Sometimes the world doesn’t make sense. Sometimes the world is illogical. Sometimes it’s necessary to ignore logic and go with the flow – things are the way they are even if they don’t make sense. But sometimes our loved ones with additional needs cannot adapt quite so easily to the confusing logic that we might term the ‘norm’. So part of my job as a parent is to help my daughter make sense of all this and make sure she has the confidence to simply be herself.
These are thoughts I had after I interviewed Soli Lazarus recently. Soli is a qualified teacher with over 30 years of experience. She is an Assistant SENCO in a large Primary School; specialising in inclusion for children with additional needs. Her son has ADHD and so she knows what it’s like to struggle and feel isolated. She battled for years to get much needed support in school and to get the right help for her son. She is also a coach and trainer at Yellow Sun where she delivers support and advice to parents of children with additional needs and challenging behaviour.
Self-esteem and how teachers can help
Soli believes one of the biggest issues for children with additional needs is that they suffer from low self-esteem due to society pressuring them from a young age to conform to the ‘norm’. We, as parents, know that our children often struggle with conforming to what everyone expects of them – the ‘norm’ is not always the same for them.
Soli argues that because children might interrupt, might be disorganised, might be inattentive and are unable to sit down for 20 minutes; from an early age they are branded as naughty and constantly being told off. This leads to their self-esteem plummeting. To counter this Soli argues that instead of telling children with additional needs off, teachers should find their abilities and give them some responsibility based on what they can do.
The role of parents in boosting self esteem
Soli talked to me about how important it is to provide our children with routine, whilst also giving them responsibilities so that they can be rewarded and praised. She emphasised how important it is to give children the freedom to make decisions when at home because school can often be a very rigid place with little room to manoeuvre for children to make independent choices. By giving them the choice and the power, they’re going to feel listened to and safe. She suggests that to boost self-esteem we need to let children have their say. Often it’s just about giving them a voice and helping them to feel in control (when it’s appropriate!). This can make such a difference to their self-esteem.
How to manage sibling expectations
I asked Soli her thoughts around the impact on siblings of giving your child with additional needs more choice and more of a voice. As she said siblings can sometimes feel neglected, jealous and even guilty. She suggests the key to moving forward is having open and honest discussions about how each of the siblings’ lives differ. It’s then a conversation about how you need to work together to achieve a happy, calm family life. It’s very important to make time for siblings though, so Soli suggests taking them for days out and praising them for being who they are.
Dealing with behavioural issues at home
Soli hears countless stories of how children’s behaviour at home worsens after time in school. This can often be because they keep their emotions and feelings at school inside, but then when they’re in the safety of the family home, they erupt, and parents can be left feeling exhausted.
This needs to be addressed at school and at home. Soli’s tips are:
1. Make sure the school is dealing with the problems that your child faces in the classroom so they’re not having to bottle things up and feel anxious
2. At home, make sure you as a parent create an atmosphere where they are listened to, they feel safe and they feel they get some element of control
Getting away from the ‘one size fits all’ mentality
One big issue for Soli is the content of the current UK national curriculum. She argues that things like times tables are outdated and instead we should be focusing on technology solutions to allow for children to express their emotions in an easier way. She explains how children with additional needs often feel comfortable online and this is a great way to counteract the difficulties surrounding making face-to-face social networks. Soli spoke about how the online world is a wonderful way for children to gain interaction skills, as long as parents are aware of their responsibility to properly monitor and ensure it’s a safe environment.
Soli is passionate about the need for parents to be involved in children’s online worlds as they get older and how we as parents need to train children and teenagers to understand the risks involved. Soli feels that using online chats can help to develop social skills and move them to a point where they feel and can say they have friends.
For Soli, it’s about sending messages to our children about how we can be strong and say no. Build up their self-esteem so if they fail, they can move on and try something else without the experience being a huge setback.
Where to find Soli
The first place to hear more from Soli Lazarus is on the Journey Skills podcast Having A Sense Of Control.
You can find out much more about Soli by visiting her website. You will also find information there about her Facebook group and the live Q&A she does every Wednesday. She also provides some free online training and is the author of a book “Five Reasons Why Most Schools Fail Your Child With Special Needs’.