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Lena Engel
Worked as an Ofsted Early Years Inspector for Kensington and Chelsea Borough. Supported teachers in schools to improve outcomes for children’s learning, and written for Nursery World Magazine. She trains, assesses and mentors early years practitioners, and offers advice and guidance to parents.
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Special educational needs

Supporting a child with a special educational need (SEN)

Parents of children with special educational needs have a huge role to play. There is a strong need to support their child with a well-rounded home life and positive parenting techniques.
In Short
Children with special educational needs (SEN) have very different needs at school and at home.

Help your child to develop strategies in the home which will help him in the classroom.

Help your child to get adequate sleep and eat a good diet.

Sleep deprivation in itself can produce symptoms similar to ADHD - so rule this out first.

Use positive parenting practices.

‘Children with special educational needs (SEN)’ is a term used to describe a wide range of children who have very different needs that affect educational development. The term refers to children who are having problems of one sort and another, either emotional, social or developmental, and are therefore not learning at the same rate as their classmates.

It can be that these children have been diagnosed with a specific syndrome and that they have a medical or psychological label that has been categorised and entitles them to specific support that the school has been subsidised to implement. However in the majority of cases, behaviour and responses to social experiences and the demands of the curriculum lead teachers to question whether some children could be suffering from particular unidentified development delay or hyperactivity that leads them to fall behind and cause friction for their peers, although it is not considered serious enough to attract additional funding.

When schools work proactively to engage parents in supporting their efforts to teach these children, it enables a good partnership to develop between the school and the home. It is most important to keep the lines of communication open between these partners and to exchange on-going progress reports.

Strategies to help your SEN child

Parents should develop their own strategies to help their children cope with the expectations that are set at school. For example, if you are trying to support a child who is considered to be suffering from hyperactivity:

  • First research through conversation with the teacher and other professionals, as well as by accessing information on the internet, what could be affecting your child’s concentration and performance.
  • Compare what you hear about your child’s behaviour with what you actually experience in the home – observe your child at home with the family.
  • Ask yourselves questions such as when does your child display unwanted behaviour? At the end of the day when he or she is tired? Create a behaviour chart that helps monitor the times when your child finds cooperating most difficult.
  • Does your child enjoy completing tasks with you? Do you have hobbies that stimulate curiosity, concentration and involvement? Ask yourselves if it is possible that your child is disengaged at school in particular because he is not sufficiently inspired by the teachers or the content of the curriculum at school.
  • Does your child eat well and healthily, as well as get enough sleep at night?
  • Do you manage to enjoy quality time with your child when you can give undivided attention?

By making specific attempts to understand the nature of your child’s problem you can begin to set goals for how you are going to provide the required support to make changes. You can help your child achieve improved results at school by empowering him to gain better control of their behaviour and to set personal expectations in the home. By channelling natural interests that inspire your child to concentrate and use his energies creatively, you can help him develop the tolerance and the perseverance that is needed to commit to the educational challenges of school.

If a teacher or specialist has suggested your child may have ADHD – please first have a good look at our article on “Does my child really have ADHD?” – since there may be far simpler issues producing the same symptoms.

Positive parenting techniques with a child with special educational needs (SEN)

Children need to feel valued for what they do well, and not told off for what they do wrong. Try to minimise unwanted behaviour by appreciating all the good things that your child does well.

  • Create opportunities for your child to take responsibility for tasks at home – this builds a sense of pride and achievement.
  • Provide lots of positive, descriptive praise for what your child does well – this enables your child to believe that you appreciate the efforts he has made.
  • Ensure that instructions are clear and broken down into understandable chunks – children disengage when instructions are too long or expressed in dull tones.
  • Ensure that you give individual time to engage in meaningful conversations – children who do not feel confident in listening and responding retreat into short yes or no answers
  • Inspire your child to learn specific skills which build self-confidence – parents have the time to encourage new skills while schools are focused on delivering the curriculum and mostly to not have the time to think about making learning fun.
  • Make talking about feelings a frequent and acceptable area of conversation – children who learn to express their feelings to their parents, have more time to become aware of themselves and their emotions. The more self-aware they are, the better able they will be to interpret other people’s behaviour and reactions.
  • Talk about both past and present events that have involved your child and discuss how they could have been handled differently. Developing empathy and self-awareness will help your child seek alternative behaviour that may cause fewer difficulties at school.
  • Children who are deemed to be hyperactive are very often bored and therefore hold their teachers in contempt. It upsets them that they seem to be told off more than other children. Help your child develop sympathy for other adults in their lives, and to be understanding of the stresses of being a teacher with a large group of children to satisfy.
  • Ensure that your child becomes resilient to how others react to him, although not contemptuous of any criticism that is directed at him/her. Explain that valid criticism is helpful as it means that we can view ourselves as other people see us and try to modify our behaviour when circumstances require it. Children quickly learn that different behaviour is expected with different audiences, and this knowledge is like power over themselves. Call it their ‘superpower’ of self-control. Children love to pretend that just like their superheroes, they can practice a super power.

You can talk to your child’s teacher about how you are trying to support him at home, but always be circumspect in the way you explain the strategies that you may be using to empower your child. You do not want to antagonise the school or cause increased trouble for your child. Monitor your child’s progress and ensure that you continue to bolster his confidence and self-esteem. You may find that the ‘hyperactivity’ settles down when your child employs the strategies you have developed together, or he starts sleeping better, or the teacher gets used to the expectations that your child demands. Either way, it is hoped that the ‘special needs’ is able to be handled more effectively.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.