Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Easter holidays

We had a fantastic break. We'd planned in an activity for each day of the first week, and then went on a trip away for five days on the coast. Peter loved the beach and paddling in the waves, and even had his first ice cream in a cone! He threw himself into every opportunity that came his way, and it was amazing to see his independence and confidence grow over the fortnight.

He has so much energy and enthusiasm that it's easy to forget that although physically he's nearly five, mentally and emotionally he's about half that. By the Friday before school was due to start again we realised that it was all getting too much for Peter. We reigned it all back in and spent some quality quiet time at home, reading stories, laughing together, doing jigsaws and singing, without any distractions or stimuli like the TV, iPad or visitors. Peter really responded well to the new relaxed routine and we've had a peaceful and easy start to the Summer term.

With all this in mind, we've decided to calm things down around here for the time being. Fewer planned activities, less screen time, going out at when it's less busy, and a focus on family time at home. We've even cut down on Peter's hours in school as we saw how much better he did in the holidays when he was able to nap every day and the effect that had on both keeping his moods regulated and the quality of his night time sleep. We'll be picking him up after lunch and will evaluate how he's doing at half term to see whether we'll continue.

In the spirit of Easter, it's been a wonderful rejuvenating time, and feels like a fresh start for all of us.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Parents' afternoon

We were invited into Peter's class today to play with the children, see the work they've been doing and have a special tea with them. We've had several meetings with the teachers, but it's the first time we've actually been into the classroom since he started at this school so we were very excited to see all the things he's been doing.

We wondered before we set off how the teacher would refer to parents/carers as a group as we know that Peter's not the only fostered child in the school, and there are other children on special guardianship orders, living with grandparents etc. but as we walked in we heard her say "We have some special visitors today children - your mummies and daddies have come to play!" Whoops!

As it's a special school, the teachers and assistants all use Makaton signing to aid communication for all children, and as Peter is only just starting to sign at home we hadn't appreciated how much they signed at school. Our own signing is limited to a few basic ones picked up from Mr Tumble, so we're got a way to go - it's inspired us to source some training so that we can give Peter some more continuity.

Peter loved having us there and was so excited once he got over the initial confusion as the normal routine had changed, and it was wonderful watching him participate in the singing and dancing with his classmates. We were amazed how involved he was in all the actions and how beautifully he was sitting on his own chair for circle time. He's come so far in a term!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Modelling behaviour

We went to a playground today that we haven't been to before. It's especially designed for children with additional needs, and we've been really looking forward to going for several weeks. Peter had a great time overall, but the behaviour of some of the other playground-users prompted me to write this post. It wasn't the children, but the parents!

During our two hours there, Peter was pushed off a tricycle, spat on, kicked, had his hair pulled, had a toy he was really enjoying snatched from him and was shouted at. All were unprompted attacks, and he didn't retaliate. None of the parents did anything, and they were all right next to their child at the time.

Now, I'm not judging your parenting for your child's behaviour. I appreciate that your child is not being "naughty", I understand that right now they may have a lack of impulse control, they live in the present and don't understand consequences, their underdeveloped communication skills mean that they are unable to listen to reason when they are focussed on something that they want, and they act from emotion without thinking. That's my child too. That is absolutely no excuse for not modelling appropriate responses. If an incident occurs, all it needs is:

Simon pushes Peter off the trike and then spits on him and kicks him.
Simon's mum "Simon that wasn't nice, that hurt the little boy. It's your turn on the trike next." (to us) "Is he ok? I'm sorry that happened."

As it was, we barely got eye contact and "Simon" wasn't spoken to at all except a half-hearted "stop it".

We ended up saying each time, out of earshot so it didn't sound like we were trying to correct someone else's child - "That boy didn't make a good choice - it's not nice to *insert action* and you were very kind not hitting him back." We mostly avoided the other children from then on by playing outside when they were inside and vice versa.

There's just no need for that to happen, I would have been absolutely mortified if it had been Peter attacking someone. If you know there's a risk of your child being violent to another child, surely you need to stay nearby to anticipate any trigger points and act first.

We go to "Special Needs" venues because they're generally quieter and safer, to avoid the risk of Peter being picked on for being different, and to meet and chat with other parents who understand and are going through the same things. We're quite disappointed that they didn't seem to be at this particular place.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Re-traumatising and music therapy

When living and working with traumatised children, it's important to know as much background as possible about each child so that you can avoid re-traumatising. For example, if you know that your foster child was abused in their bedroom you might want to move settling activities such as bedtime stories downstairs, or if you know that your foster child was scapegoated in their family, you will want to be very careful how you phrase things when disciplining them to avoid bringing those feelings to the surface.

We know very little of the day to day detail of why Peter and his siblings are in care, so haven't really had to plan any strategies other than the usual ones around safer caring. We had an issue the other morning that could easily have been avoided - I bopped Peter on the head with a cushion in a playful way to chivy him on, and he looked terrified and reacted as though I was going to beat him. Obviously I felt dreadful, but now we know that reaction is a possibility and can imagine some of the reasons why, we'll be able to be more sensitive.

Peter seems to be very musical. He hasn't yet got the concept of "tune", but he definitely has rhythm and a good memory for lyrics (not the exact words as his language skills aren't there yet, but he gets the general shape of them), and loves to sing loudly and enthusiastically, sounding a bit like a Gregorian chant. He can also pick out a different part to a song, so sometimes I'll be singing a melody and he'll come in with the bass line, getting the length of each note right and without getting distracted by me singing something different, it's quite extraordinary. We're hoping to arrange music therapy for him in the near future to see whether he engages with it, but for now he seems to be happy chanting along to folk songs in the car!