Two weeks of the new school year have passed. Norman started year one, Marvin started reception.
Two weeks in, and the same as last year, it’s fair to say that Mrs S and I are THOSE parents in the playground. The parents that the teachers “want a quick word with”. Let’s be clear here: our children are tricky. They struggle with a lot of things. They have also had moments when they’ve been hit, or pushed over, or bitten either at school or nursery or out and about. As a parent, my reaction to these incidents is first and foremost to check that my child is ok, but once that is clear, I don’t judge the other child, or the other parent, I try to understand that some difficulty in the other child’s day that has prompted their action, and sometimes that might be a direct result of Norman or Marvin’s actions and sometimes it won’t, but that everyone is on their own path and we don’t know how difficult anybody else’s journey truly is.
Today we had our first meeting with Norman’s new teachers. They were really nice, and seem very keen to understand him and help him, academically and with his other needs. It seems that he’s lashing out a lot at school, struggling with the other children, losing his temper. When you read about children with attachment difficulties, it seems that these are typical behaviours.
Here are some numbers: Statistically, adopted children are 16 times more likely to be excluded from school in their first three years. Let that sink in. Children who have been traumatised, and who struggle with the stresses of school but aren’t even old enough to have learned to tie their own shoelaces, are being excluded from schools.
Have a look at this:
Now put yourself into Norman’s shoes. You are born. You know nothing of life, but your early experiences of it are tough. Social services are aware of problems at home fairly early on, but as is the current aim, they try and support your family to keep you and your baby brother at home and safe. It doesn’t work, and they move you. But due to your lack of experience, you are only 2 years old after all, you don’t understand that this is for your own good, that home environment is all you know. You are placed with your foster family. New sounds, new sights, new smells… but you’re scared. They seem nice, they keep you clean and warm and fed… maybe this isn’t so bad for you and Marvin, you start to settle. But after 18 months, along come these two ladies and suddenly you have to remember to call your mama something else because one of these strangers is called mama now and they come to your house every day and they keep taking you to places, and they say you have a new bedroom but it doesn’t look like your bedroom and the scary thing seems to be happening all over again because there’s that social worker lady and then one day, you live in a different house again and you don’t see the other families any more.
Norman was three and a half years old when he came home to us, so all of this happened before then. And it doesn’t even go into the detail of his early years. Imagine then, getting settled into nursery then changing again. Getting settled into reception then changing again. New rules, new sights, new sounds, and then being asked to do difficult things like reading and writing and numbers, while your poor little five year old brain is whizzing with all of the changes and new things to remember and new faces.
Last year Norman’s teacher complimented his ability to notice new people as they entered the classroom, to be polite and say hello to them, his “social skills”. He is polite, we taught him to be. He comes across as confident with new people, and charming. But actually those social skills are hyper-vigilance. He notices the new people because he is assessing the threat they pose, are they coming to take him away, or hurt him? How lovely, then, that so many of the other children are blissfully unaware of the fact that anyone else has even entered the classroom.
My little boy is scared. He goes to school and lashes out at other children over the smallest things, and it upsets me not only because I know other children are getting hurt, but because I understand that the reason for it is not malicious, but because he’s struggling so much to conform, to do his best work, but mostly just to feel safe in this world where grown ups can’t be trusted. So the next time your child comes out of school and tells you that “Norman did this” or “Norman did that” and you decide that Norman is a naughty boy and you tell your child not to play with him and you avoid my eyes in the playground and exclude me from your conversations, perhaps you should look a little bit deeper into a family that have been through a lot, and a little boy who, despite the beautiful smile, is afraid and needs love. If I sound angry today, it’s because I am.