Monday, 6 July 2015

Go to sleep!

(Whenever Katie has gone through a developmental change her sleep has been effected. There used to be clearly recognisable periods when her ability to fall asleep grew markedly more impaired. These periods were generally short lived though and normal service was resumed relatively quickly.  Over the last few years however I'm noticing that the periods of disruption are growing far longer than the periods of ease of sleep.

I think it's fair to say that I have experienced every single emotion related to Katie and getting her to sleep. Sadly there is often a massive imbalance between the positive and the negative emotions. I've questioned and queried the reasons as to why she is unable to settle. Is it behavioural? Is it hormonal? Is it both? I've invested unbelievable amounts of time and effort into helping her fall asleep. We have a regular bedtime routine of bath and stories.  I've stroked her hair and murmured meditative monologues about heavy eyelids and limbs. We given incentives and rewards for staying in bed. We've tried music. We've tried Nighttime Rescue Remedy and Potters Sleep Balm. I've even tried the odd dose of Piriton. We've tried letting her read herself to sleep. We've tried using the iPad/Ipod/singing dog. She has a rustle box that just seems to keep her awake. We've gotten angry and frustrated. We've had shouting matches as Katie has refused to stay in bed. Nothing works for long.

I'm thinking a lot about Katie's behaviour and what drives it just lately. I'd much rather not be thinking about it but it's a fairly prominent issue so hard to ignore. Theraplay has really highlighted just how much energy Katie invests in trying to control everything at home. The amount of energy she must use each day in this quest would make you question why she's not more exhausted at the end of the day. But there in is part of the problem. Katie doesn't like going to bed. She doesn't want to sleep. She doesn't want to be told to sleep. She wants to control when she goes to bed and she wants to have control over the evening TCM and I have. She want's to control EVERYTHING! I'm also becoming the same as I try desperately to claw back my own control of the situation.  I'm writing this blog post on my bed in the next room to her. It's nearly 9pm and despite us reading the Nightlights book and doing relaxation and me stroking her head for 20 minutes, she is still very much awake,. I will say she's more mellow than previous evenings where she was screaming and tantrumming and trying to sit in an open bedroom window (opened by her not me) so that is a step in the right direction, but she's not asleep. 

So the questions remains. What are we dealing with? Is this just about control or is there more at play? I'm tackling the first part with great tenacity currently. Fed up with battling about everything with Katie we are now using a zero tolerance policy. It feels harsh. It's swift. There is no room for ambiguity or negotiation. If I ask her to do something and she argues or tantrums she is ignored or removed to her room. She is not gaining anything anymore for this behaviour. Yesterday she had no money to spend at her school fete because of her behaviour. Zero Tolerance Policy has seen some horrific meltdowns in response. Epic! Scary! Violent ones. I've had buckets thrown at me. I've dodged flying objects (mostly toys). I've been called names (she's quite fond of the word "Imbecile" just lately thanks to a school friend and watching Matilda!). I've been sworn at. But, and there is a but, the tantrums seem to be getting shorter each time now. She seems to give in a little quicker and accept the outcome a little more graciously. I've even had some apologies. 

I'm thinking that although this approach is highly uncomfortable for us, it seems to be working. What's key to it though is staying eerily calm. I've rediscovered my sing song voice. I'm ignoring.....a lot. I'm very, very tough though and taking no nonsense at all. My hope is that she will start to feel safe and recognise that I'm in control, not her. I'm hoping that this will, in turn, help her relax at bedtime. I hope so.

We do have a lot working against us. Katie is leaving her current school soon and starting Junior school. We will be leaving our rented house (praise be) and moving home, just prior to starting the new school. There is much in her life that is out of her control. This will be unsettling although I'm hoping that going home will help. It might be a distraction from starting school. It might make it worse. 

We have to find a way to deal with Katie's need to control things before she gets too much older I think, otherwise I foresee desperate teenage years ahead. I feel she really needs to understand that we are in control and I feel that the way forward isn't with soft boundaries. I suspect we've been too accommodating. Too understanding. Making too many excuses for her behaviour. Tiptoeing around the issue of her being adopted. Of course this is all part of the issue and needs to be understood but it's also clouding the problem. There remains a niggle of whether if she has FASD, that could be impacting on her ability to settle but once asleep Katie rarely wakes up again, so her ability to go to sleep seems, to me at least, that it's anxiety driven rather than chemically driven. Of course the lighter, summer nights don't help things either. It will be a watch and see scenario. We will wait to see if the Zero Tolerance Policy enables her to abdicate control to us. I suspect this will continue to be a tough process for some time to come and we will have to remain invested in it. Neither TCM or myself want to be rigid, dictatorial parents because that's not who we are as people really but we've tried the more relaxed parenting style and I'm realising it just gives Katie too much room for anxiety and manouvere. 

It's relentless though. She is relentless. We didn't go out of the house yesterday morning because she refused the wear the shoes I asked her to put on. Previously I would have given her a choice but now the choices have been removed until Katie starts to comply with these simple requests. 

Will this work? Who knows! I hope so. I hope we can tighten things and reign her back in again. I joke that it's like breaking in a horse. Firm but gentle. Gentle is tough though when dodging missiles because instinct can take over. I'm working hard on that one. 

It's 9:24pm. It's now nearly 2 hours since I put Katie to bed. I read her the riot act about 10 minutes ago. It's gone very quiet. Might she be asleep? If so then in three days we've reigned sleep back from 11pm to 9:24pm. It's required me to sit in my bedroom, missing my time with TCM though. 

Fingers crossed we're heading in the right direction. 

On a plus side (and I almost daren't write this in case I put the wrong intention out into the universe) Pip has been sleeping in his own bed all night for the past week!  Which has been a blessed relief from this...

If you can think of a miraculous solution to our sleep problems that I've not already tried I would love to hear your suggestions.  What has worked for you?  Do we just add an annexe onto our house build and stick Katie in there so she can get on with it herself?

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Smile and Wave Boys!

I've not blogged that much about life just recently, mostly because I just don't know where to start or what to say.  The pace of life with the house build and all things children has reached a critical velocity over the past few months to the point where I literally get up each day and fire fight on all fronts and then collapse in a heap on the sofa.  Often the collapse can come during the middle of the day as I also battle with what I suspect is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  That's not to say that there aren't moments that are fun and happy but the balance is definitely being tipped in the favour of stressed and grumpy for all members of the house.

We are limping towards moving back home.  We've now been out of the house for nearly a year and it's tearing us apart living where we're living.  It's not really the fault of the house. It's a lot smaller than we are used to but that's not the issue so much as the space is quickly filled with all our furniture and toys.  Our furniture is used to filling bigger spaces so it's larger in its dimensions that the house can handle.  Our sofas alone take up most of the lounge. Add my precious Clavinova; our CD collection; a side board; our TV; a few guitars; a dining table and chairs and a ton of toys and we are tripping up over mess all the time.  The hallway is now full of IKEA boxes with Katie's new wardrobes waiting for one or both of us to generate sufficient brain cells to decipher the ridiculously obscure flat pack instructions.  Ordinarily I am a wizz at putting flat packs together but even I looked at the indestructions and realised my mind was boggling.  If I could fall at the feet of my wonderful builder and beg him to achieve the impossible and let me move back immediately into my house that is currently minus a kitchen and has a just about water-tight extension I would.  Sadly being an adopter doesn't qualify me for DIY SOS but I do go to bed dreaming of 90 tradespeople descending on my house to get it all finished.  I'm too tired to even get excited about the thought of those tradespeople in a Diet Pepsi kinda way!

I don't think we realised what we were taking on when we embarked on this house build.  I think that's possibly a good thing because we might have scaled back our dreams and not ended up with the amazing house we will have.  We are currently a cliche of most of the people on Grand Designs at this stage of the build; running out of money and desperately doing everything we can to sweet talk the bank into giving us some more money whilst keeping the build going with smiles on our faces so no-one on the site knows how stressed we are.  I'm taking hope from GD (which I now watch nearly every single night!) that it all comes right in the end for all the people on the programme (although they never tell you on the Revisited programmes if the people have ever paid the bank back or whether they are still living on baked beans!).

Add two crazy kids into the mix and it's easy to see why I have a very glazed and stressed expression on my face and how I actually managed to fall asleep whilst talking to the wonderful Mrs VanderCave on the phone the other afternoon.  That was a first for me!

The children are in bonkers mode at the moment. It's hardly surprising considering TCM and I are all at sea with everything going on with the house and trying to sort out my Mother-in-Law's affairs after the death of Pops in September.  This is nowhere near resolved so the situation will continue until our case is heard by the Court of Protection at some point this millennia year.

Katie particularly is on a mission to extract as much attention from us as she possibly can, by all means necessary - fair or fowl - mostly fowl. She's back to taking about 2 hours to get to sleep every night and is as controlling as the Head Controller of the company called Controllers  R Us.  She is exhausting.  She lies about everything - even the silliest of things.  She attempts to blame Pip for her deeds except she keeps forgetting Pip can now talk and tell me what's happened.  She's into being mean to me.  I'm often called "You bloody woman" which is very pleasant.  We are playing the Points Game with some success and she is now getting 10 points in the morning if she either goes straight to sleep or stays in her bed until she falls asleep.  It comes as a surprise to Katie that you have to actually lay down in your bed to fall asleep and that getting out of bed repeatedly prevents her from falling asleep!  Her temper tantrums are reduced from what they were but she was stopped from going to a birthday party half an hour before it started on Sunday due to her particularly unpleasant behaviour on Fathers Day. Her reaction to that decision was explosive.  Last night an overnight stay at my sister's house was cut short by 7pm when Katie wanted to come home because of an upset tummy. That would have been absolutely fine except she changed her mind on the way home and had a tantrum the size of China when she realised she really was coming home which resulted in me restraining her in the garden for about half an hour when she lost the plot.  It was a horrible half an hour with her screaming and biting and telling me that I wasn't her mother and she didn't feel safe with me.  I had to just ignore everything being thrown at me (and the fact that our neighbours appeared to be planning a BBQ) and focus on being calm and loving (not easy when someone is attempting to head butt you). It was productive though because Katie eventually realised she would have to calm down and comply to resolve the situation. I will just note that as soon as Katie calmed down and had a cuddle with my sister she was straight back to me to snuggle in my arms like a baby - not the behaviour of someone who doesn't feel safe with me at all. She apologised to me afterwards and said that she didn't mean anything she had said to me.  She acknowledged she was angry and wanted to upset me.

Ever the optimist, I'm always hopeful that things will improve.  There are a tough few months coming up which isn't helping the situation.  We will be moving back home and Katie will be starting a new school within a few weeks of each other.  Moving might prove a nice distraction from school or it might tip her over the edge.  Watch this space.  Her current school are helping with extra visits to the new school and a laminated book with pictures of the new school and it's classrooms etc and a story to go along with the pictures. To help everything we are also currently having Theraplay input from our Post Adoption Team.  The exercises we do are all focused on Katie's need to control( and I will write separately about these in case they are useful to anyone else).  TCM takes Pip out so Katie and I can do the session on our own.  Doing the sessions has really brought home just how controlling Katie is.  It is a bit of a lightbulb moment and I'm seeing it in so many different scenarios and really clamping down on all the areas where Katie is attempting to sit in the drivers seat.  What's also challenging is the fact that Katie has realised that we are having the input because of her behaviour and she is feeling embarrassed about this and this then leads to more challenging behaviour which then continues ad infinitum.  I'm hoping though that if we can get through this uncomfortable feeling she might be able to start owning her behaviour and taking a little bit of responsibility for how she reacts.

Along with the Theraplay I am really beginning to see that we need very tight boundaries at home and very few choices given for the time being.  It feels challenging to be so restrictive and it's not something that comes naturally to a generous person who want to encourage independence and tends to use reason and placation at a way of maintaining order.  That approach just isn't working so I'm sadly having to face the experiences of my own very aggressive childhood that left me fearful of arguments and violence and accept the way I currently need to parent Katie is in a much more hands on and assertive way as I did last night.  I will admit I find this difficult because the shame we talk about for adoptees is very much a part of my own identity where violence is concerned and having to manage violent behaviour really isn't something I am well equipped for emotionally although I am trained to restrain physically.  I am reminded of my incredibly aggressive mother and feel great anxiety that I will become like her.  I do have the capacity to tip over into being angry as a defence or emotionally shut down to dissociate from the experience so I'm having to cope with my own emotions as well as Katie's.  I can do this.  I am doing this but it raises a lot of pain and guilt and anxiety about my own "good enough" parenting abilities and I could do with a little more emotional space to process how I'm feeling.  That's not really possible currently though so to keep perspective and parent as therapeutically, in the midst of a war-zone, as is humanly possible I am reminding myself of my Reiki principles of "Just for Today". I'm also reminding myself that I'm not embracing a Game of Thrones parenting model which is means I am not permanently turning into my mother!  I'm hoping that with commitment and consistency we will win through and things will calm down.

On top of the situation with Katie, Pip is incredibly good at being 2!  He's excelling at being 2 in fact. There isn't an opportunity for a tantrum that he ever lets pass him by (he's learning from the master of course!).  He's decided he's not sleeping through the night anymore and generally either screams for me or (more recently) sneaks into our bed at around 3am.  Rewards for staying in his bed don't seem to be working so I'm parking this issue for resolution until we're back home.  I am currently attempting to be incredibly firm with him but am using treats as a bribe for good behaviour.  He's discovered he can open the lock on his 5 point harness car seat so I'm bribing him with a little gummy bear sweet for each journey he leaves it alone. We're having better success with this one although I had to drive home from his Childminder the other day with him screaming all the way home because he didn't get his sweet.  He will run away at every opportunity resulting in going on the reins or lots of hand holding whilst screaming and falling to the floor.  He managed to turn the freezer off resulting in the loss of all our frozen food and the freezer is currently so frosted up you can barely get anything out of it because he keeps getting in there.  Yes I do have locks on the freezer but if I say his nickname is Hercules then  you'll understand why they don't always work and why stair gates don't contain him because he drags the chairs to the gate to aid the climbing over of it. I will say though that smile of his gets him out of so much mischief.  He is a little pickle.  Sadly his tantrums have an added Brucie Bonus because he's learned from the Tantrum Mistress herself and he'll add a well placed kick or punch whilst I'm dealing with his tantrum (usually when having his nappy changed!).

One thing that is totally frustrating is the fact that few other people ever see the behaviour we experience at home,  I had to endure my sister smugly telling me this week that she didn't know what I was talking about.  "Katie was perfectly behaved and was very mature all day long" when she looked after her recently.  She said "I don't know what you're on about with her behaving younger than her age!"  and "You go on about it all too much" and "You talk too much about them being adopted" . All I will say is that Fathers Day was the next day so Katie's usual sabotage of the day came with added challenge due, I suspect, to the energy involved in being so perfectly behaved all day.  Apparently, according to my sister, all I need to do is "leave her to get on with it", oh and to "ignore her at bedtime" (which I mostly do anyway unless she's out of bed or hanging out the bedroom window to be honest).  Nice to solve all our problems so easily eh?   Since starting this blog post earlier this week my sister finally saw the behaviour that I've been telling her about yesterday.  I had a very apologetic sister last night who suddenly realised she hasn't really understood the situation or been there for me at all.

On a semi brighter note that same sister, after the revelations of last night (and who is a little older and wiser today), has taken the children out again to give us a break.  Interestingly now Katie knows my sister is in the know about her behaviour she has treated my sister to a mini temper tantrum at soft play already.  Is it wrong of me to chuckle at this anecdote? Hopefully though this will provide a little respite to calm down after another stressful start to the day and a light at the end of the tunnel right with hope that a little more support might be forthcoming (due to other family issues you'll forgive me if I don't hold my breath for too long on that last sentence though).

I guess I'd better go and put those wardrobes together now I'm childfree hadn't I?

I'm also having a wry chuckle because I booked a floatation tank for this coming Wednesday a few weeks back.  I had a letter home from school on Friday to tell me about Katie's violin recital.  Guess when it is?

I'd love to hear any stories or techniques that you can share about how you've resolved control issues. Do grab a cuppa and share them with me.  Do you have any top tips?

Saturday, 20 June 2015


There's a sort of funny story that goes with this post.  Ironic possibly more than hilariously funny if I'm honest. It started with one of those conversations that you have with your child and immediately dismiss that then suddenly comes back to mind after an event that you quite possibly aren't so happy about. One of those "it all suddenly becomes clear" moments!

Katie came home from school a few weeks ago full of excitement and chatter about her friend's new school shoes.  These shoes sadly have one thing that I will not let Katie have in her school shoes: high heels!  When I say high heels don't get excited and start thinking 4" stiletto heels.  These are probably about 1-1.5cm high.  I'm strict though.  No heels on school shoes.  Heels for playing dress up in are negotiable but again I'm a tough nut to crack on this one as well because I'm mindful of soft bones and growing feet and ensuring that when Katie is an old lady those feet are still performing the job designated to them. Anyway, the very next morning TCM found me in the bathroom post shower and wet hair at 7:45am to inform me that the strap on Katie's school shoes had broken. Considering I had looked at the shoes at around 7:30am as I put them by the front door this was quite the surprise to me.  As I started thinking about returning the shoes for a refund TCM noted that the break on the strap was very straight.  Immediately the conversation from the previous day flooded back into my mind and I realised that someone had been busy with some scissors with the aim of acquiring new shoes.

I was not happy!

I was not happy on many levels (most of which you can guess) but mostly due to the fact that Katie had a visit to her new school that very day.  Ordinarily I would have sent her to school in trainers and made her explain to her Head teacher why she was in trainers, but I didn't want her to be "that" child on that particular day.  She has enough singling her out at the new school with SENCO support and a transition plan for the move so I didn't want her to feel obvious for the wrong reasons. So at 8:15am after a mad panic to get ready we (an incredibly grumpy Mummy and a chastised Katie) were on our way to our local large supermarket to purchase some new school shoes.  Being a stickler for properly fitted shoes this irked me considerably. However I was well trained in fitting shoes when I was a much younger version of my current self so I was able to fit a pair of shoes that will do for the rest of the term (in about 5 minutes I might add due to the time constraints). Mark my words they were NOT the ones that Katie wanted either!

As a punishment consequence I said to Katie that she was not having any more shoes until September.  She already has trainers and sandals and wellies and flip flops and party shoes etc etc so nothing is needed other than a bigger shoe basket.

Sorted! (although it hasn't gone down very well with the mini Imelda Markos)

Here comes the ironic bit.

The very next day I received an email from Mumsnet informing me I had been selected to visit our local Brantano shoe shop to review their fitting service.  It had to be with a child aged 4-11 years old so that ruled Pip out.  I had to take Katie.  The timing of the email gave me a great laugh. The incredibly excited Katie was informed however that any shoes purchased would not be worn until September (that didn't go down very well either).

If I'm honest I had been a little happy that we didn't have to shop for shoes until September because Katie is a nightmare to shoe shop with.  It's fair to say that generally the whole shop knows we're there due to the arguments that ensue over the whole heels versus no heels debate.  I did think that we would be great reviewers though for this very reason.  Anyone getting the job of helping us would certainly earn their brownie points!

We whizzed down to our local Brantano last Saturday morning.  It was very quiet in the store so we we easily caught the eye of one of the Fitters. She was a lovely, friendly young lady whom I warned would be subject to stress as she attempted to help Katie and I come to an agreement.  She seemed ufazed.  She whipped out the foot measurer and carefully measured Katie's feet patiently encouraging Miss Fidgety Feet to stand still.  I was very impressed by the care and attention that she gave to the task. She measured Katie as a 13.5 with one foot slightly wider than the other.  You don't get the width letters that you do with Clarks but there was a promise to help ensure the correct width of shoe when choosing our shoes.  Interestingly she was the first person to ever note that Katie is quite flat footed (ironically this will mean that in the future Katie will be able to wear heels much better than her high instepped Mum!).  She then gave me a leaflet giving information about fitting your child's shoes, although our lovely Fitter said she would be close at hand once we had chosen some shoes.  She did warn us however that because Katie was a half size we might struggle a bit because the range of half sizes is significantly fewer than full sizes (this was true).

 "Brantano has stores nationwide and offer an extensive range of shoes and brands to suit all budgets. 
Offering convenient out of town shopping with most of its stores located on retail parks, the shopping experience is unlike many other traditional footwear shops, as the shoes are displayed in pairs that can be easily selected and tried on immediately. 
The stores all offer a free fitting service, with staff trained by top brands such as Clarks, Start Rite and Hush Puppies. 
The team are put through rigorous training followed by at least 25 supervised fits before being given the title of ‘expert fitter’."
Leaflet in hand and a card suggesting another measure prior to the start of term in August we were let loose on the shop. It became quickly very obvious that attempting to buy school shoes in June for September would not be a viable option. The half size of Katie's feet plus her fairly slender foot shape was an issue with finding shoes that fit her. In fact we didn't find one pair of school shoes that fit her well. This didn't surprise me as I've unsuccessfully tried Brantano for school shoes before. Undaunted we turned our attention to school trainers (well I did whilst Katie tried hard to lure me into acknowledging the many pairs of high heeled sparkly shoes that Brantano also sells - she failed miserably, and by miserably I mean sulkily, unhappily and sometimes aggressively). Going into Year 3 means no more black plimsoles and we found a great pair of turquoise Nike trainers with a non marking sole for £22. In a size 1 we could easily put these to one side and they actually could fit her now but will continue to fit her for some time to come. We were also very attracted to a gorgeous pair of sparkly silver Sketchers covered in rhinestones. If they'd sold these in adult sizes believe me I'd have bought them for me. Even better they were reduced to £28 from £40 so I was happy to get them. Because they didn't have Katie's size in stock the staff have ordered her size into the shop and we hope they will arrive within the next week. The Fitter checked the fitting on the trainers to ensure they would be suitable.

 My summation of our experience was that our Fitter knew her stuff about fitting and about the brands and stock. I felt confident in the measuring service we were provided. All the staff were helpful, cheerful and made our shopping experience pleasurable (despite the tensions between myself and Katie during the choosing part of the exercise). As in previous visits we found the selection of school shoes unsuitable for Katie's feet and I think the shop should consider expanding their range of styles and half sizes. I would definitely return to Brantano. I think Katie would suit their range of casual footwear better and I think the prices of most of the shoes is well placed to be affordable and the quality always seems very good. There is a mix of footwear ranging from fairly cheap to much more expensive. I suspect Pip will do well in Brantano as his slightly wider feet might be more mainstream than Katie's.

So a big thank you to the Mumsnet Bloggers Network and Brantano for this fun experience and some great shoes. Katie will really appreciate them in September (yes I am remaining resolute on that one!) and I'm feeling happy that one item has been ticked off the school list for September. 

I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity”.

Monday, 1 June 2015

My Amazing Family and Me....

I remember very clearly the day I wandered around Mothercare looking for a book to celebrate Katie's arrival. I wanted the adoption equivalent of a new baby book to log her arrival and subsequent life, but there were none available. All I found were row upon row of books about babies; pink and blue books or books with baby animals to detail their in-utero journey; what they weighed at birth; stories of the day they were born; they day the cut their first tooth etc.

Those books were no good for me because my baby was 2 years old the day she came home.  She had already cut her first tooth; said her first word; taken her first steps and those were all events I wouldn't be a part of.  There would be enormous gaps in the information I could provide in one of these books. If I'm honest I felt quite sad because it highlighted that I so different from other mums-to-be and that my daughter was different from other children. I wanted to celebrate our life together but it wasn't possible using an off the shelf book.  I put the books down; walked away and accepted that I wouldn't be able to log the information I wanted to in a traditional way.  This blog was born in part to meet that need.

If I'm honest I didn't give the idea of the book much more thought until recently when I was excited because a chance tweet on Twitter brought to my attention a book published by Jesse Toksvig-Stewart and Kat Willott at Ugly Duck Books called "My Amazing Family and Me".  I tweeted Jesse and Kat immediately and asked if I could review the book and share it with all the readers of this blog.  They agreed immediately and we shared some lovely email communications whilst the logistics were arranged.

"My Amazing Family and Me" and is a welcome home book aimed specifically at adopters and families who don't fit the typical nuclear family set up.  It is a book that has been made with understanding and emotion.  The concept came when one of Jesse's mums, who is a Foster Carer, adopted a baby girl.  Jesse realised that not only was the book used for her own memories an incredibly heterosexual book, with the standard Mum/Dad sections, but that it would also not be suitable for her newly adopted sister because it would not be possible to complete sections on how her mum felt when she was growing inside her.  Just as I had felt 5 years ago when we adopted Katie.

An idea was born!

Jesse approached her friend Kat Willott who is an artist with her idea for a record book that would celebrate all families.  As a twin Kat could understand this as well so the two collaborated to create this truly lovely book. The book is beautifully illustrated with pictures that would suit children of all ages and gender.  Best of all you can start writing in it from the point you meet your child.  There are no awkward sections that will need to be crossed out or ignored.  There are sections on things your child likes to play with or watch on TV; there is a section on their arrival in their new home and how they settled in; you can write about birthdays and holidays and achievements.  It's a great concept and one that I am delighted to be able to write about.

"My Amazing Family and Me is designed for alternative families and does not specify the age of a child nor the gender and status of the grown ups in their lives. It is an open record book where everyone can enjoy the fun of documenting a child’s personality, habits, characteristics and life, in whatever family and circumstances they find themselves."
"The idea came to Jesse Toksvig-Stewart, when she wanted to buy a record book for her
adopted sister in December 2014. She could not find a memory book that did not include
very specific elements of the nuclear family set up"
"Jesse drew the typography in the book and asked her friend Kat to illustrate and collaborate creatively to produce the idea. Together they formed the company Ugly Duck Books and published a completely innovative children’s record book, My Amazing Family and Me."
From my communications with Jesse and Kat I can really get the feel for how warm and down to earth they are and that this book has really been born out of a real understanding for what is needed. It retails at £15.99 and would make a lovely gift for yourself or someone else you know who is adopting or creating their family in a non-traditional way.  It's great to know that it is now possible to create a book of memories that will mirror the books that many of my children's friends will have and we can have fun filling it in together.  I will be taking this book with me when I give talks to local adopters and I am very happy to share it with you.

You can buy My Amazing Family and Me at Ugly Duck Books....... just click here

To read more about Jesse and Kat ...... click here

Monday, 11 May 2015


Like many other parents in the UK SATs is the phase currently buzzing about like an unwanted wasp. An annoying entity that I would love to squash with a handy magazine, preferably my current copy of Psychologies!

So what are SATs?

SATs or Standard Assessment Tests are a delight put upon children (and their parents) in Years 2 (Key Stage 1), 6 (Key Stage 2) and 14 (Key Stage 3).  The purpose is to assess where your child is at in their learning at these points in their education.  In the early stages the tests cover knowledge in reading, writing and spelling and science and then a more lengthy list is tested in Key Stage 3 (think GCSE options). 

The children are graded as:

Level W - Working towards Level 1 - very weak
Level 1 Average for a typical 5 year old
Level 2 Average for a typical 7 year old
Level 3 Average for a typical 9 year old
Level 4 Average for a typical 11 year old
Level 5 Average for a typical 13 year old
Level 6 Average for a typical 14 year old
Level 7 Average for a typical 15 year old
Level 8 is only for Maths

Within each grading there is also an a, b, or c addition to grade within each level.

So what is the purpose of SATs (other than to make us sound more American?)

Well the original  purpose back in 1991 was to assess where children were in relation to their peers at a set point in time but over time it is a not so overly guarded secret that the results of these tests are used to place the school within the Schools League Tables which compares the performance of pupils, schools and LEAs.  In the area that we live in these results are immensely important. The house prices on one side of the street that is in the catchment for the "better" secondary school are ridiculously higher than their counterpart on the other side of the road. I live in an area where I've recently discovered parents actually pick and choose their pre-schools to make sure their child has the best start in their educational journey.  I chose Katie and Pip's pre-school on the basis that they liked being there and it would support them to become more independent from myself; the staff understood the needs of my children; the environment would aid their learning; a close friend tipped me off that she had trained most of the staff and that they were well trained; and mostly they would have fun.  It seems I have a lot to learn!

What do these tests really mean for children and their parents, and particularly for adopted children?

In one word?

Here is our experience of the Year 2 SATs thus far.......

Katie came home from school on the Thursday after the Easter holidays all of a dither and saying that her teacher had told them that they were doing their SATs tomorrow.  Really? Well l I knew it was their school sponsored walk the next day but I was confused as to how Katie was told about the SATs and me, as her parent, wasn't. I was also confused because I wasn't expecting them to start until mid-May.  I reassured Katie that there were no SATs the following day but of course she wanted to know more about what they were.  I explained briefly. However the following day she came home even more anxious about the SATs which included a note in her home-school book asking parents to ensure their child had a good night's sleep on Monday night plus a good breakfast on Tuesday morning (we don't ensure those things happen generally?) because our children were starting their SATs.

Katie didn't want to go to school on Monday morning because she thought they were starting then. She feigned an ear ache to try and avoid school. She was aggressive and rude and generally unpleasant.  I twigged what this was all about so reassured her again that there was nothing to worry about and that I would inform school that she was anxious. I told her that the SATs were a way to check how well her teachers were doing their job and it had nothing to do with how well she did in the test at all.  A comment I passed on to Katie's Head Teacher when I saw her that morning to pass on my annoyance that my child was so anxious about doing these tests. Tests that I don't actually agree with.  But Katie was worried.  She was worried about being stupid if she didn't know the answers.  She was worried about getting it wrong. She was worried because she didn't know what her day was going to look like once she entered her school gates.  Normally she knows what is going to happen at school. They have a timetable. She can get through the day with a recognisable semblance of self-regulation because she knows the routine.  Imagine that being taken away from you and not knowing what was going to happen. Katie's self esteem is fragile at the best of times so this is not an ideal situation. School are starting to recognise that even changing rooms can spark anxiety and hyper-stimulation in Katie so they were expecting a lot of her and it's interesting that they didn't raise this as a potential point of concern with us as Katie's parents.  Maybe they're not worried about her result. Maybe if she doesn't perform well they can just write her result off as being a LAC child. Maybe I'm doing them a disservice though and they feel Katie is capable of taking it all in her stride and performing well.  I would tend to argue with that though because Katie has morphed from a child who was a total delight over the Easter holidays to a disagreeable and aggressive child since being back at school.  You do the maths!

My instinct is that the children shouldn't be told about the SATs exams.  I don't see how it can help them, especially in Year 2 to know that they are being tested.  The assessment can generally be quite fun so there is no need for them to know or, indeed, worry about it.  That doesn't answer the issue of the disruption to the school routine though.  My nephew who is in Year 6 is also currently starting his SATs today and had a very sleepless night last night terrified that he is going to look stupid and all his friends will do better at the tests than him.

Why are these tests actually given then?  What is the real purpose? Even in Year 6 the tests do not really mean anything.  The results are not used by the Secondary Schools the children move to in Year 7. In fact the Secondary Schools generally like to do their own testing and streaming when the children start at the school so I can see no discernable reason to put the children through this stress other than to present statistical information to be used to cherry-pick which school your child goes to and for a moment of smugness in the playground or on Facebook, and a personal pat on the back for producing such a clever child, if your child performs particularly well.  What about all the children and their parents whose children end up not performing well? Could they run the risk of disengaging with education all together.  In the case of adopted children could the risk be that the disruption to their routine makes school become an unsafe place to be resulting in them becoming school refusals? I'm sure it's a real possibility.  The schools can assess how well a child is doing just as easily as part of day to day activities at school.
These tests do not highlight how good your child is at sports or if they are kind or caring or good in a crisis.  They do not show that you are adopted and might struggle with sitting these exams,; they do not show that you are a young carer and might not have time to do homework to aid your learning. They only show one side of your child.  How well they can perform in an exam.  An exam which is set in a specific way and generally supports a specific method of assimilating learning.  I am a great example of why these types of exams don't really highlight a person's capabilities.

I have quite a high IQ (and even passed a MENSA test) but I have problems with my memory storage and accessing facts. As a student who took O'Levels this proved a challenge because I could not access the information I needed to perform well in exams.  If I am assessed using coursework I will grade very  highly but I my results drop significantly in an exam situation where I have to recall facts. If I have a multiple choice scenario I will perform very well however because I can pick out the correct answer which jogs my memory recall.  O'Levels left me feeling that I was wasn't particularly intelligent despite showing an aptitude towards languages.  I did manage to gain sufficient passes to go onto college but my grades certainly did not reflect my ability.  When I went to university as an adult I did a degree that was coursework and assessment and performed very well.

My conclusion is that SATs should be abolished for the following reasons:

1. There is no reason I can see why Year 2 children need to be assessed above and beyond that done in the classroom. Ofsted monitors the school performance overall so this is unnecessary,

2. Year 6 pupils are assessed when they start Year 7 and the SATs results ignored so I'm at a loss to see a purpose for these students.

3. Year 10 pupils have just taken their options and settling into their chosen subjects,  They will be tested on their learning in these subjects when they take their GCSE's in Year 10 and 11.  Again I fail to see why you need to do SATs as well.

Come and join in.  What do you think? Can you throw me a bone and explain to me why these tests and exams are important or do you agree with my assessment?

Friday, 1 May 2015

If I Knew Then.....

Before I adopted Katie and Pip, and took some time out from working, I was a trained Counsellor who specialised in working with teenagers.  I took on a role working for a service called Connexions as a Personal Adviser because this was a new role that offered an exciting way of supporting and helping young people with multiple barriers to learning.  The role offered me a lot of personal and professional development and I also trained as a PSHE Teacher specialising in Sexual Health.  

I loved my job.  It was high pressure with the volume of workload and the responsibility for the lives of the young people we were supporting.  I set up projects supporting young parents and I delivered a lot of sessions in secondary schools and my linked college around sexual health and relationships.  I am proud that  I was able to help a great many young people through some unbearably difficult periods of their lives.

There are some cases that I think of with regret though.  There will always be some people that you are unable to achieve a positive outcome with.  That may be through a clash of personality with yourself and you're just not the right person for that particular young person.  It may be because the young person just isn't ready to move forward and needs a different type of support. I made many referrals to CAMHS over the years and there will always be young people that you tried everything for but it just didn't work out.  Over the past five years though my main regrets have been for the young people I worked with over a long period of time who were adopted.

I'm going to be very honest, because that is the point of writing this post.  I didn't really know anything about adoption back then, not like I know now.  I knew about attachment generally because I covered that in my counselling training but I didn't know about the trauma that our young people often have a part of their history.  If asked I may have assumed that the majority of children were given up for adoption, not due to Child Protection Orders.  I knew that my clients might think about their birth family or want to trace them - but I wasn't trained to think beyond that; to question fantasy or risk.  

My remit was to support the young person because we were a "client focused" organisation.  We signed confidentiality agreements with our clients.  I always encouraged my clients to talk to their parents about any support I was offering and would meet with parents as much as my clients would allow but the client was in control of that unless there was a clear Child Protection issue to address. That was tough on parents. The parents that I was given permission to work with by my clients would often say I was a translator for them.  The young person would explain to me what was going on in their world and in their emotions and I would explain that in ways that the parents could hear.  I think it was something that I was quite gifted at if I'm honest.  There are several clients though that I feel I let down badly through sheer lack of training and this is something that I still hear is happening through conversations with other adopters.  I can see why it happens but I do think it needs to be addressed. 

The clients I feel I let down specifically were two of my adopted clients.  Both clients had major difficulties that impacted on their ability to engage in education. I worked very hard to support them and their families. With these clients I supported issues around ADHD and paranoia, drug taking, running away from home; aggression and violence within the home from the young person; lying; stealing; truanting from school; unable to engage in school; school unable to support the young people effectively and resistant to my suggestions.  The list could be one written in books on trauma and attachment.  I didn't know about the link with adoption and trauma then though.  Both young people were adopted very young so, like many professionals. I didn't consider these issues as being the causal factor of the problems the young people were experiencing.  Instead I worked hard with the families to create behaviour contracts and ways to support the young person's learning.  I looked at the parenting model of the parents to try and ascertain whether there was a link with the behaviour of the young person.  I tried various methods of engaging with the young people. I met with weary and confused parents who seemed to have given up and I possibly judged them harshly for that.

Five years on, I would address these cases in a very different manner.  I have a much greater understanding of trauma and attachment in adoption. I see first hand the impact on my children of the choices their birth mother made whilst pregnant.  I would ask a lot more questions and I would question the confidentiality agreement with my managers in cases where I felt it was paramount that we worked closely with the adoptive parents. I worry about my daughter's experience of education and see the difficulties she is having already and the reaction from the teachers.  Whilst supportive I sense there is judgement towards us as parents because most of the behavioural difficulties are at home and not at school.  I see the behaviour models used in school with different eyes. I now see I could easily become the parent that I met during that period of my working life. What worries me most is that I am hearing the same, and much worse, from many adoptive parents.  They are worn down fighting the education system and fighting the judgements from professionals who aren't trained in trauma and attachment and make assumptions about the parenting these young people are receiving with no insight whatsoever that the difficulties are not of the adoptive parents making but are far deeper and much harder to access.

I want to send some advice out into the ether with this blog post so I would be grateful if readers could share this post with agencies they know who work with young people. My advice is this: 

1. Get some training on trauma and attachment, specifically Reactive Attachment Disorder.  Take this post to your bosses and explain to them that this is really important.  You can't possibly understand the world of an adopted young person by applying the normal rules of assessment.  Damage is done in the womb through drugs and alcohol, physical neglect and domestic violence and that brain damage can impact the whole of the young person's life. There can be a massive impact on the young person's ability to form healthy attachments because these issues weren't addressed when they were first placed in care and when subsequently adopted.  The young person may have been adopted as a baby but may still have had several Foster Carer placements prior to being adopted.  This is highly disruptive to the ability to form healthy attachments and there is a list as long as your arm as to how the young person will demonstrate their reaction to this. Learn about the different types of attachment and how they present clinically.

2. Listen to the adoptive parents.  Hospital Consultants have learnt that it's important to listen to the parents when diagnosing a child because the parent knows that child much better than anyone else. The same could be said of all parenting but I am specifically focusing here on adoption.  Listen to the history that the adoptive parents are telling you. Don't dismiss them as being overly protective or exaggerating their reality. Ask them about the young person's early life prior to adoption to help you understand the experience of the young person.

3. Don't assume that the young person is always telling you the truth.  They may not mean to lie to you and they may struggle to tell the truth after a lie due to their internal stress regulation.  Again the same could be said of many of the young people I worked with who had disrupted attachments for varying causes including divorce and domestic violence. I now see lying in a very different way since becoming an adoptive parent.  My daughter often believes the lies she is telling me. I've heard of terrifying allegations made against adoptive parents that are unsubstantiated. 

4. Young people who are adopted are possibly much younger emotionally than their chronological years so be aware that might be a possibility and assess for that. Don't assume they can engage in activities that someone else of their age might be able to do.  

5. Be aware that behaviours that only happen at home aren't necessarily because there is a problem at home.  The reality is that the young person probably feels safer to express themselves at home than in education or other settings.  

6. Be on the look out for how the young person is expressing their anxiety at school. Are they restless?  Do they struggle to concentrate in class?  Could this be due to hyper-vigilance? Are they on their own a lot? Do they cope with frequent room changes? 

7. Find out whether the young person is able to sustain friendships. If not then ask yourself why this is the case.

8. A feeling of shame is something that is triggered very easily in many adopted young people.  It's not something that is easily rectified by being giving positive feedback. It's embedded deep down within.  It can be triggered by doing well at something where a need to sabotage that success follows immediately because the achievement doesn't mirror the young person's internal dialogue.  You might see them destroy certificates or notice a negative behaviour change when they they achieved something.

This is just a list to get you started.  I wish I knew back then what I know now because I might not feel regretful about those clients that I could have supported differently despite doing everything I could do at that time.  I hope in writing this post that it might make a difference to other professionals and other young people somewhere.

A big thank you goes out to anyone who shares this post.

Monday, 20 April 2015

"Play" Dates: Mixing Up the Magic?

Britmums has linked in with Petit Filous to promote their new Magic Squares Desserts.  As part of the promotion there is a linky for bloggers to write their magic formulae for great playdates and playtime.  I read the email this morning and thought it sounded like fun (and it will be) but then I felt a burning in my stomach. The burning was quickly followed by my mind racing at 100 mph about the word "playdate".  So I'm afraid I'm going off on a tangent about playdates in general.

Over the past year or so I've slowly become more and more aware that parenting has become the new "Keeping up with the Joneses".  This is really evident in the area where I live.  I nickname it "Middle-Classdom". Parents are often falling over themselves to provide the most original parties and Boden seems to be the choice of childrens and parents clothes.  Children are over socialised and exhausted and I often joke that local toddlers are born playing the violin and creating works of art with their PlayDoh!  When you have a 2 year old child who simply wants to  race about at top speed, stopping only to quickly investigate something that has caught his eye knocking everything over in the process as I do, you quickly become used to the under the breath tutting and comments of "Oh he's very busy isn't he?"

"Yes he's 2! It's in the job description!"

Fear seems to be slowly creeping into parenting generally.  People follow parenting gurus with a religious fervor through fear of getting it wrong. Parenting is a tough business that is filled with as much guilt as it is fun. Pinterest is full of arty parents who spend their lives photographing their clever arty projects for their children whilst the rest of us realise the words "arts and crafts" fill them with more terror than sitting an exam.  School homework projects and Easter Bonnet Parades seem to say more about the creative abilities of the parents and not the child. I think the same is happening with playdates and it's really starting to make me feel angry. Parents are fearful that the children won't have had an amazing time if their time together isn't catered for to the nth degree.  There are web pages dedicated to creating the perfect playdate and detailing all the rules that need to be adhered to. I've fallen into this trap myself so I'm not blaming anyone but I am highlighting it and asking if it's necessary?

Back in my day (are you ready to go back to Titanic?) in the 70's we did this radical thing....we played with our friends.  We went to each others houses and played in bedrooms or gardens or garages or even out on the road (I'm not advocating that these days - obviously I'm writing about a time before cars took over the world!). A Sindy doll could keep us occupied for hours as could a rose and some water and a bottle (come on who else has made rose perfume?).  We got bored and we found things to do. I can imagine the looks on the faces of the parents back in those days if they were expected to entertain their children on these playdates.  For the parent that was the whole point of a playdate (we didn't call it that back then of course - we just played or called for each other!).  The parents could get on with something else whilst the children were playing. It never occurred to me to wonder what my mum was doing.  I could have cared less. I was with my friends.  We made friends. we broke friends, we learned how to repair friendships because we had the space to do those things.  We didn't go home over-stimulated.  We chilled together.  We weren't making pizza and candles as Katie did recently on a playdate.  I will note that she was very late home from that playdate because the parent "ran out of time".  I then had to battle a very over-tired and over-stimulated Katie into bed and she was even later to sleep due to the time it takes her to wind down her hyper-stimulation after a playdate.  I would have much preferred her to come home minus the candle but on time if I'm honest.  She didn't actually "play" with her friend at all.  She was sad because she didn't get to play in her bedroom.  Often for adopted children the act of going to someone else's house for a playdate is enough.  Anything else on top of that is just too much.  Our children are often emotionally rather much younger than their peers so might find a playdate that's too highly organised a bit too much of a challenge.

I'm going to suggest something radical for this linky.  My suggestion is this.  Let children actually play.  Let them make up their own games and invent what to do with their own time.  Believe me you will all be a little happier for it.  Why not make yourself a cup of tea and stick some fish fingers and chips in the oven and treat yourself to a little moment of calm.  Give them the yoghurt for pudding if you want to.  Be at the ready if an argument breaks out but remember it's important for your children to have arguments with their friends. They will become far more rounded human beings for this than learning how to make rice cakes or candles or anything requiring paint.  They will develop an imagination that doesn't require sticky backed plastic and glitter.  You won't spend the next 10 days cleaning up that glitter either.

That's what I'm going to do from now fact I'll let you into a little secret......I've been doing that for a little while now and the children have a great time. 

What do you think? Am I a lone wolf howling to myself in the wind or does anyone else agree with me?

 “This post is an entry for BritMums #MagicSquaresPlaydates Linky Challenge, sponsored by Petits Filous.” and linking to