All You Need to Know Before You Start School

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In preparation for next month, we bought this book for Spiderboy, it’s a lovely book and has a section on how to dress yourself, what to remember to do when you’ve been to the toilet, shapes, colours, numbers, letters etc.

I don’t want to boast too much (actually I do), but Spiderboy knows it all. He can write and read basic words. He is intellectually bright, and he is physically very capable.

But he’s not ready for September. And it got me thinking, what does he need to know before he starts school? If I could write my own version, it would go something like this:

  1. You are loved. Unconditionally. I will always be thinking of you when you’re at school. I will always be loving you, and missing you. And I will always be there to collect you after.
  2. You are special. You are clever and kind and talented. But none of that matters because what makes you most special is that you are mine. And so whatever you do at school, you will always be the most important, most special boy to me.
  3. You are safe. Because of number 1 and number 2, I would never leave you somewhere that you weren’t safe. Your teachers do not want to hurt you, they don’t want to take you away. I trust them, so you can too.
  4. You are strong. The world has not been kind to you. Maybe no one else in your class will be able to understand this. But you know that life isn’t fair. And you are a stronger, braver person because of that.

The other children in Spiderboy’s class may not be able to fasten buttons, or write their names, but I’m pretty sure they won’t have trouble with the above. But for my beautiful boy, these things do not come naturally. Early life experiences have taught him quite the opposite. And yet, in two weeks he goes, ready or not.

If I could only help him start to believe these things before then, none of the other stuff matters. He may look to be at an advantage to the other children in his class. But buttons and letters are much easier to learn than trust and a sense of self worth.

Book Review 2: The Otter who Loved to Hold Hands

20152312This week’s book review is one of my new favourites! We got it from The Works online, where there is currently an amazing offer: 10 kids books for £10!!! Some of them were classics that we recognised and some we’d never heard of but took a gamble, because you can’t really go wrong with £1 a book!

This was one I’d never heard of, but even reading the blurb brought a tear to my eye! It’s by Heidi and Daniel Howarth and it has really beautiful illustrations.

The story is about a little otter called Otto. Every night his family all hold hands when they go to sleep so they don’t drift apart. In the morning, they let go of hands so they can go about their business. But Otto is too scared to let go. He knows he will float, but he’s too worried he’ll drift away and get lost.

Many children who are adopted (and many who aren’t) can find it really scary to be away from their primary caregiver. After all, that is their source of food, comfort, shelter and love! Children who have been removed from their first parents and had that bond of attachment broken may well have repeated this experience with one or more foster families before finding their Forever Family. And so it is understandable that these children may often be afraid to be away from their parents, or even out of sight.

Poor Otto misses out on a lot of fun – he can’t play with the other little otters if he’s holding his mum’s hand. He can see what he’s missing, but he’s torn. The very nature of fear and anxiety is the separation of rational thought from our emotions. What Otto knows and what he feels are very different. It’s only when Otto’s mum helps him to see himself swimming on his own, and smiling, that he realises he can do it!

My favourite bit of the book is the end, when Otto and his family come back together to hold hands again when they sleep. Gaining a bit of independence doesn’t mean he’s any less part of the family, or that he has to miss out on the things he enjoys.

I think this book is a brilliant opportunity to help anxious children think about when they are afraid and to talk about their own anxieties. And particularly in relation to separation. At the back of the book is a section of conversation starters and activities to help parents explore the story a bit more with their children.

Attachment issues or not, I can’t wait to read this book with our children. In the meantime I’m reading it a lot to myself as I think I need to stop crying everytime I do before they arrive!

Book Review 1: God Made All Of Me

Now we’re approved we’re really excited to get ready for the Big Arrival. The trouble is that we can’t buy clothes or furniture or start decorating because we don’t know what age or gender to be preparing for. One way we’ve found to start nesting is to start buying books! Books are fairly neutral and suit a wide range of ages. And so once a week I’m going to review a book that we’ve added to the shelf!

66675.jpgThe first one I’d like to share with you is called ‘God Made All Of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies’ by Justin & Lindsey Holcomb. It’s recommended for 2-8 year olds. This isn’t a story book that we’d leave out on the shelf, it’s more of a resource to help parents talk to children about their bodies, and how to keep them safe. It is written by Christians, and the message throughout is “God made every part of your body and God called every part of your body good.” But even if you are not a Christian, I do think this is an excellent resource, and a beautiful book.

It opens with an introduction to parents: “children need to know about private parts.” It explains how giving children the language and confidence to communicate about their bodies can help protect them. As I read this book, my eyes are full of tears – tears because this book has had to be written, that we have to teach our children to protect themselves from adults. And tears because our children, who we haven’t yet met, may already be bearing the pain and shame of being mistreated by adults. As adoptive parents, how we use this resource may be slightly different; if we know of sexual abuse in our child’s past, or can’t be sure, we will need to think about how we use this book alongside other therapy and discussion.

The book is overwhelmingly positive. The narrative is of a family talking openly about their bodies. I feel strongly that this is where children should be having these conversations, rather than in a classroom, and so I love that this book is set in a family home. The family are relaxed and warm towards each other, and their conversation celebrates their bodies, and their ability to protect them. We don’t want our children to feel embarrassed or ashamed of any part of their body, and this is the message of the book – every part of your body is wonderful. It uses anatomical words for ‘private parts’ instead of childish nicknames to empower children to know and own their bodies, and to give them the words to use to ask for help if and when they need it.

It goes on to say “some parts of your body are for sharing and some parts are not for sharing” and uses the swimming costume illustration to explain about sharing parts and private parts. One thing that struck me was a part about sharing hugs or high fives. At our adoption prep groups we discussed acceptable and unacceptable parenting. One of the examples we were asked to discuss was ‘is it acceptable to make a child hug or kiss a relative if they don’t want to?’ At first I didn’t see a problem with this, I imagine for parents it can be embarrassing when a Grandma wants to kiss their darling grandchild who refuses to be touched. But letting our children decide how their bodies are touched empowers them. It lets them know that they’re in charge of their own bodies. The book suggests just to say “no, thank you,” and as parents to respect our children’s wishes immediately. This will teach them that they can say No, and people will listen.

I used to work as a martial arts instructor, we went around schools teaching self defence. The first thing we always taught children, from 4 years old, was to say with confidence: “stop, please leave me alone.” Now we were under no illusions that a molester would turn around and walk away, but using your voice helps to regulate your breathing and so keep control of your body which might otherwise become frozen in panic. It also means that somebody nearby might hear and be able to help, as attackers often rely on their victim’s silence. If our children see this works in non-threatening situations, such as a tickle fight with Dad, or a big kiss from Nan, then it means they are more likely to use their voices in threatening situations. We want to teach our children: “you are in charge of your body.”

The book talks about safe touching – at the doctors, or parents helping young children to bathe. And it asks children to think of safe people who they can go to for help: “Who makes you feel safe and strong?”

The book also talks about the different between secrets and surprises. We should never keep secrets if somebody asks us to, especially from our parents. But sometimes it’s OK to have surprises – surprises are always revealed, and always bring joy. “Secrets make people feel confused or sad.”

The book finishes with the family talking about how much they love each other, which is a great chance for parents to tell their children how special they are! “That is why we talk about our bodies so we can help keep each other safe.”

Then there are 9 tips to help parents protect their children. I think they’re all great, but if I tell you everything in the book you won’t buy it, and I might get into trouble! There were two that especially made me. “Don’t ask your child to maintain your emotions” – that’s not their job! If our children feel responsible for how we are feeling, and we ask them to use their bodies to cheer us up (hugging or kissing) this might leave them open to abusers who could use similar language to manipulate how our children use their bodies. I’d never thought of this before, I thought using cuddles to cheer each other up would always be a good thing. But even on a less sinister level, I don’t want my children to feel responsible for my emotions, that’s not fair!

The second helpful tip was to “clarify rules for playing Doctors.” Children often use their own bodies in these games to be the patient, this is so normal and innocent. But teaching our children that we don’t play games with our bodies, they’re not toys, could protect them from an abuser who would use this same language or a ‘game’ to hurt our children. Again, I’d never thought of this before, but playing doctors with dolls or teddies is just as fun, and helps children to understand boundaries with what they do with their own body.

In summary: I love this book. I hate that it is necessary though.

This is a massive post, sorry, but I feel really passionate about this subject, and I really believe this book is a very powerful resource. If you’d like to get your own copy (I haven’t done it justice, and the illustrations are gorgeous) you can get it  here or, of course, on Amazon!

I’d love to know if you’ve read this book – or any others on this topic – or if you have any other tips for talking about bodies in a positive way with our children.god-made-all-of-me-holcomb-01.jpg

What am I?!

Our road to adoption has been a rollercoaster of feelings so far. A lot of people have remarked how similar it is to pregnancy, I’ve never been pregnant but I sort of think they’re right.

Waiting. Nesting. Preparing. Worrying. Dreaming.

At first we weren’t sure if it would happen so we didn’t tell many people, the more sure it got the harder it was to hide and so we made ‘the announcement’. Friends and family have been so supportive, they want to know if there’s any news, anything they can do.

DSCF4734We started getting ready, nesting. We had a loft conversion built to add another bedroom and bathroom onto our house. We’re getting bedrooms ready, childproofing stuff, making  our concrete yard into a family garden. We have, in our weaker moments, bought a t-shirt and a dress that we keep in our wardrobe until we need them!

We’ve been reading all the books, going to the training, desperately trying to prepare now so we won’t be taken by surprise when it happens(!) We worry that we’ll let them down, that they won’t like us.

We often find ourselves saying things like “this will be so much better when our children are here,” “this time next year it could all be very different!” We find ourselves daydreaming about the things they’ll like, the places we’ll take them, the kind of parents we will be.

We are Expecting.

And yes, it is very different to pregnancy too. I haven’t had to give up my uterus for 9 months, and all the trauma that comes with that! But the emotional turbulence has taken it’s toll on me still. (I have found myself crying before at the sight of baby wipes in the supermarket.)

We won’t be getting a newborn baby screaming and covered in goo. But that doesn’t mean our children will come quietly! And the messiness they’ve been through on their way to us will stay with them much longer.

We don’t have much idea at all when our children will arrive. But we know that God does, and we trust His plan and His timing because He knows us and our children better than we ever will.

There is one big difference, that I think may make this harder than pregnancy. It isn’t the paperwork, or the long meetings or having to explain to people why you’re not having ‘your own’ children. When you are pregnant your child exists but you’ve never seen them. You love them unconditionally before you’ve ever met them. Our children exist, God has already chosen them for us and they are out there somewhere; we love them so much even though we’ve never met them. But unlike a pregnant mother I don’t know if my children are safe, and I can’t do anything to keep them safe. Pregnant mothers can obsessively watch what they eat, what they lift, wait to feel a kick. Every night they go to bed and they know their child is where they should be.

Every night I go to bed and I pray that my children are safe, because that’s all I can do until they are here, where they belong.