It’s a new school year and always a time for reflection for me. I prefer this time of year to New Year for thinking and planning.
So we’re back at school, and this year we’ve not had our normal honeymoon period. Between surgery, dance dramas, a move to high school and “impending” SATS, the smalls are quite ramped already.
I know from experience that we have this behaviour every year when the new term begins, it just usually takes a couple of weeks to kick in. I also know that ‘this too shall pass”. And that we’ll learn from it for next time.
What I also know is that we don’t always notice how life is changes. We see the big stuff, of course. That jumps up, shouting and hollering, and slaps us in the face so that we don’t miss it. What we do miss are the small things. The incremental improvements in behaviour, or that we’re doing fewer appointments. That the kids are that bit more independent, or that we’re getting to drink a coffee hot, without having to ping it in the microwave. Half a dozen times.
Reflection is a family activity!
This became really clear last week during a conversation with my mother-in-law. She’d been having a chat with Georgia about something or other, and they’d remembered that 2 years ago Dave and I were doing a parenting course because things were so awful that we’d gladly grab onto any help with both hands.
Today, I cant imagine needing to do such a thing. So it got me thinking to what had we learned as a family over the last 2 years.
What had changed?
This is the biggie in our house. Child to parent violence, mainly aimed at me, was a real and significant problem. Behaviour that I wouldn’t tolerate from a husband, or other adult was a weekly occurrence from children.
I’d had a broken foot, punches to the face and body. I had been kicked all over. It was intolerable and heartbreaking.
Thankfully we received some specialist anger management training as a family from Key, a local support charity. It was life changing.
We utilised the excellent resource Volcano in my Tummy, implemented anger rules that we all had to abide by, and the children had emotion thermometers and other graphics to help them explain how they felt.
Giving them the tools to communicate how they were feeling in a way that we understood, because we were using the same tools, gave us a way to circumvent the anger and therefore reduce the violence. On reflection this was the turning point for many changes in our family.
It was particularly useful to get external support for this because we were learning a whole new way of parenting. As both kids are neuroatypical, standard parenting practices really weren’t working.
As I type this today, I can’t remember the last time I was on the receiving end of violent behaviour. And my children have an emotional vocabulary that will take them into adulthood.
Importantly, the adults in our family have better emotional communication too. We all win!
Learning emotional language has also proved to be a gateway to improved empathy. Whilst Georgia has always had this in spades, Ted…not so much!
The classic illustration of this is the time I knocked myself out on a low doorframe. Ted was with me. He stepped over my prone self, went downstairs and into the playroom. Without stopping to notify anyone of my predicament.
These days, he shows clear concern and has a good understanding that if someone is hurt or distressed, you help them or get them help.
It’s a seemingly small thing, but one that will make him a better friend, colleague and partner as he travels through life. It’s definitely a learned behaviour rather than something innate in him. But it demonstrates that even a neuroatypical child can learn these essential social skills.
I have so many tales to tell you how much our children have demonstrated this over the years. But this year we’ve seen an exponential rise in the ways they draw on their inner courage.
Some of this is because they are getting that little bit older. But we’ve always had concerns that when the time came for them to start to step out into the world on their own, they wouldn’t have the skills to cope.
I’ll admit that we’ve been working on this for a while. Small steps such as letting them pay at the shop, or walking the dog around the block (with Mum’s phone in their pocket for safety and so we can see where they are).
But on the first day of school, when Georgia strode away from us with a cheery “see ya”, the overwhelming sense was of pride in her bravery. When she first came home 10 years ago, we were warned that she would likely not attend mainstream school. Yet here she is defying the odds, embracing the experience, and doing it on her terms.
Reflecting on reflections
I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that, yes, life is busy and it’s hard. And if your child has any of the additional challenges that come from being a looked after child, its exponentially so.
At this time of year, when the internet is full of shining faces, sharpened pencils and eternal optimism, it can feel that we are on the periphery as we manage anxiety, difficult behaviour and tears. And that’s just us grown ups.
Don’t forget that these transitions are as difficult for us as they are for our children. Nobody wants their child to struggle.
But what our family is living proof of is, and it’s something we speak about regularly, is that if you get the right support positive change can happen.
And support and positive change lead to great outcomes for our children. Which is a great outcome for all of us.