Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The trouble with parents

It's possible you won't like me very much after this, especially if I start off with a nice sweeping statement along the lines of 'I really don't like the parents of children with learning disabilities'. Sounds really awful, doesn't it? I know you're judging me, don't worry, I feel bad already.

Here's the thing. Every week we 'attempt' to get to a playgroup aimed at 2 to 3 year olds who wish to follow on to the nursery at age 3. Invariably we end up missing it as Hamish has recorded it somewhere in his brain that Wednesdays are the day that he should eaither have a late morning nap or a very early afternoon nap. Orla is the person with the place at the playgroup but siblings are allowed to come along and play for an additional charge. So there are two children who go both with different learning disabilities. Both from different families. Both of these children hit the other children on a fairly regular basis. The policy on discipline is that although their are 2 play leaders, because the parents are there with their child/children it is there responsibility to resolve any issues such as hitting.

So, the first thing that happened on our first week there was that the boy, let's call him Sam, came over to the reading area where the children were all sitting singing nursery rhymes with one of the leaders, and he picked up the chair next to Hamish and swung it at his head. Hamish had a narrow miss and I got a bit of a surprise. Sam's dad was standing behind him and I turned to look at him to catch his eye in a 'Whoa, what was that all about?' manner. His face was expressionless and he didn't say anything, even as Sam picked the chair up again to try again. Never having been in this situation before I just moved Hamish away and said nothing not wanting to make a scene in front of the other parents.

After that I just kept Orla and Hamish away from where Sam was so that I didn't have to deal with any problems as it became clear that Sam hits quite a lot with some force, though he seems to be keen on hitting his younger sister more than anyone else. Today though Orla was on a trike and cycled past Sam who took a step towards her as she went past and hit her in the face as she went past. Orla just took it and as his mum wasn't around I thought 'I'll just leave it. It doesn't matter'. A few minutes later though I saw Sam hit his sister so hard in the stomach that she flew backwards off her feet and landed hitting her head off the ground. Their mother came over and asked the now hysterical daughter what happened. As she couldn't speak for crying I went over and said that her brother had hit her very hard and it looked very sore. To my astonishment the mum started to talk to her daughter about her 'falling over' completely taking Sam's part in the incident out of the equation. It was a bit odd to be honest. But I couldn't help but think how confusing it must be for the little girl if she is always being told that she's 'just had a silly fall' etc even though she would be aware that it wouldn't have happened if Sam hadn't been involved.

Now ok, I don't know anything about bringing up children with learning difficulties, but I find Sam's parents attitude to his behaviour and how it affects others a bit annoying. In other shoving, hitting incidents where Orla or another child has been involved both his parents who normally witness the act tend to say nothing either to the other parent or to Sam. Their faces and attitude by just ignoring what he does seems to say 'He has a problem, therefore he can do what he wants'. To be honest it really makes me angry and there have been occaisions at the Playgroup where he has been hellbent on smacking Orla that I feel like I have an extra child to look out for because his parents don't. Of course my problem is that I don't say anything to them about what he's doing because their body language and attitude make me feel like I would end up looking like a really awful person picking on the poor boy who can't help it. Call me overly concerned about other people's attitudes towards me but I really don't want to have a scene in front of the other parents.

The other child with learning difficulties belongs to a different family and comes with her mum. We'll call her Lily. (Of course I could be using their proper names, but you'll never know). Lily seems to focus her hitting solely on Orla. Lily was really premature and when we first met her she used a walker to help her get around. Even when using her walker the first time she hit Orla she managed to hold on with one hand and use the base of her palm to smack Orla square in the face and knock her off her feet. I had thought it was a one off and (once again) just left it, but minutes later she was back again and yanked her arm and hit her in the face once more. Lily fell over once she'd done it so I picked her up and took her over to her mother and told her I was bringing her over as she had hit Orla. Her mother who had been busy chatting and hadn't seen it didn't say anything. Not even a 'sorry about that'. Lily hit Orla again at another session and I went to her mother and once again told her that Lily had hit Orla. Once again, her mother's response was minimal.So said 'oh.'.

I saw her afterwards in Tesco and she stopped to chat and told me that the reason Lily hits so much and so hard is that she has an older brother and they are always hitting each other. Her view was that this was perfectly acceptable and went on to suggest that Orla should just hit Lily back. What?? I was so incredulous about this I didn't even argue the point, that I don't want my daughter hitting and I don't find it acceptable behaviour. Never mind what the other parents at the playgroup would think if they saw me going 'Go on Orla! Hit her hard in the face!'. Seriously, can you imagine their faces? So Lily managed to get a good swipe at the side of Orla's face today when we weren't expecting it. Once again Orla just took it and didn't say anything. This is driving me mad. She seems happy to accept that other kids will hit her and she just has to put up with it. Anyway more words with Lily's mum and I told her I didn't find it acceptable. Still no apology or anything.

I feel bad that I am putting Orla in this situation, and I feel unsure of how to deal with the situation. I don't blame the kids, but I do think the parents attitudes are appalling. Anyway, I have decided we are quitting the playgroup, and I am training Orla into saying 'Stop! That's naughty' and coming to tell me and hopefully avoiding getting hit, but I don't know what else to do. Is there even any point in me taking her out of the situation if she's going to end up in a similar situation maybe at nursery or at school where I can't remove her from the situation?

Thoughts please!


  1. Gosh, that's a tricky one. You are right, learning difficulties are no excuse for teaching a child that hitting is wrong. I think you are doing the right thing in teaching Orla to react verbally, rather than hitting back. If you are there when it happens, I would also, very gently, tell the child that what they did was not a kind thing to do, and that they should not do it again. Have you tried speaking to the playgroup leaders about it?

  2. Thanks, an yes, I spoke to the leaders when 'Lily' was hitting Orla a fair bit. They just reiterated their policy that it is down to the parents as we are in attendance with our children and basically as such they don't get involved.

  3. You won't like this but I think you should tell Orla and Hamish to hit back. I hate physical violence but I do believe in self defence. In my experience, children who don't hit back continue being hit.

    I can't believe the attitude of the parents of both Sam and Lily but unfortunately that is all the more reason for your children to defend themselves.

  4. I don't have any answers either, but I'm with you on the hitting thing. I think if you encourage her to hit back you will end up encouraging your own children to hit each other, because, let's be honest, they will end up pushing and shoving and if they're told it's ok to hit back it'll never end....

    I've got a similar problem today though. L has come back from nursery with an enormous bite mark on her face. I'm normally pretty chilled about these sorts of things. She's 3 and this sort of thing happens, but this one is really bad. And I know who did it, and he's the same child that always bites L. And I know his parents. Do I say something?

    Incidentally I don't think that learning difficulties is any excuse. They do have to know that there are boundaries. In the same way that I tell my babies off if they hit each other. They're 16 months so they don't really understand, but they do understand "no" and I can't see that it's ever too early to start teaching them that there are some things that are and aren't acceptable.

  5. As a parent of a child with autism I apologise on behalf of parents who don't seem to care about the upbringing of their child with learning difficulties. It is appalling, you are right, it is showing the child a very bad example and a totally wrong way to act towards their peers. These incidents should be flagged up immediately with the nursery assistants and whoever runs the nursery.

    However, parents of children with special needs or learning difficulties as it is sometimes referred to, need a break. They need to be understood, to be listened to, and to be heard. There is no excuse for violence in whatever capacity but we have to remember that sometimes children have issues which segregate them from the rest of society. Imagine that child being alone (forget about the hitting), imagine them having no one to play with, no one to talk to, no one who understands their needs.

    It is a very thorny issue for any parent. I have spent eight years coming to terms with my daughter's autism; she doesn't have many friends of her own age. But if I found out she had hit another child, or indeed been deliberately mean then I would intervene and hope to remedy the situation with calmness. There are ways to deal with these incidents; they usually come with experience, and a hell of a lot of patience.

    I hope you get your child into another nursery of which you feel happier about, but never forget, there is no such thing as a perfect child, and no matter where you go, you will always find a child and parents of whom you would rather not have met.

    CJ xx

  6. It's a tricky one. Other people's parenting is often a complete mystery - isn't it great we are so great at raising our children perfectly!

    I think probably the best solution would be to talk to the parents of Sam and Lily and explain how you are feeling about the situation. Maybe they have been having a really tough time and just don't have the energy to face the problem that day.

    Having said that, I am rubbish at saying things and tend to operate by trying to keep under the radar. I'm usually quite successful until something is the final straw and then it all gets messy!

    Good luck.

  7. oh dear, so sad that we all get tarnished with the same brush! It sounds like you have a specific issue with some specific parents that are really quite simply NOT DEALING with their child's behaviour and it sounds appalling. But not all parents are like this. If it had been me I would have been over there like a flash, made it clear to my child it was wrong and apologised to you profusely.

    To be honest it sounds like a super crap playgroup and I would get out of there as soon as possible. You will always come across this in life, but you will find strategies and ways of side-stepping it. I moved my child from a school where there was behaviour as you describe (although my son has a learning disability) like this, because his 'special needs' meant he was just copying the behaviour. He is now at a really good school and he has greatly improved - there is good behaviour there so he learns good behaviour in turn and not the hitting and slapping you describe.

    I just want to say to planb that children with learning difficulties have exactly that, so teaching them what normal/acceptable behaviours are is not as simple as said, because their brains don't process/comprehend norms like neuro-typical people. It's very hard, but not impossible depending on the type of learning disability.

    Ultimately I wouldn't put up with what you have. So good luck, I do hope you find a nicer playgroup. It's ashame this has been your experience.


  8. Thanks for your advice everyone. Amelia, I know it sounds as though I am tarring everyone with the same brush, it's just unfortunate that at this playgroup it's the 2 children with learning difficulties that do the hitting. And Amaranthine, I kind of know that it's me that's got the problem because I am really dreadful at confrontation and generally I utterly hate having to say anything to any parent when Orla gets hit. My stomach goes into a knot and I worry that they're going to get really defensive and it'll all escalate. So I do wonder if it's my reticence on the matter that makes Orla just take it and accept it time after time.

    Orla has also been hit a good few times by one of her friends. Plan B I am with you on finding it awkward addressing this with my friend, the childs mother. But I have started!

    Amaranthine, I have spoken with Lily's mum twice or three times about the hitting and her standpoint is always the same - no apology, just that Lily and her brother are always hitting each other at home and that Orla should just hit Lily back. There's no way I am asking Orla to hit Lily or any other child. Sam's parents are a whole different kettle of fish. Sam's dad just doesn't register that Sam is doing anything; there's not a flicker in his expression or any attempt to stop Sam when he's throwing large objects/swinging chairs etc. Sam's mum, like I say, seems to have her own issues with pretending that Sam has no involvement in the things that he does - quite what effect that is going to have on his sister I have no idea. Combined, I get the overall impression from Sam's parents that they aren't coping well, and I haven't said anything to either of them, maybe because I just don't think they need any more on their plate.

    Crystal Jigsaw, I think you hit the nail on the head - dealing with these situations does come down to experience, and I don't think I have loads yet. I worry that if I say something it's going to be really offensive to (particularly) Sam's parents and yet on the other hand I wonder if I am tiptoeing round the whole learning difficulties thing trying to be politically correct the whole time and end up feeling all at sea wondering what exactly the CORRECT thing to do is. I think both sets of parents probably show that there is no one way.

    Anyway, I have gone back and forward on whether it is a good/bad idea to leave the playgroup because of this because she's bound to come across children who hit or bully or whatever when I am not with her, either at nursery or school and maybe its better that I am there with her to guide her in how to handle it now. But, I don't like the playgroup's stance on things and I just think it's not worth it.

    Thanks everyone again, I really appreciate everyones viewpoints and advice.


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