Tuesday, 28 August 2012

What and When Should We TellThem?

For many parents and carers it is not unusual to have to ponder how to speak to children about difficult and complex issues.  It can build up in our minds as a real  problem, what if we get it wrong, what if we upset, confuse, scare or shock them?  I have had to discuss some incredibly difficult things with my child in their 21 years on this planet and he has taught me a great deal, as have many of the children I have worked with.

There are a few key questions to ask ourselves before speaking with your child, and it is fine to say to your child when faced with a difficult subject, "well that's a really interesting question, I need to give that some serious thinking time, can we talk about it later?"  Then ask yourself:

1. what are they really curious about?
2. what do they need to know and what don't they
3. what will have the least impact on their right to have a childhood as free as possible from adult worries and issues
4. how can I put it into language and at their level of understanding
5. is this all about their needs or am I partly doing it to make things easier for myself and/or others?

One thing I have learnt from children is that we often under estimate their ability to cope and over estimate their reactions.  It is also worth remembering that they take a great deal of information about how to react from us.  If we appear to be OK about what we are telling them, not too upbeat, not too sad then the is a good chance they will take it on board and get on with their life.

What often happens is we put too much adult emphasis on the wrong things and adult thoughts and feelings too and are often wide of the mark.  "I'm sure she will be devastated when I say....., he's not going to react well when I say..........., I think she will be worried by....."  The most important things are:

1. chose your time carefully, so not when you are about to go somewhere, or when you/they are very tired/have had a bad day
2. try not to make it into a huge event, part of our brain embeds memories according to the emotion we felt at the time.  Turn it into a huge drama and it may be something which haunts them.
3. offer to do some research with them later on if they want to know more
4. keep it simple as children often don't want all of the facts right then, or ever
5. get support from some one you really trust beforehand and after but don't let it become something you tell everyone as your child may well find out and will be hurt and may not trust you again
6. use gentle humour when and only if it feels appropriate, " oh my goodness, aren't we serious today, I think I need a big hug, to run round the garden with my pants on my head, to tickle your teddy now" etc.
7. be aware that if you tell young children very adult things about sex, reproduction, intimate relationships they may repeat them and that will not always go down well and may get them unwanted attention.

I do not believe in lying to children as often they know what is going on does not feel right and may have seen and heard things.  For example, living with domestic abuse and violence often no one talks with the child about it, or minimises or denies what is going, on thinking they are protecting them, they are not.  When there is a serious illness, a potential relationship break up, a house move, a change of foster carer, children will often have an idea and will be fretting and writing their own script which most often involves them as the villain.  "It's all my fault Mum gets hurt as I didn't tidy my toys away properly, I think they are going to split up so where will I live or maybe they won't want me now, another foster carer why does no-one want me aren't I good enough?"

It rarely seems easy to discuss these things with our children but taking your time, not building it up, keeping it simple and most importantly LISTEN TO THEM.  It may be that you have misunderstood what they wanted to know and start to tell them about the 'birds and the bees' when this was the last thing on their minds so tread carefully, pause to listen frequently and check how they might be feeling.  "I wonder how you feel about it?" rather than "you must be feeling......now" or, if they don't seem to know how they feel gentle suggestions, "well I think I might feel a bit.........what do you think?"

Be prepared for it to be a bit of an anti-climax as children will often take a speck of information and ponder it and may come back to you on it or want to be gently asked about it later, next day etc.  Or, sometimes that's enough, you can always check and they will soon let you know.

Good luck, you are their best resource and the person who loves them most so you will be able to work it out together so long as you are fully tuned in to them.  There is a wealth of knowledge out in the big wide world on most subjects now and organisations for most things, so do your research or find a lovely story book if that helps too.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Back to school note.

Dear Educators,

I am writing to you so that you will hear my voice and not jump to conclusions about me.  I am coming to your school in September and these are the things you need to know about me.

1.  I'm a great kid!

2.  I come with a past.

3.  I did not control my past.

4.  I have been shaped by my past.

5.  I am struggling with the after effects of my past.

6.  I struggle to sit still, to concentrate, to not look out the window, to listen to you, not to fiddle.

7.  Sometimes I 'flip out'.

8.  I don't like loud noises or surprises.

9.  I don't trust strangers.

10.  I'm often very tired.

11.  Making and keeping friends is hard for me.

12.  I don't get sarcasm.

I could go on, it's a long list of what you need to know before you decided where to 'pigeon-hole' me.  Disruptive, lacking motivation, poor concentration, confrontational, a problem..........

Why am I like this, I hope this is a question you ask yourself but not through gritted teeth but in a truly wondering, want to understand way.

1.  I have seen and heard things a child never should.

2.  I have not been held, sung to and soothed, only in my Mum's head.

3.  I have only known chaos.

4.  I have never had a day where I felt totally relaxed and could switch off.

5.  I have always had to be alert to run up stairs, to get out of the house, to duck behind the sofa, to ring the Police.

6.  I have never known if Mum would be smiling, bleeding or crying in the morning when I get up.

7.  Staying alert, listening for sounds, watching faces, sniffing for alcohol laden breath has kept me alive.

8.  I have to look for the hidden meaning in everything which is said to me as getting it wrong is dangerous.

9.  I have never consistently built a relationship with anyone, Mum wasn't allowed too and Dad was either my best or worst friend.

10.  I can't sleep now.  I'm scared to go to bed to leave Mum and need to stay awake in case he comes back in the night.

11.  I am very reactive, mostly I hit out, sometimes I run, but not 'cos I want too.

12.  I'm a great kid, so understand me, support me, care about me, then maybe one day I will be able to learn in your school and make some friends.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Teenagers - just gotta love 'em

Oh my God, I wish she would just keep out of my things, out of my business, I know what I'm doing and she's just driving me crazy, I can manage!  No, I don't really mean that, what's wrong with me, I feel like I'm going crazy, maybe I am.  Some days I feel quite hopeful, I'm not the best centre forward, fastest runner, didn't get 70% in my maths test and Josh is more likely to pull Clarissa but I'm doing OK.  Other days, I'm like, God your crap, stupid hair, stupid face, dumb as they come and I'll NEVER get a girlfriend.

Mum is driving me crazy too, I know she is really just trying to help but going on and on about stuff I'll never remember once she leaves my room, really!!!  I'm not lazy, I do forget things, but not 'cos I want too, who wants to get a detention, not me.  I know I get mad with her but if she would just not start as soon as I get in or come find me when I'm on the phone, or in the middle of a game, timing, not her strong point!  We used to get on so well, I miss that, wonder if we'll ever get it back?  Sometimes I don't care but mostly I do.

Some days it's like we've both been taken over by aliens, Mum looks at me funny, I get upset, she tells me I'm angry, moody, lazy, thoughtless, never going to get a job, take your pick and then that's it really and it feels as if we can't stand each other.  Even weirder, those are the times when I just want a hug, can't ask for one, can't show it but really need it.  Was interesting in Biology today we were doing about the brain, the teenage brain and the bits I remember most were:

from about 11 years until into my early 20's!!!! my brain is rearranging itself, weird to even think that, something about pruning and cementing parts of it but anyways means some parts are a bit offline

teenage brains aren't good at remembering, planning ahead, or, even understanding the emotions on someones face.  We did a test with some card and pictures of different expressions and not many of us could agree on the same thing, spooky!

Maybe I should tell Mum, she might think its an excuse but the evidence is in my book, well the bits I managed to get down, still she can always Google it.  Maybe there is hope after all as some days I just want to be over as they're just too hard.

I would strongly advise ANY/ALL parents of teenagers to look up how teenage brains develop as you will have a better understanding of your precious child then who still needs your hugs, attention, PATIENCE and help, even though they can't ask for it!!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

I can only do what I know

If I don't know that a child is screaming in my face because there fear system has been triggered by a loud bang outside, the smell of my after shave, the look on a face, the date on the calender, the way I approached them, the hand on their arm, the taste of the food I insisted they eat, then I will not know what to do. 

Someone needs to teach me, train me, explain to me what's going on because in that moment I don't like that child they make me feel, angry, afraid, helpless, useless, inadequate and like I need to take control but I know I can't.

So, I scream back, sometimes the scream is in my head, sometimes it comes out of my mouth, I send them out of my sight, go stand in the corridor, get to your room, I cry, I rant, I sit helpless while they scream at me, I take things away to punish them, "no party for you now, you've lost your Xbox for the week, we're not going to Nanny's now, no playtime, no part in the school play, no Golden Time".  It doesn't feel right but they did ask for it, I've told them it would happen.

Children should respect adults, understand that if they behave they will be rewarded, if they don't then there will be a consequence, they'll get punished, they have to learn or what will become of them?

I am only doing what I have been taught to do,it's not OK for a child to scream in your face, they need time out to calm themselves down and so do I.  So much stress they cause, I wish they would just 'get it', I really want to like them but they cause me so much stress and upset everyone.  How can I help them see how they affect others and push them away, are they just an 'angry' child, seen too much, heard too much now they are just reacting to that?  Still, they need to learn that's no way to go through life or they'll end up in trouble.

Nothing I have learnt so far has prepared me to deal with this....................

This Blog is about how parents-birth and adoptive, foster carers, childcare workers, teaching staff and all those who support children who have lived through trauma may feel at some point.  That is why I am putting everything I have into offering training to professionals and a bespoke parenting programme which is all about understanding how the brain is affected by trauma. 

If we are able to learn about this then a child's behaviour makes more sense and the approach I offer will enable adults to work WITH the child where they currently are, and to set about repairing and rewiring the way they see the World and, eventually, the way their brain reacts and responds. 
For more information, www.parentingposttrauma.co.uk  current training with Collette Winters will be in Bristol in September, then we hope to put it on in London next.