Lynda has been an Aberlour Foster Carer since Dylan* joined her family when he was eight year’s old.
Dylan didn’t see school as a safe place. School made him feel very anxious and he would hide under tables. He has really heightened senses meaning the smell of school, school colours and uniform would really upset him. Dylan would refuse to wear his uniform often biting it and tearing it with his teeth. At the end of one school day he was collected by social work and taken with his belongings to a boy’s residential house due to breakdown with the foster family he was living with.
Through a lot of hard work by Dylan, his foster family and his school five years ago Dylan started P5 at his new primary school wearing his full school uniform. It was one of Lynda’s proudest moments.
Dylan is now 14 years old and in third year at high school.
Lynda shares her top tips to get your foster child ready for their first day at school.
One – Create a strong relationship with your school
When Dylan first joined our family he had really negative feelings about school. He moved in with us in May and the summer holidays were starting in June. I had learned how anxious school made him so with Aberlour and Social Work’s agreement I decided not to send Dylan to school straight away. I knew it was more important for him build confidence in his new family first before sending him to a new school.
My son Callum is one year younger than Dylan. Everyday we would walk Callum to school to help Dylan become familiar with his new primary school. The school was fantastic. At first while waiting to collect Callum we would play in the playground. Then Dylan’s support worker at school would join us and we would have treasure hunts. At first these would be outside then we moved inside. This helped Dylan get to know where places were in the building like the library or canteen. It was all games and fun focused to take the pressure off Dylan. He was in the building but he wasn’t there for school. By the end of June Dylan was spending two to three hours in the school building which was huge for him.
School uniform was a big problem for Dylan. He didn’t even like wearing any clothes which were the same colour as his school uniform. Over the summer holidays I started to introduce black jogging bottoms, white t-shirts and red jumpers to bring these colours into his everyday life and not just school. We had agreed with the school that he could start P5 wearing these clothes however Dylan did so well over the summer that he started the new school year in full school uniform!
Creating a strong relationship with your school is so important for your child. To get Dylan to school I had to work closely with the teachers and we had to trust each other. We had to listen to each other’s views and try different things to do the best for Dylan.
One of my proudest moments was getting Dylan back to school which we did by taking the pressure off him and listening to what he needed. It was incredible to see him on his first day in full school uniform. It took a lot of hard work and a good few meltdowns to get there but we did it.
Now school isn’t a scary place for Dylan. He felt listened to and supported at school. When a day wasn’t going so well he was able to take himself to the school’s nurture room without having to ask. He was never judged for doing this. The school was absolutely brilliant.
Two – Set routines they have responsibility for
Dylan is very much my way or the highway. He likes to be in control. When he is told to do something, he will often resist. As a result we have put the responsibility back on him for a number of things and focus on the natural consequence.
We have given Dylan an alarm clock which he sets to wake him up every morning. If he can’t get up when his alarm goes off it shows that his body needs more sleep. I will explain this to him saying “you couldn’t get up this morning when your alarm went off, this means your body needs more sleep from the night before. For me to be a good mummy I need to listen to that which means you will need to go to bed half an hour earlier tonight.” While I am still saying the same thing as you need to go to bed earlier, I am mindful about how I say it, so he doesn’t take it as an order. He accepts that his body does need more sleep.
Dylan is now at an age where self care is really important. I have created visual aids in the bathroom which help him remember what he needs to do – like step one wash your face, step two wash your hands, step three brush your teeth, step four wet and brush your hair. Before we found if we asked ‘did you wash your face?’ it would cause a meltdown as he felt he was being challenged. Now with the visual aids the pressure is taken off. In the beginning we would go through them each day. It is the charts telling him what to do not me. Now we can check in and say ‘remember and follow your charts son.’
Now Dylan gets up with his alarm, gets himself ready and gets his own breakfast. Previously when I prepared breakfast for him he would come down in his own time which was a control mechanism. Then when he finally did come down his breakfast would be soggy and he would refuse to eat it. It is now his responsibility to make sure he has breakfast before school. We encourage him to watch the clock saying, ‘Dylan you need to be out the house for 10 past 8 and you have still to have your breakfast, watch your time son.’ In the past he learnt what it feels like to go to school without breakfast and it doesn’t feel nice. Giving that control back means he hasn’t missed breakfast since.
Three – Make getting out the door fun
When Dylan is feeling anxious especially around school time he will try every delay tactic in the book.
“I have left something in my room.”
“There is something in my shoe.” Off comes the shoes.
“I’m too hot I need to sit down.” Off comes the jumper and he is back up the stairs.
We were just about to leave two minutes ago and now we are back at square one. Games and silliness are the way to go. I will often say ‘Dylan, I’ll race you to get your shoes on.” Then I will pretend to fall to give him time to get his shoes on. It takes any pressure off of Dylan and gets us all happily out the door.
Four – Integrate your foster child into your community
This is my final tip. Dylan isn’t great going into groups so joining a new class was stressful for him. We were lucky that there is only one year between Dylan and Callum. This helped to get Dylan out to meet other children and people in our community. Callum would take Dylan out to play with his friends in the street. These children might not be in his year at school but they are friendly faces he has built a relationship with. Dylan was really nervous to go out locally so I would use taking our two dogs a walk as an excuse. I would make sure we walked past the local shops, go to the park and walk past the school. Callum would be with us so he could meet and greet his friends along the way. This showed Dylan that he was safe and this was a good place to be.
If you can offer a child like Dylan a loving stable home do come and join the Aberlour family.