So my day with the boys ended yesterday, with me slipping on a crab and doing the splits in the bathroom. Weird? Well… yes, I’m pretty sure it sounds it. You see, I slipped on a crab (a bath toy) as I whisked Alfie out of his bath seat at speed, as Oscar had decided to bite his willy. I’ve been bathing them together for probably about 4 months now. Oscar has never been fazed by Alfie being in there. But yesterday, after I repeatedly told him not to grab Alfie’s belly button, he laughed and went in for a bite of his tackle. Luckily Alfie wasn’t bothered. He’s a pretty placid little bro, if I’m honest. He’s never really been fazed, unless blood is drawn of course and thankfully it was more of a nip, than an actual bite. Afterwards though, I sat there wondering, is this simply the terrible twos kicking in early? (Oscar will be 22 months next week) Or is this the start of what I’m to be faced with for years to come?
You see, I’ve been doing some research. That pesky internet again. I wanted to know what I might have to face later on and “discipline” is a big thing for me. I’ve watched friends of mine, with their child when they have been playing up and have been in awe of the way they have dealt with it… and then sometimes, in a few rare cases, I have watched and thought that perhaps they hadn’t quite got control of the situation. Some, in my opinion, have it spot on, others, (sorry friends) not so much. I watched Super Nanny way before I had Oscar and Alfie and thought how much sense it all made and how, when my turn came, I’d totally be able to implement her ideas. But now I’m faced with it… I feel in a bit of a quandary and think perhaps there’s a lot more to this parenting malarkey than this Jo Frost character first made out
I THINK I know what I want to do- I want to treat Oscar just as I would have done any other child but then there’s something at the back of my mind at the moment asking is that right? Does he actually understand yet? He’s still very young. Shouldn’t I give him a little bit of a break, knowing that it may take his brain longer to compute things? If I leave it too late to try and educate him in what is right and wrong, isn’t there a danger the time will have passed and I’ll be one of those mothers on super nanny, rocking in the corner, crying into her gin? I’m just not so sure how to play it yet.
Ok, so when I read that back I realised how wishy washy I sound. I’ve said it before, I know he understands a lot more than he lets on but equally he is still very young. Am I confusing naughtiness with his excitement in his newfound independence and exploration? I’m gonna make a statement here that’s quite controversial but when I see weak parents, their children appear to be out of control to me. And by this, I mean both people with typical children and those with children who have DS. One thing I am adamant about, is that I don’t want to be a weak parent.
My Dad said to me the other day, after Ozzie had done something naughty (I think he’d picked the coal from my parents fire and attempted to throw/smudge it into their lovely cream carpet), that he thought I was too hard on him. He said it with a smile on his face and i didn’t take offence at all, but it got me thinking. If he’s doing wrong then I should react as I would have done with any child, right? My Dad is probably Oscar’s biggest fan. He literally ADORES him and probably wouldn’t care if his cream carpet got ruined. But him saying this, did make me question, do I need to give him more of a break?
For the most part, Oscar is a lovely big brother. If Alfie cries now, he will go straight over to him and look at him really closely in concern, then make sure I’m coming over to check on him. It’s massive progress as just a few weeks ago he would have laughed at him crying. He used to go over to Alfie when he was sat in his chair and try and take his dummy out of his mouth (we spend ages in portage and Speech and Language sessions, posting things into letter boxes and taking puzzles out of boards, so if anything Oscar’s therapists should be happy with the skill and precision, whipping a dummy out of his baby brother’s mouth actually takes) but NOW, if Alfie loses his dummy, he’ll try and put it back in again. I say put, it’s more of a shove into any orifice he sees fit. Mouth, eye, ear? The thought is there though and it’s very sweet to watch. Every once in a while though, Oscar will be rough with Alfie. On a couple of occasions I’ve found him on top of him in the chair, having launched himself onto him thinking it is a game. He will stroke his head gently a few times but then go in for a dig of the nails. I don’t know if it’s an attention thing, in that he knows I’ll react to him hurting his brother, or if he genuinely finds it funny. He invariably has a little laugh to himself. Who knows?
What I do know is that I’m trying desperately not to say NO, too much. A speech therapist said you shouldn’t say no at all to a child with DS but I’m not altogether sure I believe in that. I understand it’s all about positive reinforcement but children have to understand the word, regardless of it being negative. So I try to turn in round. Instead of saying Oscar, don’t whack your brother with your new trainer (he likes to carry his new Converse around the house), I say “gentle hands, Oscar”. I try to praise all the good things he does, when he’s gentle and when he’s trying to help but when he hurts Alfie, I try not to give him too much attention or focus on what he’s done. I might turn my attention to Alfie so that Oscar understands he’s done wrong.
Mum and Dad have recently brought brand new solid oak furniture. I find myself constantly telling Oscar not to bang his toy on their table or pick up their coasters and give them a good bash. When Oscar was little, banging a drum was a milestone that we commended. Now I’m telling him not to bang a surface, it must be confusing for him. Equally, we have a cabinet with our DVD player and sound system in. Like most men, the electronics in our house, are Chris’ pride and joy. When Oscar was younger he couldn’t open the cupboard but when he finally mastered moving the latch and opening the doors, we commended him again. Clapped, even cheered (yep, we’re a little over the top here). When he took out the DVDs and put them back again, we were delighted. So now that he’s older, when he opens the cupboards, continually takes out the DVDs and bangs, yes BANGS Daddy’s DVD player and sound system, we now tell him that he can’t and it’s naughty. I feel bad that I clapped and cheered in the first place. I think I may have confused the little guy and perhaps should refer back to Super Nanny herself. Hey, I didn’t say I had it figured out.
I’ve “liked” a group on Facebook, which is a bunch of parents talking about their children with DS. They post of their achievements, their worries and concerns and it really is just an amazing support group that you can tap into, as and when. However the other day, and this happens sometimes, I read a post from a mother of a six year old boy, she talked of how she had gotten two black eyes because he’d lashed out at her. When I read it, fear rushed through me. God, please don’t let Oscar be like this. Let him be kind, gentle and in control.
By the same token, there was another post by a mum of a little girl who was coming up for 2 years old. She talked of how recently she’d started lashing out, pulling hair and I guess just generally pushing the boundaries. There were responses from so many of the members giving advice which proved really helpful to me.
Don’t get me wrong, Oscar is not naughty. I think “spirited” is the word someone once used. He’s very mischievous, especially since he’s started walking and loves to explore. When I’m around children of the same age as Oscar, I listen to their parents talk to them, asking them questions and I see in their faces that they have understood. “Do you want some more juice?” Their children will either vocalise with a “yes, please” or nod their head. With Oscar if I ask him “do you want more juice”, he’ll just look at me smiling or stare blankly. I know this is where the Makaton signing would come in really handy and we do persistently try but hasn’t quite grasped it. We sign things like “no”, “more”, “milk” and at times there are glimmers of recognition so we’re getting there, I guess.
There’s a gorgeous little boy at Digbies (our playgroup) who is about 10 months older than Oscar. He seems to understand a lot and I asked his mum the other day when she thought he really started understanding what she was saying or asking… she said, that I shouldn’t underestimate how much Oscar understands now but that it’ll come. Even if he looks as though he doesn’t understand, he does. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that it’s really hard to be the disciplinarian, if there appears to be little understanding there. I try to talk to Oscar all the time, explaining what I’m doing. Singing, counting, when I get him dressed telling him what I’m putting on him. It sounds tedious but how else will he learn?
So, in conclusion – do I give Oscar a break just because he has Down syndrome? I honestly think not.
I’m told he will do some things that exasperate me and that’s true already. While I know I might have to change my expectations of my child with additional needs to an extent, i have come to the conclusion, that I believe, I don’t have to lower my standards of discipline! It’s tempting to get lax and let children who have Down Syndrome get by with behaviours you wouldn’t tolerate in other children. Oscar needs to know, early on, what behaviour I expect. I believe many parents wait too long to start behaviour training. It’s much harder to redirect a 5 stone child than a 2 stoner. Like all children, Oscar must be taught to adjust to family routines, to obey, and to manage himself, even if it might take a little longer. There’s where that “having patience” comes in again.
I watch Oscar and he has a tendency to play up, if he’s more tired than usual or maybe frustrated by something. He’s pretty good though, in that he can quite happily amuse himself with anything really. His latest is taking my saucepans out the drawer in the kitchen and throwing them on the floor (he enjoys the crashing sounds). I’ve tried to channel his energies into helping me put the pans away now. As you’re all aware by now, he responds to praise. The sense of accomplishment that accompanies being given responsibility, I think gives him a sense of value and raises his self-worth.
I hope others won’t make excuses for Oscar. people have a habit of struggling to deal with children who have DS and any behavioural issues they might have. They make excuses for them instead of telling them off. It is paramount, that when he starts nursery in September, that his key worker disciplines him. How else will he learn? I don’t want other people fussing over him, just because he is ‘different’. I guess we all need to think, what would we say to a ‘typical’ child if they were being naughty? None of this, “Ahhhhh bless him, he doesn’t understand. Let’s let him get away with it.” Maybe he hasn’t quite grasped it YET, but if we let him get away with it now, there’ll be problems ahead. There’s already been a few examples that have reaffirmed the fact that Oscar is definitely not stupid. In fact, he knows exactly what he’s doing and is probably laughing at all those pitying him. None of us should underestimate that cute innocent face with not knowing exactly what he’s doing.
I asked his Portage worker today if the fact that he’s a little excitable was an indicator that the future was going to be harder for us, discipline wise. Her response: “Sarah, he’s a little boy. He’s almost 2. Regardless of the Down Syndrome, he’s doing exactly what little boys of his age do”. I smiled.
And when I was doing research on that pesky internet, I came across something a mummy of a young boy who had Down Syndrome had written. She said – “Treat others how you would wish to be treated yourself and don’t underestimate the ones ‘you think’ don’t understand… because they more than likely do and they are more likely to be laughing at and pitying you, than you are them…” I hope this is true of Oscar. With that mischievous smile that crops up daily, I’m pretty sure he’s got us all sussed.