For posts on bullying, visit The Learn to be Buddies Series Blog.
All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bullies... where are they now?

When asked what was of most concern about returning to school after the Christmas break, one mother said, "Bullying!" And I am sure this concern is not unique to her.

I could talk about prevention mechanisms, protection processes, rights and responsibilities... but that probably wouldn't help and I will discuss this elsewhere. And I can't stop the bullying or the possibility of bullying, though like many I would love to have a magic wand that waves and makes everyone buddies.

So today I just want to share some hope...

With our support, with the love and care of important people around them, children who have been bullied can not only survive - but can conquer.

Take Tom Cruise for example.

His difficulties with academics due to dyslexia, and his constant moving from school to school meant that he was a target of bullying. But with the love and encouragement of his mother, and his dogged determination, he has made something of himself.

I wonder where his bullies are now?

Then there is Kate Winslet.

Being overweight, she was taunted about this for two years. But with the supporting ear of her mother, and a friendship that made her feel secure in herself, she has had success both in her work and her personal life.

I wonder if those who bullied her ever feel regret?

Then there is Harrison Ford.

Small, shy, a little different, he was the ideal target for bullying. But with an attitude of endurance, an attitude said to be very annoying to his attackers, he came out the other side.

I wonder what his tormentors think about him now?

While I can't tell them here, I know stories of "real" people for whom friendships, strong determination, self-esteem, humour or the love of a parent or mentor have made a significant difference in their battle against bullying.

The experience of being bullied does leave scars, and the effects should not be romanticised or down-played. But those scars can be turned to good account in our lives. The need for determination and endurance can help us succeed. The questioning of our value by others can help us examine and learn to rate our value by those who care most.

So, though I know this post won't cure the knot in your stomach, or dry the tears of distress when trying to help your child deal with bullying, my wish is that these stories will help you look forward in hope. That they will help you and your child face bullying with determination, not defeat. That you and your child will continue to pursue your dreams, to value self and life, to talk about the hard times, to build connections, to love, to laugh, to play....

Bullying is painful and can change the course of a life, but it need not be the end of the world.

Talk. Love. Grow.



Monday, January 25, 2010

Back to school... and staying sane

For families of children who have special needs, indeed for any family, the beginning of the school year can be exciting... but it can also bring its own set of challenges.

It is exciting... see children re-connect with peers and teachers.

... (and a little frightening) to see children go and become more independent.

... to start seeing children adding to their skills.

... maybe... just a little... to have some "me" time again.

The emotional challenge

However, there may be one particular thing that can cause the return to school to be an emotional time. Parents discover that hard-fought-for skills their child developed and were proficiently using in the previous school year seem to have "disappeared" over the break. Literacy skills, maths skills, language skills and behaviour or social skills ... some of these may need to be re-learnt.

As mentioned in the previous post, this is usually due the fact that certain skills have not been used during the holidays. This, in turn, is due to the significant difference between the home and school environment.

This can be a very difficult thing to deal with as it probably feels like having to "start all over again". Things that parents thought were over, such as behaviour issues in the playground or classroom and the subsequent disciplinary procedures, may happen again at the start of the year.

It may also have a very practical consequence if parents are asked to attend meetings or spend time at school helping to deal with these issues.

And then there is the tiredness to deal with. Difficulties over homework, meal-times, sibling squabbles, and other behaviours may temporarily increase.

The home routines will also be changing as the holiday routines are replaced by the home-school-home routine. This can be an added challenge as the whole family adapts to the return to school.

So what can we do?

Be prepared

Without discouraging yourself or your child :), expect some regression. You might get a great, positive surprise and see your child slip back into the school routine with very few problems!

I have also known some parents who take the first week off work if possible so they can help their child in the adjustments phase.

You may also want to prepare your child. Treat the return to school as you would the initial transition to school. A few weeks before school, start talking about school and its routines. .. But I talked about that in my last post.

Find support

Talk to the teacher about your child and any concerns you have so they are hopefully more equipped to support you and your child. A new teacher will not know as much as you do about the circumstances, strengths and difficulties your child will bring to the new year.

You might also want to set up some informal supports for your child... like a family friend, sibling, or peer buddy who will be at school with them if they need a familiar face. Make sure it is someone the child has seen during the holidays.


Having routines set out for what will happen when your child comes home from school is important and helpful. Getting children to design this routine, and a visual chart of each activity will help to decrease after-school "debates". Combining this visual chart with rewards can help get the essentials like eating, homework, baths and so on done even when everybody is exhausted. But there may be "those days"...

On "those days" you might cut a few steps out of the routine. Maintaining the mental and physical health of your family is more important than getting those last few Maths homework questions done. But make sure you send a note or maintain a communication book with the teacher to let them know the circumstances of this decision so your child does not feel the consequences of this the next day at school.

Reward yourself as well as your child

In my last post I suggested designing a rewards system for your child for their completion of each day at school. It's also good to reward yourself...

One parent I know has a half-hour of "me time" with a book, a cuppa and a bar of chocolate scheduled as often as possible - at least once a week. I hope you get the opportunity to do something similar. You deserve it!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Holidays are over! The challenge for children

Returning to school can be very exciting for children. It can mean re-connecting with friends and all the social fun! It can mean a return to favourite subjects, fun activities....

But settling back into school after the holidays can also be a time of anxiety and tiredness.

Social Challenges

For some children, returning to the social life of school can bring up anxieties and challenges. After the relative freedom of the holidays, they may find it hard to re-adjust back into the routine of the classroom. As discussed in my previous series of posts on the transition to school, children with special needs may need a slow transition back into the learning routine. And there may be some social "bumps" along the way.

Some suggestions for helping children with Autism, Aspergers or developmental disabilities settle back into the social routine include:

  1. Using photos of friends and staff to remind the child of who they will be seeing at school.
  2. Talking about the photos to remind the child of how they interact with these people. For example, "This is Johnny. You play soccer with Johnny on the playground!"
  3. Display a list of the school rules (at home and in class), with illustrations/photos, and revise, review, talk about and practice them.
  4. Where possible, arrange small group, supervised activities involving the child's interest at recess and lunch breaks to minimise the sensory and social input. This is a good way to prevent behaviour difficulties that may happen due to the busy, noisy nature of the playground.
  5. Establish a home/school reward system so going back to school has its extrinsic (external, "artificial") rewards, even if the child finds it hard to see anything positive about being back at school.

Physical Challenges

Returning to school can be a tiring business for everyone. But it is especially important to recognise that children with diverse needs may find it just that bit more tiring.

This may be because of sensory processing difficulties or impairments. For example, children with hearing impairments often have to work much harder to process and interpret sounds. Children with sensory sensitivities may be tired out due to higher levels of stress during the day as they get used to all the sights, smells and sounds of school again.

Tiredness may also be due to physical disabilities. For example, sitting for extended periods of time, moving around the school and having limited "rest periods" throughout the day could have an impact on children with Cerebral Palsy.

Concentrating and communicating is also a very tiring activity. For children with ADHD or ADD, who struggle with maintaining attention, re-training themselves back into school can be very tiring. Children with language difficulties, including children with Autism and dyspraxia or apraxia, concentrating and listening gets very tiring by the end of the day.

This may mean that, not just in the first few weeks, a child's "endurance" cracks by the final session of the school day. So having less challenging, less intense activities towards the end of the day, and minimising the amount of homework given is essential.

Children arriving home exhausted are not likely to cope with any further physical or "thinking" demands placed on them. Putting further demands on them does not allow for recovery time, and also can mean an increase in difficult behaviour as the child struggles to cope.

Academic Challenges

This links with the previous points about concentration and language. However, there may be the added factor of a child with special needs "regressing" during the holidays. Words they could read, things they could say and do, may have been "lost" during the holidays. This may simply be due to lack of practice as the words and activities of school are often quite different to those at home.

Be prepared to re-teach some old things before adding too many new concepts and activities. Revision will be important to get the child back into the swing of things.

How is the settling-in period going for you and your children?


Monday, January 18, 2010

It's time to get out of holiday mode

Some of you may have already gone back to school, but here in NSW we are in the last throws of our holidays. Just one more week... and it's time to start thinking about preparing for the new year.

The challenges of returning to school

Whilst there is probably some feeling of excitement, going back to school can be challenging for everyone. I know as a teacher that I feel that little churning in the stomach as I think about the "settling-in" weeks. The weeks where everyone is getting to know each other and I learn about and adjust my teaching to the living, ever-changing beings in my classroom.

Whether you are a pre-school, primary, high school or university teacher, the challenges are the similar: How to facilitate a smooth transition into another school year; How to establish a happy, respectful, collaborative and organised classroom; How to learn all those new names!

The challenge can be even greater if you are teaching a child with a disability for the first time. Or if a child with a disability will be in your class and you have not had the opportunity to meet them, find out about their needs or complete a full transition plan. Even if you have had the oppurtunity to put these things in place, the first term can still be challenging.

Here are some little tips I have found useful in a range of inclusive education settings (pre-school to university) to help smooth over those first bumpy weeks:

  1. Be prepared - if you have a well-planned set of lessons, with more than enough resources at your fingertips that cater to all the different learning styles (eg. auditory, visual, kinesthetic), then you will be able to concentrate on developing relationships and managing behaviour with minimal effect on children's learning. This is especially important for children with Autism, Down Syndrome and other developmental delays as they need structure and predictability - and will need your support as they adjust to a new school year.
  2. Set clear boundaries - talk with your students about rules, consequences, how they want their classroom to look and feel. This will help them get involved in articulating and establishing boundaries, which will increase their sense of ownership of these rules and prevent any issues that may arise out of power-struggles. This is especially important if you have children with social or behavioural difficulties such as ADHD or ODD in your classroom. Difficulties with authority can be decreased when their input is respected whilst still recognising clear boundaries and expectations in the classroom. See this process as an essential part of your first week, not as something that is "extra-curricular."
  3. Walk in with a smile and a sense of humour - and hold on to that sense of humour tightly. It can be the greatest tool in developing a rapport with your students.
  4. Know who you can call on if things go pear-shaped. Be prepared to ask for help if necessary.
  5. Have a relaxation and/or celebratory plan in place for completion of the week. Something to look forward to can help get you through any rough patches.
Do you have any other tips?



Saturday, January 9, 2010

Happy New Year!

At the moment I am busy preparing for our first birthday celebrations so don't have much time to write. But I just thought I would pop in and wish everyone a Happy New Year!

New Year is usually a time of making resolutions, but I resolutely avoid doing this :) I prefer to have "loose" goals so that I have something to work towards or hope for without being distressed if I don't achieve them.

So here are some "loose" goals for Learn to be Buddies this year:

  1. Celebrate our first birthday with a book launch, release of a DVD of our new book and a new, more "mature" logo.
  2. Streamline our blogging by writing a separate blog on bullying, and maintaining the focus of this Learn to be Buddies blog on practical strategies for parents, teachers and others to help children with disabilities with social and behavioural issues. Separate blogs on the specific books will be maintained where possible, keeping you up to date with competitions, reviews and the progress of each new book.
  3. Release our second book, "Why Don't You Share?", in August.
  4. Release a different game, a song, activity plan or other product related to this book each month until the end of the year... when we will start on our next book.
If you have any specific topics you want discussed here, let me know. I will return to blogging after the 16th of January, which is the date of our book launch celebration.

Feel free to drop in, even if you can't stay!


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Copyright Amanda Gray 2009-11

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