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!!

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