Say You're Sorry
06 September 2019, by We Are Family (391 views)
One of the hardest areas for me as an adoptive parent is to help others understand why saying sorry is not appropriate for our Son. I was very much reminded of this just yesterday.
As I wait for him to come out of class and see every other child passed over to their parents, I know the inevitable, “Can I have a word please?” is heading my way. Sure enough, out pops the teacher after everyone else has gone and I have to trek inside with our daughter in tow.
When I get inside our son is looking shamefaced one minute and charmingly fake-smiling the next. I can see he is scared and I stand close to him with my hand resting lightly on his shoulder. Then, I’m told that he has bitten the trainee LSA when being asked to leave the sensory space for home time. And that the bite that has left a mark and I’ve been called as I’m needed to ‘help’ (inference is more ‘make’) him say sorry.
During this time, the trainee LSA is waving her arm around and yes, I can see a mark. I immediately tell her I’m sorry to see she has been hurt. The teacher then starts to tell me again that my son has had a really good afternoon but would not leave the space when asked. While she is continuing to repeat all of this and that he won’t say sorry I ignore her and the LSA and kneel down to ask my son if he is OK. I ask if he knows what happened to make him feel scared enough to lash out. He just looks at me and then fake smiles at the LSA. I remind him he has a good heart and is usually very kind, so I’m worried about how he is feeling. I reassure him he is not in trouble and that I’ve come into class to make sure he is OK. He stops fake smiling, so I ask him he feels that it would be OK to say sorry. He does nothing. The teacher starts telling him he needs to apologise, or sign it if he won’t say it.
At this point I ask her again what happened to trigger this event. I’m told it was being asked to leave the sensory space and he didn’t want to. I say OK, that sounds like it was hard for him and remind her that transitions can sometimes be difficult for him. Perhaps he needed more time? Or an earlier reminder of when the time in the space would be ending? I mention as there’s been a change in routine that may have contributed to him feeling unsettled – her response is to ask him again to say sorry.
At this point, I can see we are not going to get anywhere and that this will probably culminate in a melt down at home.
I explain that I believe ‘sorry’ is just a word and that I’m not going to make him say it as his behaviour was anxiety driven. I go on to tell them both that I believe this conversation is already fuelling his low self-esteem and belief that he is a bad child. Making him say sorry will only deepen this belief.
I ask, if his reaction was from fear, why would you make someone that is scared feel worse? She tells me he is smiling so he knows he has done something wrong, I remind her then that it is not a real smile – he is trying to deflect the situation. It’s not because he is trying to get away with something. When they look at me in wonder, I explain it is my belief is that he’s smiling because he is scared and that being charming in the past may have been the way that sometimes he avoided being hurt or might have meant he was fed. The teacher then tells me he has said sorry before. I agree that he will do that sometimes, but that I am not going to force him to say it.
I tell him again that he is not in trouble and it’s time to go home, I thank the teacher for letting me know what had happened and that I am truly sorry to see the LSA has been hurt. I know she doesn’t go to work to get bitten and that I hope she feels better soon. I can see that neither of them can believe I won’t make him apologise. To be fair, the teacher does thank me for my time as I make a hasty retreat.
Outside I give my son a big hug, tell him I missed him today and ask him about what he had for lunch.
Needless to say, the inevitable melt down did occur but it was less intense than I was expecting, or perhaps I was feeling little empowered by standing up for my little soldier as sometimes we all need the reminder that the behaviours are driven from fear and not malice. We followed the melt down with the three of us watching a film with popcorn, as big feelings need a break.
I will follow up our conversation with an email repeating my apology and a further reminder on how developmental trauma impacts all our lives.
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