Shortly after having her firstborn child, Elaine Halligan didn’t recognise herself: “I turned into a screaming banshee… I nagged him, I cajoled, I definitely bribed because I just didn’t know how to get him out of the house in the morning.”
Things got worse for seven more years. However, the lessons Elaine learned inspired her to become a parenting coach: “We spend months learning how to prepare for the pregnancy… but no one stops to explain the reality of what it’s like to be a parent.”
An intelligent boy, with a high IQ, who couldn’t read or write. Initially Elaine’s son was simply labelled “naughty and silly” at school. As the years went on more serious labels were used: pathological demand avoidance, sensory integration dysfunction, ADHD. “He was a melting pot of alphabet labels… a ferrari brain, with bicycle brakes.”
Elaine’s starting point for parental progress in challenging situations is curiosity.
“If your child is being a problem, they may be having a problem.”
Then it’s a case of being patient and consistent. Learning to press “the big, fat, red pause button” is an essential mental tool because “if you don’t press it, you’re going to do or say something you’ll deeply regret.” Consistency requires a clear set of rules, and the self-discipline to hold yourself to the same standards as your children. For example, “we use screens just as much as the children, it’s just that we kind of think that it’s okay for us to be on a screen 10 hours a day.”
By the age of seven, Elaine’s son had been excluded from three schools. But this was also something of a breakthrough moment for the family. They learned not to “base success on academic attainment…What we could do is base his success on his character education. What skills, attributes, or traits could he use in life?”
As Elaine says “the stakes are high, we want our children to get into adult life and cope for themselves” but the best way to do this is to “celebrate the child we’ve got, not the child we want them to be.”
The good news is that there are so many more tools available to children who struggle with their education. YouTube, voice recognition, Khan Academy, Oppidan Education. Elaine’s son “never wrote an exam. Throughout his whole education, he had a reader and a scribe.”
Using these tools Elaine’s son returned to school and graduated as Head Boy, he is now 25 and runs a successful classic car business.
Parenting is a rollercoaster, you need different skills at different stages of your child’s development and this takes regular practice. As Elaine puts it: