Does your child know “no means no”?

Debs writes….

I am a trainer for my local Safeguarding Children Board and it is a subject I am passionate about.  One of the people who inspires me, as a mum and and as a trainer, is Emily Martinello.  Emily is a Sexual Development Consultant in Nova Scotia, Canada and here she talks to SNJ about the importance of teaching our children to know how to say “no”.

skotan_No-sign“The worst part of my job as a Sexual Development Consultant, is that I am the bearer of bad news.  My suture is education, support, and resources, and I do my best to fix the band-aid burn.

What research shows us is that up to 80% of women and 30% of men with intellectual disabilities are sexually abused before the age of 18.  That is more than four times the rates of their typically developing peers.  What we also believe to be true is that more than half of these abuse situations are chronic, meaning by multiple people, or on multiple occasions.  There are many components contributing to this high number, and there are opportunities for learning throughout the lifespan that can hopefully reduce each one.

No means No

There’s a stage everyone seems to dread, the “nos”.  When children say “no” to everything.  I guess no one likes it because it’s annoying.  I, frankly, love it.  (Full disclaimer: I don’t have my own kids yet- so I love these “stages” more than most!)  I love it because I love that children are learning to exert their independence.  They’re learning the building blocks to consent.

I was at a dance camp a few weeks ago for children and youth with special needs, and listened to a volunteer fight the “no’s” to trying on a costume.  My “Sexual Development” brain was screaming “who cares?  It’s a costume”, but I can see where the volunteer’s helper brain was going “it’s camp, we have costumes, it’s fun!”

Luckily, I was saved by the dance teacher who said “it’s okay, she doesn’t like costumes”.  PHEW!  But how many times does this girl get her no’s rejected on a regular basis? And what is she learning each time?  I’ll tell you: that her “no” means nothing.  That she doesn’t have the right to say no to something.  And really – it’s a costume!  If she can’t say no to that and mean it, how is she going to know to say no to the big things?

Of course there’s a second part to “no”- the hearing part.  There’s a new trend in caring for children, where saying no is a no-no.  Instead, care givers are supposed to say things like “first you need to”, or “not right now”, or “gentle hands”.  The problem with this is that children aren’t hearing “no” enough in a meaningful way.

When we think about sexual development, knowing “no” is one of the most important skills we can teach.  Saying “no” to things like “do you want to clean your room?”, “can you help me out?”, or “do you want grilled cheese for lunch?” is just the beginning.  Eventually, there may be bigger “no’s”- whether it be “sex” as a relationship, or maybe it’s some building blocks to keeping children safe.  Things like “NO, you can’t come in the bathroom”, “NO, you can’t change my clothes”, “NO, I don’t want your help in the shower”.

main_okYes means Yes

There’s some good news, too!  We want children to be able to say YES!!!  There are many opportunities for healthy, loving choices to be made.  This can be things like “do you want to play blocks with me?”, “will you be my friend?” YES!  YES!  YES!  Later on, this could include saying yes to things like, “can I take you on a date sometime?”, “will you kiss me?”, “Can I see a Doctor?” YES! YES! YES! Likewise, hearing “yes” is also valuable.  YES, I want to be your friend!  YES, I want to play with you! YES, let’s go see the Doctor!

Finding opportunities for teaching yes and no are everywhere – it’s the listening to the answer that’s the hard part.  Sometimes it’s all in the way the information is presented, “are you all done?” becomes, “it’s time to clean up now”.  “Let’s go outside, okay?” becomes “we’re going to go outside!”  Be prepared, if you are the one who asks the question, you’ve got to be the one who accepts the answer.

Knowing the No

The thing is, children with special needs don’t always get the chance to really ‘know the no’.  Sure, there may be a brief stage of “no’s”, but the stage is often accompanied by a lifetime of “yes’s”.  As part of education and therapy, compliance is pretty key.  But in the real world, over-compliance is dangerous.  This raises the concern about children being liked- that being non-compliant might look like being unfriendly, unwilling, or unable.

However, typically-developing children don’t typically need to prove that they are friendly, willing or able.  At least not by being testing with compliance.  Children with special needs shouldn’t need to prove this either – in fact, I’d go on a limb and say they just shouldn’t answer that test.  If there’s someone in their life who needs the child to prove who they are, there’s the proof that they’re not welcome.

There’s also another bonus,  once a child learns that they can say “no” and mean it, they don’t need to try it out so often.  We can use the “no stage” as a platform: to listen to, honour, respect, and admire a child’s ability to be a self-advocate.  And ultimately, to set the stage for knowing themselves, No-ing themselves and no-ing others.”

You can find Emily on Facebook Sexual Development Consulting or you can ask questions here.  Emily is happy to write more posts for us regarding sexual development for our children so what would you like advice on?

A personal take on depression: Would you recognise it in your child?

Tania writes

It’s Depression Awareness Week, although with the state of the economy and the weather, it wouldn’t surprise me if most of the country was painfully aware of feeling a bit in the dumps.

Ah, see what I did there? Of course, there’s a difference to being a bit blue and being clinically depressed, and for parents of young adults, teenagers and even younger children, it is very important to know the difference.

For example, what is the difference between your child just having a bad day, or your teen often being irritable or secretive because that’s all part of hormones and growing up, and the onset of something more intractable that will require careful attention and treatment?

Granddad

Granddad

I was diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of 16, although I had always been an anxious child due to an often uncertain home-life. For me, I can trace the true onset of major depression back to the death of my beloved grandfather, who suffered an unexpected and fatal heart attack in front of me when I was just 12.

The adults were allowed to grieve; I was told to ‘put it behind me’, although how I was expected to have the skills to get over the shocking death of the only male constant in my life is beyond me. My, now late, mother, many years later, told me that, in retrospect, she regretted the way she had handled it, but in fairness, it was 1980, and things were different then.

That evening, I had to call the ambulance for my gran and explain what had happened. I was staying with them over February half-term, while my sister was at our Dad’s house.

The trauma of it still revisits me though, even now after adult therapy. It’s still raw, 33 years later. It makes you less able to cope with adversity in a healthy way. The detail is still etched on my mind. It changed me, irrevocably.

Today, I’m great in a crisis, but I pay for it afterwards – a delayed reaction. I’m ever-vigilant, the fight or flight response never far from the surface. It’s not an easy way to live.

Some Shocking Statistics*

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class.
  • Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm  and around 25,000 are admitted to hospital every year due to the severity of their injuries.
  • More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time.

Depression can often be part of illness

Anxiety and depression are also features of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, with which both Son2 and I have now been diagnosed, so I was predisposed, in any case.

Son2 hasn’t had any trauma, but with EDS and Asperger’s it was almost a dead-on cert that he would be affected. He has acute anxiety problems, but because of my experiences, I knew what to look for and he is receiving treatment. It won’t ‘fix’ him, but it may help give him coping skills.

Son1, who also has ASD, has anxiety issues too. On the face of it, he looks like he’s coping well with help from his specialist school, but I know it’s still there, waiting to trip him up and so parental vigilance is needed.

Luckily for both of them, their father is the ultimate laid-back Dad (or in their speak, “soft as a pillow”), so they have a great male role model and a close-knit family. Even that, I know, is not always enough.

This is the first time I’ve ever written about my own depression and it isn’t easy. I’ve been embarrassed, not wanting to show weakness. I can barely utter the words ‘mental illness’ in relation to myself. But just recently, since I’ve been ill, I’ve had to do a lot of reassessing. I expect I have felt the same way teenagers feel when they don’t want to admit they are depressed or that there is anything bothering them at all.

Just because your child or young person hasn’t suffered a huge trauma such as family break-up or bereavement does not mean they are not at risk of mental illness. Lack of confidence, being bullied, poor body image, difficulties at school can all be factors.

And that’s not even taking into account any special needs they may have such as Asperger’s, dyslexia or other learning problems that can affect self-esteem. Or they may just be genetically predisposed to it, especially if you or their other parent are affected.

young minds logoAs a parent, you need to know what you’re looking for and Young Minds, the mental health charity for young people, have lots of resources on their site for parents and for young people themselves. Take a look, even if you don’t think your child has a problem. Parents are often the last to know so knowledge is power. There is also a section for teachers on recognising and helping young people with mental health problems.

The usual NHS route for young people with mental health problems is via your GP and then to CAMHS, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, but as you can see from the comments in this post that is a very variable service, depending on where you live. I really would advise checking out the Young Minds site as well.

I shared just some of my story to help raise awareness that depression can happen to anyone, at any age. But when it happens to a young person, without a vigilant adult, their problems can spiral out of control catastrophically. Self-harm is becoming more common, anorexia and other eating disorders are almost certain to include depression and far too many families are torn apart by the loss of a young person to suicide.

Teenagers are notoriously poor communicators; they are working on growing up and away, if they are able. Be watchful, be informed, keep talking. If you can’t do this without arguments, try this book, the 1-2-3 Magic for surviving your teenagers. It will show you how to begin to see them as young adults in their own right, and no longer just your little ones.

If you’d like to share your experiences, resources, tips or knowledge I’d love to hear them!

* Source: Young Minds

Teenagers and suicide- a growing challenge for our times

Mental health in adolescents with or without special needs is a growing concern and a particular interest of mine.

I found an article on MedPage Today about a survey of teens who had been treated for suicidal thoughts and mental health problems that indicates they are still at risk of attempting suicide. This, to me, says that  just because you have sought help for your young person in this situation, you can never afford to think the problem has gone away.

sad boyParenting teens is, in so many ways, much more difficult than parenting younger children. A balance must be found between watchfulness and intrusion. They naturally do not want to share their inner thoughts with their parents and keep so much more to themselves. They often think that they should be able to sort out emotional problems for themselves, when they are in no position to do so alone. (more…)