to be considered when choosing an approach, however, the list of tips below, no matter the child’s level of functioning or underlying reasons, apply to implementing your chosen approach.

Pick ONE specific behaviour you want to change You can’t change it all and you can’t change it all right now. Pick the one thing that would make a difference in you daily sanity and forget the rest, for now. Eg. stop yelling, putting shoes away, brushing teeth, stop picking nose etc.

Work at it for at least 2 weeks Once you decide on a new strategy, and explain it to your child so they understand the expectations (you’d be surprised at how many people forget this part:), stick with it for a couple weeks. It may not seem like it’s working at first because behaviour will typically get worse before it gets better so you must stick with it, at least for a bit. If you have done that and it’s not working, time to move on to the next strategy.

Follow through You absolutely can not waiver on your consequence. If you are so tired you think your head may roll Rewardsoff and your child does ‘the behaviour’, you must must must drag your lead body to follow through on the consequence. Every. single. time. I kid you not this will be the game changer.

If you are going to consequence, you must reward You can’t keep taking things away and/or just talking about the bad stuff. You need to give your child a reason to want to behave, as unfortunately behaving for the sake of man kind just isn’t intrinsic. Yet.

Catch your child being good Although you may be targeting behaviour X, it is important to acknowledge the other good behaviours, no matter how small – “I like how you combed your hair, great job!”, “You put your shoes on really fast! Wow!”, “I really appreciate how you cleaned up your dishes, you sure are getting good at that!”.

Be specific The examples above tell your child exactly what it is they did good. No more ‘good jobs’ or ‘way to go’. You need to tell them exactly what it is they did a good job doing if you want to see it again.

Use simple language When you are talking to your child about their reward or consequence for behaviour X, keep it simple and to the point. Less is more, keep it short and straight forward.

Don’t power struggle Also a game changer. When you have given your instruction to do something (or stop) and arguing/whining/tantrums begins, DON’T ENGAGE. I’m telling you, your child will win every time. The only way to not engage in a power struggle is to ignore anything but the desired behaviour. Ignore the arguing/whining/tantrum or walk away or lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to but do not open your mouth except to repeat your direction.

Ignoring If you are using ignoring as a strategy, ignore the behaviour not your child. Your child is separate from their negative behaviour. They are just a little person trying to figure out this world and deserve to be respected and loved no matter their behaviour.  Although sometimes it’s the hardest thing to do.

Behaviour is communication Kids don’t behave badly for the sake of it. They don’t wake up in the morning and scheme how to make your life more difficult that day. Behaviour is no different than talking; it’s just harder to understand sometimes if we don’t speak that language. Learn your child’s language, and if you are struggling to learn it then ask for help.

This post is part of our Handy Tips and Hints section, which is full of posts from our great contributors. If you have something useful and interesting that you’d like to contribute, please do contact us.

Considering Home Educating Part 2

Considering_HE

Today we’re bringing you the second part of Suddenly Mummy’s information on Home Educating. If you want to read the first part, it’s available here…

 

 

 

Exams and Tests

While the National Curriculum and its SATs are not necessarily applicable to home educated children, many do choose to take formal examinations, especially at GCSE level. The first step is to find exam centres (usually schools or colleges) in your area that will register you as a private candidate for the exams you wish to study. Some FE colleges do offer complete courses that home educated students can enrol on which makes the process much easier for subjects with a practical element such as Music or Art – check with your local college about the possibilities.

Once you are registered, decide how you prefer to study.

There are several online and correspondence courses available through organisations such as NorthStar which offer complete GCSE courses with online support. Many families achieve success simply by studying the core text books at home, perhaps supplementing with a little tutoring. There are many ways to approach formal examinations, but choosing home education does not mean that your child cannot succeed academically and go on to study at university and beyond if they so wish.

Network!

There are a lot of home educating families out there. Wherever you live, it is likely that there is a group of home educators near you. If you are considering home education, a little time spent on the internet will almost certainly yield results in terms of local groups, online groups and other networking options so that you can meet some home educators for yourself and get a feel for what it’s all about.

Many parents worry about the question of ‘socialisation’ – how do home educated children make friends? Well, apart from the usual extra-curricular activities that most children get involved with such as sports, Scouts and Guides, dancing, etc., home education networking can be a valuable way for children to meet others of all ages and different backgrounds who share their out-of-school lifestyle.

Worth Considering?

While home education may not be right for every child, or every family, it can be a life-changing choice for some. Research published by the National Home Education Research Institute (US) indicates that home educated students score above average on achievement tests regardless of their parents’ educational level, and that adults who were home educated are more likely to be involved in activities outside the home such as volunteering, sports, politics, community service, etc.

Home education can achieve excellent results, academically, emotionally and socially.

As parents, we needn’t be afraid of taking on the responsibility to ensure that our children get a suitable education, whether that’s through fighting their corner to get what they need from their school, or taking on the job ourselves.

Some useful links:

Education Otherwise http://www.educationotherwise.net/
Gov.uk page on HE https://www.gov.uk/home-education
The Home Service http://thehomeservice.org/
Gateway Christian Education http://gatewaychristianeducation.org.uk
National Home Education Research Institute http://www.nheri.org/
NorthStar http://northstarworldwide.org/