Failure and Trauma

Easter Holidays and of course the weather is decidedly chilly.  So options of things to do mean I’m not in great favour of the park until the sun is well and truly heating up; I’m sure we will go at some point although they are getting a bit old and trying to be too “cool” for the park.

Today Biggey is at the stables for the day so Littley has a friend over to play. I’ve brought them to a ceramic studio. It seemed like a good idea. It’s not too busy when we arrive which is a bonus. The staff do their cheerful chatty explanation and the girls go and choose a money box penguin to paint. Littley is quite happy to follow her friend.

After just a few minutes I remembered why we don’t take them to arty crafty places. These are places and activities where they have to

  • Choose
  • Make decisions
  • Risk it being wrong
  • Constantly check for approval
  • Discuss everything beforehand
  • Show me each small stage
  • Worry in case it’s no good

Gawd its tiresome…..question, question, question.  Always seeking confirmation, assurance, recognition.

Yet I try my best to smile and continue to be cheery and helpful and encouraging. Then when I’m in need of ‘a moment of calm’ I order a cup of. tea. Whilst taking a moment to enjoy the simple pleasures I am happy to discover they have a Teapig Peppermint. Ahh lovely.


The friend then tells Littley that the great thing about art is that you can’t get it wrong!! I smile to myself and I’m glad someone has been listening to me! Then friend says

Littley you need to stop fussing!

I nearly fell off my chair. That was exactly what I wanted to say, yet I know she needs to fuss; she needs reassurance and all that. Yet it was funny.  However, this is not really just about fussing.

This is about a fear of failure (and other stuff).  It’s what happens to children when they have been neglected, ignored, ridiculed or chastised in some way when they are attempting to do things or when they make a mistake.  The brain registers this, consciously or unconsciously, it registers that they are expected to do everything perfectly and so they become scared in case they fail.  This scared feeling is probably not recognised in them either, yet the Fight Flight response is generated and as parents we will see it in a variety of ways, be it low level fussing, as with Littley or in big meltdowns or something in between.  Left without encouragement and reassurance they end up worrying about even trying new things.  This is what I like to refer to as ‘anticipatory anxiety’ where Littley worries and fusses about everything new and different.  This is why it is important I keep my emotions in check and try to reassure and praise and give approval (OK I don’t always manage it!!).

Eventually (after some significant gentle input from me) she managed to calm down somewhat and get into the swing of painting the penguin and coming up with ideas that were different from her friend’s ideas.  Great, I thought.  No so bad after all.


Then someone brought in a baby to have their feet printed on a plate.  Oh that did it!  The baby started crying (of course) when the cold paint was put on her feet and Littley froze and stared.  She can’t stand it when she sees a baby having ‘something done’  that makes baby cry.  It’s part of her trauma.  I gently reassured her that baby was fine and that the mummy was looking after baby.  Still frozen.  It took a bit more reassuring and a couple of sweets (sensory regulation) and nudges of distraction to get her moving again but she kept a very close eye on what this mummy was doing with her baby.  After a short while baby went to sleep and I pointed this out and also said that the mummy was still holding baby in a safe, warm and caring way.  This seemed to help Littley.  The friend just looked at me like I was mad.  Good.  Normal service resumes then!  I’m often looked as thought I am mad.  I am used to it.   It would seem they can get on with painting penguins.

The new baby family left and we had some nice chat and some painting happening.

Then another family came in with a tiny baby.

Oh bugger!  Here we go again!

More frozen child.  More staring.  Young parents did not respond as kindly to the baby, they chatted more between themselves.  I could feel the transference of fear and annoyance coming from Littley.  Then as a result of that, I could feel myself beginning to get irate.  So I was working hard at soothing and reassuring Littley as well as working hard at keeping myself in check when all I wanted to do was say ‘right, enough, just finish up and lets go!’  I managed to contain everything and gently suggested they start finishing off.  We had been there for an hour and a half by this point so felt I could be reasonable about my request.  The penguins were completed covered and they were really just gaffing with elaborate decoration and trying to use all colours and stencils!!

I managed to get them out of the place with all of us remaining calm.  They trotted on ahead back to the car park and I took a moment to release the tension (which really means I’m swearing profusely in my head!!!!)  Is there something of an issue everywhere we go? Well quite honestly yes there is.  It might be big, it might be small, it might have meltdown or just some fussing but all tracks back to bloody trauma, neglect and attachment and yes, that early life experience!

Yet I try hard not to moan; being very conscious of how it drags me down and doesn’t help the situation or our family.  So I take a deep breath and try to find a positive.  So, today, we all survived the experience without meltdown. So in the scheme of things, in our life, all in all a fairly good couple of hours (quite expensive though!).

Headteacher Calling!

Biggey has been doing well with her integration into the new school (her second secondary school since September!). She has been reasonably calm and composed each evening and each morning. The transition has been steady and without pressure on her (or me) to get her into school full time. I’ve been so glad that they agreed to this as it is important that this time her experience is a success.

She has been going into this small unit every day for the last couple of weeks for part of a day and in the last week she progressed to four full days and a big chunk of the fifth day! After Easter she has even signed up for an after school cookery club!

All in all I have been very pleased with how things have gone and my view of this school has not changed since my first meeting as detailed in We Have a Plan and even in later posts of So Far So Good.  However, forgive me for gushing, yet I have been (nicely) surprised and amazed yet again by this school.

On Friday lunchtime I get a call on my mobile.  It’s the Headteacher.

Oh God!  What’s happened?  What has she done?

Well that was the first though that went through my mind.  I mean, Headteachers of Secondary Schools don’t just randomly ring parents as a ‘nice to do’ on a Friday lunchtime on the last day of term.  Do they??

Well actually, yes they do!  OK I know I have been gushing about the staff in this school but still, pick me up with amazement all over again…..

He said he was ringing to say how well he though Biggey had settled in and that it was progressing much better than they had expected and he was wondering what my thoughts were and how I feel it was going.  Just a moment …. rewind … he was actually asking for my opinion and views???  I need picking up off the floor again!!

So, whilst trying to contain my delight and remain a bit like a focussed sensible adult, I managed (I think) to tell him some of things I think have been good and helpful.  I praised the two key members of staff who are having the most input to Biggey at the moment.  I was able to tell him the latest piece of information I had got from her just a couple of nights before.

She said she was with a teacher in DT working on a 1:1 basis.  The teacher asked why Biggey had moved schools.  Now in Biggey’s usual way, she didn’t really give correct information and had said it was because they didn’t help her with her dyslexia.   The teacher then apparently said “oh, so not for behaviour then?” So Biggey said

Well I don’t tell people if I don’t feel safe or if I’m struggling or if people upset me and then sometimes I take it out on other people

The teacher apparently just said “Oh thank you for telling me”.  I was, at this point listening with awe and unable to say anything for a moment.   Eventually I wondered aloud if my child had been taken away by aliens to which I was told

No. This is me when I feel safe and when I’m not feeling worried and not worried about being told off all the time. 

Isn’t that amazing!  I told the Head this and that it is indeed because she feels safe and accepted and comfortable enough to be able to do this and that I was grateful for the team they are providing around my child in addition to the effort I put in.

It was a 10 minute call, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but covers a lot of conversation.  I was positively delighted when it finished.

When I collected Biggey later that day, I took a moment to begin to mention to the two members of staff.  They said they already knew because the Head had sent them an email saying well done for the good work!  What a great way to finish for the holidays.

Parent Power

When Biggey was having all this trouble with the old school and had been out of school for several weeks we applied for a place in the new school.  Now, because she has a Statement of needs we had to ask for local authority approval to move her. The new school said they were happy to begin getting her meeting people whilst we were still waiting for formal approval. The school had also said they applied for more hours on her Statement to support her. So I then went home and sent an email asking for more hours and increase to the maximum support of 27.5 hours and gave a variety of reasons, taking information for the previous school’s report and other areas. I hit the button and thought ‘what the hell – if you don’t ask …’

Her introduction to the new school is documented in my post So Far, So Good

Weeks later, I hadn’t received formal confirmation so chased the LA for an update and was delighted to get an email that said they had awarded the extra hours.  I was even more delighted when I got an email from the school to say Thank You for my contribution to the request.  Apparently school had originally been told that the hours would stay the same, then the LA got my request and said they would give it some further consideration!

So Parent Power is effective.  Challenge does get results.  Certainly in my area.  Always worth asking.