My wife used to take it in turns to be the ‘welcoming committee’ when one of our Foster Kids got in from school. As well as being an equitable distribution of task, and an equitable approach to managing our own jobs, neither of us really enjoyed ‘the explosion’ as it was known.
This was a euphemism, but only just.
The first 45 minutes (it seemed a lot longer) of this kid arriving in the house were chaos.
Doors were banged, objects were hurled, Anglo Saxon expletives were tossed with extravagant abandon, and things were punched (rarely people! Hurrah for the smallest of mercies!).
What we were experiencing is not unusual in the world of fostering and adoption.
School reports were all fairly positive and we had never been told of similar behaviour in any other scenario.
The issue only happened at home and only happened with me and my wife present.
We chatted to his teachers.
“He’s good as gold…wouldn’t say boo to a goose….”
Whilst on the one hand reassuring, this was also troubling.
A little research and reflection gave us some clues to what was going on in his troubled mind and heart.
The good news was he felt safe at home. Only with us was he able to express the true level of the anger and fear that gripped his heart.
The less good news is that he was simply ‘masking’ in other situations. What looked like compliant, attentive behaviour was, in fact, freezing or flopping.
This kid had learnt that if you sit very still, and stare into the middle distance, people leave you alone. If you’re a teacher dealing with 30 kids, your focus is inevitably drawn to the disrupters and those wanting to go to the toilet.
This kid was exceptionally good at hiding in plain sight. We can only assume he’d learnt this survival technique somewhere along his journey. Perhaps trauma also played a part. You don’t have to have been a soldier in a combat zone to have a ‘1000 yard stare’.
We began to develop strategies.
You had to be ready at the door on his arrival. You had to cut a fine line between being welcoming and not giving eye contact. Under no circumstances should you engage in chit chat, unless you wanted a cocktail of saliva and swearing.
You had to have the full range of snacks and drinks laid out on the table. For us, this meant every flavour of Doritos.
The TV had to be on.
An iPad, in its full metal, protective jacket, had to be fully charged, along with headphones.
If it wasn’t pouring with rain, the back door could be left temptingly open. As we stayed indoors, our back garden would be left to weather the storm. Trees, fences and the spiny thing for drying clothes were punched, hit and smashed.
Like angry fizzy pop, we had to let the anger out.
This may sound terribly indulgent of a child’s tantrums but it worked for us. And I balk at the word ‘tantrum’.
And very gradually things got a little better.
The 45 minute explosion lasted only 30 minutes.
Spiny drying things in the garden had a survival expectation of months not weeks.
Outbursts still happened but they were short, sharp and generally less aggressive.
I know we have learnt to take a pragmatic approach. If it works, we do it. We don’t care if it fits in with any preferred parenting style.
I’ve no idea if our approach will work for yours.
I know things improved to a point where neither us dreaded ‘coming home time’. That absence of anxiety was a beautiful beautiful feeling.
This little kid felt safe enough in our house to show his true emotions.
I think by offering consistency, stability and routine his fears began to dissipate.
He felt safe and he didn’t need to feel angry.
Well, not as angry.
He still kicks off, but not in a way that bothers us much.