This kid absolutely wanted a mobile phone for his birthday.
He was adamant.
He’d researched and selected absolutely, definitely the one he wanted and would keep forever.
It would make his life complete and he’d never ask for anything ever again.
He was 8, and a phone with minimal operations and features seemed like a reasonable gift.
Feel free to disagree.
Grandad was the designated giver.
Birthdays are fraught with emotion, expectation and adrenaline but we’d learnt through trial and disaster that it was best to keep the whole thing low key.
The phone was handed over and unwrapped.
In spite of the build up, the response from the kid was underwhelming.
We’d anticipated this.
Traditionally, recalcitrant children are forced to mumble a Thank-you to their grandparents on receipt of a present.
I’m sure we have all witnessed this traditional rite of passage.
True to form, the kid took the phone, dropped the age appropriate wrapping paper on the floor and wandered off as if none of us were there.
We all shrugged.
Grandad stayed for a cup of tea, a slice of cake and then said he had to get back to watch Countdown.
So far, so good.
Later that afternoon, the Little Kid had taken himself into the garden.
He’d become quite adept at entertaining himself, and we were grateful for this.
He came in without his phone.
He had the look of someone who was not in the mood for either small talk or a deep discussion.
He’d smashed the phone to sh*t, and it lay in pieces on the patio.
He wanted the phone and he liked phones.
The answer makes sense when you understand his journey.
The Little Kid did not believe he was worthy of a gift, any gift.
His internal narrative went something like this:-
‘My Mum and Dad didn’t love me enough to look after me.
They chose alcohol, drugs, abusive partners and chaos over me.
Therefore, I am not worthy of love.
I am, quite literally, unloveable.
If anyone does something lovely for me it goes against my very core belief, and it simply doesn’t make sense.
Therefore, I will reject love’.
This would explain why he would invariably destroy anything that suggested he had worth or value.
The furniture in his room, his books, his photos, his toys and his phones all had a limited life expectancy.
Any award certificates from school were ripped to shreds.
This behaviour is not universal amongst kids in care, but I think it’s not uncommon.
Self esteem is invariably low.
This kid was taken into care when he was three.
I think we’d naively thought that the impact of abuse was lessened if a child has no memories of it.
I think it’s a common belief that the earlier a child is removed from a toxic home the better.
I think generally this is true.
But just because something can’t be remembered doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an effect.
In the world of fostering and adoption there’s a view that the first 1000 days of life are crucial.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, this does not take a child up to the age of three.
The 1000 days begins at conception.
The damage that some kids experience starts in their mother’s womb.
If she drinks or take drugs, the unborn child is impacted.
The child may be born addicted to alcohol or drugs.
If the mother is the victim of domestic abuse and violence and lives in a toxic world of chaos, her cortisol and adrenaline shoots up, and passes in to her unborn child.
I’m not a scientist (Biology O Level Grade C) but I think my understanding is more or less founded in fact.
The child may emerge from the womb already predisposed to fight or flight with far more adrenaline at their disposal than you or I will ever have.
The idea that the kid won’t remember the abuse because they were too young may be true, but it doesn’t mean that their body hasn’t kept the score.
It’s wishful thinking to believe the child has escaped unscathed.
Couple this damage done in the womb with intense feelings of rejection and low self esteem, and you potentially have a very, very unhappy child.
My understanding is that some of these things can be managed but never fully resolved.
The damage caused by alcohol (foetal alcohol syndrome) is particularly vicious for example.
However, I think you can help a child believe they are worthy of love, and worthy of a phone.
It just takes time, and possibly more patience than you ever thought existed.
You’ll have to accept destruction, anger and very possibly some violence.
You’ll take a couple of steps forward only for some trigger to send you hurtling back down the Snakes and Ladders Board.
Although glacial, you will make progress.
This last birthday the same kid, now five years older, received a phone for his birthday.
He’s still got it.
It’s six months until his next birthday.
Now, that’s progress.