Child to Parent Violence in the Safe House

I’m joining the theme this week from The Adoption Social where they are talking about and raising awareness of Child to Parent Violence #CPV.  That means then, that we experience it here, in the SafeHouse.

How ironic is that?  Here, in the home that we are striving so hard to ensure is “safe”, we are not safe.  So whilst my children spend hours, days or minutes at a time wondering if the threats of their birth parents will ever come true, I spend hours to wondering if the violence, tantrums, rages, strops will happen today.

Don’t get me wrong, “It” doesn’t happen every day and I don’t spend all my time thinking about it, but I can see situations and circumstances that are likely to escalate the situation.

So why don’t I do something about it and stop it escalating?

What if I could stop it escalating?

Well, that would be bloody brilliant would it!  What if I could remove all situations that would mean Biggey is able to stay calm and regulated and kind.  Well, in order to do that I would have to remove her from society.  Eeek, as I type that, it sounds draconian and old fashioned!!!

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The fact is, as many other bloggers have mentioned this week, we do (mostly) understand what is going on.  It’s where their feelings and emotions have built up, slowly or quickly to the point of explosion.  Its a pressure cooker effect.  In order to stop it escalating we would have to literally remove her from society, from school, from social events as these all raise her anxiety and raise her levels of adrenaline.

Sadly the world as it is now is fast paced and busy, with demands on all of us, not least our children. School is incredibly pressured and hard.  School staff, particularly at secondary school are very much, “do as I say” and they are under pressure and put pressure on our children – on all children.  So that pressure builds on a daily basis.

Biggey has never really felt safe and never really been heard, listened to or given attention until she came to live with us.  The other sad fact is that she was placed with a sister who can talk for England (and Scotland / Wales / Ireland …..).  For Littley, talking is her way of getting noticed and it’s hard to switch off from her.  So it’s hard for Biggey to switch off from her too, or hard for Biggey in her anxious little world to get any semblance of peace and quiet that she needs to recover.  We have to make sure there is space for Biggey and sometimes we don’t manage that.

The Feelings

The mixture of feelings she has is huge.  She’s hypervigiliant.  ALL. THE. TIME.  A busy supermarket (actually even a quiet supermarket with only a few old people tottering around) is really stressful for Biggey and she cannot contain her feelings.  She’s also knackered; from being hyper vigilant, from studying people, from trying to fit in, trying to be calm, trying to remember everything she’s supposed to remember.  When any of us are tired we are less tolerant.

A bad day at school with lots of reprimands, sanctions or even just people saying “take some deep breaths” leaves her coming home in tears, sulks, moods and saying “I can’t even do that” “I’m so stupid” etc etc.  So we are then creating more negative feelings.

In short, she really hasn’t a hope in hell of being able to manage to contain her intense feelings.  It’s the fight response in Fight, Flight Freeze.  Simple as that.  Biggey does all three.

Does that make it OK?

No it doesn’t.  It absolutely doesn’t.IMG_2875

It’s not OK that I am almost always wearing bruises.

It’s not OK that she has to feel this way.

It’s not OK that she is triggered so frequently and replays her early traumatic incidents as re-enactments in our home.

What to do?

We used to hold her (when she was little) just wrapping her up in our arms, holding tight and rocking and murmuring.  It helped lots because as human beings we all need touch, we find it soothing.  There has been experiments and scientific proof about that.  For us, we know she could not tolerate to be touched, so that in itself sent signals to her that this was different to early experiences and it would help.  Now, she’s 4 inches bigger than me!  I can’t wrap her in my arms.  On a good day, I have developed a random technique to get her sat on the floor where I can crouch and cuddle and rock.  However, we absolutely do not speak!  We murmur, we do ‘oohs’, a bit of ‘there there’.  For her, the tiniest word is like a spark to a flame and can escalate everything all over again.  We muddle through, what works one day doesn’t the next.  What works when she was little can no longer be applied.

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We’ve spend years as therapeutic parents keeping her close, staying beside and with her.   We’ve had to spend years teaching her to go to her room with lots of soothing provision, cushions, food, music, colouring books.  Sometimes she wrecks her rooms, sometimes not.  We’ve done a huge amount of work reinforcing that her room is a safe place, with safe things around her, encouraging her to look at what reminds her she is safe.  It has helped a little.  It goes against therapeutic parenting but it does keep her safe and sometimes keeps us safe.

Our house shows sign of the wear and tear of living with traumatised children.  We don’t even bother trying to pain over the cracks any more. SafeDad and I are also showing signs of wear and tear, yet we try and focus on keeping the SafeHouse together.

I’m linking this with #WASO on The Adoption Social @theadoptionsocial.

 

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Thinking about Chocolate

Well, it’s Easter weekend.  Life in the Safe House is $*.7!  The one consolation is that we have more than the usual amount of chocolate.  Awesome.    I couldn’t bear to blog about life’s ups and downs, so I’ve distracted myself with this little bit about my favourite interest!

Research shows that, on average, adopters Britons enjoy about 11kg (24lb) of chocolate a year, making the UK one of the biggest consumers of chocolate in the world. Only the Swiss and Germans eat more.

It’s not a new thing. There are stories through history about cocoa and chocolate and under “discovering chocolate” section on Cadbury.com they say that “in the 17th century, the Dutch … brought cocoa beans from America to Holland, where cocoa was greatly acclaimed and recommended by doctors as a cure for almost every ailment…”  [Bring it on!]

Some researchers say that Dark Chocolate

  • Has many powerful antioxidants
  • Is rich in minerals such as Iron, Zinc, Magnesium and Copper
  • May reduce risk of heart disease
  • May improve brain function
  • Increases “feel good” chemicals

There’s a neuropsychologist in US who wrote about “The Resilient Brain” and she works with and writes about people with brain injury and says that dark chocolate is great for brain health. So I do wonder, given that our children’s brains need healing too, if similar applies. It probably can’t do any harm although I’m not sure I can spare my good quality chocolate for them!

What makes us reach for chocolate in times of stress or difficulty? How come we use chocolate as relaxation or calming aid? Well, when we look at it in a sensory and psychological way it may explain.

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What senses are most active when we eat chocolate?

  • There’s the look of it – highly attractive packaging, smooth dark sultry shapes …
  • There’s the smell – chocolate, vanilla, sweet, bitter …
  • There’s the taste – firing all those taste buds across your tongue, sweet, bitter…
  • There’s also texture – that smooth, silky, sweet, stick to the roof of your mouth

In addition, we know what to expect, there’s a learned response in use, so we think about chocolate and our mouth waters; we remember the previous experiences of calm, joy, comfort, relaxation or whatever.

So we enjoy the feeling that eating chocolate produces in us.

Here’s the other thing: when we are babies, our first soothing experience is when we get milk sensation in our mouths, with the smell of our mother, the taste of familiar sweet, smooth, comforting milk. So it’s one of the closest things to replicating our early soothing experiences.

We know when we are born our brains are hard-wired to respond to certain things in a certain way and that soothing is one of them. We just don’t realise that chocolate provides that for us too!

Do you prefer your chocolate with nuts in or hard and cold from the fridge? Then the need for crunch is, in sensory integration terms, related to other emotions being associated too! (That’s a whole other blog of information about sensory eating.)

What about the psychological stuff?

Chocolate does also produce those “feel good” chemicals yet some scientific people would argue that our bodies regulate those chemicals so that if we have too much our body try to create a balance. These researchers at University of Texas say that we could become desensitized to the effects if we have too much over time! Well, I for one, am happy to be their guinea pig in that study!

However, remember too, we can learn behaviour from our experiences.  So were you, as a child, given a ‘treat’ for good conduct? This practice of using food as a treat or as a mood enhancer then means that when we find ourselves feeling stressed, tired, fed up, our mind is wired to desire those same foods because it believes that is what makes us feel good again.

 

Whatever is driving your chocolate eating, remember the sugar intake that goes alongside consuming large amounts of chocolate is another issue. Consuming more dark chocolate – that is over 85% cocoa – is considered much better because of the higher amount of cocoa, so has more health benefits than milk chocolate although there are similar calories in both dark and milk chocolate!

Interesting eh?  Will this change your chocolate eating?  It doesn’t change mine!!

 

I linked this with The Adoption Social and the Weekly Adoption Shout Out #WASO

 

 

Could Change be Coming?

It’s been pretty rough in the Safe House.  Actually it’s been like this since September if I’m honest.  That wonderful school I’ve blogged about this time last year in So Far So Good and Headteacher Calling decided, in their wisdom, to just put Biggey into mainstream school last September, without word or warning to me or her.

It all went off the scale then with lots of unpleasant phone calls and meetings and people thinking she “just needed to make the right choices” and she was displaying “chosen behaviour“.  With a meeting where I was advised that she “just needs to follow 3 rules”.   I can’t remember those rules now, she was never going to manage them anyway !!!!

I need to talk to you about her behaviour

I then spent ages giving them information about her background, how it affects these type of children, etc etc.  They cried.  It was all pointless, though because that meeting was followed by almost daily phone calls from a Head of Year saying “I need to talk to you about her behaviour”.  I responded with “she has a Statement of Needs for – BEHAVIOUR”.  It all got very difficult and tense so I stopped answering my phone to her calls, since they weren’t listening anyway and it was beginning to feel intimidating.  The result, was her exclusion!

More difficulties, yet in short, I got her back into the supportive unit in school, had meetings with Head, Deputies, SENCO, etc, etc.  A wide variety of people have been involved to be honest, and that’s a problem in itself.  The Ed Psych in Feb advised Biggey should have no more changes and some other helpful things.  They didn’t get passed on to the people on the ground dealing with her on daily basis (not very helpful at all).

We’ve had her making false allegations that I hit her (cos she didn’t want to come home and face me after a bad day at school).  We’ve had CAMHS involved, supposedly helping her with anger (nothing helpful or different to what I had already put in place and so no change in her at all).

Fight, Flight, Freeze

We now have school ringing or texting me every day with updates.  She is aggressive, she leaves school site frequently, or sits in classroom and refuses to move so they have to empty other pupils from the room!  Can you recognise the Fight, Flight, Freeze responses here? Yes?  Sadly, they can’t.

There’s been minuscule progress with school working with me using strategies, tactics and ways of speaking to her to begin to be helpful, but it is not consistent and across the board.  So every bit of progress we make, someone comes along and undoes it!  She is really struggling in school and, needless to say, takes it out on me at home.

This week, culminating over this weekend, we just haven’t been able to calm her down at all and my goodness she REALLY HATES ME!  She has definitely got me, Safe Mum, confused with the Birth Mum.

She wants to leave.  Just like many other weekends, bit by bit we cancelled everything that was going to happen this weekend.  It wasn’t much, horse riding for her, walk the dog, go out for tea maybe, buy some arsenic (just kidding).  We have pretty much barricaded ourselves in the house and dealt, blow by painful blow, with her fight response; all to no avail.

It had escalated to another level

Whilst hubby and I were both trying to do small tasks around the house, him gardening, me cooking and cleaning up in kitchen, she came at me with the floor mop and attacked me with it.  It was like gladiator games but it really hurt.    This was more than screaming, shouting, hitting, punching and throwing.  It had escalated to another level.

So this afternoon, I rang social services.  I’ve had enough.  If this was my husband who was being so violent and abusive I would have left him by now.  If I leave her I will be failing her as a parent.  If I let her run away, I still have to get her home and be her responsible parent.

Whilst the man at end of phone asked me what had been happening, I explained we had cancelled everything, all doors locks to prevent her running.  He said, “oh, did you have visitors planned or something?”.  “NO” I said.  “These days they only visitors we have are police and social workers.”

He laughed.

He bloody laughed.

I’d been quite composed til then.  I let rip.

“Did he really think that I was just some pathetic parent who’d had a bit of a rough hour here and there?  Did he stop to think that here am I, plucking up the courage, on a Sunday afternoon, to ring an Out of Hours provider, to ADMIT that I want and need help?  That I really want to tell people that my daughter is out of control, that she frightens me?  None of this is funny – not in the slightest.”

I demanded an apology and some reasonable amount of professionalism from him.

We have a social worker coming tomorrow – apparently.  We shall see (I bet they don’t respond that quick).  I wonder what they will do.  I wonder what they will propose.  What great ideas they will come up with or advise.  Maybe change is coming.  Maybe it’s a change she thinks she wants, yet has she any idea at all?

Biggey, still wants to leave ………..  She has packed a bag.

I’m Proud of You

This is what my mum said to me the other day. What a lovely thing for any mum to say to her daughter. Yet, it didn’t sit comfortably with me; I didn’t feel any sort of good, warm, pride-like feeling inside.

Now, Mum pops round regularly to see me and the girls after school, she brings chocolate or sweets and we chat and catch up. It’s lovely.  The other day she was telling me about her time at her sewing group and there is one lady there who always asked about us and how we are getting on. The girls were there at this time so I guess mum’s answer was tailored to be appropriate to all ears, so she simply said I told her

I’m very proud of you

I just kind of smiled – maybe it was more a grimace – I’m not sure, yet it didn’t feel comfortable hearing that. Eventually I was able to say

It doesn’t feel like something to be proud of

Mum nodded, in an understanding way and at the time the conversation moved on and around to other things – because the girls were there.

Later I reflected on this. When I thought again about mum’s words and what was going on in myself. There’s an awful lot I’m not very proud of.

  • I’m not proud that the psychologist in the local CAMHS team told my daughter she is scared of me – because I was having to strong and firm and demanding to get my daughter’s needs met (It didn’t work though).
  • I’m not proud of the fact that we are on first name terms with local police, because my daughter runs away so often.
  • I’m not proud when I crawl the streets in my car, following my run-away, feeling like some sneaky stalker or a sleazy kerb-crawler.
  • I’m not proud that I have to sit on my children when they kick, bite, hit, spit, hiss in the throws of their traumatic fight flight response.
  • I’m not proud when I have to man-handle them into the car or tackle them to the floor in the middle of the street or in supermarkets just so I can half restrain half cuddle them to calm them down.
  • I’m not proud that my parenting very often feels harsh and restrictive, even though I know it’s what they need and what they can cope with.
  • I’m not proud that I swear so much
  • I’m not proud of having to be forthright and demanding of other people – like schools, teacher, social workers.

I’ve blogged before about wearing my stroppy hat and in that I said I wear it with pride, and occasionally I do, yet as with our children, there is only so many times I (and many other adopters) can continue to be knocked down without being left with the negative affect of it all.

I have to remind myself daily that there are things I am proud of – like the fact that I do keep them safe, I do advocate for them, separately and us as a family.

In my work I tell people that it’s important that we work on our own thoughts and feelings, that we are kind to ourselves and have positive self talk.  It’s very important I practice what I preach! (always easier said than done!!)  I do realise that we often spend so much time with our children’s issues we easily forget about ourselves.  Self talk is so important to us too.  So each day, with renewed vigour I will be trying to find something I have done that I am proud of.

I am proud that we are still together.   What about you?

Reframing Christmas

As the feelings ramp up once again with the dreaded “C” word making a big feature in our house, I once again reflect and implement the things we do in our house at this time of year to try to reframe this seasonal time and so am re-blogging my post from last year.

Quite honestly, I’d like to be a complete baa humbug and avoid completely, yet school, society and tv won’t allow me to do that! So tonight when they are in bed I’ll be getting the advent calendars and other paraphernalia out of storage ready for another year, another reframe, another ‘opportunity’ to change their understanding and expectation.

I’m also linking this to #WASO on the wonderful The Adoption Social as the theme there is “at this time of year”.

The Weekly Adoption Shout Out

Adopting Safe Mummy Ways

Over the years we have done a lot to set up new traditions for our girls and our family and also to reframe their early experiences and expectations.  Seven years on, we are still carrying out some of these whilst changing some and adding new ones too.   Here are some that I am doing:

Picture advent calendar
Take pictures of lots of simple regular things that are included in christmas in your family.  I actually think the pictures I use are a bit naff however from a child perspective they serve as useful reminders!   The pictures we have include: making cards, sausages wrapped in bacon, a pile of xmas tree chocolates, christmas crackers, the christmas tree, some wrapped pressies, cards hanging on the wall and an advent calendar.

The first year I just wrote numbers on the back then stuck them picture side down on the wall with blutack…

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Seasonal Secretive Struggles

It’s a difficult time of year in the Safe Family and not one I relish at all.

There are many issues which arise for us at home and within this half term at school. Even the October half term holiday tends to be (and has proven again to be) difficult and stressful because the girls are still incredibly scared.

Halloween and bonfire night and huge worry for both girls. That’s before we even get Christmas!

Halloween
We don’t do anything for Halloween. Apparently when children have been hurt and abused by their parents (the people who are supposed to protect and care) in order to make sense of it, they begin to believe that parents must be monsters. So, halloween brings forth the monsters again! Not a good plan. In addition people dress up and dressed up people are scary whatever time of year. Even a dressed up Paddington Bear was scary!

I don’t like the mixed messages associated with Halloween events and I believe it confuses children – particularly mine. The trick or treat encourages children to knock on doors of strangers – I mean!!! Really? All year we are teaching them don’t go to strangers, don’t accept sweets, blah blah oh but it’s ok now …..

I know there were many mean tricks done to them. So if we do trick or treat now, is the trick going to be giving them some food and taking it off them again? Because that’s what used to happen in birth family. It’s so confusing for them, it was then, it is now. It’s such a I go area. People give out sweets – people gave her sweets then abused her, people gave them sweets so they kept things secret, people gave them sweets when they were hurt and hungry and crying and sweets was not what they wanted or needed. Then all the kids at school talk about it so there’s really no getting away from it.

Firework Night.
The sound of Fireworks going off every night cause a huge issues for Littley. She will scream and cry so loudly the whole house is affected. She is absolutely terrified and at best I have to sit with her as she goes to sleep, or more often she has to sleep with one of us or will not sleep at all. Biggey is triggered by this because it reminds her of when she had to look after Littley!

Children who have been left alone, scared with strange noises, bangs, shouting will be frightened by this. In addition, they are unable to regulate feelings and emotions so even attempts to watch or join in still trigger early feelings which they do not have labels and names for.

We have tried having fireworks at home, little ones, quiet ones and changing the experience of them, yet this year we are giving up and not doing any! Additionally even if children talking about what they are doing will upset or trigger her – either because of memories or because of her inability “to be normal” or do what others do. Obviously her lack of sleep can affect her ability to cope in school and with everyday life.

Christmas.
Someone dressed up as Father Christmas and abused them. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they were told they were being given away as presents. They didn’t get presents. They didn’t get fed. Have they been good? Of course not! As we know, many Looked After, Adopted, hurt, abused, traumatised children they inherently believe they are bad, no good, rubbish and don’t deserve…

In addition, as adoptive parents we spend hours and hours telling these children they are safe; no-one (birth parents) know a where you are; strangers do not come in our house. Then we go and let “that bloke” (as he is referred to) into our house and he just happens to know where you are! It’s bonkers. He never did come into our house and we spoiled the story early on which reduced the effects a bit. It didn’t eradicate it completely though. Christmas and the extended run up to Christmas is still generally awful in our house – and we’re heading for our 8th one!

Then there’s letterbox to consider and missing siblings and more.

All this is going on and my girls hold it all in. Keep it secret. Too frightened to say. Too ashamed to admit. Still holding in mind those early threats to ensure they keep things secret and don’t tell.

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Then I effectively keep it secret too, I don’t have the energy to explain to wider family or to friends or school. When you look at my girls they “seem fine”. They hold their secrets well. It’s their survival strategy.

I give school headlines and ask them to please bear all this in mind when they are in school and share the information in case of lessons planned to incorporate these events at this time of year as they will have an impact. I advised that they often becomes physically ill from worry and anxiety at this time of year too.

School’s response is that Littley has English lessons on the topics of Vampires so if they send me the book can I read it and share and prepare her?! Speechless.

They say we must not exclude her from lessons just because she’s scared. If she stays in lessons she will learn resilience! I couldn’t do the difficult conversations at that point. What about their duty of care to keep her safe – for to feel safe?

Also Biggey has 6 weeks of drama lessons on a theme of Dracula so they’ve send me the script so I can explain who Dracula is?!? No words left. She has a statement of support so who is supporting her?? Me! Of course I’ve got nothing better to do!

So I’m preserve my energy. I do lots of self care (as well as lots of swearing and sarcasm). I’ve stopped answering the phone to school even though I want to work with them, they need to want to listen! I am planning my next move – with both children and school and family. It’s all very strategic – like a game of chess – and I don’t bloody like chess!

A Plan to Care for Adopted Children in Schools

Now this is a brilliant way forward and one I hope it rolled out across the country. Well done Gareth!

Gareth Marr

What’s the problem? 

There can be no doubt that education issues dominate the lives of many adopters once their children start school. This can be a real shock as many are unprepared for the battles that can ensue with the education establishment. All the pre adoption training on attachment and trauma does not build the resilience needed to enter into endless engagements with teachers who either don’t understand or don’t care. Hugh Thornbery, CEO of Adoption UK,  told me that by far the majority of calls they receive on their helpline are on school issues. Every edition of ‘Adoption Today’ this year has a detailed article on handling problems at school.

So what can be done? Well many brave parents are fighting their individual battles and sharing frustrations and successes on social media. But this is not a problem with an individual teacher or school. It is endemic and nationwide…

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