covid-19 life in a sen household
two boys, two very different diagnoses
Whilst Boris Jonson announced, "|Schools will shut indefinitely this Friday", I heard in the background the whooping and hollering of joy and excitement from my eldest son, 12, diagnosed with ADHD. This went on for quite some time and resembled the NYE celebrations of the Millennium. My youngest son, 7, ASD, didn’t understand what had happened and began to get quieter and quieter, except for times when he mimicked incessantly Nikii Minaji's "Corona VIIIIIRRRIIIS" on repeat, helpfully shown to him by his older brother.
An interlude to this, before you stop reading, is that my eldest child comes home from school, almost daily, with detention slips and behavioural points. Regularly, I have calls from teachers regarding his behaviour; he’s often put ‘on report’ for short periods of time to monitor his behaviour. Most mornings, before school, result in large, angry testosterone-filled outbursts which, in turn, disrupt my youngest son's start to the day.
My youngest son is in the process of a EHCP application and school comes with an abundance of challenges for him on many different levels. It would be fair to say that neither of my children ‘enjoy’ school and or the process of it.
So, I didn’t feel any sense of dread at having the boys at home; I had been furloughed and realised now was an opportunity for me to devote some well needed time to their learning. So off I diligently trotted to print off all and every learning resource from Twinkl and order a whole load of resources from hobby craft. A corkboard was erected in the sitting room / kitchen and a daily rainbow coloured chart and to-do list attached to it covering a broad range of learning and activities to stimulate mind and nourish the soul. The sun shone, the children were happy and relaxed, we started each day with a three mile bike ride together, we did purple mash and easimaths, we did mindful colouring and baking, we planted seeds, we recycled things, we painted rainbows and posted them to all our elderly friends and family. We stuck to a routine; everyone was compliant.
It was all going swimmingly well for the first week. I began to imagine a different kind of life for me and my children, one where we went ever so slightly off grid (but still enjoyed two holidays a year and our lifestyle remained unaffected). I would home school the boys, we would live primarily from foods we had grown ourselves, my eldest son would be oblivious to the pressures of secondary school and stop deeming me the worst parent in the world every time I said I said I couldn’t afford to buy him the latest pair of Nike Tns.
By the end of the second week, the novelty had worn off – the pupils had both begun to sneak off to areas other than the ‘ classroom’, the head teacher ( me) spent lengthy periods of time coaxing them out of trees and dark corners of the house. The problem appeared to be that I had two children at totally different levels, with totally different interests, and completely different attention spans. I began to panic as boxes on 'Show My Homework' went unchecked, resulting in rows between me and my eldest son. My youngest son, really remarkably begun to ask to look at the schools twitter feed, and I would find him staring at pictures of his classmates and other pupils he recognised on the school website.
Enthusiasm and motivation to complete the work set by each school waned on both sides, resulting in clashes of personality and refusal to do anything. Nights became a stressful time as I constantly flicked through the endless screens of set homework trying to create engaging and innovative ways to ‘teach’ my children. Work dwindled to a minimum and tensions became fraught.
My eldest son wandered around aimlessly and was forced to confess that even he was missing school ‘a bit’. He started face-timing and zooming his classmates, but this raised issues with screen time. My youngest child had several offers of interaction with friends on the computer, but flatly refused and ran and hid if they did call, once loudly and angrily demanding I remove them from computer, and was completely unsettled by it. I began to notice that the times when there was least discord in the house was when I was asking and expecting nothing from my children, in return I'd get brought a bunch of dandelions or "Mummy, watch me on the trampoline". I realised fairly sharply that my children, in a time of complete change, needed a mum not a teacher.
Children are resilient and flexible beings; however, I had underestimated the impact of a complete change to their normality. A loss of the village of people supporting them on their educational journey. With reflection, I realised my children needed a mum- to nod and smile and say "lovely picture, darling", rather than, "right we need to finish unit 4 before 9.25".
On balance, my children are happier at home and find the school environment a very stressful one. I worry about the impact of this on my eldest son’s mental wellbeing and self-esteem; to be told continuously from primary school that he is not reaching targets set by the government of the expected norm has had a detrimental effect of his self-confidence regarding his own academic ability. However, I am not a teacher and cannot provide them with the skills to pass their GCSEs. What I can do, is to provide them with practical life skills, to encourage them to take this time to reflect on their emotions and feelings, and verbalise them appropriately aiding them to develop into healthy well-adjusted males. I can teach them to be kind and considerate. I can use this time to parent them and show them love and patience and encouragement and hope that they take on these values and show them to their peers and future partners.
Sometimes you and your child’s ethos towards life and what truly matters can get lost beneath the daily grind of work and school and all the expectations that come with that. This has allowed me the opportunity to rebalance our family's values, of compassion and kindness being the most valuable lesson I can teach as a mother.