Behaviour and YOU: #3 Behaviour & Parents of children with complex needs

by | Apr 19, 2021 | Behaviour, Classroom Practice, Inclusion, Pupils, Wellbeing | 2 comments

You’re supporting challenging behaviour at school…

…and at home you have your own children with complex needs…

  • what are the challenges?
  • how does this make you better at your job?

Head of Languages @cathy_smyth shares her experiences, tips and advice.


This blog post is the third contribution from my community in what I hope becomes a wide conversation around behaviour – exactly who deals with it and how in our schools…

For more information about the project, and to find out how YOU can contribute then take a look at the blog post here

For each contribution I ask the participants a series of questions around behaviour, they are invited to answer as many or as few as they like, and share with us what works for educators like YOU  in our schools….

Fill in the form here to contribute

In this post, I am delighted to introduce you to Cathy Smyth –  @cathy_smyth a parent of two boys with complex needs – and how she balances that at home with supporting behaviour in school…


How would you describe yourself as a teacher/teaching assistant?

I’m a dedicated and hard working Head of Languages. I believe in all children achieving through feeling good about their learning. My mantra is that it is the teacher’s responsibility to adapt their teaching to suit whomever is sat in front of them at the time. I’m generally happy and easy going. I love chatting to my students and can veer off task quickly!

What do you think/have you experienced as barriers around successfully supporting distressing behaviour for you in schools?

I’m starting everyday “cup half full” – I might have been up in the night with my son, I might have had to clean up accidents in the night, I might have dealt with a meltdown at 4am… I’m always starting off my day tired. Therefore I have to work that bit harder to be patient, not to snap, to listen and concentrate on the issue in hand.

How have you (or are trying to!) overcome these barriers? 

I’m very aware of not reacting immediately – I try to think whether it is the behaviour that is not appropriate or whether I am responding in a certain way because of other factors. I try my best to get everything I need to get done in school and leave it there so that I can concentrate on home at home. If I have snapped I always apologise – to students or staff. I do my best to be realistic about what I can achieve – sometimes good enough is just it, and I try not to beat myself up that I can’t dedicate as much of my time as some to being all singing, all dancing all of the time.

What makes your particular characteristics and/or experience an asset to supporting behaviour? 

Having these responsibilities at home has made me a better Head of Department. I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself. I’m open and honest and this has meant that my team have been the same with me when other pressures have arisen for them. I’m more understanding of Parents’ struggles where before I might have been more dismissive – when someone suggests they “just ban them from the Xbox” for example, I can relate to the very real knife edge that many of us are treading in trying to balance a harmonious home life. It has helped with SEN students in that I’m more aware of the umbrella and range of issues that students face. I also think it has made me more resilient in many ways – there’s not much that can daunt me at school. I always try to see behaviour as communication, looking for non verbal clues and signs of distress and can deescalate before they become an issue.

What are some key behaviour strategies that work for you (that aren’t necessarily talked about)? 

Walking away from some things – I know how to pick my battles. I’ll give students a pen and not log it. I’ll give students an extra chance to apologise before logging it. I’ll talk to students about how they made me feel and move on. I start every lesson fresh and ensure I follow up every promise of a praise call or postcard.

Any other notes you want to share around your unique experience with behaviour?

People without a child with complex needs, in my case non verbal ASD, cannot comprehend what it is like. They cannot see how this defines every part of your life. ASD training in mainstream schools does not touch on this side of the spectrum. We have to share our experiences and ask for support. I have to be disciplined with myself and work around my child – sending emails from my phone on the go and answering quick questions, but understanding that there is no way I can sit for an hour whilst he “entertains himself” and saying no to some opportunities.

As a thank you contribution to Cathy, a donation has been made to the charity of her choice – Black Country Women’s Aid


  1. Pammy

    I found this article so encouraging to read. It was a definite acknowledgment of how much we as parents of young people with learning differences or behaviour challenges have to carry. The tips for application at school were a great reminder of how to help both our students and ourselves. Encouraging as I ready myself for a return to the classroom as a supply teacher after 6 months away from the classroom.

    • Adele Bates

      Thanks so much for your feedback Pammy, I will be sure Cathy sees it too.
      Best of luck with the return! I have an article aimed at supporting supply teachers here that you may find of interest –


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