Saturday 19 July 2014

Recharging the Self-Esteem Battery

I've been so proud of Missy over the last 7 days.  

She's taken part in a 3k fun run, ran faster than me and got some great cheers as she raced over the finish line.  
Fun Run Medal

She was promoted into the next class at her swimming lessons.  

And yesterday, to top off a great week, she was awarded a Headteacher's Award for "all round fantastic progress and a wonderful attitude to school".

Headteacher's Award Certificate

We celebrated last night with a BBQ and some pretend fizz (well, it was pretend for Missy). I've also bought her a loom band kit (I gave in).

For a while these events will boost her self-esteem, a recharge until the battery starts to run low again.  Her self-esteem has been at rock bottom over the last couple of weeks.  She thinks she isn't good enough (often seen with adopted children), she thinks she is disgusting and ugly.  To hear a beautiful, funny and talented six year old crying her eyes out saying these words is heartbreaking.  And when her self-esteem battery is running low then she has no energy for other functions, like problem solving.  When she talks in this manner, we are careful not to just say "No, you're not" because in her mind that shows we haven't listened.  We are gentle, we say it's so sad she feels that way, we wonder out loud as to why she feels that way, we validate her feelings, we explain how we feel about her and gently give her examples of why she is a superstar.  Gradually her frown turns the right way up, the self-esteem button has rebooted.

We had a lovely conversation in the car this morning about how it's always good to try your best, whatever that may be for her, because trying over and over brings results.  I told Missy that she ran well, swam well and got the Award because she has been the best person she can be. She agreed and told me it was good to practice something a lot "a bit like the lightbulb man, Mummy".  Yes, just like Thomas Eddison.  

She loves school and her progress in reading has been fantastic this year.  At the recent open evening she received lots of lovely praise from all the teachers, not just her Year 1 teacher.  She loves to be helpful and kind.  Some of it is down to being a tad too compliant and not wanting to do the wrong thing for fear of being shouted at. But a lot of it is because she is genuinely a lovely, polite little girl.  

So, the Award, in the form of a certificate, will be going on her wall alongside her other certificates from school, swimming and gymnastics, all visual evidence of what a superstar she is.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Top 10 Tips for Adopters Going on Holiday

Going on holiday is a big emotive subject for adopters and adoptees.  Whilst for some adoptive families, holidays are not an issue and thoroughly enjoyed, for some children it's so stressful that some families just never make it away from their house and don't even bother booking a holiday.  Yet a holiday is one thing we all need.

Will there be food?  Are you taking me with you?  Are we coming home?  Am I coming home with you? Will there be a bed for me to sleep on? Will the cats be ok?  Will we see them again?  Is where we are going horrible?  Are you sure it's a nice place?   These and many more questions may be asked by adopted children, and not necessarily out loud to their parents.

Consider a child who has been in foster care yet the foster carers go on holiday leaving the child to go into respite.  Bags are packed, flights are booked, yet the child isn't going with them.  Can you imagine how left out they feel?   And so when they go to live with their forever family, they may continue to think that it's only the adults that go on holiday and children don't go with them.

Here are my top 10 tips for making holiday time as anxiety-free and as stress-free as possible:-

1.    Prepare, prepare, prepare - preparation is key and needs to start as soon as possible after the holiday is booked no matter how far in advance you book it.  Show photos of where you are going, when, how and why and give as much detail about the place as you can.

2.   Talk about what you are ALL going to do once you arrive there.  For example, say how you are ALL going to have fun in the pool, or you are ALL going to enjoy playing on the beach or at the campsite.

3.   Talk about what you are ALL going to once you get home.  Your child may still believe they are not living with you forever so it's vital to reinforce this message.  Plan an activity for a few days after you get home that you can all look forward to and repeat this often before you go and whilst you are on holiday.

4.  If you are flying, talk about planes in the air flying over your house, wondering where they are going and what it might be like there.  Talk about the journey to the airport, check-in, boarding, on the plane, explain that the luggage doesn't stay with us but goes elsewhere on the plane to be collected at the other end, talk about the cabin crew, their safety briefing, the toilets, sitting altogether, the seatbelts that must be worn.  For our first flight with Missy we got a great lift-the-flap book called Busy Airport, that we read a lot before we went.  We've started reading it again too.  It really helped last year and she was fine with flying.

5.  Talk about food.  Food is high on the anxiety list for Missy, often a tantrum trigger, possibly wondering if she will actually be fed.  We are talking about breakfast, what we will do for lunch, where we might eat out in the evening. As much as possible, we will keep to the same eating times as at home. Missy and I cooked some Greek food earlier this week and we'll probably eat out at the local Greek before we go.

6.  Pack familiar things that remind them of home.  Most young children will pack their favourite toy anyway but in addition to toys, books and colouring we will also pack her pillowcase and put it on the bed when we get there, together with her Leaf and her Hello Kitty cushion, so that she has familiar smells around her.

7.  Kids clubs - probably not a good idea!

8.  Ensure you have all the necessary paperwork. If you're child is pre-adoption order, make sure you have all necessary paperwork and make sure your child goes through passport control with the parent who has the paperwork in their bag!   Even post adoption order it's worth taking some paperwork just in case as some countries will question any parent who has a different surname from that of their child whether birth or adopted (Missy has Daddy's surname as we aren't married...yet )

9.   Try to stick to routine.  Ok, you're on holiday so routine is going to change slightly and I know Missy will be going to bed a lot later, nevertheless we try to stick to a routine as much as possible - aim for meals at the same time, same time for bedtime, and limit the amount of activities you do.

10.  Relax.  You're on holiday, you're allowed to.  As much as you can, have a great time wherever you go.  If you're not relaxed your children will pick up on this.

I hope this list has given you some useful tips, particularly if you haven't been on a holiday before with your  child(ren).

If you have any other tips you'd like to share and that you've found helpful then I'd love to hear them.

Monday 7 July 2014

Phonics Test and Summer Reading Challenge

We're so proud of Missy.  She scored 34 out of 40 in her recent Phonics Test.  I'll admit that I didn't think she'd do that well because sometimes things go in one ear and out the other but it shows to us that she can apply herself when she really puts her mind to it.

Her reading and understanding has come on leaps and bounds this year and she has just gone up a level with her reading group.  Considering it unlikely she was read too a great deal or encouraged to look at books in her earlier years, I am so happy with where she is now.

We're going to sign up for the free Summer Reading Challenge at our local library and make a summer project out of it.

Any suggestions for books?  What does your 4-6 year old like to read?

I'm linking this post to #MemoryBox on The Adoption Social.

Thursday 3 July 2014

PAC - Enhancing Adoptive Parenting Programme

The past 10 weeks have seen a very positive change in our house.  We were very lucky to be part of a trial by PAC (Post Adoption Permanency Advice & Counselling) in which they took us through their Enhancing Adoptive Parenting training via Skpe.

PAC provides high quality support for all those affected by adoption, be they adopters, carers, adoptees, birth parents or professionals.

The training itself took place one evening a week for 90 minutes via Skype. Our trainer was Virginia, a very experienced child care worker of 40 years. The beauty of participating via Skype for us was that we didn't have to travel, we didn't have to find childcare, we didn't have to tidy the house up first, we got Missy to bed, had a quick tea and then settled at our dining room table with the iPad in front of us.  No travel time was wasted by our trainer either (which saves money for PAC). 

A week before the course started, I had a long conversation with Virginia about our situation, giving her some background to Missy, explaining our difficulties and Missy's anxieties and what we wanted to get from the course.  The main things we wanted were strategies to turn negative behaviour around, to not be walking on eggshells, to support and understand Missy better and to bring some calm to our house.

We had some reading after each session but not reams and reams, just a summary of what we had talked about. To ensure we put our learning into practice, we also had homework to do.

Week 1 was an introduction to the programme, particularly useful for Daddy as he hadn't been party to the earlier call and was just told that we were doing it! We talked about behaviours, what adoption means and how that can lead a child to reinvent themselves. We had to consider how we responded to Missy's behaviour and the impact that response had on her, plus we had to think about the factors that are important to understanding her behaviour.  It made us think. A lot.

Week 2  looked at the different types of attachment and the consequences of poor attachment. Our homework was to monitor Missy's behaviour and relate it to attachment.  Was she in survival mode? How did we react, did we take it personally?  (Yes, too much sometimes).

In week 3 Virginia helped us understand how we can use positive attention to change behaviour.  Missy thrives on attention at home, be in positive or negative.  What aspects of Missy's behaviour did we give attention too? Our homework showed we gave too much attention to negative behaviour.  We also considered our thoughts, feelings and behaviours and the impact this had on Missy.

At week 4 we started to look at strategies and practical ways to help us and Missy.  'Special play' is something you may have heard of through theraplay.  It's essentially child-led play, 15 minutes a day, joining in with Missy but not teaching or leading, just noticing, commentating and praising.  This type of play felt quite odd at first but it certainly had a positive effect.  It seems to top up Missy such that she is then able to focus on something else by herself and remain calm and regulated.  Missy doesn't always like to play (or indeed know how to in some instances) so we used the technique when doing things like baking or going on a walk.

Week 5 is all about verbal praise and reward, praising for appropriate behaviour and each time we see more of the behaviour we want eg asking nicely, putting toys away.  No sticker charts in this house though!  We learnt about a child's response to praise and reward and considered their behaviour in terms of their background. We don't tend to reward Missy with material things, that's not to say we don't buy her stuff, but a reward here might be a hug, a tickle or a big kiss.

By the end of week 5 we were beginning to see some positive changes.  Virginia was helping us consider why Missy acts out the way she does. Based on her experience working with children, she offered possibilities around the meaning of certain emotions and behaviours.  Did this experience (or lack of) in the past now show itself in her current behaviour?  Our understanding of how Missy's past may be affecting her now has massively increased.

The subject of week 6 was clear commands and boundaries.  I think it's fairly well known that children need boundaries but in practice it's not always that easy to put these in place, particularly when a child has a deep need for control and is used to behaving in a certain way.   We also found we needed to change our language. Not "Can you put your toys away" - that's a question, not a command. Instead say "Put your toys away".  Daddy and I have both checked each other with the way we've issued commands.  We also found we were giving too many commands, something that most parents do and even more so with children with higher needs.

Week 7 talked about ignoring!  This refers to ignoring their inappropriate responses eg whining, moaning, continuing to praise good behaviour. It's important though not to ignore the message behind the negative behaviour. I've found this technique really helps me stay calm.

For each week's homework, we also need to continue with the strategies we learnt in earlier weeks.  At first we forgot to do this as there is so much to put into practice, but like anything, the more you do something, the easier and better it gets.

In week 8 we looked at effective discipline, limit setting and how to use consequences.  A brilliant strategy that is very effective for us is using the 'if/then' rule eg if you don't clean your teeth then there will be no sweets.

Week 9 was about problem solving, helping children take responsibility and empowering them to resolve their own situations.  Missy often reverts to toddler-status when faced with a problem at home and so this is a big area on which we need to work but we've noticed some good responses.  School have also noticed that she is thinking about certain situations first before acting.

Finally, in week 10 we reviewed the previous 9 weeks and also looked additionally at an issue specific to Missy which is her anxiety around food.  We talked at length as to why there is this anxiety and what might have been the cause because we can't know for sure.  Virginia has given us some strategies and we are putting these into practice.

In conclusion, the 10 weeks have been brilliant!  The positive changes are very noticeable, one big one being the relationship between Missy and Daddy which is fantastic.  Daddy and I both feel much calmer and are no longer walking on eggshells. Missy responds to us much better and seems a lot less anxious about certain things.  It's certainly work in progress but what it means is that when it's all going pants up, Daddy and I have the strategies to help Missy work through her anger and frustration whilst we keep as calm as possible.  The things we've learnt don't always work and that's why it's great to have a toolbox of strategies.

I'm so glad it's been trialled over Skype because I'm not sure we could have committed to 10 weeks if we had to travel somewhere. This is an even greater factor for adopters who don't live within easy reach of London but who desperately need the support. Equally for our trainer, travel delays would have impacted on all of us.  I hope PAC can continue to offer the Skype programme.

I am beyond grateful for PAC choosing to work with us on this programme and I highly recommend this course to any adopters.

Here's a link to a PAC information leaflet about the training.

If you think this programme might be for you then give PAC a call and speak to your LA/adoption agency about possible funding.

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