Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Adoption UK Conference, Bryan Post and Love

Well it was nice while it lasted.  The hush I mean.

The last few weeks have been different.  Lots of back chat, lots of mimicking, rudeness and negative behaviour.

I'm trying (and sometimes failing) to stay calm, exhibit patience.  One morning last week I cried before we'd even left on the school run and then consoled myself in M&S with a large hot chocolate.

One thing Bryan Post talked about at the recent Adoption UK conference was that we should allow expression of attitudes.  If we suppress attitude then the child will show their feelings and if we suppress the feelings the child will exhibit bad behaviour.  So the phrase 'change your attitude' hasn't been uttered from my lips over the last couple of weeks although it's been on the tip of my tongue.  I've attempted to show empathy and wondering out aloud about Missy's feelings although it's usually meant with a very loud "BE QUIET!!".

Bryan Post, for those that don't know, is one of America's foremost experts in adoption, fostering and social work. He is an adoptee and an adopter.  I know some people find his approach too simple, he's been referred to as a 'maverick'.  I liked him, I found him very engaging, although I admit I don't always get how to use his techniques with Missy.  Below I'll mention some of the key points that he talked about at the conference.

The premise of his approach is that  love heals and it is very much down to the relationship between carer and child.  The thing we are healing I guess is 'stress'.  Repair of stress makes the difference and that's where love comes in.

"In times of stress, thinking becomes distorted and suppresses our short term memory" said Bryan.  He reminded us of this several times.  I know exactly how this feels as my short term memory is pants at the moment and I couldn't remember all the quote soon after he said it first.  This, then, is why my daughter can know her 3x table today but not tomorrow.  Something for the teachers to take on board.   In a stressed state, a child is merely surviving/reacting then as they calm they move into responding - although still not thinking.  Gradually as they calm more their brain begins to process and finally they move into the thriving/integration stage. Helping a child move from meltdown to engagement is a process that needs to be handled carefully and with love.  As stress is felt through all senses, when its high we need to calm the stress and step back.  Stop talking, stop eye contact and lower voice.   Feral cat comes to mind again.

"When you stress, you regress" he said.  Which means we ned to meet the child at their developmental age.

Bryan talked about oxytocin, which is often referred to as the love hormone or feel-good hormone. Hugging increases our levels of oxytocin as does giving birth and breast feeding!

A fear based mind doesn't think, it must reacts whereas a love based mind thinks.  So how we show up in any situation is important - not the child.  But we (parents and teachers) often react with actions that are based in fear - such as consequences, time out, yelling - but these just create more stress that cannot healt the brain and the relatiionship.  Interestingly, he said that for many children (without a trauma background) these type of actions do work because actually anytying will work for them.  But not for our children because their traumatised brains cannot handle it.

So the things we need to do to turn on oxytocin in times of stress are things such as time-in, containment, guidance, breathing, patience, affection and discipline.  Yes discipline.  The meaning of disclipline is actually to teach, it's not behaviour modification which is a fear-based action.

Much of what Bryan talked about requires a paradigm shift and quite a big one at that at times.  Daddy and I often find ourselves slipping back into the parenting styles we were brought up with rather than changing permanently to a therapeutic style of parenting.  We need to work on this a lot and listening to Bryan reminded me of this.  I've bitten my lip a few times over the last few weeks to come from a place of love, but it's descalated a potentially volatile situation quite quickly.  Bryan also talked about carers taking responsibility so we can teach responsibility rather than reactivity.  I've found that hard to do on a few occasions but again I have seen positive results.

Breathing conciously is what I've been doing a lot recently.  A technique Bryan showed, but one I've been doing for many years, is the 4, 7, 8 breathing.  If you are feeling stressed, simply breathe in deeply for a count of 4, hold for 7 and exhale for a count of 8.  I've used it recently when lying awake at night, when having an anxiety attack, when taking a moment to stop myself yelling, when trying to avoid a panic attack whilst having an MRI scan (have you ever been in one of those scanners?!) and managed to become calmer. Try it, it works.

Anyway, I hope this has given a brief flavour of the Adoption UK Conference.  If your situation and budget allows it, I highly recommended attending.  You also get to put faces to Twitter names - yes, these fellow tweeters really do exist, @MrsFamilyofFive, @GayAdoptionDad and @CocktailMamaUk to name a few.  Oh, and we got to go to a very lovely indian restaurant afterwards, just the two of us, AND had a long lie in the next day because Missy was staying over with my Mum. #WIN.

In other news, Daddy and I had another night out by ourselves recently (I know, two in one month!) as we were incredibly lucky to see Jeff Lynne's ELO at a very small venue in West London.  Absolutely brilliant!!  And better still, we have found a wonderful babysitter who has lots of experience working with children with special needs.  Hurrah!!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

There's a kind of hush ....

There's a kind of hush, all over the world, sang The Carpenters.  Well, there's a kind of hush in our house at the moment.   There's a distinct lack of meltdowns and major tantrums, no screaming like a banshee, no horrible language, no hitting.  As rollercoasters go, we're in the dip.   We have a chance to take a breather.

It changed a few weeks back after what I affectionately like to call The Big Weekend.  Two events happened that weekend - Missy's birthday and Brownie Camp.

At first we decided that Missy would only attend Brownies during the Saturday daytime.  We felt a sleepover was too soon, particularly one that wasn't at a family members house.  Anyway, we had her birthday as an excuse and told her we had things planned, like grandma coming over.  But then her best friend joined Brownies and best friend was going for the whole shebang, for both nights. Missy begged me to let her stay over. So, we ummed and ahhed and digested and cogitated and decided that, if she really wanted to, Missy could go for one night.  Two nights just wouldn't work anyway, what with her birthday.  She was over the moon.

Then the build up started.  Missy had already been overly excited for her birthday since the beginning of the year.  I'm not joking. She's already talking about what she wants to do next year and who might come along!  Then the meltdowns started, about three weeks before the weekend.  Worry at bedtime, screaming at the top of her voice, meltdowns, trashing her room, anxiety to the nth degree, backchat, threats, hitting, biting, throwing things at me.  You know what, I can't even describe it.  I'm sure other adopters will get the picture.  Maybe think of a feral cat angry at being caged up.   We knew what the anxiety was about - birthday and her first sleepover without us there.  She cried that she wouldn't get a cuddle or hug from us at Camp, we knew she'd be worried about finding the toilets at night, worry about would we miss her.  She even asked if we would have a celebration party when she came home.  We tried our best to be therapeutic, talk about every scenario, talk about what we'd do when she came home.  I had a word with Brown Owl and ensured she was in the same dorm as her best friend.  I spoke to her keyworker and explained how anxious she was.  I apologised to neighbours for the hideous sounds coming from the house every day and, no, nobody was being strangled.  Bless, they were lovely, always are.

We started to think it was a BAD idea suggesting she could go for a night and we should have stuck by our first decision.  I felt guilty that we had put Missy in this position.  We should have just stayed with the original plan of her only going for the day. But we couldn't go back - any suggestion  of not going, of it being fine for her to decide to stay at home was ok by us, just made it worse and she'd be sobbing and begging to go.

So the Big Weekend arrived.  Naturally she couldn't sleep the night before her birthday, or the night before that, or that..  But she had a lovely day.  A quiet day on the whole, we just went out with one friend for tea.  The next day we had to be at Brownie Camp for 10am.  Missy was a little quieter than usual.  We knew she'd be ok during the day, it was just nighttime was the big worry.

We arrived at Camp - a place where the Brownies had been before so at least she knew the layout - and immediately saw her best friend.  We unpacked her stuff, gave her a massive hug, took a deep breath and left.  I kept my mobile phone close all day.

Daddy and I enjoyed a rare night out together, just local though, no more than 10 minutes away.  No calls from Brown Owl thankfully.

When we walked in next day to collect them, Brown Owl tapped me on the shoulder and told me she had been absolutely fine.  And indeed she had.  She LOVED it.  What a MASSIVE RELIEF.   I think the fact she'd missed her group's washing up duty had pleased her from the start.  She'd made lots of arty crafty stuff, ate lots of sweets, made new friends and gone to bed very late after watching Annie (yeah, I know, bet Brown Owl didn't think about that one - luckily Missy loves the film).  She can't wait to go next year for two nights and, you know what, all being well I think she'll be fine.

So since then, there have been no meltdowns, no violence, no piercing screams - just a calmer Missy*.  There are no eggshells to avoid.  Nothing is being thrown or broken.  It's a happier house to be in.

* Missy's 'calm' is of course not a usual 'calm', still a level of anxiety remains.

Friday, 23 October 2015


The theme this week on The Adoption Social is smile. So on the way to school this morning I casually asked Missy what makes her smile. Missy told me she smiles a lot when:

- her best friend makes her laugh
- when Daddy tickles her
- when Mummy gives her a big hug

So I hugged her tightly and she beamed and she giggled.

We then walked the rest of the way into school singing:

When you're smilin', keep on smilin'
The whole world smiles with you
When you're laughin, keep on laughin'
The sun comes shinin' through.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Top 10 adoption books chosen by children

Coram, an adoption charity, have put together this National Adoption Week a wonderful list of the top 10 children's books chosen by adopted children.  Most of the books have an adoption theme, some have the theme of being different. The children, of many different ages, have picked books that they can most identify with.

It's a great idea, particularly as the list has been compiled by children, and not by adults who might include what they think should be included.

From Coram's list, we have the Nutmeg books, which I know Missy likes, although we haven't read it for a while. She also loves Charlie & Lola.  Interestingly, although Charlie & Lola are not adopted, the author, Lauren Child, is an adopter.

There's a couple of books on the list that I think I'll get for Missy which are 'The Most Precious Present in the World' by Becky Edwards and 'Morris and the Bundle of Worries' by Jill Seeney.

Interestingly, Missy's current book of choice that she picked from the library is called The Abandoned Kitten, about a family who look after kittens from the RSPCA, kind of foster parents to the cats.  Another favourite story of hers is Matilda by Roald Dahl in which Matilda's parents really don't care about her and in the end she is adopted by her teacher.  Missy also loves Paddington who ends up living with another family.

So what's your favourite adoption themed book to read with your children, or be read by them?  Do you use books to help your child understand their worries and anxieties related to adoption?

To find out more about the work of Coram, please go to www.coram.org.uk

Monday, 19 October 2015

National Adoption Week - 'Too Old at 4?'

It's National Adoption Week and the theme this year is finding home for older children aged four and upwards. Older children may be in siblings groups, having additional needs or from minority groups and there is currently a shortage of adopters coming forward.

This image, taken by Mary McCartnery, is being projected onto various buildings around England this week to promote National Adoption Week.

It seems crazy to think of a four year old as an older child but that's the way it is in adoption.  I didn't even realise that until after we were matched with Missy.   Many adopters would like a baby or toddler, for lots of reasons - experience having a baby even if the mother didn't give birth, maternal instincts, not missing out of 'firsts'.

For us, although we were approved for a child aged 0-5, I think we always swayed towards an older child and as soon as we saw the photos of Missy, we knew she was the child for us.  Government figures have shown that, sadly, older child can remain in care far longer than those under 4, a fact which makes me so sad when thinking about Missy in care.

Having not been removed from birth family until she was an older pre-schooler, she has vivid real life memories of the home she used to live in and what it was like at times.  I'm not saying babies and young toddlers won't but their memories will be further in their subconscious.  But in a way this has helped us when helping Missy with her anger and anxiety and understanding of why she was removed.

If you are thinking about adopting an older child and worried about missing out on firsts - don't worry! There are still loads of firsts, some for just the child, some for you as a whole family.  We still had the first tooth to come out, first advent calendar and Christmas stocking at Christmas, first time on a plane, first time she said "I love you" to us, first time she swam 5m and many many more.  Then there's a big one for all of us - first time she called someone Daddy.  There are really so many firsts.

Whether I would have had post-adoption depression if we'd adopted a baby, who knows, but having an older child who soon went to school meant I soon had the invaluable me-time that I needed.

Missy came to us having already had five years to form her values and beliefs and it has certainly not been easy at times - regular readers of this blog will know that for sure! - but we've had some wonderful times so far, lots of laughter and smiles with many more to come.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Summer's out, school's back

So we had a pretty good summer, some great days out, a few play dates, a fab holiday abroad and a few nights camping, all sprinkled with a small dose of tantrums.  Much the same as last year really.

One thing I did notice with Missy, particularly on our holiday, was how young she can act at times. She went through a phrase of speaking much like a toddler, and seeing her play with friends in the pool, at times she seemed much younger than her 7 years.  On the last day, I had a very interesting chat with a lady around the pool who is a primary school teacher, the only person to whom I talked about adoption. She had noticed that Missy was always clocking what the other kids were doing, where they were, who they were talking to and at times how she would be exceptionally clingy with some children.  

I really like that Missy has a lot more confidence at her age than I did (I was very shy) and she is great at making friends, but this area of friendships does also appear to be one where Missy can stumble a little or make inappropriate choices. It's probably the main area that school pick up on so we'll see how she fairs in this new school year.

Talking of school, Missy has been back three days.  She wasn't too worried about going back, in fact she was really looking forward to it.  I really didn't see any sign of anxiety.  Her teacher is brand new and hadn't heard of attachment disorder (!) so I'm going to give her a week or so to settle down (Missy and teacher!) and then ask to meet with the teacher.  This afternoon the anxiety appeared after school when Missy had a huge meltdown and I found it hard to remain therapeutic.  As I type, four hours later, I'm still a little unsettled.
I'm not looking forward to the winter.  The pattern now is that winter brings with it more deregulation.

In other news, I had sedation last week for an endoscopy.  Wow!  If only I could have sedation every night. I was out like a light!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Another good week, meeting SWs and James Rhodes

I think on balance it's been a good week. Not too much negativity, worries or fears, lots of empathy, taking care and calm ....... and that's just me. So in keeping with my current run of positive posts, here's another one.

It was PE Day at school this week. KS1 don't compete in races, rather in groups they work their way around seven activities such as throwing, balancing, welly wanging and obstacles, collecting points as they go for their respective Houses. It was flippin' hot this week but the little ones manages so well whilst the parents sought out shade. Missy had a great time and shone in a couple of activities. 

Also this week she attended Brownies with lots of other local scouting and guiding packs for a special activity evening. She is loving Brownies, making friends which is great since no one else from her school goes (although her best friend will be going once she moves). Several of her friends go to Beavers instead, going up to Cubs imminently, but I felt Missy was better suited to Brownies.  She's going to be enrolled soon which is going to be emotional.

Another positive this week is a meeting I had with SS to assess our needs. I was glad to see one of the senior SWs was meeting with me - she is lovely and came to my rescue about a month after Missy came home. We discussed the highs and lows of the last year, often with me in tears. I was quite glad to cry actually because I often hold back on the tears when talking to people who really don't get it.  After taking copious notes, they are now going to consider what might be best for Missy/us - this may take a while as they have to go via managers but I'm hopeful for some good support seeing as CAMHS was, in turned out in the end, as useful as a chocolate teapot. Counselling for me may be an option in the first instance.  

During the meeting I explained my confidence had done a disappearing act. However I was also telling them about some of the good things that have happened over the last year and how delighted we were with Missy in many ways. Lovely SW said we were doing a fantastic job as parents and we weren't to forget it! I think sometimes we do forget how far in some areas Missy has come and we need to remember those things far more than we do.

Another positive comes from school. I've asked if they could use Pupil Premium Plus to pay for music lessons for Missy and HT said yes, no problem.  I love this school!

In other news, I went to see James Rhodes last week talk about his new book and play some amazing music on the piano.  James is a late 30-something concert pianist, going against the tide.  No tails for him, just jeans and trainers.  He's very funny, articulate, passionate.  He's a survivor of childhood rape by his PE Master when he was 6-9 years old.  His book is about his life then and since, his attempted suicide, being sectioned, rehab, his trauma, his passion for the piano.  His passion has kept him alive and his enthusiasm swept over me in waves so much.  He gets trauma.  He understands hypervigilience.  He disassociates.   He is awesome and his story is amazing.  I highly recommend his book - 'Instrumental'.

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