Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Look Back at 2013

It’s been lucky 13 for me as this year has been stuffed with highlights like no other.  Personally it has been a relief to see some particularly testing trauma behaviours fading into the background proving that all that therapeutic parenting really was worth it.  Professionally, it’s been the year of my life. These were the some of the best bits:

1.  Celebrating my rather surreal winning of the British Society of Magazine Editors Columnist of the Year Award with Camilla Pemberton.  Gin never tasted so good.

2.  Signing a publishing contract with Jessica Kingsley Publishers and finally seeing my book No Matter What published.  The feedback has been incredible and has demonstrated there is still more work to do to get the support for traumatised adopted children and their families right.

3.  Meeting many wonderful tweeps in real life.  Twitter really can change your life.

4.  Giving trauma a good kick in the ass.  It needs a few more but to strike a blow has been satisfying.

5.  Spending a lovely few days at the home of The Open Nest charity in Whitby with J and R.

6.  The second and third series of ‘Parks and Recreation’.  Ron Swanson, the Godfrey Bloom of local government, is still my comic hero.

7.  The Swedish three-parter ‘Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves‘.  Best television I watched this year.

8. Hearing ‘a year or two ago we couldn’t have called it, but now he’s turned a corner and is doing really well’. Saying that was a relief doesn’t really cover it.

9.  Finishing a cross-channel swim in aid of CLIC.  We did it in the swimming pool.  It took us three months.  It’s a long old way.

10.  Seeing one of my best friends happy and wed.

11.  Standing in the pouring rain watching seals swimming in the shallows at St Ives.  We got so close we could see the smiles on their faces.  As is the way in our family a child was mid-strop at the time, but it didn’t matter.

12.  Seeing Dan Hughes speak (again) at the Adoption UK conference in Birmingham. I’m honestly not stalking him, much.

As this year closes and makes way for another, I must say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone I’ve worked with and made contact with this year.  There is a lot of kindness and warm-heartedness out there and plenty of generosity too.  I know that 2013 hasn’t been easy for some but I wish you all the very best for 2014.

One Christmas, Two Views

I put my hand in Santa’s big bag of Christmas blogs and was lucky to draw out a this gem from Vicki, mum of two, who blogs at The Boy’s Behaviour She is also co-founder of adoption support site

I love Christmas. It’s a happy time of year for me and I want to make it happy and special for my children, but it’s not always that easy…

What I see:

The big pile of presents in the corner, tokens of love and special treats, chosen especially and wrapped with care for those who are loved.

The big tree chosen with care for it’s symmetry and height, smelling fresh and green, perfect for showing off my treasured baubles and decorations collected over the years. Illuminated by my favourite twinkly lights.

The big market, with a range of stalls, selling homemade sweets and treats, beautiful gifts to choose from. Wandering around with my family around me soaking up the atmosphere. With the smells of hot food and garlands of dried orange and cinnamon.

The big tin of sweets, traditional at Christmas time, loved by everyone who sees the bright twists of cellophane all nestled together. Which one shall I choose.

The big display of cards received, from people who know us well, from acquaintances and school friends. Pretty pictures, carefully chosen words, meaningful messages, reminders of people we don’t see so often.

What he sees:

That big pile of presents in the corner, showing off with their shiny paper, and big gold ribbons waiting to be opened. But they’re only for the good ones – am I worthy? Will I get as many as her? Which ones are mine?

The big tree with the sparkly lights and the shiny baubles aiming it’s pointy needles at any arms that dare to brush past. Are they pointy? Do they hurt? I’d better check. OUCH! Those brightly coloured baubles look too good to leave hanging there…don’t they? I’ll just have a look at that decoration there, I can make it look better, hang it somewhere else. SMASH! Heck, now I’m in trouble, I’ll go and hide.

The big market, with people everywhere, at every turn, getting in the way, blocking the stalls. The delicious smells of hot, fresh, sweet donuts, mingled with frying onions for the supersized hot dogs. I want one. I WANT ONE. I don’t want to be here, I want to go home.

The big tin of sweets, it’s there every year but they don’t let me help myself. I have to wait, I hate waiting. The sweets peek at me, I might just sneak a few…they won’t notice. But wait, so many to pick from, which ones do I like? I can’t make a decision. What if I make the wrong decision?

The big display of cards received, from people I don’t know but who know me, from my friends – but not all of them like me enough to send a card, she’s got more than me and likes showing them off. I wonder if my birth mum is going to send me a card?

How to deal with anger, by Jamie

This for the Stig:-

I have experienced the anger you have, I know its horrible. We named the anger “red brain.” Yeah its a horrible thing to grow up with but it gets better honestly  it wont come out as much as you get older. It is NOT your fault so don’t blame it on yourself!!!!

When you feel red brain coming you should just tell your mum or dad and then remove yourself from the situation your getting angry in. When you do have the “red brain” , you say all these words to your mum or dad but they will know its not your fault they might feel a bit hurt or sad (they will recover in a few days) All i do to make up is really this (This might or might not help)

  1. Make them a cup of tea (optional)
  2. Give them a big hug (bears are best) or a big sloppy  kiss (I choose the hug though) (optional)
  3. Say you didn’t mean it (best to do)
  4. DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF (This you have to do)
  5. Snuggle up with your mum and dad and watch T.V (cute….)
  6. Write down your feelings about things


For the mum:-

What the social worker said wouldn’t of helped the situation at all! I don’t know what she meant by call the police but it was a stupid idea and hopefully you wouldn’t do it, it won’t make the situation better it would just make it worse, he won’t feel secure or safe that he is going into someone else’s hands and into the back of a strangers car. When it happens again just sit down and just say I know its not your fault and we still love and care for you no matter what (Might sound a bit strange to say it to the “older group” but it would be fine for the younger group) And maybe get him to say his feelings out loud (it worked for me).

When you get the chance and he is nice and calm just sit him down gradually tell him about his past or why he was removed from is “birth family” Because that has helped me, he will be shocked at first and it will take time to sink in but it will work 99.9%

Hope this works 

P.S Nice name Mr Stig!


Adoption UK Conference: Still Learning from Dr Dan Hughes

I have seen Dan Hughes Ph.D speak on many occasions. I have read his books, watched his DVDs, listened to his CDs and been coached by his disciples.  My book contains an acknowledgement to him because without his work I don’t know where my family would be (actually I think I do, but let’s not go there).

Each time I hear Dr Dan speak I am reminded of something important which had slipped to the back of my mind and I always learn something fresh.  The challenges of raising children with developmental trauma change over time and it has been important for my learning to keep pace with our children’s development.

At the 2013 Adoption UK annual conference I heard Dr Dan speak again.  This is what I took away:

  • There is a part of the pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for performing the tasks we just don’t want to do.  The light bulb marked ‘school work’ lit up and flashed.  Evidently when this part of the brain isn’t fully integrated, it is inefficient and energy sapping, except when the child works in the presence of an attachment figure which greases the wheels and injects motivation.  The attachment figure need not say or do anything, just be there.  This exactly mirrors our experience.  ’GCSEs’ I thought.
  • New skills, particularly for our children, whose brains are rewiring, are not acquired in a linear fashion.  Skills learned one day may not be visible the next, but will show themselves again later.  Progress is inconsistent.  My experience reflects this.  And yet one of my children’s schools has dictated that progress along the Goveian alpha-numeric scale of marvellousness shall now be linear, no excuses.  This is what happens when the bureaucrats hijack education.
  • Healthy toddlers have learned that their primary relationships are trustworthy and for better or worse.  Children with experience of neglect, abuse and broken attachments have not learned this.  They believe in their bones that when there is conflict relationships will fail and they will be discarded or hurt.  It takes a lot of repetition of conflict and repair to help them learn to trust a for better or worse relationship.  It certainly feels that way from where I’m sitting.
  • The neurons which build the bridge in the brain between seeking comfort and relieving distress don’t go away and remain active into older age.  Fantastic.  Bring on the brain plasticity.
  • Using the ‘if’ word.  ’I can see that if you thought I had said ‘no’ because you thought I hated you that would feel terrible.’  Pertinent in our family at the moment.
  • Our children have to be convinced of their goodness in order for them to want to show they are good.
  • Commitment is a big influencer of success.  Our children need to be sure of our long-term, for better or worse commitment.  One of our children has tested this one to the max, the other is just embarking on it.  It feels like an all or nothing battle and it was good to hear Dr Dan confirm what is going on.  I thought it was just a Donovan thing (not that I would wish the experience on anyone else).
  • The adolescent brain is very receptive and undergoing a process of streamlining.  It is a good time to work on the changes we want to brain to make.  I am touching wood as I write this, but so far for us the adolescent years have been a much more fertile ground for therapeutic work than the younger years were.  We have made more progress in the past two years than we ever did.  Real, measurable, pleasurable progress.

I have tried and failed to track down the quotation Dr Dan cited that struck me.  Perhaps it came from the Inuits or Albert Camus or ‘anonymous’, but whoever it was it goes something like this ‘we must hear the song in our children’s hearts and sing it back to them when they’ve forgotten it’.  This is what being a therapeutic parent feels like: sometimes singing until you are hoarse, until there is no music left inside you.  I have at times forgotten my own song, but hearing Dan Hughes reminds me of it again and puts the music back.