Therapeutic parenting and CPV

I've been doing some thinking this evening.

I've not had a brilliant day today; nothing out of the ordinary - not our ordinary anyway - apart from the fact that I had a big work thing this weekend (the sort that is a year in the planning) and that I think all the holding-myself-together that I've been doing for the last few months came suddenly and spectacularly apart at the seams. I finally let myself think the unthinkable in a way I'd never really done before, and not only that I went and admitted it to both Tickle's Social Worker and our Adoption Social Worker.

So this evening I'm worn out, and I've got a hell of a headache from crying for six hours, but I do feel a tiny bit relieved to at least have got it out in the open. Our Social Worker was practical and solid. She asked questions and she took a lot of notes. We formulated a bit of a plan of what we were going to do over the next few days, and she's going to come and visit again next week. Tickle's SW was predictably less helpful, though she was at least sympathetic. She brought up the topic of disruption before I did (although she didn't actually say the word) and sort of in a way that made me feel a bit like the placing LA are still just waiting for us to admit we have had enough.Though to be fair to her that might be because I'm still a bit oversensitive after Horrid Social Worker. But then to be fair to me, she did say stupid things like "I don't think we want to do respite because we think he will feel like he is being sent away" in the same breath as saying we should make the right decision for our family (i.e. think about sending him away).

Anyway. Anyway. Been trying not to think too much, then doing some thinking, then reading all my lovely Twitter friends' amazing supportive tweets, then thinking some more.

Ever since the first time T bit me (goodness, well over a year ago) we have used the 'stay close' approach to tantrums and violence, believing that Tickle's behaviour is expressing a need, and that need is best met with unconditional love and support, and us showing that we are not going anywhere, no matter what. One of the mainstays of the therapeutic approach to parenting, which has always resonated well with me.

We have had some really great results using this method. Tickle appears to have a secure attachment to me (and I'm pretty sure to Husband too, though I don't have as much anecdotal evidence to hand) where he will seek me out if he is frightened (e.g. out for a scoot and he sees a dog approaching), if he feels upset or worried (e.g. ate his food too fast, choked a bit and freaked himself out), and he asks for cuddles and appears to take comfort from them. He likes me to be with him in new situations, but is usually able to go off and explore himself after a while; on a good day at least.

However, whereas this method has been quite good for Tickle, it does fall down in a couple of key areas. Firstly, it relies totally on Husband or I (or Gran if he's with her) to regulate Tickle's emotions for him when he's out of control. I do believe that over time if we were to continue that he would naturally begin to do this himself once he felt safe, but this brings me on to point two: everything in our home life is centrered around Tickle and this is not sustainable. It was our therapist who first gently pointed out to us quite how much of our daily life revolves around whatever emotion our Little Man happens to be spewing out at any given point, and how exhausted Husband and I have become because of it. Our therapist pointed out that what we are doing for him at home 24 hours a day is essentially what she would usually do in therapy. In other words, great, very much needed, but totally unsustainable as a normal home life.

One of the things I have been desperately asking my Twitter family today is "Is this normal?". Is the level of violence, the frequency, the intensity of it all just somehow normal for adoption? I know everyone finds it tough, everyone is knackered, but is everyone going through the same as us and just handling it better?

I discovered they are not. (All going through it, that is - not all handling it better!) Some are, for sure, but a number of adopters either said said they only (only!) had physical aggression around once a week (or even less), or that they had screaming and meltdowns but no actual violence. I also started to listen carefully to the different approaches people had for for handling the physical hurt, and looking around blog posts and past tweets about CPV. I have to admit I did start to wonder a little whether the people who were the strong advocates of the 'stay close' type of stuff had experienced the same level of violence that we do.

I also read a couple of messages / posts that made me stop and think, and what these life-changing, lightbulb-inducing posts said was: Keep yourself safe.

I do think that our keep close policy has done good work, and has brought us to where we are now. But. I think it may be time to move it on. We actually now have a solid foundation to work from Tickle has probably got as good an attachment and sense of security as he's going to get for the moment, given that he's still terrified of being hurt. He has even tolerated being put to bed by Gran on a number of occasions. He has developed a massively increased vocabulary for talking about his emotions, and has demonstrated that he can occasionally recognise when he is starting (or likely) to escalate. What this approach hasn't given us is a realistic and sustainable balance between Tickle's needs and the needs of the rest of the family.

I have recently noticed Tickle displaying more and more toddler-like emotional behaviours; for example last night he sobbed inconsolably for about twenty minutes because he'd thrown his little lego man and we'd taken it away ("BUT I WAAANNNT STEEEEEVE!''). This is a definite improvement, and moving much more in to the normal range of a child's emotional responses.

Maybe the time is right for us to move in to a more normal - but still developmentally age appropriate - way of dealing with his other emotions. When Fairy was that age I managed to teach her to take some calming down time in her room if she felt upset, to the point where by aged four or five she had learned to use that as her method of choice for coping with her own tantrums. ("I'M NOT COMING DOWNSTAIRS MUMMY BECAUSE I'M NOT CALM ENOUGH YET!"). The added bonus of this method of course it that it takes Husband and I out of the firing line, and may eventually even allow us that bit of extra headspace we are crucially missing.

We'll have to be a little careful I think. Mindful of his background still, and not using isolation as a punishment, but more offering him the choice to have a squeeze, or to take some time to calm down in his room, and explaining that if he physically hurts anyone that choice will be removed in order to keep everyone safe.

I think it's going to be a slog. Left to himself he doesn't calm down, he escalates, so if this is the approach we choose we will have to be prepared to see it through. There are a few books and toys that I think will be put somewhere safe - the ones that are hand me downs in particular, as I'd find it hard if they were destroyed, as I'm anticipating his room will be at some point. We'll have to decide whether we'd wait outside, whether we'd hold the door if necessary.

Time for some dinner, then Husband and I can have a chat. Or rather, he can read this blog post. ;)


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