Working with very challenging children day in, day out, is exhausting both physically and emotionally, and you have to be very resilient to be able to manage it without falling into a state of collapse yourself. This kind of work is not for everyone. I can tell when staff are getting close to their limit as certain things start to happen.
There have been two members of our support staff who have now had enough and I am trying to find ways to support them. They both do an amazing job but, understandably, when you are having difficult emotional stuff thrown at you there comes a point where you are simply too full up to be able to take any more in. They have been hit, bitten and spat at. One of these children is in our EYFS and is causing a dilemma for me. They have also hurt other children, and the incidents are becoming more serious. I could exclude the child for being a danger to themselves and others, or I could put them into the support group. My problem is that the other children in the support group are all considerably older, and not exactly good role models for a very young child. I am loathe to exclude as the child is only little. We are putting things in motion to lead to a statement which the child will definitely need, but it’s what we do to support and contain them in the meantime whilst ensuring that everyone is safe. That’s my bottom line, safety. And in the meantime I need also to support the staff members who are in turn supporting the children. I am doing this with a combination of further training and also being there for them to ‘off load’ to. This is really important as I am then able to take the load off them, reassure them that they are doing a good job and not doing anything wrong. These are very damaged children and no, they can’t fix them, however much they would like to, and no, that doesn’t mean that they are failures.
These very damaged children are so hard to manage in a mainstream setting, not just because of their physical behaviour, but because of the emotional impact they have on the people around them. They are spilling out all over the place in all sorts of ways and the adults around can end up mopping this up and if they’re not careful, taking it all in. It can be very frustrating to have your best attempts at coaxing or being patient thrown right back in your face. Frustration can lead to anger and you can end up getting cross with the child when that is the last thing either of you need. It takes a very experienced adult to be able to manage this all the time.
The children in the support group are particularly lively at the moment. When I have been in there recently I have watched them literally spin into a frenzy that they then find it hard to get themselves out of. It can be over a car, a picture, a pencil. For one of them it is as if the food offered isn’t good enough. This can trigger the most enormous of outbursts that involve furniture flying and displays being ripped off the walls. This response to being offered what is perceived as ‘bad food’ is interesting really and is rather like a tiny baby rejecting the bottle or breast or the toddler pushing a spoon away in disgust. Some of these children seem to be stuck emotionally as very small children. They play with cars a lot at the moment and I have watched them switch from playing intensively, talking to each other about where the ‘garage’ is and who is going where and why, to suddenly, en mass, standing up and kicking the cars across the room, full of anxiety and excitation.
It is then hard for the staff to bring them back down again, and we find ourselves trying all sorts of distraction techniques whilst trying to pick up the cars before they are kicked again, having tried and failed to anticipate this to prevent it happening in the first place. This is hard as the children then start jostling to impress the ‘top dog’ in the group, it is ‘cooler’ to ignore the adults and continue to kick the cars, or roll over the tabletop laughing in a forced hysterical way. Eventually we do get them calm again.
I think that there are two main reasons the children are so high at the moment. The obvious one is the impending holiday. The fact that it’s Christmas adds to the level of excitation but it’s really the break from the routine and safety of school that I think causes them the anxiety, and the worry that the adults they work with on a daily basis will forget about them and will drop them from their minds. This holiday this is exacerbated by the fact that one of the long-term members of the group has now moved school and I think that the others are worried that we might be ‘getting rid’ of them too.