The Parent Spectrum

The Parent Spectrum

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When dealing with parents of vulnerable children there is a spectrum. On one side you have the highly enthusiastic parents – they attend every event, do homework with children at home, read every day, practice the times tables. They understand the partnership between home and school and just how important that is. They are the dream parents you want. Then you have on the other side the hostile parents who want nothing to do with school – education is down to school not the home, they blame everything onto the school and very rarely come to any events or into school to see you. Of course you have everything in-between. On the hostile side very closely linked at vulnerable parents themselves and these are the ones I want to think about today.

The vulnerable parent would most likely have been a vulnerable child too. They didn’t get the nurture and attention they needed when they were growing up. They most likely hated school or at least struggled with it. When asked to help their children with homework or reading they struggle to do this – not because they don’t want to but because it’s difficult for them to either find the time with the other pressures of living a chaotic life, or they can’t do the work themselves.

I have three adopted children and had a very good upbringing myself and I would consider myself to be of average intelligence I guess. Sometimes the task of reading every day, doing homework, practicing spellings and times tables with three children who are resistant to learning can be overwhelming. Just imagine how that would be for someone without the capacity or resources within themselves to do that!

This parent spectrum also relates to adoptive parents or carers. We can be plotted right across the scale also. There are some highly enthusiastic adopters and carers and there are some vulnerable and hostile ones too. The vulnerable ones may be stressed out, finding it very difficult to cope with challenging children, having little support and at their wits end. Another request or pressure to do something with their children could push them over the edge.

So how can you help these vulnerable parents – whether adopters, carers or birth parents?

  • Meet regularly with parents/carers for no reason! – avoid the walk of shame – that moment at the end of the day when a teacher says “Mrs Marshall can I just have a word” and you have to walk through the other parents knowing full well your child has done something wrong. Instead arrange a time maybe each week on a Friday morning to touch base and make sure things are ok for the child and the parent.
  • Include the parent/carer in the activities they can and want to engage in – as much as possible bring the parent in to do things with the child – this will increase their trust in the school and also help their relationship with their child.
  • Appoint a link worker to build the relationship with the carer/parent – someone who can work on building that relationship and understanding with the parent and family.
  • If you can offer respite through activities you provide, or finding out what’s in the area – i.e. holiday clubs – holiday times can be very stressful for vulnerable families and they would value some help and support.
  • Remember they may have Attachment Difficulties themselves – work on self-esteem – they may have had a very difficult early life themselves and will need reassurance and confidence building in their parenting skills.
  • Keep school and home separate – i.e homework club – it can be incredibly stressful to try and get a child to do homework if the parent doesn’t know how to do the work either. The more you can keep school and home separate the more the child and parent can spend time together which will build them both up.
  • Communicate the small and big things – it’s nice to know the little things your child does that is good as well as the challenging behaviours they show. In the time you set aside to see the parent try and tell them all the good things that have happened too.
  • Work on the social and emotional aspects of learning with the child and the parent/carer – if a child does not feel safe they will not be able to learn – the same is true of an adult, they will not feel comfortable to interact with you and the school if they do not feel safe or have the skills to connect. Try to help them as much as you can to be able to connect and build the relationship with the school.

I know it can seem like all you do is social work but in order for children to be able to learn it does take a whole partnership approach. I do love the old saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ as I think that is so true. It takes more than the immediate family members and especially if those family members are also vulnerable and find it difficult to engage with people. The work you do within schools is vitally important on all levels – with children and with their families.

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