My Son, John Terry and That Word.

Last weekend my son experienced an episode of what he refers to as ’Red Brain’ and called his father a c**t.  He called him a w****r as well, but it was c**t which propelled us to the apex of offensive language and which left Rob feeling, well, rather mentally beaten about.  Once Red Brain had died down, Jamie was mortified that he had directed this language at his dad.  But the words had been said: the toothpaste was out of the tube.

During Jamie’s next therapy session a few days later, the esteemed Mr R, Social Worker and specialist in all things child trauma-related, enquired about how the previous week had been.

‘Jamie’s Red Brain came out shouting and screaming and he called his dad some bad things.’

‘Is that right Jamie?  What did you call your dad?’

The hood went up and all he could manage was ‘dunno’.

‘So Sally, could you tell me what Jamie called his dad?’

I am no prude and am fond of a good swear now and again but to use the ‘c’ and the ‘w’ words in polite company is well out of my league.

‘Go on, say them,’ said Mr R.

‘Well, he called Rob a w****r and a c**t.’

I folded my arms and blushed.  Jamie looked at me from beneath his hood.  It was a look of disbelief.

‘Oh I see, so Jamie, you called your dad a c**t and a w****r?  That’s big stuff.  It doesn’t get much worse than that does it?’


‘My guess is it’s difficult to hear those words and they make you giggle a bit don’t they?  Shall we hear then again?  C**t.  W****r.’

More laughter. My spirit momentarily left my body, as it does when life becomes too bizarre and it suspects the involvement of mind-altering drugs.  It floated around just under the ceiling and spoke to me.    Yes, there really is a social worker in your sitting room saying ‘c**t’ and ‘w****r’ over and over.  Your son is laughing as though it’s all a big joke.  Your life has jumped off the tracks.

We then moved on to the crux of the matter.

‘So how much further do you need to go before mum and dad give up on you?’

I winced at the directness.  Jamie rolled himself into a ball.

‘Sally, I’ll ask you.  How much further will Jamie have to go before you give up and put him into care?’

‘I’m not going to give up.  It’s bad news for Red Brain, but Rob and I are very determined people and Jamie part of our family for good.’

‘Did you hear that Jamie?  Mum says she’s not going to give up on you?’


‘We’ve got to deal with Red Brain haven’t we and it’s a team effort.  We have to help you learn to deal with your anger, because you’re going to grow up and have relationships and maybe have children and you don’t want Red Brain to be around for that.  I’ve worked with lots and lots of children like you.  You’re not on your own.  And I can tell you that things will get easier.  You’re a clever boy.  You’ll be able to work out this difficult stuff, with help from your mum and dad and me.’


After the session Jamie and I went to collect Rose his sister, from school.  He talked all the way, about children he knows who are living for one reason and another without their parents.  He talked about how sorry he was that he called his dad such terrible things.  He said over and over how much he loves us all.

The past few days have been the calmest the Donovan household has experienced for months.  As advised by Mr R I have checked in with Jamie regularly, so he gets the message that calm behaviour doesn’t mean he is out of mind.  During a quiet hour I decided to take some time for myself.  I brewed a pot of tea, sank into the sofa, put my feet up, opened the Saturday newspaper and there, in all its fully spelled glory was ‘c**t’.  I marvelled at the offensive verbal synchronicity going on.  I hvae experienced times when the same word crops up in lots of different situations, over several days, as though the great up above is trying to tell me something.  I remember ‘toothbrush’ one time and ’sandwich’.  But ‘c**t’?

The coverage of the John Terry trial showed the nation that it is apparently quite the most usual thing for footballers to call each other this in the heat of the moment on a Saturday afternoon.  Where Terry came unstuck was in allegedly calling Anton Ferdinand a ‘black c**t’, thus bringing about a charge of racial abuse.  Terry’s defence that he was merely repeating back and questioning words first uttered by Ferdinand was a clever one and yet to my mind had the whiff of a school boy excuse about it.  It introduced just enough doubt and the judge found Terry not guilty.  It is not clear where the verdict leaves football and it’s efforts to clean up the game and tackle racism.

Right and wrong are a little less muddied in our house.  Jamie is learning that his past may be a reason for his red brain behaviour, but it is not an excuse.  There are consequences for using that word which don’t include being put back into care.  At least he didn’t try and excuse himself with ‘but John Terry …..’.

‘Don’t Give Up On Me.’

‘Mummy, can we stop at the Garden Centre on the way home from school?  I want to buy daddy a can of coke with my own money.’

It was Friday afternoon and I was feeling myself tensing up in expectation of another brutal weekend of sabotage.  When we got home my son Jamie asked to use the computer and told me he was doing something secret and I was to keep out.

‘I am making a Power Point presentation.’

Twenty minutes later he called me and asked me to sit in front of the screen.

‘I’ve made this for you and dad.’

‘SORRY’ said the opening slide amongst animations of little people crying and banging their heads against rocks.

Then ‘I KNOW IT’S BEEN DIFFICULT’ above a man collapsed with exhaustion.

‘PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP ON ME’ said the final slide.

‘Jamie, me and daddy are never ever going to give up on you.  We are your mum and dad forever.’

He looked at me with watery eyes.

‘You’ve been pushing me and daddy so hard lately.  I think maybe you’ve been testing to see if we will ring social services and ask them to take you away.’

‘I don’t mean to do it.’

‘I know.’

We had a hug and I told him that it would be the end of my world if he ever left our family. Then we drank hot chocolate and watched an episode of Malcolm in the Middle together.  We’ve been bonding over Malcolm in the Middle.  Jamie likes Dewey.  I am Lois.

‘I feel like I am coming out of a long, dark tunnel,’ says Jamie.

He lets me hold his hand.


Last Sunday evening, when we would normally have been watching Secret Millionaire or reading the papers, Rob and I hit the rocky bottom of parenting and adoption.  I hope it was rock bottom but it may not have been.

Our son, so affable and personable in public, becomes possessed by something he calls his red brain at home.  I’m relieved the outside world doesn’t see much of red brain, but Rob and I have experienced enough of it.  Red brain appears to have read the best works of Dan Hughes, Kim Golding and Bruce Perry and is working its way around the A to Z of attachment difficulties and developmental trauma.  Aggression and Anger rock up regularly, Blaming, Controlling, Demanding are constants. Lying, Messing, Opposition, Sabotage, Stealing, Violence are frequent and unwelcome visitors.

Last Sunday Rob and I sat on our bed and looked into each others tear-filled eyes, haunted by the remembered fragments of another hideous weekend at the end of a horrific week.

‘I cannot live like this,’ said Rob.

We soothed each others wounds and hatched a rough plan.  We decided to keep our son off school the following day, to lay out some fresh ground rules and to call out for help.  It may seem counter-intuitive to keep a child at home who has brought us close to the brink, but parenting children with developmental trauma is highly counter-intuitive at times.

We came up with a list detailing how life is going to change.  Jamie initially rolled up into a ball and refused to listen.  Eventually he unfurled, engaged and then agreed that what we were laying out seemed right.  I sat him in front of the computer and set him about typing the list in his own words.  What he wrote was moving and demonstrated how badly he had needed us to scream ‘ENOUGH’.

Close supervision, reduced school hours, zero tolerance of verbal abuse and violence and plenty of time in with one parent are key parts of our plan for Jamie.  For Rob and I; some respite and a cry of help to Social Services.  Our daughter, who so often gets forgotten in all this, gets more time with either Rob or I and only supervised time with her brother, whose jealousy of her so often results in a sneaky kick or a punch.

There has been a slow improvement and this weekend was the first for a long time without a major incident.  To maintain calm and prevent drama takes an amount of strength and tenacity I would never have believed I possessed.  It feels like waking up every day and running a marathon. At low times I find myself doubting whether I will be able to last the course and then am immediately seized by a deep and terrifying guilt for even considering failure.

Meanwhile, as our family and many others like us buckle under the strain of parenting children who have suffered neglect and abuse in their early lives, the silence ringing out from the government on the much hailed subject of the reform of post-adoption support is deafening.  There is plenty of inconsequential noise; all children are to be ‘improved’ by receiving a free bible and learning poetry by rote.  I would go and see my MP, write some letters, organise a demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament, but right now I’m far too tired.  In the future, well who knows?

I Meet Dan Hughes

Several months ago I was tweeting about a book I was reading and finding particularly useful:  Attachment-Focused Parenting by the American Child Psychologist Dan Hughes.  Every community of people bound by an experience has its heroes and Dan Hughes is a hero to many of those living and working with the child survivors of neglect and abuse.  His work provides an oasis amongst the scrap yard of chronic misunderstanding.

A tweeter replied,
‘He’s speaking at our conference.  Would you like to come?’
It was the best offer I’d had in a while.

The hall was packed with psychologists.  An optimism of psychologists might be an appropriate collective noun.  They were welcoming and friendly.  There was a sprinkling of adopters and foster carers.  We looked like we had been let out on day release.

Dan Hughes showed some DVD clips to illustrate his approach.  He is relentlessly curious with the children he works with, does not judge or blame, shows them that he gets why they are so angry with the hand life has dealt them, and then bravely steps into what has become for the child and often the adults around them, a no man’s land – the past.  He helps children to make sense of their lives, gifts them with an alternative narrative which counters their own ‘I am bad’ toxic interpretation.

The day was great but one thing gnawed at me.  My ongoing experience of adoption is one of sparse support.  Here I was amongst a roomful of several hundred psychologists and therapists.  Where do they work?  Why have I never come across them before?  There were two other eminent speakers; Colwyn Trevarthan and Graham Music.  They talked of work going on within the NHS where no one said ‘children are very robust’ nor ‘all we can offer is a prescription for ADHD medication’ nor ‘here’s my invoice’.  Have I just not fought hard enough I wondered.

I took the opportunity to ask Dan Hughes a question.

‘I have an adopted son who is 11.  We have a good relationship and we have made progress over the years.  But since he started secondary school he has become more and more challenging.  He is now refusing to eat, to wash, to go to bed.  He has aggressive and violent outbursts.  I’m trying close supervision but he hates it.  Where do I go from here?’

I wanted to be brief so I didn’t mention the stealing, the insatiable desire for sugar and the sexualised talk.  I kicked myself that my voice had betrayed so much emotion. Dan’s response was useful and helped me to mentally pull myself out of the mire.  But he mentioned the need for therapeutic support.

‘I have to say that the only therapeutic support we receive is what we pay for privately,’ I said, my voice bumping over another clot of emotion.

There were open mouths and a chasm of hopelessness engulfed the room.  I felt bad for raining on the parade.  But these things have to be said.  As we packed up to go home other adopters approached me.  It was no surprise that they were telling stories with the same themes; vulnerable and damaged children, traumatised carers, lack of support.  I wish we had had more time to talk.

I understand there are signs the government’s adoption reforms might be slowing now that the measures and scorecards (aka the cheap and easy stuff) are being put into place.  It is not so easy to measure human struggle in black and white terms, less easy still for the worn down to prove that they need help.  For me it’s a no-brainer but I think I can guess where this is going.

Thanks to everyone I met yesterday.  It was a joy to be amongst you all!

Ob La Di, Ob La Da (The ‘MUM!’ Version)

(To be sung with a lilting reggae rythmn.)

Son he is my darling and my number one,
He came to me at three and a half.
He a big boy now, he is my lanky honeybun
But he still need me for a hug up and a laugh.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on, yeah. La la la la life goes on.

In fact he need me very, very often,
He don’t like it when I’m not in play.
He need me to be close and to be present tense,
Every flippin’ minute of the day.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, it goes on, yeah.  La la la la it goes on.

I tell him there are times when I cannot talk,
In the toilet, on my bike, on the phone.
He just cannot take it, he just have to stalk
Me and then on and on and on and on he drone.

 Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, it goes on and on.  La la la la on and on.

‘Son’ I say ‘I’m on the phone please wait a while,
I won’t be long I talkin’ to my mum.’
Son he just can’t bear it it just killin’ him,
And so he stand there he and shout ‘now mum just come’.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, on and on and on.  La la la la on and on.

‘Son I’m in the toilet I’ll be very quick.’
I’m hoping for a quiet piss in peace.
He stands outside the door and he shout and knock,
And when I finish he can’t tell me what it is.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, bloody on and on.  La la la la on and on.

‘Right I need a shower, are you happy here?’
‘Yes mum I am watching somethin’ fun.’
I get changed and stand under the water clear,
And then it starts up ‘Mummee, mum, mum, mum,’

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, on and on and on.  La la la la on and on.

‘Let’s do something fun’ I say, ‘let’s read or cook,
Or maybe go outside and have a run’.
‘No that’s OK mummy I am far too bored.’
But he will sit just out of reach and holler ‘MUM!’

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, it goes on and on.  La la la la on and on.

A friend she come for chat and a cup of tea.
Son he happy playin’ with a mate.
But soon as she come knockin’, he wants only me.
And he talk nonsense which I really, really hate.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, it goes on and on.  La la la la on and on.

Sometime he just ‘mummy mum mum mum’ me,
‘Mummy, mummy, mummy,’ all the day.
I used to dream that someone call me ‘mu-u-my’
But now I think just for a moment ‘go away’

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, flippin’ on and on.  La la la la on and on.

People tell me all kids like to do this stuff.
Tell me I don’t know what is right.
I am too polite to tell them they speak guff
And that their ‘expertise’ and them should take a hike.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, it goes on and on.La la la la on and on.

So if you must say something preachy on a message board
‘All children do that’ don’t make any sense.
I love my boy and he my boy forever now
And I know he scared I’ll leave him like the rest

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on and on. La la la la life goes on.

Jubilee Hurricane of Trauma

Our family was hit by a hurricane of massive proportion this bank holiday weekend.  Rob and I were left wondering whether we should have recorded it on film because after the storm has passed, recollections are hazy and confused.

‘No one would ever believe how bad it is,’ said Rob as we sat slumped in front of the television watching the jubilee concert.

‘I know, Alfie Boe’s Elvis impersonation, it’s unforgivable.’

It was not the moment for humour.

‘”Did you have a lovely Jubilee weekend” people at work will ask me. “Wonderful thanks.  My son said he is going to murder me, you and Rose with an axe, laugh as he watches us bleed to death and then commit suicide, SO HE DOESN’T GET INTO TROUBLE.”  I can’t tell anyone what my weekend was really like, because it’s socially unacceptable and I can’t remember it that clearly because my brain has turned to jelly.’

He took another sip of Becks and his head dropped to his chest.

‘And while I’m holding Jamie to prevent him from smashing me in the face he’s shouting “I’m going to ring the police, I’m going to ring Childline because you are hurting me and you don’t care for me properly and they are going to put you in prison and I will be laughing”.  One day he is going to be six feet tall and angry and it scares me.  And no one will believe what it’s like.  And they all say “but he’s a gorgeous boy, so sociable and friendly” as though he couldn’t possibly be capable of anything so violent and aggressive, as though I’m making it all up.’

We watch the crowds going wild for Sir Cliff, who performs a strange arse-slapping move.

‘I just don’t know how I’m going to get over this.  I’m certainly never going to forget it.’

I resist the urge to make a joke at Sir Cliff’s expense.  Rob needs to be listened to and believed.  We heard some terrible things come out of the mouth of our son, some things so awful I will never be able to repeat them, let alone write about them.  Together Rob and I will have to somehow knit them into our experience and continue the task of therapeutic parenting.

We will carry the battle scars from this latest incident, along with the others, collected over the past years.  And they will fade.  The books say that the parents and carers of children who have suffered early neglect and trauma should, after an incident, move quickly to repair.  We’ve made a start, but sometimes it’s just not that easy.

Stop Blaming the Children, Dr Bruce Perry ft. Plan B

Dr Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D, American Child Psychiatrist and Ben Drew a.k.a Plan B, rapper and film maker, may not on the face of it have much in common.

In an interview with Evan Davis on Radio 4’s Today programme broadcast this morning, Plan B talked about the social exclusion of children and young people and the reaction to last summer’s riots.  He runs therapeutic music sessions in a London school with the ‘chavs’ and ‘hoodies’, so often the focus of middle Britain’s rage. He described the enormous challenges facing the children he works with and said,

‘These kids are having to deal with stuff that most adults do not have to deal with.’

Then he explained why the march to stronger discipline doesn’t work for children who are used to being excluded and told they are useless.

Dr Bruce Perry’s research is in the impact upon the young, vulnerable brain of trauma and stress, whether that is due to growing up in fear within violent and neglectful environments or witnessing murder and abuse, in other words, the sorts of children Plan B is working with.  In his book ‘The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog’ in which he describes his experiences of treating such children, he writes,

‘They’d suffered trauma – such as being raped or witnessing murder – that would have had most psychiatrists considering the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), had they been adults with psychiatric problems.  And yet these children were being treated as though their histories of trauma were irrelevant, and they’d “coincidentally” developed symptoms, such as depression or attention problems …..’

We have thankfully reached the position now where adult survivors of trauma, such as soldiers who have fought in battle, are recognised as suffering with stress-induced symptoms. We do not however allow our children the same right.  Where a soldier’s heightened startle reaction, their difficulties being in loud, busy places, is understood and sympathised with, our stressed and traumatised children are expected to get on with it and worse still have their symptoms written off as wilful and listed under ‘naughty’ or ‘disruptive’.  In busy schools, they struggle to concentrate and ‘do what they’re told’ and are then punished, excluded and maybe even medicated.

Those of us who care for some of our nations traumatised children, whether foster carers, adopters, youth workers or social workers will be well aware of this inequality in the rights of our children. The Schools and Education section of the Adoption UK message board gives a tiny snapshot of how they are viewed.  It is a catalogue of punishment, shame, lack of support, inaccurate diagnoses and heartbreak.  Every day I read a list of unsettling search terms which bring readers to my blog.  By
9am this morning one parent had entered ‘adopted son humiliated in front of class’,
the day before came ‘six year old in isolation at school’.

Neuroscience established, thirty years ago that young brains exposed to trauma and stress will produce behaviours in children such as aggression, defiance, anxiety and concentration difficulties.  There is plenty of evidence also which points to the most effective methods, therapeutic methods of healing young minds.  I don’t know why this weighty body of evidence has not trickled down more than it has into education, medicine, social policy and into general public awareness, as it has for adult mental health issues.  It takes some effort to see the world through a child’s eyes, to step away from blame and shame and the moral high ground has always been a more comfortable and familiar place to stand.  We will look back upon this period in history
with shame and wonder how we ever thought it right to discriminate against our
children with such lazy cruelty.

Dr Bruce Perry writes,

‘Ultimately, what determines how children survive trauma, physically, emotionally, or psychologically, is whether the people around them – particularly the adults they should be able to trust and rely upon – stand by them with love, support and encouragement’.

Plan B is doing just that, it’s about time the rest of us joined him.

Therapeutic Parenting, Day Four

Day Four, the final day of the course addressed some of the more extreme behaviours that those caring for children with developmental trauma may bear witness to.  This can be a tricky area, especially during those times when incidents pile one on to another; the danger being that we are frequently drawn into conflict and anger and morphing into either shouty nags or weepy recluses.

Firstly we must pick out the more major incidents and drop the smaller stuff.  I am currently practising the following phrase,

‘There’s five things which have happened, I’m going to deal with two of them and leave the rest.’

I am also waiting for a calmer break in which to deploy,

‘You’re throwing a lot at me at the moment, what is it you want to tell me?’ (expressed with raised but calm energy).

For most of us knackered parents and carers it can be difficult to differentiate and then deal appropriately with the really big stuff, namely the kicking, punching, biting of the brother, sister, dog or whatever.  And this stuff has to be clearly off-limits, unacceptable.  For this we were taught the Dan Hughes 60 Second Scolding, because clearly, when you’ve seen your child kicking their sibling in the head a bland ‘I wonder why you felt the need to do that’ is not, at that moment going to be anywhere near what’s required (although it is something to bear in mind once the storm has blown over).  The 60 Second Scolding acknowledges that when something really major has occurred there is shouting and anger from those around.  But unlike the uncontrolled, five minute, lecturing, head-fit that I am so practised at delivering, this version is short and controlled and focussed on teaching whilst keeping the shame to a minimum.  So it goes something like this,

‘I’m angry because ……., you did ……………, I think this might be why, ……….., it’s not acceptable, ………….tell me about it ………….., this is the consequence……….’

And as we all know from long and bitter experience, the consequence must be specific and related.  I like the ‘you’ll help me clean so and so’s room’, or ‘you can help me tidy the toys’ as it gets useful things done, we bond surprisingly well over cleaning and we can look at our work and feel jointly proud.  Taking things away, in my experience, doesn’t work (the resultant shame hangs over them like a cloud and they will show they don’t give a shit until they have no belongings left, no money and no rights to do anything enjoyable at all).

Our course tutor, the esteemed Mr R is brilliant at all this and has put me back on track many times.  Of all the golden nuggets which he handed out over the four day course I will leave you with this one. We are all human and therefore fallible and none of us was raised to raise children with developmental trauma.  We will therefore make lots of mistakes along the way, which is natural and unless we experiment and practise these techniques we won’t reach our children let alone help them to reduce their shame and process what has happened to them.  So let’s all be kind to ourselves, cut ourselves some slack.

I felt the need to write about this course because I know that many carers and adopters around the country do not get access to such good quality, practical training and they should.  So as the government talks of giving out vouchers for free parenting classes in Boots, remember that we should all have a right to ongoing training and support; we are after all raising some of the most damaged children in our society, and it isn’t child’s play.

Therapeutic Parenting, Day Three

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.

Therapeutic Parenting, Day Two

For those of us caring for and parenting children with Developmental Trauma it is clear that established methods don’t work.  Most of us will have tried warnings, consequences, behaviour systems and ignoring.  Some of these may work, some of the time, but for most of us they don’t work at all and can even make matters worse.  Exhausting the traditional methods leaves the toolbox empty, and parents and children living in a war zone feeling stressed and exhausted.

Shame is central to Therapeutic Parenting because our children are bathed in the shame that what has happened to them is somehow their fault. On top of this they know that life is dangerous, unpredictable and unsafe and that trust and love only make them more vulnerable.  Threaten to take away a toy, or an outing and they will be more convinced still that they are undeserving and bad.  They may appear not bothered, or they may shout and rage at you.  Either way, something’s for sure, they’ll repeat an offense over and over until you gasp ‘nothing works’.

Dan Hughes the American Clinical Psychologist who has done so much to establish effective therapeutic methods of working with traumatised children, advocates the use of PACE.  PACE stands for Playful, Accepting, Curious and Empathetic.  This is the way we must approach and reach our children.  It means that we must try to see the world through their eyes and stay with them through the most difficult times.  We must ask ‘I wonder why you kicked your sister in the leg’ ‘I wonder why that made you so angry’ ‘I noticed that you found that hard’ ‘I wonder what that was about, let’s try to figure it out together’.

It is very hard to do and requires practise but it works.  It helps to reduce the shame and anxiety our children feel and gives them the message that someone is listening and understanding.  Playfulness, humour and fun help our children to see that we experience them as likeable individuals who we choose to spend time with.  That’s not to say that they must learn some behaviours are unacceptable, but even appropriate consequences can be managed using PACE.

All this has been the refresher that I needed and I have learnt some new things too.  The golden nugget of the day was Acts of Random Kindness, little rewards given at unexpected moments because our children exist and not because they’ve done something to earn it, in other words,  because they’re worth it.