On Day Three we learnt about the power of narrative and storytelling for helping traumatised children make sense of things. Many of our children are never of their own free will going to offer to explore their feelings, or admit to doing something naughty, or going to want to look into their past. They will rage and kick and break. They are hostage to their rages and we can become hostage to them too if we are not careful. We need to bridge the gap between the rage and the feelings on their behalf, help them explore their most shameful feelings, in an accepting way.
I have been trying to use narrative for some time now with some success. When I have not been successful it has been because I have not bought myself time, my thermostat has flipped out and I have dived right in there with something angry and shaming. I am learning to step back and plan a strategy, even if I am boiling mad.
I am finding Dan Hughes’ ‘I wonder’ questions the best place to start. So instead of saying(or maybe I’m sorry to say ‘shouting’),
‘I CAN’T BELIEVE you’ve taken a ten pound note, which is MINE and HIDDEN it in your school bag, that’s STEALING, the POLICE come when grown-ups STEAL,’
I tried removing said ten pound note and thinking on it for a while, away from him lest his ‘cocky’ behaviour set me on a path of mutual destruction. I found that in a few minutes of thinking time I worked out why he might have taken the money, what it was he wanted. I also remembered what I had learnt earlier in the course, that due to their missed development our children are impulsive and can’t see ahead to consequences (oh that cruel double whammy). Quite quickly I wasn’t projecting ahead ten years and imagining a criminal mastermind, I was empathising with him.
‘I wonder why you wanted the money? I’ve been thinking you might really have wanted to buy those trading cards and I can understand that.’
He went bright red in the cheeks and went for an immediate denial.
‘Nothing bad is going to happen and I love you and we will talk and sort everything out after school.’
He went to school without any further murmur of denial or any rage. When I picked him up from he bus stop that afternoon, he got in the car and muttered ‘sorry ’bout earlier’. This might not sound much like a breakthrough, but it is chez Donovan.
‘Thank you for apologising. Now would you like a takeaway for tea and we’ll sort everything out?’
He was ecstatic and yet the thought crossed his mind ‘mum’s gone mental, I’ve done something terrible and she’s taking me to buy Chicken Korma’.
In short, we heated our curries, ate them at the table, explored the lure of the trading cards and why we don’t take things from each other. I employed all my best curious and empathetic techniques and the narrative was the key. Lest the super nannies out there think I’ve been a total fool, I also gave him some chores to do as a consequence, some things I know he enjoys and we can do together.
In happy, well-attached families with birth children I can see that the short-sharp or even long and drawn out punishments might be effective responses to taking money. For us, we must never forget shame. Our children are full of shame and if shame is raised their behaviours only escalate (trust me on this one).
Once the vacuuming consequence has been carried out I must remember narrative again. I must tell Jamie the story back starting of course from ‘you’ve been doing really well lately’, moving to ‘and then I found some money had been taken’, then on to ‘but you apologised and that was great’ summarising with ‘and then we talked about it over our curries’ and concluding with ‘and you’ve done that vacuuming really well’.
At the time of writing he has been calm at home for three days, which is something of an achievement. If we can make it over the weekend I’ll be singing and dancing.
Sally, I love this idea of using narrative. My dd finds it so hard to reflect on anything at all – things she has done, her adoption, her friendships (aagh, I don’t even want to think about her friendships) and it seems as though using narrative would be a way to help her become a little bit more thoughtful. And given that her shame levels are off the scale, if I can help her put any negative moments into perspective for her, that might minimise her shame. Sometimes I picture her like a ball in a pinball machine – she ricochets through her life, terrified of seeing where she’s been or where she’s going. Narrative might just slow her down a bit. Fingers crossed!
Your pin ball machine analogy rings so true for me. It can become hard to see the wood for the trees. I was given some great advice – to forget a lot of the small stuff and focus in on a few larger issues and then, as you say, slow things down. Often our children seem so ‘wired’ that they can’t be processing much at all, beyond feelings of lack of safety and survival.
Thank you for your comment.
I think you’ve done really well there. It seems like it might be quite hard to do – not so much because of remaining calm yourself – but having the insight and clarity for your wonderings to be relevant …
Well done – lots for me to think on there.
Thank you. I am having to learn to check my own immediate reactions and remain calm. Interestingly J says he can tell me more things now because I won’t shout.
Thanks for commenting.
Three great posts Sally. Incredibly informative and helpful. Thank you for sharing the course you are doing. I will definitely be using more narrative in my parenting in the future and will see if I can get hold of a book by Dan Hughes to aid me. Keep up the amazing work xx
This is a wonderful post. We have not got our child yet, but I am a little nervous that the techniques I have used to ‘discipline’ (if that is the right phrase) the Children we look after will be redundant. We have signed up for a TAPPS class during the summer, I am hoping this will help. Keep up the good work though, it is definately useful for thge likes of us.