Monday, 26 March 2012

The Poker Face

So we have officially become the Neighbours From Hell. The sort of family that people in adjoining houses bang on the walls at at 4.30am. To be fair I don't blame them at all, I would hate to live next door to us.

Last Monday Girl was having one of her 'must be in control' days. Bedtime is one thing she can easily take control of and has become a bit of a battle of late, though I have been tempted at times we can't exactly chain her to the bed and force her to stay there (and yes, I am kidding about being tempted).

So back to Monday, at bedtime we went through her usual routine and read her story and right as I finished out came the dreaded words that have been so frequent of late 'I don't want to go to bed now so I'm not going to.' I'm sure there is a little sound that resonates around the room as my heart sinks, my stomach flips over and my brain rattles into gear ready to find some quick way to deal with the situation.

Always my first response is to appeal to Girl's better nature and try and jolly her along onto the correct behaviour, unfortunately by the time she has had the thought process of 'I'm not going to bed' it's far too late for any of my silly negotiations (though ever the optimist I live in hope of this working one day) and it is sadly usually followed by a physical attack as the negotiations just make her more angry.

This is where my radical parenting comes into play (well I think it's radical anyway) and I call it the Poker Face manoeuvre and I mostly credit it to my PASW (Post Adoption Social Worker) after something we were chatting about. All along like most other parents I have had the belief that if a child is naughty a consequence or other action such as a time-out or thinking chair should be taken immediately, before the behaviour is forgotten. In my own experience and of talking to other parents and social workers, time-outs do not work for a child with attachment disorder. It is like reinforcing their belief that they are not attached to the caregivers, that they are being further rejected. Time-outs actually make Girl violent with rage, we learned that a long time ago.

The best way to deal with Girl's anger is to manage it before it happens, unfortunately this is easier said than done. Reward charts and consequences do not work for us so to manage the behaviour  we have to be aware of triggers such as an exciting event, mothers day, christmas or a noisy or busy place. So where does that leave us?

Obviously smacking and corporal punishment is a total no-no. I am not perfect and have shouted at Girl, threatened consequences (no TV for a week, no visits to nanny and granddad) and be honest, who wouldn't lose their cool with a child who is gnawing on their leg, kicking, spitting, thumping, pinching? None of us are perfect.

So the Poker Face for me is a new triumph and I hope a long-lasting one. It is hard work mentally and physically but worth the effort. When Girl goes into one of her violent rages I do not react. No shouting, no immediate reprimands. Any words out of my mouth are clear and to the point. You can adapt to suit any situation but I will talk though how it works for us at bedtime. 

I place a stool by Girl's bedroom door and sit firmly on it so she cannot escape the bedroom, it helps if you have someone to rally round and support you with anything you need (like fetching a stool) but not to get involved. If Girl hits me, I may flinch with pain but I do not reprimand. I give clear instructions in as gentle a voice as I can possibly muster (difficult but necessary), like 'Girl, go to bed' or 'No hurting, go to bed'. The key things to remember are:
  • Stay calm
  • Use as few words as possible
  • Don't respond to questions with an answer just state something simple like 'we can talk tomorrow, go to bed'.
  • Do not show any emotions whether it be sadness, hurt or anger, save it all up for later and sing yourself a song in your head  - (or hum quietly to yourself if you want, oddly Girl actually seems to respond well to the humming). I find the song Poker Face works brilliantly!
I can usually guarantee that within four-five minutes Girl has stopped any physical attack on me, she may still be trying to goad me other ways but again she gets no reaction. Within a few more minutes amazingly she will be in bed, still trying to get a reaction by making lots of silly noises and pretending to be asleep, I still don't react. Usually when I hear the pretend snoring I know that actual sleep is not far away. However I do not move until I can guarantee that she is actually deeply asleep, I have made that mistake before and it just starts the whole cycle over again.

The first time we  tried this new routine it took two hours, the next day it took 45 minutes, now consistently I can be back downstairs within 20-25 minutes and most  of those minutes I will have spent reading my kindle software and listening to classical lullabies that Girl has on loop in her room. This is great news for us, previously Girl could rage for hours and hours an I would be covered in bruises and barely anything we could do would stop the immense anger she was feeling stemming from her insecurity.

As for the neighbours? They are moving out soon, not because of anything we have done but hopefully by the time we get new neighbours we will have a grip on Girl's night time insecurities and the dog's snoring and late night barking (a whole other story!).


Anonymous said...

Hi, I just discovered your blog and its all useful stuff! I'm right at the beginning of my adoption journey so posts like this are a little scary but also very realistic and practical. One question - does everyone get a post adoption social worker or is it just your LA being helpful?
Cornflower x

Gail Hurd said...

Don't worry not all kids have the issues that Girl does. I believe that everybody is entitled to post adoption support but normally you have to need them before they visit and your own social worker will continue with visits up to the point of the official court order - a lot don't need any further support afterwards, the post about support and making friends might be useful to read, sometimes having friends to talk to is enough.

Good luck with your adoption