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Behaviour management – How parent-teacher communication can help “problem children” thrive

"You may find him hard work, but with support, empathy and guidance he can thrive" – Elena Holmes pens a letter to her adopted son’s new class teacher...

  • Behaviour management – How parent-teacher communication can help “problem children” thrive

We are so excited for our son to be in your class in September. He has come from a very tricky background with many different carers, teachers, homes and siblings – already in his short little life. He had no choice in any of these changes and they made him very scared and unsure.

We wanted to let you know a few things about him to help. He is very excitable and can’t control his emotions. His brain is so dysregulated that he even spells his own name wrong. He also has other gaps in his Early Years learning due to having minimal support and stability at that time.

He is so charming and complimentary to adults that they sometimes find it extremely hard to believe that there are any difficulties.

They may think they have a special relationship with him and might tell you that they can handle him for you. This is because he has encouraged them to join his ‘team’ to protect himself.

These people will not hurt him now as they believe him to be a nice, kind boy with great charm and personality. He uses these skills as a shield to prevent people getting to know who he thinks is the ‘real him’.

You, as his teacher, will quickly find him hard work. The moment you ask him to do something he doesn’t like he will drop the charm and go into fight-or-flight mode. This is another skill he has developed to protect himself from danger.

Work that is too tough will make him feel rubbish and sad, so he finds it easier to refuse to do it or just run away from it. He has done this successfully over many school years with staff who just cannot understand him.

He blames himself for his past. This means he is so overwhelmed by shame that he believes everything he does is bad and there is no way he could possibly do something well.

Because of this, we do not praise him directly. We gossip about him, talking loudly and showing each other the amazing things which he has done that day. He overhears this and feels pride in himself, without having to confront his negative feelings and beliefs.

My son needs tight boundaries. Don’t be scared of him – underneath is a lovely character just wanting to be loved.

On the surface, however, he is an angry, hurt, rejected child who learnt to survive in a big bad world that he was too young to have to deal with.

He cannot unlive his past experiences, so we need to help him move past them and create better ones.

He needs to hear the word ‘no’. When he was younger he never heard this, simply because adults were never there to stop him.

He was always able to do whatever he chose, without guidance or prevention. For this reason, his brain created the neurological pathway to allow this to continue, which you are now stopping.

This causes an ‘itch’ in his brain – the pathway has to reroute and that is why it makes him angry or upset. But over time the pathway will reset, allowing him to relax and follow instructions without the irritation and annoyance.

This negative pathway, and all of the other free-range pathways which developed during his period of neglect, rears its ugly head regularly, generally when he is overwhelmed with emotion.

However, with love, support, empathy, guidance and strength he can overcome these tricky moments and make good choices for himself, trusting that he is safe to do so in our care.

Your classroom will be better off for having him as a member.

He is incredibly creative and has such an engineering imagination. He can realistically and logically solve all kinds of problems. He can be relied upon for simple tasks and shows real kindness to others in need. He is enthusiastic and, if managed, can bring a fun, loving and humorous presence to the room.

We know that if you can get the best from him, you will love him as much as we do.

From Elena


Elena Holmes is the adoptive mum of two children and author of AdoptyMum: A Survival Guide to Life with Adopted Kids. Find her at elenaholmes.com.

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