There aren’t many things worse than leaving the beach.
You’ve had a lovely time but now it’s over.
You need to schlepp everything back to the car, if you remembered where you parked it.
Your whole party will be loaded down with buckets, spades, shoes, wet towels, an empty thermos and possibly a deflated inflatable. As you stagger across the sand and pebbles, you’ll be shedding socks whilst simultaneously scratching the sand that’s made its home in your nether regions. If you’re really really unlucky you’ll be carrying an irritable child on your sunburnt shoulders.
After one such lovely day, ourselves and some friends made it back to our Vauxhall Astra, the preferred car for the larger than average family.
The change in location and activity was initially going well, but as if simultaneously alerted by an inaudible signal, each child was triggered and began to deregulate.
One child began to sprint back in the direction of the beach (Flight).
One child refused to get in the car, kicking, screaming, swearing, spitting (Fight).
One child stood, transfixed to the spot, starring into the middle distance (Freeze).
One child lay down, covered himself in his sodden towel and pretended he wasn’t present (Flop). This Flop response had the added complication of him lying in the middle of a zebra crossing. As the traffic backed up in both directions, I scooped him up, nodded apologetically in the direction of the cars, and nonchalantly popped him in the very back row of the car seats. I like to think I looked like I knew what I was doing.
No one likes leaving the beach, but leaving the beach with children who have suffered significant trauma, can bring a whole other level of excitement.
Kids who have suffered trauma generally cannot cope well with change.
In fostering and adoption, changing from one thing to another is called ‘transition’.
Change, or transition, is inevitable.
A transition can be an event of enormous significance. A child leaving one home and going to live in another home is an obvious example. Such transitions are managed as carefully and as thoughtfully as possible and may include strategy meetings involving a variety of social workers, school professionals, health professionals and other people whose roles are so complicated that just have initials (IRO).
Or, the transition can be as simple as leaving their bedroom and coming down for tea.
New schools, new teachers, new clothes, new updates to phones, new updates to computer games, new branding to our favourite sweets or toys and new packaging to our favourite noodles have all sent us into a tailspin.
I think foster and adoptive parents learn to scan the horizon for these transitions.
We have learnt to spot the triggers and recognise the deregulation.
As far as we can, we predict and manage the transition, reducing the ‘change’ to its bare minimum.
More importantly, and with a view to the future, we are also trying to help our Little Man manage transition himself.
Our strategy is simple.
Be here, be present, be predictable, teeter on being boring, be where you said you’d be at the time you said you’d be there. Even when your child’s deregulation sends your own adrenaline sky high, be a safe person for them.
Our Little Man has been with us for 9 years.
He’s been at the same school for 5 years.
He has the same van driver and the same van escort as last year.
He knew a new school term was approaching.
He began to self manage his own anxiety. He took control of what he could control, in order to ignore what he couldn’t.
He organised his ‘phone collection’.
Transition is still hard, but it’s not as hard as it has been.