Friday, October 28, 2011

When the behaviors start

I read a lot about therapeutic parenting. There are some amazing blogs out there!! In fact, those blogs are where I really learned about how to be an effective foster parent. (See the sidebar for some of my favorite blogs. I highly recommend Welcome To My Brain!) In fact, those blogs have helped me be a better parent in general. Therapeutic parenting doesn't have to be reserved for kids with a trauma background.

Pumpkin doesn't require therapeutic foster parenting. I'm quite convinced that her trauma history has significantly contributed to her language issues. But she is so severely retarded that there is no telling what caused what within her sphere of delays. She can't talk about her past. She can't talk period. I feel like I am able to do little more than meet her physical needs and offer her plenty of opportunities to learn new things. (And of course love on her as must as possible.)

Cherub 1 is a pretty typical kid. Not the easiest to parent. But not too difficult overall I guess.

Cherub 2 lets me stretch my therapeutic parenting skills pretty regularly. He does not have what most would consider a "trauma background" because he was adopted at birth. But honestly, I believe ANYONE that is adopted – no matter the circumstances – has baggage they will deal with for the rest of their life. He has some triggers that I have to be aware of for sure!

Cherub 3 just drives me nuts (usually in a good way). I haven't figured out how to handle some of his wackiest behaviors yet. I'm working on it though. He's a high energy kid!

That leaves Dolly and Dude. When they came the only "issue" we had (other than the whole language barrier) was sleeping. And really, could you blame them?! When the lights go out the big feelings get bigger. They were scared. They were sad. They missed the familiar.

Then we settled in.

It was nice. They are good kids. They are easy kids to care for. Redirection was minimal and pretty easy to handle when required.

It's safe to say the honeymoon is over.

They warn you about this in foster parent training. But I really didn't expect anything to change with Dude and Dolly. They're so little. They weren't horribly abused if you compare their life experiences to the awful things you see on the news. They're resilient, right?!

Well, the short answer is, "yes," they are resilient! But they also have a history of trauma. Kids don't end up in foster care because their parents took away their lollipops.

Dude and Dolly have started in with a few strange behaviors. They are having a much more difficult time getting engaged with the toys we have. It's almost like they came into our home, spent a few months getting to know the overall layout of things and they're bored now.

From what I understand about their past, they were probably bored a lot before. It's my understanding that they didn't have a constant caregiver. I believe they were passed around between different friends and family members. They didn't have any toys at all. (Amazingly enough, they don't watch TV either. Not at all. Not even when I'd give my right arm for them to sit down and be quiet for half an hour.)

So I play the foster parent crystal ball game.

Looooooook into my crystal ball. Seeeeeeeeeeee into the past.

What did they act like when they were stuck in a motel room with a mother that was getting drunk and doing drugs? What did they do for fun? How did they get attention?

I'm betting they looked a lot like they do now when they can't seem to get engaged on their own.

It's hard to describe. I've seen it before with our foster daughters MissArguePants and TurtleTurtle. The only way I can explain it is that they flit around. On the outside it looks "normal". They look like a brother and sister being silly and giggling. They sort of move from room to room. They don't seem unhappy. I mean...really...they're laughing.

But there's something under that laugh that is quite unsettling.

With MissArguePants and TurtleTurtle, whenever it happened I knew...I mean I really knew...they were getting completely dysregulated. If I couldn't put a stop to the giggling I knew we'd be in a full-out rage of sorts within a short amount of time. I used every therapeutic trick I knew each and every time the girls acted this way. They had so many triggers though, due to the severity of their abuse, that I never did get too far. Besides, they only stayed with us for two months. (There was NO honeymoon with these girls.)

When Dude and Dolly start it's so difficult. How do you tell two seemingly perfectly normal little children that it's not OK to giggle?! But this giggling almost always elevates into behavior that is undesirable. It's mild with the little ones compared to the older girls we had before. But they will end up climbing on things they shouldn't. Or getting physical with each other. Or being mean to Pumpkin. Or messing with our dog in ways that aren't nice.

I'm still working through how I'm going to respond to this. But I have decided I'm going to call the behavior "goofy goofy". I'm quite confident that they aren't familiar with the word goofy. And it's not a horribly common word so I know they won't hear it from other people. That should help me be able to use it exclusively to describe the behavior I'm trying to eliminate. We still have English/Spanish issues so I have to keep redirection simple and consistent.

I want them to learn to self-regulate. They're awfully little though. And, unfortunately at times, I work from home so I can't always drop everything and play with them. Besides, I do want them to learn to self-regulate. Really though, stopping everything I'm doing and playing with them would probably be best. I just can't every time. (This behavior is also becoming quite common during mealtime. Especially if I'm in the room with them but not sitting at the table with them. I have no idea what to do when they're doing this at the table!)

My hands are tied at mealtimes. (I welcome any and all suggestions.) Other times of the day, when they're supposed to be playing and they're flitting and giggling instead, I can't just send them upstairs to play in their room or somewhere else in the house. It doesn't make sense for me to send Dude and Dolly away when they're acting like this. I need to keep them close for several reasons. First, I'm responsible for checking on them every 5-10 minutes. (I have to have monitors if they are out of eyesight or not within earshot.) Also, I know that they need me around to help them get regulated. They need me to help them feel safe.

I've tried to get them to pick a specific activity to do. I've had them choose said activity and then, if they didn't get engaged in it and instead just continued to flit and giggle, I sit them down in a chair. I've gone through this process several times until they figured out they need to actually get engaged or they will be spending a lot of time just sitting.

This has worked. This has also miserably failed.

The other day I told them they had to go outside. (I can see the kids in the backyard from my desk so it's a perfect place for them to be if I don't want to hear them giggling and flitting.) This worked perfectly. They immediately began playing again. I'm sure the actual physical nature of the play helped tremendously. (I'm also very lucky. Our weather is still in the 80s and 90s so playing outside is still lots of fun.)

I don't have all the answers yet. Never will. I'm having to remind myself more and more often that Dude and Dolly do have quite the background. And this background affects their behaviors now. And I can't parent them the same as the traditional parenting books might suggest. The behaviors have started.


MamaFoster said...

that's interesting, took them a while to bring it out

Carly said...

hmmm, I wonder what an OT would do for this lack of engagement and mental organization... We use a mini trampoline (one at a time) when our kids start to wound too tight. I have a friend whose little boy uses a GIANT pillow thingy (2 flat queen sheets sewn together and stuffed with blocks of upholstery foam). He belly flops or back flops either from the mini-tramp or couch onto/into it. He gets full body feedback from it (it's not easy to get out of, but not in a dangerous way) and it's fun. I wonder too about play-dough, pushing trucks through it, digging marbles out of it. Another good one is "heavy work." Moving a pile of bricks, one at a time, to another location, rolling a stump, filling a bucket with sand then carrying it, dumping it and refilling. Or a sensory table/bucket/under-the-bed box, fill it with dry rice and beans. I also read recently about hula hooping as a physical therapy for kids with a history of neglect, it helps build the core muscles that may be underdeveloped from not being held and moved around as infants. wow, that was long winded. ;)