Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fight • Flight • Freeze

TT has been having a rough go of things for about two months now. There has been a serious increase in negative behaviors. He's trying...oh he's trying so hard to be "good". But it hasn't been easy for him at all.

I know that Rainbow's visit yesterday was difficult for him. It's enough out of routine to be difficult. But with her visit comes the knowledge that we could be adding additional children to our home by Monday (yes...tomorrow). He held things together though. Even after watching an action movie before bed, he held things together.

And life was OK this morning. We ditched church because...well...sometimes we ditch church. This morning was lazy. The younger two cherubs like to get up on lazy mornings and watch TV or play video games.

TT ate breakfast without fighting. (Sometimes he and Bart have a hard time transitioning after watching TV or playing video games for longer stretches of time.) TT got dressed and he seemed to transition OK.

But then he got mad because Bart didn't want to play the same thing as him. There was some minor stomping of the feet and huffing and puffing, but nothing that even needed redirected really.

TT voluntarily ate a small lunch. (Again, transitions and eating seem to be something that both TT and Bart struggle with when they're dysregulated.)

I hollered at Herman to go get dressed. (Teenagers...'nuf said.) He peeled himself off the couch and went upstairs.

TT followed him and somehow talked Herman into playing with him instead of getting dressed first. TT wanted to hit the pads. We've got some punching pads that are typically used when training for mixed martial arts. TT loves it when Herman or Mr. Amazing hold the pads and he can punch. It is wonderful for getting the physical activity that he longs for and it helps him get the sensory input he desperately needs. (TT doesn't have diagnosed sensory process disorder...but he most definitely has some of the quirks. He is definitely a "seeker"!!!!) When TT is dysregulated at all, getting sensory input in a healthy way helps him stay in control of his emotions.

All seemed well. Herman is excellent at keeping emotions in check when they play with the pads together. He knows how to keep it from getting out of control. Even Bart commented on that. He looked at me and said, "Ya know, Mom, if that was me and TT upstairs you would have yelled at us already." I laughed and said, "Yeah, but you guys always get out of control." Bart nodded his head and agreed.

After about 10 minutes or so of rough-housing, the noise stopped. I assumed that Herman had gone on it to his room to get dressed...finally.

Then TT came downstairs and and purposely slammed into the chair that Bart was sitting in. Then he thrust himself on to the couch and buried himself in the cushions hiding his face.

He was obviously fully dysregulated. He wasn't holding it together anymore.

Mr. Amazing instructed TT to leave the room. In general, temper tantrums do not happen in what we refer to as public places in our house. TT was welcome to go into the guest bedroom or he could go upstairs to his room.

TT refused.

I came into the living room to assist.

We weren't giving TT a time-out. He was in full control of what happened next. He could either stop his tantrum and sit nicely in the living room. Or he could take his angry self into a different room of the house. We weren't assigning any amount of time he needed to be separated. The only rule is that he couldn't be his angry fighting self in the living room.

TT refused to leave or calm down.

I counted down from three. TT was expected to leave the living room and go to the guest bedroom just across the hall from where we were at. Or he could take himself up to his bedroom.
One...leave the room.
Two...leave the room now.
Three...get up and leave or we are going to help you.

TT refused.

The way Mr. Amazing and I handled it next works only because he is our "forever" child. (You simply can't do this with foster kids.) I picked TT up by the hands and Mr. Amazing took him by the feet. He kicked, hit and struggled something fierce but we got him safely into the guest bedroom and put him on the floor.

TT escalated.

It was not our intention to restrain him. But when TT is dysregulated, he will sometimes continue to escalate until we do. I fully believe this is because of his sensory processing quirks. He needs the deep pressure of the hug (how we hold him).

Thing is, when things get like this, we do our best to allow TT to be in control of it all. We weren't going to touch him, just stay close so he wouldn't hurt himself or the contents of the room. He continued to escalate though - hitting and kicking (making contact) with Mr. Amazing and me. That isn't acceptable. Mr. Amazing put him in a restraint and also popped him on the rear one time.

It was like a switch went off in his head. TT immediately calmed down. Mr. Amazing immediately let go and then walked out of the room. I stayed right there close by but not forcing communication or contact of any kind. TT gathered himself and said he wanted to go to his room. I told him that I was going to go too but that I'd stay in the hall. TT was totally OK with that.

He walked upstairs to his bedroom and curled up on his bed. I followed behind and sat in the doorway.

Now, I'm sure some people reading this think we overreacted. Restraints should be avoided. I know that. And maybe we should have let him tantrum in the living room. But that's just not allowed in our house. And TT was doing what I call "stick poking". If we had left him in the living room, it would have escalated to violence. It always has before. He "pokes" and "pokes" until ugly things happen. Furniture gets broken. People get hurt. We do what we can to avoid it ever getting to that place anymore. This whole tantrum lasted less than 10 minutes I think. Years ago, before we had our responses as streamlined as they are now, tantrums like this would last for an hour or longer.

TT softened a lot. I asked him if he knew what the trigger was. He said, "no." He did come over to me though and he curled up next to me. I reassured him over and over that we love him so much.

TT very much hates tantrums like this. He recognizes when he's dysregulated and he doesn't like how it feels. This time, because the tantrum seemed to just explode without anything building it up, I thought it was important to figure out the trigger.

I asked him what happened.

He said he didn't know.

So I switched it up. I asked him to tell me about the feeling without describing it outright. What color would you have been when you got angry? Where did you feel the anger at in your body?

TT couldn't answer. But he did start telling me the facts of what happened.
Herman and TT were rough-housing.
It felt good.
They were having fun.
Nobody was angry.
Herman accidentally hit TT in the head.
Herman apologized immediately.
TT accepted the apology.
They kept on playing for a little bit.
Then Herman was done and he left the room.
I saw the problem immediately. It's that Fight / Flight / Freeze response. I guess you could say that TT's is heightened. When he's triggered, he responds in a bigger way than most kids. When Herman hit TT in the head, it triggered the "Fight" response. TT didn't have enough time to calm from that response fully when Herman decided he was done playing. TT had been triggered and it was almost like he needed to fight. TT wasn't angry at Herman. Herman had apologized and he was OK with that. But the switch had been flipped and TT almost just HAD to fight.

That's why he came downstairs angry...not even really knowing why...and started to stick poke.

It's so important to understand the Fight / Flight / Freeze response. I won't allow it to be an "excuse" for my kids' behavior. But it very much IS the reason behind a lot of it. And it's up to me to recognize it and provide external ways for my kid to regulate again.

I'm not convinced our way is perfect. But it does work for TT most every single time.

This article is a wonderful explanation of being caught in Fight / Flight / Freeze. And since this post is long enough, I'll just link to the article instead of highlighting any other points. Knowing this about my kids makes a lot of their behavior make a lot more sense. I help my children understand how they are responding too. TT is a fighter. Herman often goes into Flight mode. And Bart...he's a little harder to figure out. He almost does this perfect combination of simultaneous Fight and Freeze. He's fighting, but he's completely stuck and keeps repeating the same sentence over and over and over. In Herman's case though, now that he understands how his tendency is to flee the scene, hasn't run away in a long, long time. (And yes, Herman has run before. Even overnight once. Goodness that was a night from Hell!)

After TT processed the event and I explained to him why he was feeling what he did, he fully calmed down. He could make eye contact again. He could talk. And he wanted the healthy sensory input of a hug. To further help him reset, we left the house together. I recognized that he was probably hungry so I went through a drive-through and got him a crappy-meal. Then we went to the furniture store and I finally committed on the bunk beds we're buying for TT and Bart's newly combined bedroom. TT handled everything perfectly and when we got back home he was respectful and waited while I talked on the phone to My Genius Sister for permission from me before going out to play with his friends.

I don't think the underlying dysregulation has disappeared yet. Like I said, it's been hanging around for a couple months now. But if I stay in tune to triggers and responses, we'll continue to weather this cycle just fine I'm sure.


Annie said...

It always seems to me that when kids get violent, it isn't bad to do a proper restraint. My husband used to work in a group home, so he has the training, but I stumbled on what worked even better, wrapping A. in a blanket - swaddling her, as it were and laying very close, cuddling her like a baby and with that same sort of shushing, calming. She would sometimes escalate verbally - spewing poison that needed to come out, it seemed to me. Often revealing really important things. And then she'd go to sleep, and wake up perfectly happy. She's never expressed any sort of resentment over these incidents.

All children are different, though. She's the only one of ours who would get physically violent with us... Fortunately the meds have put an end to these episodes.

I like your idea of keeping these things out of the public rooms of the house. Not sure we can do that with the layout of our house, but the idea seems really sound.

girlfrog2003 said...

I just read your update over on FB about TTs meds. I don't actually have a FB page though so can't comment there, but wanted to tell you that Abilify is, as far as I'm concerned, a life changing medication. My bio daughter is autistic and has a fairly significant anxiety problem. When she hit puberty about 10 it got so much worse and she started getting physical - mostly self harming, but sometimes DH or me. I was so anti-medication for years, but got desperate when the meltdowns were constant and it was like waiting for a bomb to go off all the time (and that was way before fostering... it was just her - I can't imagine). Dr put her on anti-depressant, and then another, they did not help and even seemed to make it worse. We then ended up in a clinical trial for Abilify (when she was 11) and it was life changing. I saw a big difference within 2 weeks and by 6 weeks she was a different child. It did kind of wipe her out for the first month or so (she hadn't napped since she was 2 and wanted to sleep all the time, and was sleeping all night which she didn't previously). It seemed to level out though after about a month and although much calmer she wasn't sleeping all the time, but does still sleep all night. She's been on it for four years and the only real side-effect I see is that it has caused quite a bit of weight gain. And it's quite expensive (there is no generic yet). We're thinking about trying to see how she does without it - I still hate the thought of her being medication dependent for the rest of her life, but I'm kind of scared. Anyway I hope you have the same results... and just wanted to put a little hope out there for you :)

Rosie said...

You may not have meant it this way, but this post was an encouragement. It sounds very similar to our household.

Before fostering/adopting I NEVER would have considered ditching church. Now, well, there are some days where we do. It is hard to explain to friends and family, so often I don't even mention it.

As for the transitions after watching t.v., also something that is our normal. It is like a drug they can't live without. All goes well till you ask them to stop. If they have been watching too long,then it is as if the world is ending, or you are lighting the bon fire to burn all their toys. I actually like the "no t.v." days I institute in the summer. Takes them a few days to detox, but then life goes smoother. I am trying to find a balance during these cold winter days (high is in the upper 30's today). Some shows they just can not watch. When asked why I have to resort to, "because there are better ones for your brain to see". Explaining how the other shows are faster, louder, brighter colored, more violent, triggers for moods, triggers for attitude, triggers for disregulation, is too complicated. They only know I don't like them, so they can not watch them.

One kid freezes, literally, at times of high stress. Can't even get his feet to move. And repeats, as if telling you 5 times the exact same thing will make you understand finally. High stress being relative. Happens mostly when he is tired. Though he would disagree, strongly, with that explanation. :)

Side story: we were flying to visit family. Our last leg was getting ready to land and this kid was adamant that he wanted to get up/be unbuckled. I saw that he was getting stuck on this issue and that I would not win. So ... I changed the issue. As soon as he was buckled, I told him something else that he 'had' to do - let my arm be on his seat. The next 5 minutes were spent with him arguing, trying to push my arm off. I kept putting it back on. AND he was buckled in the whole time. Sometimes by going with the behaviors we can actually 'win'. One of my for "ah-ha" moments in this parenting journey with trauma kids.

Life is easier now that we have our response down better. I do not always remember them when I need to if I am tired or distracted, but am doing better. The kids are getting older, so we are also trying to talk through more things afterwards.

My point being, you made me feel normal today. Or at least less abnormal. Thanks.