Rules of Engagement

I'm an Army brat, so I grew up with the concept of having parameters within which you will and won't act, and what they call 'rules of engagement.' After a discussion on HE Special I decided to write down what I've learned about spotting the signs that a situation is or isn't likely to work.

I will do my best to find a way for my children to do anything they want to try, but I will not dump them in a situation they can't handle simply because that's what everyone expects of them. They are not everyone. They are themselves and I believe they have a right to be loved and respected exactly how they are, and I do, even when they're driving me up the wall.

RED WARNINGS - Either find another way or be very firmly on the case, because someone has to be the pathfinder. Only to do that you need energy and large reserves of what my children call 'cope', and it's no shame to say 'Well, actually, I don't want to fight this battle when I could sneak in another way and get the same result with a lot less stress', especially if you then share how you've done it.

For me, the red situations are

  1. Anyone who tells me they have 'lots of experience of SEN.' SEN children are not Tesco gingerbread men who've been stamped out in infinite numbers, and nor are 'normal' children (assuming one exists, which I doubt.) Not only is every last one of them different, my 2 react differently at different times of the day and under different stresses.
  2. Anyone who, on meeting a child for the first time, with no 'history' to guide them, assumes they know better than I do and tries to make their problem with getting my child to do something into my problem by questioning my parenting skills and techniques. I'm not a perfect parent any more than anyone else is but I have known my children since they were born, so I do have knowledge and expertise. If someone doesn't respect that, then I don't think they'll respect my children either.
  3. Anyone who won't listen. My children deserve to be respected. If they say 'no' to an activity that doesn't involve a life threatening situation then that decision should be accepted and respected. That doesn't mean we won't try again, but it does mean being prepared to stop at a point that isn't where I'd wanted to get to while we regroup and replan. Again, quoting from Army life, 'No plan ever survives contact with the enemy' and, 'there is a name for someone who's not scared in a potentially dangerous situation. That name is 'stupid!' and 'Retreat is fine. Surrender isn't.'
  4. Anyone who uses a rigid programme.
  5. Anyone who isn't happy for you to stay as long as YOU feel your child needs you. Definitely anyone who tries to make a child feel small or babyish or uses emotional blackmail. (Anything like 'a big boy like you doesn't need his mummy...' means we're both heading for the door.)
  6. If you can't watch a lesson with your child before you decide whether to join the class, then don't join it, because if they can't compromise on something that small, there's no way they'll deal with a child who needs flexibility.
  7. Anyone who talks about how 'children need groups and socialisation'. Some people are big group people. Some people are not big group people. Neither are right or wrong. It's more convenient for society to corral children into big groups, but that doesn't mean it works for everyone. My idea of hell would be a guided coach tour when I couldn't choose my companions, itinerary or even when I could go to the loo but that's what society routinely does to children.
  8. Anyone who responds to a problem by claiming they've never had a problem before. I don't care if it's happened before, it's definitely happening now, so let's either fix it or go our separate ways before it can get any worse.
  9. Anyone who talks about 'age appropriate activities' as if they should come written on stone tablets. My children run on their own timeline. They've always been hopelessly late or hopelessly early when it comes to doing things, and sometimes they miss out a couple of stages altogether. I don't know where that timeline will end up any more than any parent does. I do know that dumping them in situations they simply aren't ready for is likely to give you a child who won't want to try again, while building slowly and gently out from a skill they've already mastered is getting us to places I never thought they'd go. (Sometimes they're places I'd never imagined wanting to go, but that's okay. We're all learning to be flexible together.)

GREEN FOR GO - It still may not work, but you know what? Parents of 'normal' children have social disasters too. If you doubt me, go to MacDonalds on a Saturday afternoon and watch the little angels. I'd recommend earplugs and sitting near to the exit, but don't ever think all the problems are caused by SEN/Disability. Sometimes, children are little brats because they are little brats.

My personal signs that it has to be worth a try are

  1. If the group leader is happy to let the child observe from the sidelines for a few weeks (or months if necessary) and then join in for a little bit and then a little bit more.
  2. If they admit it mightn't work and have ideas for different approaches.
  3. If they 'feel' right. My 2 were both taught to swim by a former Royal Marine Commando Training Sergeant. He's not noted for his sensitivity, and is very firm, crisp and clear on his instructions, and incredibly goal orientated. In our case the goal was 1) Give them the skills they'll need not to drown and work on fancy stuff if and when they're ready for it. and 2) To enjoy themselves in the water but respect that it is an alien environment that could kill you. His first lesson for them was 'if you're not comfortable, get out and sit on the side till you are' and that it was HIS job to make them feel safe and that he wouldn't be paid if he let them drown and there'd be no end of paperwork, which he hates, so he wasn't likely to do that, was he?
  4. If they like your child how they are and your child likes them back.
  5. If it makes your family happy. My 11 year old son loves long walks, especially if they have a pub lunch in the middle, so we meet up with friends and their families that way and the adults chat while the children run on ahead. If my son is sometimes a little more ahead because he needs quiet and space then fine, he's checking the paths for us. My teenage daughter is a falconer, who discovered she had more in common with birds of prey than other teenagers and has what her mentor described as an instinctive empathy with them that he reckons gives her an incredible advantage. Neither fit an established norm, but they're both out and about and mixing with people and that in turn builds their confidence and will lead on to something else, even if I don't currently know what that might be.

Rules of Engagement - ©A Brown 2013