Gender neutral. Yay or nay?

SATs

Boys should be boys and girls should be girls. Blue for boys and pink for girls. Agree or disagree?

I will lay my cards firmly on the table so you are in doubt what I think.

We need to give all children the same opportunities so they all have self-belief that they can achieve anything they want.

Let me explain further. But first let me say I am generalising based on evidence and studies. Of course there are many exceptions.

From birth the way we treat boys and girls is different.

I watched a fantastic documentary on the BBC which showed experienced child carers play with babies. Except unknown to them boys were dressed in girls’ clothes and visa versa. The adults proceeded to offer noisy construction toys to the ‘boys’ whilst guiding them to the sit and ride equipment. The ‘girls’ were offered soft cuddly animals, spoken to in a calmer voice and read books. What early effect does this treatment have on a child’s development?

Girls have been seen to have poorer spatial awareness than boys. That is the ability to see shapes and be able to manipulate them into spaces. The thinking is that the boys have had so much experience of construction toys, lego and building that their brains have developed the skills needed for spatial intelligence. The more they succeed the better they become. So boys skills develop in this area, they become confident and successful.

Meanwhile girls have less experience using these toys so when they attempt to manipulate a puzzle or build a lego engine they are unsuccessful and give up. Their skills do not develop. Scientists have discovered that contrary to opinion, boys and girls brains are no different in physiological terms. It is a muscle that can be developed and manipulated.

So with practice, all boys and all girls could be  great at construction and develop their spatial awareness skills.

But if the girls are only given ‘girls toys’ to play with and are not exposed to construction and building how on earth can these skills be mastered?

The consequence is then that more boys go onto to become engineers and architects. They have the skills required and the belief that this is an area they could be successful at. Wouldn’t it be great if girls too had this perception? More female engineers. Why not? All it needs is for girls to be given the opportunities by being given a range of toys at an early age and to be treated with a ‘yes you can’ attitude.

Girls are given a whole range of pink domestic products, pink beauty stations and dollies and teddies. We are manipulating girls at an early stage to be the carers and to be satisfied with domesticated bliss. This is fine if we are giving boys the same message. We are in the 21st century and we would now expect our men to be in the kitchen and to help with domestic duties. But this is not the case. The majority of women are still the main carers and in charge of the domestic household – even if both partners work full time.  Does this acceptance stem from being exposed at an early age to toys which are preparing us for domesticity?

Most toys are pink or blue. Manufacturers are stereotyping our children and contributing to the struggle for girls to break away from the restraints of the kitchen.

The biggest killer of men under the age of 45 is suicide. We need to help our boys emotionally and to be able to express their feelings. Boys should be encouraged to talk and to cry. But we use language like ‘man up’ and ‘big boys don’t cry’. Boys should be playing with teddies and dollies. But mums and dads are worried that their sons will ‘become gay’ if their son is seen pushing a hoover or rocking dolly to sleep. God forbid he puts on a wig. Life over.

Girls toys encourage the use of language, role play and conversation. So again think of the differences if boys were encouraged to play with these and they weren’t seen as ‘soft’.

Our attitudes need to change.

Then we come onto to contentious area of clothing. Take a look at these examples below.

Yes you are right. There are many more examples of T-shirts that are not as blatant as these. But the point is, these T-shirts exist. They are giving our children the message that Boys = Strong and Macho. Girls = Pretty and Caring.

We want all our children to be given the same opportunities, messages and values.

Girls can be anything they want – they do not need to be limited in their life choices.

Boys can be caring, gentle and domesticated – they could talk about their feelings without fear of being less of a man.

So for me, yes I want to see more gender neutrality. What do you think?

Until the next time, here’s to a calm and happy (and gender free) home 🙂


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What your child’s new teacher must know

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Who knows your child best of all?

You.

When your child goes back to school next week, the new teacher almost certainly will not have the first idea how to really manage your child’s behaviour.

Therefore it is up to you to make sure the new teacher knows the facts.

Now I don’t want to fill you with dread but I do want you to be prepared.

The new teacher will have read the paper work, studied notes from previous teachers and listened to staffroom chat. No doubt she (excuse the gender generalisation but it’s likely isn’t it?) will have good intentions. She will be fresh from a relaxing summer holiday. But she will also have preconceived notions about your child. She may even be bloomin’ nervous what to expect.

Therefore I’d like to give you some suggestions how to make the start of the term successful for all:

1.Establish from the start a good relationship with the teacher. Don’t make it a ‘them and us’ scenario particularly in front of your child. He (again the gender generalisation – sorry!) will pick up on any negativity you feel and this can only be detrimental to how he feels about school.

2. Set up a meeting with the teacher and any assistants that may be in the class as soon as possible.

3.Make sure she knows exactly what your child’s difficulties are. Give a synopsis of the diagnosis or suspected diagnosis if relevant. Sometimes a label can help.

4.Let her know what has worked in the past. There have been successes and do not assume she knows about them. Maybe give her a checklist:

  • Small, simple steps explained clearly on a whiteboard or using pictures
  • Place to sit with no distractions
  • Opportunity to use laptop for longer pieces of writing
  • Visual resources to support understanding
  • Visual timetable
  • Sit on a wobble cushion or on a chair during carpet time
  • Hold a fiddle toy or blutak
  • Opportunity to write answers on a whiteboard instead of calling out
  • Be a monitor
  • Be in charge of younger children at playtime

5.Let her know what has not worked in the past. Things like detentions, getting cross, shouting. Do not be afraid to say it bluntly. It is up to you to be your child’s voice. If these things are not spelled out clearly you will be called in regularly for ‘a chat to discuss the problems’.

6.Let the teacher know what your child is good at and ask for these to be incorporated into his school day. Things like construction, cartoons, singing, problem solving. It is up to the school to work out how this could be done.

7. Make notes throughout the meeting. Then email your notes to the class teacher and copy in the SENCO. This is vital as you need a paper trail and evidence that you are requesting real, practical things to be done for your child.

8. Request a Home-School Communication book to be set up. Make it clear that you would like this to be a communication that is for positive reasons only and ways to help and support your child. It should not be a moan fest. This only needs to be an exercise book with the day of the week at the top of each page. Simple, nothing fancy.

9. Request regular meetings to discuss progress of his behaviour. The assumption here is that there will be progress not problems. These meetings could be twice in a half term.

10. Please do not put the responsibility on your child to behave. If he could behave easily, don’t you think he would do it? Don’t you think he would love to be less fidgety, less impulsive, and socially more aware. He’d love friends and to be praised and rewarded by the teacher. So please don’t let your last words every day be ‘be good’. Instead say ‘have a happy day’. It is up to the teacher to create an environment that is successful for your child. It is not up to your child to put all his energies into keeping still.

11.It is totally the responsibility of the teacher to find the way into your child’s world. However you should be involved and be ready to give your input. Don’t feel you’re being a nuisance. If the things you suggest help with your child’s behaviour then the teacher will be grateful and breathe a sigh of relief.

Print this out so you’ll be armed!

Until next time, here’s to a calm and happy start to the term 🙂


 

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Feeling guilty about your child going back to school?

The school summer holidays are very long.

Very very long if your child has ADHD or challenging behaviour.

Days may have been stressful, exhausting and sometimes even a total nightmare. Days may have also been wonderful, entertaining and a complete joy.

Parenting a child with ADHD can be totally and utterly exhausting as life is so unpredictable that it’s difficult to establish just what kind of day it will be…

It can be lonely too. A child with a challenging behaviour will have few friends. Other children are not emotionally mature enough to appreciate that your child is struggling to keep his hands, thoughts or opinions to himself. They will not be tolerant when your child spontaneously and impulsively throws the ball over the fence, knocks over a lego model to see what would happen or helps themselves to the chocolate cake from their plate. So our special children are left alone. No play dates. No invitations to the cinema. Nothing.

This is hard on all the family. Siblings, who are naturally popular, feel guilty. There ensues sibling rivalry on a grand scale which can make family life at times intolerable.

Our special children can feel sad and angry. And this is heart breaking.

However there can be some wonderful times too. Our special children, like all children, can be amazing, funny and a real pleasure. We treasure those times.

But then the new school term starts to appear on the horizon. Horrendous trips to crowded shopping centres to buy uniform and supplies acts as a terrible reminder that school is just around the corner.

School.

Where our special children with ADHD are labelled as naughty and out of control. Where all their energy is centred on keeping still, not to fidget, not to call out and to pay attention. Pretty tall order.

So with school just around the corner, what happens? Our children start to play up even more than before. We get the rudeness, anger and sullen treatment.

And us mums? We continue to do our best. We are the peace makers, the entertainers, the organisers, the care givers and most importantly the ones who can make a massive difference to how our special children feel.

We build up their self esteem by hugs and praise. We set things up so they’ll achieve and feel good about themselves. We organise outings and day trips to create happy memories.

We do our best. But we are frazzled and exhausted by the end of the long, long, long school summer holiday.

So do we see the new school term as some kind of relief?

Too bloody right we do!

Do we feel guilty that we will have a few hours peace?

Errr – absolutely not!

Until next time, here’s to a calm and happy life 🙂


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Why it’s vital to train teachers about special needs

 

emotional

Guess how much training new teachers get in learning about special needs?

You may think that this extremely important area of teaching would get quality instruction. So perhaps out of a 3 year course, at least a block of say 3 months. No. What about 3 weeks. No guess again. 3 days. No try 1 day. Yes that’s right. ONE DAY. I kid you not. I have questioned many new, young teachers and they all report the same.

It’s like giving a doctor one day’s training on administering injections. Or a pilot one day’s training on landing a plane. What about one day’s training for a dentist on tooth extraction.

Would this happen? Of course not. Because  these elements of a job are vital to that professions. Within each class there will be perhaps 10% of children with some kind of additional or special need. It may be dyslexia, autism, attention deficit behaviour disorder, Down’s syndrome, developmental delay or speech and language difficulty.

So why do teachers get so little formal training in these areas. Why is it given just a cursory glance?

And with these conditions comes a critical element of effective behaviour management.

I cannot understand. I can only guess at the answer.

Perhaps successive Governments think knowledge of these conditions will just come with experience.

Perhaps successive Governments feel that behaviour management will too come with experience.

Maybe the successive Governments feel emphasis should be training new teachers to focus on the 90% of the class to reach desired targets.

In my book ‘5 Reasons Why Most School Fail Your Child With Special Needs’ I devote a whole chapter about targets and the negative affect they have on our special children. Targets really do matter too much.

In a first world society, why on earth do we not train teachers so that ALL children in their care are able to reach their full potential?

I have worked with some incredible young teachers who just get it. They plan, implement and deliver a varied curriculum and naturally understand the differing needs of children in their care. However, there are many who just don’t get it. I hear horror stories from parents who have to battle with the special needs coordinator just to get the smallest of concessions.

Many children resort to unacceptable, challenging behaviour to communicate to the adults that something is wrong.

It is up to the adults to figure out what this is and to make positive changes to their own behaviour, attitude or the environment. It could be as simple as using a specialist piece of equipment, finding a quiet space to work, using positive, encouraging language.

But teachers are so busy worrying about targets, levels and delivering a packed curriculum that there is no time for a quick chat to see how a child is feeling. Many teachers fail to notice or understand that by checking in with a child every day can make a massive difference to a child’s emotional well-being. They have not been trained to recognise special needs or what to do about it.

Last week I delivered some training to a nursery setting. It went well and I received some fantastic feedback. But it astounds me that the basic principles of listening to the children and to work out why there is challenging behaviour are overlooked.

It shouldn’t be a situation that in nurseries and schools across the country we are crossing our fingers and hoping that staff have received additional training in special needs and behaviour management.

And the result of this lack of training:

  • Children with low self-worth and poor emotional health as they feel useless and naughty
  • Frazzled staff who feel like they’re putting out fires without getting to the source of the difficulty
  • Disgruntled parents who have to endure daily accounts of bad behaviour and poor standards of work

It really doesn’t have to be this way.

Teachers need better training. Better understanding. More tricks up their sleeves. Simple techniques that can have a massive impact on the whole of a class. Disruptive children disrupt the learning of everyone. Teach the teachers how to handle the situation and then everyone can reach their full potential.

As you know I have a particular interest in ADHD as my son was diagnosed aged 8. Last year I set up a petition to encourage better training for teachers in ADHD. I’d love you to sign and share if you haven’t done so already. 

We don’t have to just hope that our child’s new teacher will get it. Go armed to your school in September with information, ideas and practical suggestions. Do not take no for an answer. Simple techniques work and can be the difference between a happy child or a child who is suffering.

Together, we can bring about change!


 

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