Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Time Out is having Time Out

I wrote a few weeks ago about my battle of emotions and wills and my understanding vs what everyone else does in parenting and what is expected and what works.
This is kind of my further thoughts and processing being poured out on the page, in a kind of part 2 post. Part 1 is here .
So, here are my continuing ramblings and continued understanding. Bear with me, I am on a learning curve, here.
My dilemma with Time Out as a strategy when we are in meltdown mode in our house is whether it really is the best strategy to use?
It clearly is effective for lots of normal children and parents and is readily promoted on TV and parenting courses - I have even seen Time Out chairs and Time Out steps being advertised!
here's the thing: is it best for me and for my adopted child? At my recent CAMHS appointment they had suggested that Time Out might not be the best strategy as it is just that - time out - and that the separation  might not be best for a child who needs attachment. I certainly don't wish to do further damage and I do not wish to do something just because but I do not wish to raise a spoilt child or one who doesn't learn right from wrong.
So, what is some more of the theory and what do I do?
PJ had come from a history of neglect and abuse and hadn't had the needed stimulus and attachment that a Mum would usually give in the early years, so her primal brain, her brain stem is on high alert, probably constantly. Her default button is set to fight flight and fear mode. Therefore the mid brain, the bits which control her self regulating parts of her brain are not yet developed. She is wired for self survival and when something startles her she goes off like a bottle of pop. Also, because of the lack of stimulus and soothing from a calm parent in those early years, she has yet to develop the parts of her brain to reason, understand cause and effect, the front brain. Therefore, when she goes into complete meltdown mode, her default, she goes off like a bottle of pop and she ain't hearing me if I say anything. There is no point telling her if you do or don't do this then, or telling her to stop... she is not able to reason - cause and affect isn't there, consequences have no impression and using words at her - or shouting, as has at times happened, doesn't work - in fact - it just makes it worse.
She seems to push me further and further away - until I end up leaving her alone.
Here is the pattern we have been in:
We start with the meltdown and I try the nearest available space.
She hits or kicks or throws form the crumpled heap I have just put her in.
I try the nearest step available - eg - stairs or patio step.
She continues to hit or kick or throw objects at me.
We go upstairs and she hits and kicks on the way.
I out her in the bedroom behind her stair gate and she continues.
I try and stay in the room but she shuffles on the floor to me and throws toys at me.
I leave, retreating, as she lobs toys at me from down the stairs.
Her emotions are high, her pain and shame is high and I have been raging, at times.
Then comes the breakthrough moment. A few seconds of distance, usually, by the time I have been to the loo or gone down stairs, all is calm and we hug and say sorry and carry on from where we left off.
It ain't pretty.
I don't like doing it.
I have been desperate to change things and to find some good, safe, workable, effective therapeutic solutions and to increase my understanding more.
The principle behind time out is this: to create separation between child and parent and therefore pain in the separation brings an association for the child with the action of what they have done and the response with the time out - the reasoning, the cause and effect - is developed for the child to then learn not to do the action in the first place, thus creating happy child and happy parent and the need  for a time out step is no more. Happy Days!
So, for an adopted child with developmental trauma disorder - they have experienced past trauma and pain of separation in the past from their parent through lack of care and their needs not being met.  They have experienced being startled and they weren't soothed by their parent and reassured that everything would be OK.
Added to this, their brain hasn't developed sufficiently yet, to understand reason and cause and effect and consequence.
Separation + pain + cause and effect = Time Out.
If this is so, why would I do this?
PJ doesn't need separation from me, she needs attachment.
PJ doesn't yet understand cause and effect, so why would I try and reason with her?
PJ feels pain of separation and feels shame and her emotions go off the scale in default fear flight fight response.
I am having Time Out from Time Out and instead I am going to have lots of Time In.
I am aiming to get in there as soon as I can with a hug, to calm and soothe.
If I need to distance myself to keep myself or her safe, then I will but I am going to stay as close as I can with the aim of calming and soothing her - I am aiming to re-wire her default button, I am being that regulator switch for her - just like she should have had in those early years - as with a tiny newborn, she is too young emotionally for controlled crying, so I won't leave her.
At night, when she cries for me, I go back to her. I don't leave her to cry.
I sit close by when I put her on a time out - my aim is to remove her from the situation - not to remove me from the situation.
CAMHS suggested I use cushions around her when she is arms and legs flailing and Adoption support from my Adoption Agency  suggested using a bean bag as this might help to ground her - I guess the same principle of using a baby blanket for a tiny baby - to create safety.

It definitely helps if I stay calm.
It means I then stay in control.
If I am calm and therefore in control it helps me not try and win but to help her become secure and safe.
If I get in there quick and remain calm and stay with her it usually calms things much quicker.
If I think toddler, it also helps, as emotionally she is still 18 months - 2 years and not 4.
I am still battling with the hitting and kicking scenario as this is the hardest as she hurts. Any advice out there?

My battle in my head is the old voices ingrained in my core being of upbringing of children doing as they are told, or about winning because you are the grown up, thoughts on discipline.....
It is interesting to learn that discipline comes from the word disciple. which means to teach, to follow.
It doesn't mean to punish.
This bring me much more freedom with this fresh understanding.
I am giving myself permission to think and behave differently.
for me, time out is now having time out.
We are going for time in.

PJ and I are about to go and choose together a bean bag and we will see if it helps with a little grounding and sensory awareness....

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Storytelling Narratives: Our Story.

I have been reading this book book on story narratives and found it really helpful and inspiring. The principle is building in story into our lives to help children piece together their story and to re-build some of the broken pieces and bring healing through the powerful medium of story telling.

I have done some stories with PJ around the theme of when you were a tiny baby, I would have held you like this and we have role played with her baby dolls, feeding and done nappy changes and had hours of inter-mingling the feeding of dolls to regressing to feeding PJ too, with a piece by piece approach to re-building her understanding of love and care and meeting her needs as well as modelling how to care for others through play.

We have told and re-told the pieces of the jigsaw of how she came to be in foster care and how she then has come to me and she has loved telling and re-telling her story. This is her story and it is our story of how we found each other. She will soon have her Life Story Book as well, that will help add to these narratives, we are beginning to tell with a frequency and familiarity that they will be great traditional family stories.

PJ came to me with a story narrative that her social worker had given her about a family of bears who lived in the woods, where her social worker is the giraffe who was worried about the little bears and how they didn't have enough food and were sometimes frightened and how the giraffe took the little bears to live with some other animals who would be their foster carers while the giraffe searched all over the woods to find a new Mummy animal who would look after the bears forever and love them and care for them and to keep them safe.
This story was read to her during the transition of her being prepared to meet me for Introductions. The social worker had also used a family of animals to help
I have tried to tell this story, printed on the laminated sheets of paper with pictures but it has been flung across the room.
I have stuck to telling our story, together, for these last few months, without using the family of bears book, successfully until a few weeks ago.
I now have the set of animals passed on to me by PJ's social worker and we are beginning to use them with a renewed fascination. I am not using the laminated sheets at all and am just using the figures, which is working really well.

The Family of Bears in the woods.....
The Giraffe, who is the social worker who was in charge of all the babies and children in the woods...
the Giraffe was very worried about the little bears so she found other kind animals in the woods, foster carers, to take good care of little bear whilst she searched through all the woods for a new Mummy for little bear.

I now need to bring the bears family in the woods to it's conclusion with the introduction of what animal I will be?

I think this:
and of course, little bear and Mummy Elephant were very happy together and little bear had nice food and lots of fun with her new Mummy. And she was safe.

Do you do any story narratives with your children?

Monday, 29 July 2013

Royal Baby #Memory Box

I was, along with many in the nation and indeed the world, waiting with bated breath for the news of the birth of the new Royal baby last week. I couldn't help but to keep my ear to the ground and to listen for the announcement on the radio. The next day, I also couldn't resist the urge to turn the telly on every now and then in the hope for that first glimpse of  Kate and William and their new baby to leave the hospital. I remembered when Diana and Prince Charles had left with their tiny bundle, William, those years ago and how it had impacted me and so was delighted when I sat on the sofa with PJ and told her that we were about to see a new baby, who would one day be a king.
She sat still with interest and we waited and watched and then the moment came.
Is that the new baby Mummy?
Is the new baby king now?
No, not yet, this baby is tiny and has just been born, but one day this baby will be a king.
As the camera zoomed in on the baby wrapped up in a bundle and was held in his proud new Mummy and Daddy's arms, I said to her:
If you had been my tiny baby and if I had had you as a tiny baby, I would have held you like that in a tiny blanket and I would have held you all wrapped up nice and safe and all snug bug, just like that tiny baby that has just been born. You were born in hospital too and if I had had you I would have carried you out of hospital just like that baby. ( well minus all the zillion photographers!)
Yes, I would.
Can you carry me like that now?
She crawled onto my lap and lay in my arms.
I carried her in my arms upstairs, cradled in my arms, like a tiny baby.
The next day, she said:
Is the new baby a king now?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Big School Uniform #Memory Box

I've hunted high and hunted low and asked friends for advice and ... drum roll please - Ta Da!
I have found non scratchy tops and non scratchy skirts and pinafores for Big School Uniform.
Very pleased and impressed with my discovery and lovely purchases!
We have lots of sets - ready and waiting to be spare sets for the days when we are a little overwhelmed and don't quite make it to the bathroom in time.
We have spare sets for after muddy days, puddle jumping in the rain days, I've enjoyed all my lunch days, paint all over everything days, glue stick it all like it is your last glue stick days and spare sets for when I haven't caught up with all the washing and drying days.
Big School has a rather attractive school logo, which PJ has shown interest in, thankfully and we have talked about the school cardigans and the school sweatshirts and made our choice.
I wanted to try some of the big school uniform on before I iron in all the name labels and did this with PJ standing in front of big long mirror in the bathroom.
She obliged and was intrigued to try her new big school uniform on. As she twirled in the skirt and spun out of the bathroom, I asked her what she thought of her new Big School Uniform:
It's fabudiculus, Mum!
I just hope that I get some cooler evenings over the summer holidays to iron in all the labels and that the big school uniform is still just a bit too big in September!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Time Out and Time In

I am soooo looking forward to going on the Safe Base training soon. The Safe Base Training Programme will be for 4 days for me to attend - I have been using some of the Thera-Play games and activities since I first met PJ during our Introductions and a few have become firm favourites - and have to confess we have stuck with some of them and life keeps going relentlessly at times, so confess that I have not caught my breath enough to venture into many new activities.
Our attachment is growing and I have also really struggled at times and am wanting some more input to build on our attachment and help with managing behaviours and emotions when things seem to escalate really quickly.
I am convinced that the timing of the training days couldn't come at a better time for us - I am mostly struggling with control issues - we go to play a game or do playdough together and I get a no, no, no, not like that or you can't have that or not that way... you get the idea. I am left alone, bereft and frustrated to try and find a way in, to connect with and for PJ to become engaged with me and to stay engaged.  We have worked hard and played hard and we have some fruit but the desire to control still rears it's ugly head.
I am also really struggling with the meltdowns - the 0-60 seconds in a millisecond ones that sometimes I know what the trigger is and sometimes I am unaware of what has caused it but here it is, large as life, the fear monster blasts in and makes his loud and triumphant entry to centre stage.
I have been reading more on the brain development, flight and fright brain, emotional development and particularly developmental trauma disorder and am gradually increasing my knowledge base alongside my knowledge and understanding of PJ - she is now less like slippery soap for me - I can now usually anticipate what might be triggers for her - it is a learning process.
Sometimes I have gone Raaaaahh and had to leave the room for a brief moment in time to go for a wee or to count to ten and breath slowly to calm myself down and stop shaking before I return to try once again to intervene and soothe and to calm and restore balance to our lives.
The hitting and kicking is the hardest for me - the instant fight and flight mode - the arms and legs flail, she cries and screams and isn't hearing me at this point.
Time out strategies have been suggested by some friends, well meaning, along with the suggestion of giving her more consequences - which the more |I learn she will be unable to process for her development age. Time out had been used by her previous foster carers - but, whilst it does seem to break the cycle - I am not convinced that it is the best strategy and I hate doing it too. I want to get close and to soothe and to tell her that I love her and make it right - but when she physically instantly and instinctively hits and kicks - it really hurts.
Sometimes I have yelled NO - we don't hit in our family and said stop it to try and break the cycle  - but a couple of months ago she started answering back - and repeating what I said with a no you stop it. - It really wound me up - I panicked - thinking - she is 4 - what will it be like when she is 14 - I had better nip it in the bud - we quickly got into a head to head - like 2 stags with their antlers interlocked - and after a few seconds of discourse - neither of us were backing down.
I got more and more infuriated and she just seemed to continue shouting and hitting and kicking if I went near.
After a week or so, I began to realise that she just simply didn't get it - she wasn't being rude or argumentative - but for her, emotionally - she was not 4 going on 14 but actually 18 months - the no was almost as instinctive and reactive as the hitting was a reflex for her.
I decided to begin to use as few words as possible - this really helped prevent the head to head - and helped keep me calm - she wasn't bothered, it seemed, by the words being said - but it would became easier to deal with if I remained calm.
At this point I had still put her in her room, after several attempts to give a short distance - ie - just put her down on the ground in the nearest available space - and try and stay close by - and then gradually had to distance more and more until we reached the familiar previously used strategy of being put in her bedroom - just a few seconds - or sometimes I go back downstairs - and then back upstairs - at least I remain calm - but I still don't like doing time out.
At my recent CAMHS appointment they suggested that time out wasn't great as it creates a distance - out of sight out of mind - and feeds the I am unlovable, especially after I have just yelled NO and Stop It ! but they didn't really give me any other strategies - yet - other than distraction - make it a game - or put cushions around her to make her safe.
Distraction and diffusing the situation into a game works really well when she is mildly hitting and kicking - but she ain't hearing me at all when she has gone 0-60 seconds in less than a second....
I have yet to try the cushions around her - presumably along with telling her that I am wanting to keep her safe - and with the aim of getting back time in with her asap....
I have tried to get back to time in as soon as she is calm and we have simply just carried on from where we left off - eg - if the toys all got thrown just before the meltdown then we have picked up the toys after she is calm and then just carried on with what we should have gone on to do.
I am really hoping that SafeBase will help too.
Does anyone else have these issues and does anyone else have any tips?

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Shallow or Deep Water Challenge

The article in the Guardian on name choices for prospective adopters and name changes for the adopted is there for all to read. I have to say I am saddened with the findings (or are they just opinion?) that prospective adopters are shallow - particularly surrounding name choice versus child to adopt.
I am not that shallow just to reply with my opinion of the author of the article - although I do find it sad, that it seems as if someone with these thoughts/findings/opinions of prospective adopters is part of a panel approving prospective adopters... but that is not for me to judge....

As a prospective adopter from a background in education, I have taught many children and associations over the years have been made amongst colleagues between children taught and names to avoid when choosing names for your child, friends have said that when choosing names for their child that they couldn't name their child blah as they taught blah and would therefore always be reminded of blah, as if the name goes with the character.
Well, we have all seen the episode of Only Fools and Horses, haven't we, when Damien is born and the association of a name and character is right there!
So, perhaps , everyone who has the privilege of naming a child, or pre-judging a child with a name, is guilty.
Hyacinth Bucket, would be another classic comedy example, that once again, we can all relate to, can't we? Or would that be making us all shallow?

Anyway, back to the shallow waters.
Prospective adopters do not have the privilege of naming a child.
Prospective adopters inherit a name, which  for the purpose of the article, seems to cause prospective adopters to dismiss a child from their glossy profiles to be wanted for adoption.

My story, as a single prospective adopter is this.
I had become a member of Be My Parent, prior to being approved, so that I could begin to look at children on line, to get a feel for profiles to learn more about the complex needs and issues described. It was heart wrenching.
I wanted them all, single children and sibling groups.

I will be honest, some names are hilarious... Eileen Dover, Paige Turner, to name a few polite ones - and when you add in your own existing family groups or even your surname, some names could just sound, well, unfortunate or the butt of many a playground joke or just rude - but to dismiss then because of a name? I am not sure. Might need counselling, or might need to realistically change a name because of the lethal name combination.
Call me Irma Shallow.....

After I was approved as a prospective adopter, I attended an exchange day - with around 40 local authorities - all with an exhibition stand - each with 100's and 100's and 100's of faces and faces and faces displayed on boards with their profiles printed for all there to see - each one silently and simultaneously excruciatingly calling and shouting, leaping up and down like Donkey in Shrek: pick me, pick me!
I couldn't pick them all.
I was only approved for one child.
Just one.
Only one.

I came home from the exchange day with 60 profiles in my bag.
I had to look through them over the weekend and make a list of my top 10 possible profiles, before emailing my social worker with my top 4 - and she said she would follow up on 2 at a time.

I based my in initial top 10 from my agreed criteria that I had worked through with my social worker.
I plunged into deep waters to soul search and work out what kind of child I could parent.
I read and re-read through my 60 profiles that I just started with, before making my initial list.
I then spent hours reading and digesting a few 60 page chronology reports and complete child profiles on my initial possible profiles before I found the right child for me.

I didn't have a list of names that I had pre-conceived ideas for many years of naming my children in my dreams.
I didn't have a list of names that I would dismiss - well, perhaps the child with the same name as aunty so and so or your ex, could be complicated, or perhaps the Damien one would have haunted me for a while a la Only Fools and Horses style - but seriously, no - for me, the deep water challenge was never about the name - or the desire to change a name.

The challenge of choosing the right match for me was incredibly hard emotionally, for the guilt too, of the ones you have to simply say no to because you are approved for only one child. The hours too of looking through paperwork and deciding if you can realistically parent this child bore no resemblance to a name.

As an adopted person, my name was changed when I was adopted and it was hidden from me for many, many, years until I was brave enough to bring it out from the depths, when I filed for my adoption paperwork and actually, I have no attachment or belonging or identity to those original names but rather, for me a sense of completeness. Yes, they are a part of me. My connectedness, not hidden anymore. Names are part of our identity and belonging, yes. Our heritage too.

I am delighted to be giving my newly adopted daughter a middle name - which she loves too.
I have given it a lot of deep thought, too.

The challenge as a prospective adopter to parent an adopted child is to dive into deep and at times murky waters. It is never shallow.
I was never approved to be shallow.
And would never work as hard as I did over such a long tome, to be approved, to be simply shallow.

Please don't call me Shallow, or might just have to change my name.

Friday, 5 July 2013


Ahh, the chance to talk about our well loved cat, Smudge, for this weeks #WASO - The Weekly Adoption Shout Out - over at the Adoption Social. I love my cat - he is very gentle and loves to lie in the sun and be next to me on the sofa and he also loves being outdoors - and yes, he does hunt - and therefore brings me all sorts of treasures as presents for me. I have had him since he was a kitten and he has lived relatively peacefully with me for the last 3 years, being extremely tolerant of small children visiting, who have shrieked with delight at him, stroked him, and who have tweaked his whiskers when they can no longer contain their excitement - and he has sat obligingly, played hide and seek and peek a boo and jumped up high for his toys, with them all and loved it.

Then PJ arrived.

First came the visits and she shrieked with delight when she saw him and he sat next to her and let her stroke him. She had seen lots of photos of him in her Introductions book, so she was very excited to meet him. He just looked stunned. Before Introductions started, I had put a safety gate on her  bedroom door as recommended, and to follow the same pattern in the foster home. When Introductions started and I saw how PJ was in the foster home and the layout of the house, I realised that it would be a great idea to have another safety gate fitted onto my bedroom - to keep my room as my room - and therefore provide a bolt hole for the cat.
I am sooo glad that I did!

Smudge is a very tolerant cat - and she is very excitable and changeable little girl.
They say she will learn empathy.
I work on it with her but it is a s-l-o-w process with some days of her being very gentle and loving towards him and other days where she is not at all.
I watch them like a hawk.
I model how to stroke the cat gently and use a soft voice to call his name.
We talk about what he likes and doesn't like.
Come here my lovely sweet boy she says and goes to give him a hug.
Then, moments later she pulls his tail, yanks his fur and picks him up and lugs him around as he finally meows and even hisses, occasionally at her.
She takes no notice.
Mostly he just stays limply in her arms as he is carried around, with an expression which seems to say, if I lay still, it will be over quickly.
Don't worry she says, I will just take you to my Mummy. It's OK, she says, gently.
Then, as he finally squirms and makes a bolt for it, breaking free, she growls and hisses at him and says Raaaah, making her hands like claws in the air towards him.
Occasionally, she has been as quick as him and I have intervened as he is half in the house and half out of the cat flap, as she has grabbed him by the tail.
Other times he will lie down next to her as she strokes him, purring.
Sometimes, she has sung him lullabies, and played her guitar to him and he has lain next to her, pretending to be asleep.
Several times, she has read him her story books and he seems to listen, attentively.
She tries to engage him in her play activities.
Would you like a cup of tea she asks him?
would you like and ice cream?
And gives them to him. Here you are Smudge, she says.
I think he understands.

She talks about him at nursery as if he is her little brother and sometimes this is a love hate relationship.
Once, in the early days of beginning to go to Nursery, PJ was really struggling to get in the car in anticipation of going to Nursery. No, not Nursery, she screams and cries. After half an hour of screams and cries and failed attempts and soothing and getting in the car, PJ sat on the front door step and howled. In desperation, I called for the cat. He came from over the fence and she seemed to calm. I suggested we take him with us in the car and said that she would go in her car seat and he would go in his car seat (cat box) next to her.
She, mercifully, calmed considerably and I got her safely into her car seat and gathered up the cat into his cat box and put him in the car and there was a few moments of calm, with the occasional sobs as the tears subsided, gradually.
We were halfway along the road to nursery, when PJ announces that she doesn't like Smudge in our family.
Meow, replies Smudge, immediately and loudly.
They both went quiet and I supressed my giggles until I finally got back home after successfully getting PJ to Nursery.
Yes, their friendship and bond is growing.
She watches him jump over the fence and waves him off in the mornings saying have a nice day at cat school.
She thinks he is very cheeky when he comes home with a present of a bird or a worm or a mouse.
Especially, if it coincides with one of our birthdays.
He buys her presents for birthdays and Christmas and she thinks he goes with his backpack to the shops and wonders if he always remembers to pay.
Of course we made cake and sang happy birthday to him for his birthday and buy him a new toy or some Smudge treats.
It is early days, for them both.
He really doesn't settle down until evening, when she has gone to bed.
He just knows that then all is calm and all is quiet.
Then he sleeps in heavenly peace.

Monday, 1 July 2013

#Memory Box - Sunday Lunch

Roast!  you exclaim.
You love roast.
With Oxter Puddings. (that's Yorkshire puddings, to everyone else)
After grace you say tuck in.
We eat: roast dinner complete with roast potatoes, veg, Yorkshire puddings and gravy.
Sometimes, you pick the plate up and put the plate to your mouth to consume the gravy.
With loud slurps.
Delicious! you declare as you set the plate down and grin a big gravy eared grin.
Yesterday, I was rather glad you didn't lift the plate to your mouth to lick the gravy from your plate.
We had guests.
Friends. Our friends.
To be honest, I don't think they would have minded, even if you had lifted you plate to your mouth.
They are fabulous friends - you and I wrote the list together of who to invite.
When we did the list initially, we had one space left.
I asked you who else we should invite - you said in response, with no hesitation: scrappy the dog.
I have to admit, I was rather pleased that scrappy the dog's owner and I decided that scrappy the dog would be unable to attend for Sunday Roast and you and I invited someone else instead.