It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? Your child comes home from school sporting a mark you know wasn’t there that morning. Do you say something? Do you make a fuss? Do you let it ride, and wait and see?
As a mother, I find this a real problem area. I used to be inclined to shoot from the hip and ask questions later, but friends have been lost that way so I’ve learned to be a bit more circumspect. When it comes to my children, though, I tend to be pretty reactive. Thankfully with Ian, I have never had to make a big song and dance about such things, but …
… the four distinct circles, the imprint of someone’s fingers in the soft skin under Ian’s upper arm, deep bruises left by somebody who had grabbed him too hard? Those I noticed. Those made me frown. He was at school then. Yes, I know he’s a runner, and the people who cared for him day in and day out were terrified of letting him get away from them – and justifiably so – but steady on, no need for quite so much force …
… the bruise on his back, low down and deep blue? I wasn’t happy about that one, either. Did he fall? Did he back into something? Was he pushed …?
I didn’t ask about those. Or about other marks I’ve seen, over the years. I hope that doesn’t make me a bad mother, for letting most of them go. Boys will be boys, and carers can’t be everywhere, all the time. And no matter how carefully they are watching, stuff gets missed. That’s just a fact of life.
So, when should you speak out? Well, I suppose it comes down to patterns of behaviour. Ian got away from me once, years ago, in our local village. He was stopped and looked after at the hairdresser’s, and by the time I had tracked him down, the police had been called. The officer was understanding and kind, but he took all my details anyway. In case a pattern of behaviour emerged. Thanks. I have a child who likes to run away. That’s his pattern, not mine. Now I live in Colditz, behind tension wire and locked gates, because my child’s pattern of behaviour does no one any favours. Hey ho.
But for scrapes and bruises which appear during the day, when your child is away from you – especially those which are not generally visible – do you speak out? Maybe. Perhaps a gentle question in the right ear, just to say that you saw.
I notice everything about Ian, of course, even the bits that are generally covered up, because I still assist him with his bath in the evening. No, wait, what’s the word these days? Facilitate. Such a lovely ‘hands-off’ word, for a child who will always require people to be rather hands-on. In the past, I have pointed and gently touched a bruise and asked Ian, “What happened?”, but each time he’s just looked at me. The connection between the question and the injury didn’t occur to him.
As a parent, the frustration of dealing with this is huge. I know Ian feels pain, and over the years we have taught him to point to places that hurt, but this only really works when we can actually see an injury. It becomes a magnificent guessing game when Ian intimates that something is amiss, and we ask him to point – “Where’s sore?” – and he points vaguely to the last place he had hurt himself, because he remembers that we responded to that.
Ailments often come to light only through observation. Is he resting his head in his hand, covering his eyes? That’s a headache. Is he pressing on his stomach? A tummy bug. Or indigestion. Or constipation. Or wind. And those sore spots on his feet? Ah, he did those himself the other night, picking off tiny pieces of dry skin, but at least he asked me for a plaster before putting on his socks in the morning.
It will probably always be an area of difficulty, as it is for the parent of any child, but for the parents of part-verbal or non-verbal children with special needs who are always on high alert anyway, it is a minefield.
When to ask? When to let it go?
Ah me. Just one more thing to have to worry about.