Saturday, 25 February 2017

Detective Mummy & the Scar

Imagine you read a script of a TV show...

Genre: Family drama

  • Detective Mummy (trying to do the right thing, that is therapeutically approach the situation and treat the root of the problem instead of the symptoms presented on the surface.)
  • Goofs (6 years old son, who settled in really well, but as you will see his roots run very shallow and a smallest of wind can throw him back to his previous life; usually the 'OK child')
  • Snoops (7 years old son, surprisingly in this episode he is the 'good son' for once, partially because whenever his brother is the 'problem child', his sibling jealousy catapults him into angel mode
  • Dad (not so therapeutic parent, in this episode he is struggling with cold)

Act I.
Scene 1: Friday morning, Dad, Snoops, Goofs getting ready to leave the house and go to Sports Club

Dad: 'Are we ready to go? Goofs, put your jumper on.'
Goofs: 'I am red hot, I don't want to!' 
Dad: 'Are you sure? It's really cold.'
Goofs: 'Yes, I am sure!'
Off they go. The three walk to the location of the holiday club; it's a 10-20 min walk, depending on everybody's mood.

35 min later, Dad back in the house

Det. Mummy: 'How did it go?'
Dad: 'Goofs had a massive meltdown and was crying all the way. He was upset that we didn't take the car like we did yesterday.'
Det. Mummy: 'Did you explain the only reason you drove them yesterday was because you were sick and it was pouring down rain and sleet?'
Dad: 'No, not really. I told him we can walk like we usually do.'

Scene 2: Flashback to yesterday afternoon

Snoops: 'Mummy, tomorrow we will have a water fight in Sports Club so we need an extra set of clothing.'
Det. Mummy: 'Wow, I am quite surprised since it's still winter and it will be cold tomorrow.'
Snoops: 'That's OK, I don't want to get wet anyway so I will just stay inside.'
Goofs: 'Oh, if Snoops is not doing it, I don't want to do it either!'
Det. Mummy: 'I think you boys are making the right decision. I am very proud of both of you!'

Scene 3: back to Friday afternoon, Det. Mummy walking to pick the kids up from Sports Club

Det. Mummy: 'Goofs, why are you so wet?'
Goofs: (crying in the room, wearing only his shorts and t-shirt.) 'I am so cold!'
Det. Mummy: 'Where is your jacket? And your jumper? And your sweat pants?'
Goofs: 'I am so cold!'
Snoops: 'Look Mummy, I am dry, just like you told me to be! I am the clever one, right? Goofs made the wrong decision and joined in the water fight. His jacket is soaking wet, just like his sweat pants! He is very silly, right, Mummy?'
Det. Mummy: (ignoring his need to reinforce his brother is silly, she turns to Goofs) 'Where is your jumper?'
Snoops: (crying very loud now) 'I didn't bring any!' 
Det. Mummy: 'Well, that wasn't very clever of you, was it? Unfortunately I didn't bring the car so we have to walk home.'
Snoops starts a massive meltdown that culminates in him calling Det. Mummy names. She knows the best way to get the situation under control is to put the jacket onto Snoops (it's only a bit damp on the inside) and put the extra (and dry) sweat pants on him as fast as she can with one hand, while holding the disregulated child with the other hand.)

The walk home is a misery for all 3. Det. Mummy tries to give attention to Snoops who is extremely excited because he won an award in archery today, while ensuring Goofs keeps walking, who, for some reason decided that he is so frozen he can't even move his legs.

Snoops: ' Jack said that and then I told him, just watch, and then the teacher said...' (fades into background)
Det. Mummy: 'Come on son, you can walk, your legs are fine. The sooner we get home the faster you can get a nice hot shower.'
Goofs: (not following them, but starts walking in the opposite direction) 'I hate you. I don't want to go to your stupid house ever again!'
Snoops: 'I am so proud of myself for winning the archery competition! Are you proud of me, Mummy?'
Det. Mummy: 'Yes, of course, I am very proud of you! Could you just stand here while I run after your brother?'

For the next ten minutes Det. Mummy is walking very fast. In her left hand she is holding the hand of happy Snoops who is skipping next to her. In her right hand she holds firmly the hand of a deeply unhappy Goofs, practically dragging him behind her while Goofs shouts at her non stop. Some strangers pass by and Goofs is desperate to gain their attention. Some must be parents themselves as they see it's a tantrum with no tears and the child is in no danger so they give a sympathetic look towards Det. Mummy and walk away.

Scene 4: we are inside the house, Goofs had a hot shower and he appears to be content as he sits at the dining room table

Det. Mummy: 'So, Goofs, you need to finish your reading homework and then we can all watch a film since it's Friday Family Film time and today you are choosing.'
Goofs: (shouting) 'No, never! I will never do that stupid book! It's not fair, why Snoops doesn't have any homework?'
Det. Mummy: (quietly) 'It's because he finished his last Friday. Come on, it's only a few pages left and then you can watch it. You know the rules; first the homework and then the movie!'

Goofs: (throws the book at her and continues shouting.) 'You are so stupid! I hate you! I hate your stupid house! I hate this stupid homework. I will not do it. I want to watch the film now!'
Det. Mummy: (starting to raise her voice) 'No, you will not. remember what happened to Snoops a few weeks ago? He had several warnings and he still didn't do it so sadly he missed the entire film. I wouldn't want you to have the same outcome...'

At this point Goofs attacks Det. Mummy with full force. She manages to get out of his way and puts her arms around him from behind, while he continues to shout insults at her.
Det. Mummy: 'I can see that this is very difficult for you. I understand that you feel it is not fair, but...'
In this moment Goofs wiggles himself out of the embrace with force. In the heat of the fight he breaks 3 of Det. Mummy's nails and as you would have it, one broken nail manages to scratch his arm. The tone of his shouting changes into panic and screaming.

Goofs: (in pain) 'You evil xxxx. You scratched me on purpose. I hate you even more than JaneDoe (birth mum's name).'
Det. Mummy: 'I am really really sorry. That was an accident! I...'
Goofs: (in panic mode now) 'Oh my god! I am bleeding! I'm going to die! You killed me!'
Det. Mummy: (feeling incredibly awful, but trying to show she is in control for the sake of the child and speaks in a calm voice) 'It's red, but it's not bleeding. You will not die.'
Goofs: 'No, I will never accept your apology! I hate you!'
Det. Mummy: 'I wonder if it would help the pain if we got your favourite Star Wars plaster on it...'
Det. Mummy (she starts to go to bathroom to get plasters). 'I am really sad you feel that way. I don't hate you, just the opposite. I love you very much!'

Goofs keeps his eyes closed so he doesn't have to look at her, but crawls closer to her, inch by inch until he is snuggled in safely in her arms. She sits down on the dining room floor, scoops him up like a baby. They remain in that position for the next 25 minutes until his sobbing stops. Fade to black...
End of Act I.

Act II:
Scene 1: same location, Det. Mummy and Goofs sitting on the floor, fish and chips in the oven starting to burn.

Det. Mummy: 'This feels really good, sitting here with mummy, her arms around you and she is keeping you safe.' (Goofs just nods quietly). 'I can see you are having lots of big feelings in your tummy right now.' (another nod) 'I wonder if you are really angry with me or with JaneDoe...' (silence) 'I wonder if your feeling cold earlier reminded you of your time with JaneDoe when she couldn't keep you safe and you felt really really scared around her...' (nodding returns) 'Maybe you weren't even angry with this mummy, but the other mummy?'
Goofs: (whispering, still not looking at her but looking at the scratch mark on his arm) 'No, I am angry with YOU! You hurt me on purpose! (and crying starts again)
Det. Mummy: 'No, you know it is not true. It was an accident and I apologised. I would never hurt you! This mummy can and will always keep you safe!' (he keeps focusing on the scar) 'I am wondering if you keep looking at the scratch mark because it helps you stay mad at me?'
Goofs: 'Yes! I still don't think I can forgive you...ever! You hurt me, just like JaneDoe did! Can I get that plaster now?' 

Scene 2: in the bathroom, selecting a couple of fun plasters, just to be safe.

Goofs: 'Well, I see there will be no bedtime story for me today.'
Det. Mummy: 'Hmm... Let me ask you this, do you think your bad afternoon has something to do with this assumption?'
Goofs: 'Actually, it was not just a bad afternoon, mummy. I had a bad day from the beginning!'
Det Mummy: (her brain working hard to detect the connections and then... the light bulb moment!) 'I am wondering if you behaved badly this morning because you were cold?' (he is nodding, so she continues her detective deduction work) 'I think you assumed daddy will drive you like he did a day before so you thought you don't need a jumper. (more nodding and a quick look at her face) 'But he made you walk and then you felt cold without a jumper, but perhaps you felt upset with yourself but didn't know how to say it or get out of this situation so you panicked and started to 'act out' and...'
Goof: 'yes, and so my whole day was ruined, I didn't win in archery, but then they had the water fight and I knew I don't have extra clothes...'
Det. Mummy: '...but it looked like fun so you joined in because you assumed it's Friday and daddy usually picks you up with the car on Fridays...'
Goofs: 'yes, but then you came and you said we have to walk and...' (starts sobbing again.) 

Det. Mummy envelopes him in her arms again and starts making funny faces in the mirror. Moments later Goofs joins in and soon they are having a good time together.
Det. Mummy: 'I am so sorry I scratched you. Can you please forgive me?'
Goofs: (still laughing) 'Oh, I forgave you a long time ago!'
Det. Mummy: 'Oh, thank you. You say it was a long time ago?'
Goofs: 'Of course, mummy! I just didn't forgive you when I was mad. When I am happy I always forgive you!'
Det. Mummy: 'That's good to hear. Maybe you can also apologise to me...' 
Goofs: (turns around so he can face her) 'I am really sorry for my bad behaviour and for calling you stupid! You are my cleverestest mummy and I love you very much!'
Det. Mummy: 'I love you too, my son!' 
Goofs: 'So, can I go and watch the end of the film?'
Det. Mummy: 'Sadly no, remember? You still haven't done your homework.'
Goofs: 'You know what? It's actually fine with me. I got to sit with you all evening, it's way better than a film!'

Det. Mummy smiles back at him, but it's a bitter sweet smile. Discipline is important. Therapeutic parenting is even more important. Having consequences for bad behaviour is needed. Unconditional love and attunement is needed even more! According to Dan Hughes children who experienced loss and trauma need to experience comfort and joy to heal. In a twisted way of events, accidentally hurting Goofs turned out to be the reason for him to experience comfort afterwards. Yes, it was horrible as my hurting him fit into his distorted view of mothers and the fact that they hurt him. Yes, the scratch mark will be visible for a few days, but if his behaviour this morning is any indication, (when he saw me his very first words to me were 'Mummy, I am so sorry for my bad behaviour yesterday, I love you very much!) I think we are both on the mend...

The End 

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Power of Play

We all agree that playing is fun! It's needed. Regardless of your age or gender. We all love to play. Some alone, some in groups; some together for a common goal, others play competitively; some with recycled cheap rubbish (and lots of imagination) others with super expensive gadgets.

But what if you don't know HOW TO play?

For most of us it's a silly question that we dismiss with a wave of a hand 'How can you not know how to play? Even poor African children who have nothing know how to have fun in the dirt. Everybody has an imagination! Surely every child has creative ways of entertaining themselves!' Surely...

My 2 boys came from the same home, experienced the same neglect, but have different personalities. One escaped the harsh reality by creating an imaginary world in his head where he is safe, happy and can think up all sorts of funny things to keep him entertained. The other one just shut himself down completely and used his body parts to fight everybody and everything. For him, this was play...

Fast forward to living in several foster carers' homes with left over broken toys from previous children and lots of new ones given for their birthdays, Christmas or just to 'keep them quiet'. During Intros we found out the boys' favourite past time was to watch telly, play on their tablets, play on their Nintendo DS or play with their Nintendo Wii. All activities designed to escape from reality, narrow your focus on a tiny screen, avoid eye contact or conversation with anybody else. To the last FC's credit the boys had lots of cars, toys, Lego, domino...etc but they hardly played with it and even then they just threw them around so naturally all were broken.

One of the hardest thing was (besides the many obvious) for us to get them free from their screen addiction. With a swift decision we removed all gadgets from their new room and replaced them with educational games, board games, we increased their Lego collection and introduced weekly crafty activities. We also played with them various sporty activities in the garden, did other fun stuff like snail races or comparing worms and now we are at a point where they don't even miss their gadgets. So, they can have them as treats from time to time. They are no longer a tool to 'give parents/carers a break' but rewards to acknowledge and celebrate when the boys achieved something.
When he is free to be a little boy and use his imagination outside of his head...
He made these 4 designs in 15 min!
To be fair we can't claim much credit for this. I must mention that we are one of the very fortunate adopters who could access Play Therapy from very early on. At first I didn't feel comfortable watching my child on the play mat with the therapist. They were surrounded by boxes of toys (doll house with figures, crafts, puppets, toy cars, soft toys, animals, dress up props and lots more) and the boys were so overwhelmed they didn't know what to do, what to play with first and ended up having meltdowns. The 'play lady' was fabulous and week after week the boys felt more confident, more excited and more animated during each session. I could not understand how 20 min of throwing puppets around would help them be less chaotic, more manageable, less violent, more settled.... simply put: How will playing help all four of us to survive this adoption???

Fast forward again a few months and suddenly we started to see the transformation! Goofs' (6) angry outbursts and Child on Parent Violence (CPV) subsided significantly. He was still getting all upset and worked up about the same simple issues like 'go brush your teeth', but he could calm down much faster without the need to hurt us or break something. I do not wish to over-simplify this complex issue and I am certainly no expert on this topic, but in short by allowing 'him to decide all the fun things we do in play therapy' and making it clear 'all feelings are OK on the play mat' he was able to work through some of his control issues while playing on the mat and week after week he was more compliant at home. I am still amazed and often jokingly describe play therapy as 'black magic'. He is rapidly turning into a sweet little boy who is no longer crippled and determined by the horror, trauma and loss he experienced so his fun, creative, kind self can come to the surface for all to see and love!
Snoops' (7) imagination is wonderful. These are his newest creations for his next story.
N.B.: all names are Trade Marked already :) 

Play Therapy slowly turned into Filial Therapy so it was no longer the therapist on the play mat but mummy and daddy. That really opened up ways for him to heal at a speed not even his therapist expected. With him, after 9 months in placement we are in a place where Attunement is no longer enough! I mean it in the best possible way! The therapist is training hubby and I now to practice Congruence, which is like an advanced level Empathy & Attunement combo - if I understand it correctly...

Last week we were given a few boxes of toys by a friend; most of them are age appropriate. There was a puzzle game for toddlers that I wanted to donate further thinking boys will find it 'childish'. (yes, I know... that's irony for ya). Goofs saw it and asked what it was. Before I could explain he started playing with it. I took the opportunity to do Play Tracking (a therapy technique, basically I describe what is happening, mention every emotion that can come up) and suddenly the miracle happened!

Goofs felt free to regress to a younger age and he felt safe enough to start talking about his past - for the very first time! We obviously knew most of the horror, but not from him! While his fingers were busy he was in a happy chatty mood. He talked about his birth dad, what happened, HOW HE FELT during those times. The puzzle was complete, but he felt safe to stay in the 'zone' so I ventured into asking about his time in Foster Care, the constant change, his feelings around meeting us, Intros, his initial aggression and CPV and its roots! It was such a weird experience: He is 6! His emotional age was 3-4 at that moment. His words were as of a grown up!
Allowing him to regress and enjoy toddler toys immensely
He described the nervousness he felt, he was unsure if 'this will work out this time', 'can I trust you', 'will you be nice to me', 'will I get punished for not knowing your house rules' , 'can we stay here forever or is this just another stop'. I tried my best to stay Attuned and not switch back into 'teary mummy mode' so we discussed how all those were understandable feelings and that no child should experience that and alike. After about 15 minutes of very intense therapeutic parenting he switched back to a 6 year old and asked what's for dinner. He reached his limit for the time being.

Last night I called him 'my son' without even thinking twice about it. He turned around and asked: 'From now on, can you please call me MY SON and not my first name please?' When I said of course he jumped into my arms and said 'You are my bestest Mummy ever!' Sounds like the 5th time might be the charm??