Am I restricting my sons socialising?


It is Tom’s birthday party next week, only 3 of his friends are coming, he’s devistated. He’s only been invited to two parties all year and I suspect the invitations were more to do with my friendship with the mums than the boys friendship. He is starting to realise he doesn’t get invited to parties. He places a lot on his need to have friends at school but his behaviour at times, especially around the school run, probably puts some parents off inviting him over. 

He is a very sociable little boy and appears to have lots of friends when I’ve watched him in the playground however that doesn’t relate to invites to parties or after school. We’ve tried some after school meet ups but Tom really struggles and it’s not fair on him to do them regularly so I don’t go round inviting people over, but I now feel I may be letting him down. 

It’s such a struggle to balance building friendships and social skills with a need for Tom to self regulate after school. I’m not sure if I’m getting the balance right and feel I may be to blame for not making more of an effort with the other parents, most of the time I dread the school run as it is such hard work and I don’t have time (sanity) to socialise. It doesn’t help that I’ve not been well for several months and currently feeling sorry for myself as I await a date for further surgery and the stress of end of term disregulation hits me. 

We all need a break and time to reflect on how we support Tom as he goes into year 2, it’s a new teacher & a different mix of children. I just want him to be happy and I worry this party is going to be a disappointment as he had such big ideas about what he wanted to do with his friends. 

After all the things we’ve struggled with I didn’t think we’d have such a hard time getting people to a party!

A proactive school.

Tom is currently in reception, when he started things seemed to go well, he engaged with staff and made friends but unfortunately this hasn’t lasted. His teacher was well aware of the difficulties we have at home and how his presentation at school was different and was aware from the beginning that things may change once he truly settled at school.

Well, things changed once he settled.

Within the first week after Easter the teacher took me to one side and said “he’s struggling and his behaviour has deteriorated.” I made a passing comment of settling post-holiday but she felt it wasn’t that and it was something bigger, she was going to keep an extra eye on him and look at why he was struggling, I was amazed and encouraged she’d put so much thought into it. 

Roll on a few days later and his teacher has spoken to the SENCO and they feel his behaviour is due to his sensory and attachment issues which are more apparent now he’s had time to settle into school and feels more confident expressing his thoughts and emotions. They offered him a place in the nurture group, this is a group for a maximum of 10 pupils from reception, year 1 & 2 with 3 specialist staff. They spend the morning in this group and return to their class for play times, lunch and special occasions. It is amazing!

I met with the SENCO, who I’ve met several times, she went through how the focus is taken from a Boxhall assessment and they work towards an achievable goal specific to each child each week e.g. “I will walk not run in the school”, I could hear in her voice the passion she had for these children to feel like they are achieving and the focus on social skills and being part of a classroom. They also do their numeracy and literacy there. The success they have sounds great, typically children spend 3 terms there and spend another term reintegrating into the main classroom but they are welcome to come back anytime until they leave the school in year 6, she told me how with one child, who had a really disruptive background, she was his main constant and each week he come to her for a hug, this was really important in helping him manage at school so she made space for him each week all the way through his time there.

Tom has been there a few weeks now and he loves it, he has time to move and learn in an environment suited to him (lots of sensory toys), as a result he is much more regulated after school and we have more time to enjoy together. The afternoons when he is back with his normal class are still really hard and we are still trying to find ways to support him in the classroom but it really feels like the school are including us in their thoughts and concerns and putting Tom first.

The other area in which school have been amazing is their parent group. Once a week I have been going into school with some other parents (mostly parents who have children in the nurture group) and a trainer from the local college runs through how to support your child with reading, writing, listening, behaviour management (more sharing of strategies) and helping our children identify their feelings and emotions (the face / emotion turner in the picture was a recent big hit), the children then join us for the last 30 minutes to do a craft activity around what we’ve been learning. It’s been great to meet other parents and discuss basic things and ask silly questions, I look forward to these sessions and spending time in school learning with Tom. 

School is still hard put I feel we are very blessed to have picked this school and are very greatful to the amazing staff whom I know look out for my son each day. 

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!

Starting school.

 

So we have completed our second week of school and I wanted to share a few things about how we got on.

The first day:

In my dreams hubby would have had the day off and we would have taken photos etc. but we knew that would just make it really hard for Tom to leave us so we made as little fuss as possible and hubby went to work as usual.

On the Sunday we did our last drive past the school and talked through what was going to happen, he was nervous but excited. He went to sleep the same as any other day.

On the Monday we got dressed and went with minimal fuss (except the parking). It was easier than I thought, he just took it in his stride. 

When I picked him up at lunch all he talked about was the mash potato, he didn’t seem fazed by this significant change. While I was waiting to pick him up the head teacher popped out to say hello (they all seem to know who we are, maybe they heard about all the prep I tried to do for the teachers and thought it best to play nice). The head teacher was lovely, she asked questions about how we were feeling and gave some good advice- the kids do really well the first week or so and then they start to struggle when they realise school is a long term thing. It was great that she acknowledged this and gave me hope for when we do have our expected wobble. 

School achievements:

Now this heading sounds silly but here are some highlights from his first 2 weeks.

1. The teacher said he plays well with other children and likes asking them questions, they were very impressed with this as other children apparently don’t ask many questions of their friends; we did give him a question to help him talk to other children “I’m Tom, what’s your name?”, however this has transpired as “I’m 4, who are you?” but it seems to work for him. Previously the feedback was always that he didn’t know how to interact with other children or play together so this is huge for us! They even said he seems more socially advanced than most of the other children (I’m proud).

2. He has managed to play without adult prompting during play time. Again a massive step, we expected play time to be impossible but he’s just got on with it (I watched through the gate one lunch time).

3. He has shown empathy! Most of you will understand this is amazing. The teacher sent me a text about it saying this “well done to Tom who showed what a kind friend he is today by looking after an injured child. We are very proud of you”. (The school do lots of communication by text). Apparently another boy really hurt his face and Tom was very caring. I was so pleased to see yet another massive area of growth and especially pleased that his teacher (knowing the problems he has) took time out during her day to text me. He has never shown that level of empathy before, again I’m really proud.

So in summary my boy is amazing and school seem to love him and he’s settled amazingly well.

The difficult bits.

So all is great then…… I wish, he has sensory and attachment issues so despite school being great, home is worse.

He isn’t sleeping great, he was up 7 times Thursday night with nightmares and has been clingy on and off. 

He’s been aggressive when we try and get him ready for bed and fighting us to stay up saying he wants to be with us (heart-breaking).

He’s been getting home and is clearly hyper stimulated and literally bouncing off the walls and trying to hurt me (sadly I have been on the end of more violence again). I have started doing an hour of sensory regulation as soon as he gets home and this has helped the last few days, but is hard work especially with his brother around.

We are still mixing full days and half days trying to build up to a full week soon and I’m working on my range of sensory regulation tools to help with the come down after school.

I am hopeful for the future, the school are responsive and we are seeing huge improvements in his behaviour generally. I feel if we can get the regulation right at home we might just get through the next 13 years of school.