The perfect smile.

  

Tom has got through his first term making lots of friends and appears to be very popular which has made me reflect on how he started and how small things can make a big difference to the confidence of a child.

Unfortunately there are experiences in Tom’s life which mean his teeth are corroded and discoloured (I won’t go into details but I’m sure most of you can make an educated guess why they are like this).

This hadn’t been an issue for him and to be honest it wasn’t something we thought much about other than 3 monthly dentist visits. However towards the end of term at nursery the other kids started talking about his teeth saying they were dirty, he started to get really self conscious about them and didn’t want to show them to people, he wouldn’t smile in photos.

As kids get older they do start to notice things which are different a bit more and quite freely express this, not necessarily from a place of malice.

Our understanding was his teeth were as they were and there wasn’t a lot to do until they fell out. However on our last trip to the dentist they were so impressed at the general improvement of his teeth (we have quite an intensive teeth brushing routine for a 4 year old which he is great with) that they decided to put some white enamel counting on them. It looks amazing. He now has white teeth which he is proud of and started school without any worries about what the other kids say.

Obviously they are not perfect in the basic sense of the word but to him they are the best he’s ever had and to us his smile is as perfect as ever. This small act from the dentist has reduced the shame and pressure from questions that could have come when he started school and we are so greatful he took the time to listen to our concerns and put our sons interests first.

Thank you to our amazing dentist who played a small, but important, part in helping Tom in his first term of school.

The school day- our current survival strategy!

  

At the moment we are surviving, I wouldn’t say things are easy, but we manage to get to school and work on time everyday which is a big achievement for us.

The enable us to function on a daily basis, Monday to Friday we have a military style regime (weekends are under a different routine and daddy is in charge). I thought there might be some benefit / entertainment in sharing how we are surviving the school run as having spoken to other mums apparently we’re not normal (this did not come as a shock to us in the slightest).

I should point out that obviously we have flexibility where it is required but the predictability has helped Tom deal with the unpredictable world of school.

Before school:

6.45: Ths sun on Tom’s Gro clock comes up, ☀️ this signifies that it is time for breakfast, if they are up before the sun they can play quietly in Tom’s room but mummy will not open the stair gate before 6.45. Usually they play nicely and I can hide until 6.55, this is important especially if I have been up most of the night with James.

7.00: Breakfast is served. ☕️ There is a choice of 3 cereals, I only take the first confirmed answer. At times they want to change what they’re having but have come to understand the first answer rule. I sit in a trance hopefully with my Thermos of tea hubby made before he left for work.

7.20: Toast time. 🍞 Yes this is still breakfast but it’s an important part of the day. The boys share a plate of toast and jam, it is simple but they mostly share well and chat to each other (cereal is normally inhaled in silence).

7.30: Teeth brushing. 😬 Now this is one of the most complicated manoeuvres. I hand the boys their tooth brushes and sit in the door way to stop the escapees (at least one a day). If teeth brushing is too hard we get the 10 minute sand timer out (I really need a shorter one for teeth I think).

7.40: Getting dressed. 👖 We start with our ‘rate limiting step’ aka Tom. Previously it would take him on average 1 hour to get dressed, we currently stand at 10 minutes. This is where uniform is my best friend, I lay it out, he turns the sand timer and says “go”. Typically there is a song and dance before he starts getting dressed as we have a small keyboard in his room but this works ok, James then carries on hammering the keys while Tom gets dressed. Some days I help, others he wants to try himself. The rule is if you are not done by the time the sand runs out you lose a TV programme (trying to learn natural consequences). We then get James dressed which is a relatively simple affair unless we have nappy leakage.

8.00: This is where our natural consequences come in. 📺 If the boys brush their teeth without fuss and get dressed before the sand runs out then they have 1 episode of Octonauts (11 minutes) and 1 episode of Fireman Sam (9 minutes). However if there are delays then they lose one programme for each additional turn of the sand timer. We rarely lose both but it does happen.

8.20: Out the door. 🚪 This is an almost impossible task at times, but I leave 10 minutes to put shoes on and walk to the car on the drive right outside the house, I can not understand how it takes 10 minutes but I have accepted it is a black hole and go with it. Recently I got Tom a matching hat, scarf and gloves set to make this easier and it is just for school (he prefers to keep everything seperate).

8.40: Park at school. 🚗 We park further away than we need to as the grass and mud by the parking really upsets Tom so we park next to a pavement where he doesn’t worry about sliding. (The rest of the time he love jumping in mud just not getting out of the car onto mud). I put James in the buggy and Tom holds the side of the buggy. 

8.45: Tom goes in and James and I go off to negotiate our far more flexible day of work, sleep and play.

After school:

3.10: Pick up Tom, walk holding the buggy to our special non muddy parking space. If Tom has walked to and from school without running away or into the road they both get a Minion Haribo sweet (1 sweet seems to be enough currently, any more than 1 is a special treat). This has significantly reduced our risk of being hit by a car, however it has had the added benefit of helping Tom regulate after school (the chewing helps). 🍬

In the car I ask Tom 3 questions:

1. Has anything made you happy at school today?

2. Has anything made you sad at school today?

3. Has anything made you angry at school today?

Each day I do get answers and it helps us communicate how he’s feeling, I found if I asked “how was school?” I just got nothing. I also ask this in the car as he gives fuller answers if he’s not having to make eye contact (not sure why).

3.30: Back from school. 👖 First thing we do is the boys share a small bowl of raisins. The boys share this well and again the chewing helps Tom regulate. Tom then gets changed. After school Tom usually wants to change all his clothes and has clean socks and pants most days, I’ve just learnt to embrace the extra washing at it seems to really help him settle after school.

3.45: Chill out time. ❄️ 📦 We have 20-30 minutes of structured activity, typically this is one of our sensory trays, Duplo or’snow’ (polystyrene balls). This really helps bring Tom down after school and usually there isn’t a lot of talking.

4.15: Free play. 👬⚽️ A slightly dangerous time but we are learning, sometimes we will dance other times the boys will just play in the front room. This can be great or a drain, but they are learning to play without as much prompting so it’s easier than it was.

4.45: TV time. 📺 The boys have time where if they want some TV it can be on until dinner, this gives us a chance to make dinner / tidy up and typically they will keep playing with the TV there in the background if they want it (there is a choice of Shaun the Sheep or Timmy Time- they have very limited TV options during the week but more choice at a weekend).

5.30: Dinner. 🍽 Well this is just too much to put into one paragraph but they do eat.

7.00: They are in bed. 🛌 I am aware I have missed a huge chunk around dinner, bath, teeth, dressing and bed but these things can vary depending on when daddy gets home and what issues arrive during dinner and probably fill a blog post by themselves.

So, that is our Monday to Friday routine, it works for us and the boys like the predictability of it. It doesn’t work everyday but with Tom knowing what’s coming next really helps. At the moment it is about functioning and helping Tom feel safe, repetition helps hugely with that.

A special thank you to the external things that make the day work:

1. Gro clock.

2. Minion Haribo.

3. Raisins.

4. Sensory tray (a cement mixing tray originally).

5. Red wine.

6. Fireman Sam, Octonauts, Shaun the Sheep and Timmy Time.

Obviously having written this the routine will stop working!

DDP parts 9 & 10. Using the ASF.

  

Here is the latest update on our ongoing DDP sessions funded through the Adoption Support Fund, you can read about previous sessions by clicking on the DDP category at the bottom of the page.

Today Nick is taking over the blog so I will pass you over to him …

We have had two more appointments since last time we wrote; one without Tom and last week’s with him.  When Louise and I had our visit together, Dr. E pointed out that she had noticed how Louise tends to pull back from hugs with Tom when he runs up.  This, we concluded, was a response to his tendency to charge in with accidental head butts. We spent some time over the next few days helping him see how running at people might end up in bumps, and he was happy to practice slowing down for his ‘final approach’ for a hug. This paid off when we had family to stay over the weekend, but we still have work to do on respecting personal space!

With Tom’s occasional mealtime issues in mind, Dr. E also suggested finishing a meal with something with a thicker texture. Louise whipped up a banana smoothie, but he wasn’t really interested and we haven’t taken it any further. 

Tom had a sleep on the way to his most recent session, which he hadn’t done before and which seemed to help with a more relaxed start to the time.  After a while he started banging on the base and shade of a lamp with a pencil, which helped him to stay regulated. When Dr. E asked questions like, “is it hard to think about loving this Mummy?” the rate of banging instantly sped up, so between us we used it as a clue to how he was feeling for a few more questions. 

At this point he picked up a puppet he had played with earlier, and ‘the puppet’ began poking angrily into  the faces of the three of us. Dr. E asked what would help the puppet feel safe and not cross – Tom replied, “he’s hungry and wants a hug.”  When we had fed the puppet some pretend food and Tom had given it a cuddle, both puppet and Tom really settled down and engaged more readily. After more talk about love and Mummy, he cuddled in to Louise and let her rock him and sing a lullaby – he doesn’t often let us baby him in this way. 

We learnt this week that both our boys really, really like fireworks!  James will very seriously intone “Boom! Boom! F’works!” at the slightest mention, and Tom kept getting out of bed to watch for them from his window.  Their incredible excitement at a bonfire night with friends had us pretty nervous, but they both loved it and slept brilliantly all night!  I’m not sure we should recommend fireworks as a tool for regulation, but it definitely works for Tom!

In general this last fortnight has been really positive; Tom seems to be making some big leaps in attachment, with lots of talk about ‘my family’ and extra hugs. We have progress.

DDP part 8. Using the ASF.

  

This is a continuation of our “diary” on how we are using the Adoption Support Fund to access DDP. You can read about previous sessions by going to the DDP category at the bottom of the page.

So this update is a little late, the last few weeks have been difficult for a variety of reasons which I won’t go into here. Our latest session was quite different to the first one we took Tom to the week before.

On arrival Tom was clearly unregulated and spent the whole session bumping into walls and did not stop moving for a minute, it’s exhausting just to watch when you are in a confined space. Dr E tried to engage him in various activities but he was angry, he spent quite a bit of time drawing aggressively and then deliberately breaking every colour pencil in the pack, he climbed on every bit of furniture and hid behind chairs, it didn’t go well. Eventually he asked to look at the cards of the bears with different emotions he’d looked at the week before, again he spent some time talking about what the bears were doing and how everything came back to the angry bear. Eventually I managed to scoop him in a blanket to sooth him before we left, it worked well. We also did a lot of hair blowing and stroking with cotton wool to calm down and reregulate before negotiating the journey home.

I came out exhausted, however the psychologist found it really useful in showing how he clearly has sensory and anger issues and that our techniques and the ones she’s shown us do work if he is ready to engage. I also had a revelation that what I thought was an “I need a wee” dance was actually him trying to regulate himself (he gets really angry if you ask & he doesn’t need a wee).

The regulating techniques we’re using currently are:

  • Wrap in a blanket, hold / squeeze as appropriate
  • Stroke with hands or cotton wool
  • Blow mummy’s hair 3 times
  • Blow cotton wool to each other
  • Rocking side to side in my arms (forwards and back seems to help him push up and headbutt me)

Some of these we found out ourselves, some came from Twitter and some from psychologist but I have no idea who suggested what now, but what matters is this is helping us regulate at the moment. My fear is he is getting bigger and stronger and it won’t be long before I can’t ‘contain’ him on my lap, there are times when I need to step away.

Tom has really responded to looking at the picture faces of emotions and we are going to explore making some picture emotion cards to carry around and help him and us identify how he feels.

From next week our sessions are changing slightly, we see her ourselves one week and bring Tom the other, therefore I will only be doing a blog update alternate weeks, it also gives me a chance to blog about something else in between if I get the chance.

I do think it’s been helpful to talk etc. but after 8 sessions I really want some more strategies to manage the harder times, we will get there eventually.

DDP part 7. Using the ASF.

  

This is our continuation of therapy through the Adoption Support Fund (ASF). You can read about our earlier sessions by clicking on the DDP category section at the bottom of the page.

We have entered what we think of as stage 2 (hence the change in picture), we have spent lots of time talking with the psychologist now Tom has entered the arena.

Obviously there was some anxiety about how he would find it and how we would prepare him. Dr E had advised we get Tom to bring a toy with him to help start the conversation, the clear choice was one of the many dinosaurs in our house. We explained to Tom that we were going to talk to a lady about what it was like to be part of our family, he quite liked the idea of talking all about him and how much everyone else in our family smells! 

So we arrived late (he wasn’t ready when I picked him up from school) but I think this helped as we went straight in and didn’t have to negotiate the waiting room. Tom spent the first 5 minutes running round roaring with his dinosaur and jumping on all the furniture. It was very strange to watch, normally I would tell him to stop but I felt a bit like an observer and not sure how much to say or do, he spent most of the session on his feet jumping, clearly he wasn’t sure about being there in a strange room.

Dr E got Tom to write on a piece of paper who was in his world (slight flaw in that he can’t write much yet) but he relayed his list:

Tom, mummy, daddy, James…..Tummy mummy and the other daddy and pirate parties.

There were a few things that I found interesting about the list, mainly that he had mentioned his birth family and given them “names” but also that he didn’t mention his brother and sister (who aren’t with us) or his foster family. I know from experience that sometimes the names of his other siblings and foster family can be too painful for him to say. After seeing all these things written down Tom did get quite angry and started trying to draw on the carpet.

One of Tom’s other tasks was to look at some flash cards of bears with different expressions on their faces, he picked up 3 initially; sad, hurt and angry. Dr E asked him why one of them may be feeling that way, his response was “he (A) is angry because he hurt him (B) and he (C) is sad because he (B) is hurt”. Now I don’t think either myself or Dr E expected such a detailed answer from Tom, Dr E tried to talk to him about if he felt angry if he hurt people but got very little response.

Overall it was a strange experience watching your child with someone else, Tom was as expected agitated in his new surrounding but did manage to show her some of what he’s thinking. We haven’t had any feedback yet but I hope she got some understanding of how he thinks from this short encounter. I am strangely looking forward to next time, curious about what we will learn about Tom.