Thursday, 17 November 2011
Snooks is having a day off.
He’s had a few days off recently. The realisation that school is a chore for him, even though he has come to accept its inevitability, softened my resolve on this.
Mums seem to split into two camps. One says ‘give ‘em an inch…’ and the other says ‘they are only three’. I leaned towards the former at first, after the painful battle we had to get Snooks to go to school at all, not wanting to have to repeat the nightmare every other week.
But from the slim shreds of information I have gleaned about Snooks’ time inside those four walls the picture I have built up is that he is bored, he plays mostly alone and his high spot is finding a particular car which he plays with pretty much from the moment he arrives until he goes home.
A little concerned at his apparent solitude I asked a member of staff how he was getting on.
“Oh he is doing really well, so well I don’t really notice him anymore,” she said. In other words, he has stopped causing trouble; Good. And he had dropped under the radar; Bad.
It actually made me more sad than when he was rolling around kicking out in fury at having been left there and having to be attended to much of the time. The thought of him biding his time quietly until I came to take him home horrified me.
So that, combined with a bit of a sniffly nose, has earned him a couple of days at home with me. And on these days, this little boy had played happily for hours with and without me, helped to tidy up, eaten his dinner and been, more or less, an exemplary child. More or less.
The experience has reassured me that Snooks is able follow instructions and so is perhaps not suffering a behavioural malady which compels him to reject social contact and all authority.
He just does not want to.
His dilemma seems to be that he wants to play with other children but cannot bear that they don’t play the way he likes. He seems unable to compromise on this, even knowing that the price will be not playing with the friend. And he expresses his frustration at this dilemma physically – throwing stuff, pinching and biting.
One morning this week we ended up at a playgroup for much younger children where one or two toddlers were pottering about in a warm snug hut with three or four toys. There were two paid council childcare staff on hand to play with the tots and support the mums. This is a far cry from the playgroups Snooks and I attended, which were a free-for-all in a church hall where one stern old lady oversaw a scrum for the pile of battered old toys.
We were dropping off a toy borrowed from the Toy Library when Snooks caught sight of a train set and sat down to play with it.
I faced my own dilemma; take him away from the contact with others because he finds it difficult and deprive him of the chance to play in this nice peaceful place, or suck it and see.
Paying the Ayatollah’s ransom it cost for an hour of such exclusive access to the council’s facilities, I sat down to push the car round the track while Snooks made the train go, acting out his favourite ‘near miss at the level crossing’ game over and over again.
However, as often happens when Snooks and I play together in public, another child came over to join in, fatally grabbling the train Snooks was pushing around.
As Snooks grabbed it back and threw a left hook catching the younger boy on the back, a smaller child crawled over and pulled up the track before his mother could stop him. Snooks lost his temper completely and I had to hold him back as he screamed in fury. Both mothers pulled their children away, staring at Snooks with mutterings about ‘having a go when he has finished’.
I let out a big sigh here. I used to regularly rescue Snooks from aggressive older boys at playgroups and feel furious that the mothers of these children did not jump in to stop them hurting him. Now here was mine, lashing out, out of control, unacceptable.
Except. Now I cannot condone the violence. But Snooks was playing with the train and the children came and ruined his game. Is that fair? Would you like it if a stranger walked over to you in the middle of a tennis match, took your racquet and shouted ‘my turn’?
Sure the toys are for sharing but does that necessitate tandem playing? If the children wanted a turn, could their mothers not have asked and explained to them they had to wait. Am I wrong here people?
By the time they did ask Snooks was enraged and indignant about being dragged away from the toy. He, somewhat understandably, refused point blank to share it with anyone.
Also to add to the confusion, we had agreed with the library lady that we would borrow the train set and so in Snooks’ mind it had become, temporarily, his.
After he had calmed down, the library lady cleared the air suggesting that if Snooks shared the train with the others now, he could take it home afterwards.
As he silently resumed playing, ignoring her, the other helper slid across the floor on her belly and lay down next to the track looking up at him.
“Hi, I’m Nicky,” she said.
Within 15 minutes she had persuaded Snooks to: apologise to me for hitting me and ‘making me sad’, exchange names, ages and a high five with her, relinquish the train set and perform a full rendition of the song Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Snooks then voluntarily handed out cars to the two other children, inviting them to come and join him in a new game of sliding them down a track while counting how long it took for each one to get down.
“The single one takes four seconds and the linked one takes five seconds,” he told Nicky.
During this same 15 minutes Nicky and I had also conducted a silently mouthed conversation, which went something like this.
Me: “He loves other children but cannot seem to play with them.”
Her: “He needs to learn to share. What is his nursery’s plan for him and what does his keyworker say?”
Me: “His what now?”
I am précising but she pulled a shock horror face about now.
By the time we left, the other mothers were smiling and had intimated that they thought he was a genius.
Nicky had also told me some stuff; how he could learn to express anger appropriately (by throwing soft toys), how he could learn to protect his personal space while playing (by raising his hand and saying ‘stop’ rather than lashing out); that his problems playing with other kids stemmed from frustration possibly due to his high intelligence (duh) and that I should change nursery.
What I saw is that Snooks knows exactly what is expected of him. He demonstrated for Nicky, who he clearly warmed to, that he could share very well, when he wants to. He just does not want to.
Would a key worker and a proper care plan make any difference to him?
Snooks loves adult attention having had mine almost exclusively for almost four years and would no doubt enjoy his current nursery more, were it available there. It may be that another nursery would provide this.
But is it what he needs?