Advent 2018

I know that it’s super late to be talking about what we got up to over advent, but as I have said in some previous posts, we haven’t had the best of Winters… not that Winter is easy for anyone, but anxiety is especially high in our house from approximately October through to mid January here. And then we had loads of things happen like flooded house, car accident, emergency vets, a 3 am trip to A&E… on top of building works, it’s been quite a time. And this blog is primarily for me to keep a track of what’s occurred so I need to go through it all… no matter how late!

As we do every year, we arranged a calendar which gives the children a bit more focus and reduces the anxiety somewhat (well… it doesn’t reduce it, but it makes each day more manageable). The calendar is presented differently each year – sometimes in a series of envelopes, sometimes in little glass bottles. And in each one is a little message that says what today’s theme is.

There are days and activities that occur annually: Letters to Santa on Day 1, putting up the decorations on the first Sunday, Christmas Eve box .The rest generally follows this pattern (unless the above falls on one of those days:
Monday: Charity day
Tuesday: Craft/Challenge
Wednesday: Christmas food
Thursday: small gift day (basically, something we would have given for Christmas but they can’t cope with much so we spread it out).
Friday: Family movie day
Weekends – family related activities (such as visiting Santa, baking Christmas goodies etc.)

This year, as they are loving the whole West Midlands Safari Park idea, we did the Santa Safari for their annual Santa visit. We got an early slot, so that the kids could beat the busy atmosphere – we won’t usually go somewhere like this on a weekend at a “normal” time of year, let alone a busy one. We got there a little early, and they were first in to see Santa. It was definitely well thought out; they had the normal safari park stuff (no theme park during Winter) so access to the safari drive through, access to the walk around bits and sea lion show etc. but with an area setup for Santa. The kids go went through these little sections to break up the queue; a “sleigh ride” to the North Pole, a walk through a little winter Wonderland to Santa’s little lodge, where they get a photo with Santa and then through to the workshop to choose their toy. The ticket also included a visit to get one of Mrs Claus’ cookies and a hot chocolate. The kids thought it was amazing. Because we have done the safari park and the bits around, we didn’t stick around for the festivities as they really cannot handle it, so we leave on a positive note before they get too overwhelmed and have a meltdown. They loved every second of it.

This year, we added a new event to our advent setup that we think we will continue to factor into our yearly plans; we arranged a Christmas coffee afternoon. You can read more about it in our Christmas and New Year 2018 post… but this meant that one of our days was spent baking in preparation.

30 Days Wild – Day 14

Today we had to walk into town to go back to the opticians and pick up my contact lenses and Logan’s new glasses. On the way back we took a walk along the river. The children wanted to stop and take a look at the patterns that were being created on the water. They stood for about 5 minutes in awe.

Then they noticed two ducks trying to swim upstream against a very fast current and so we had to stand and watch that a while.

As we walked away and towards home, we talked about what we could hear from nature:

  • the running water
  • water crashing against the rocks
  • ducks quacking
  • pigeons cooing
  • wind rustling leaves
  • wind blowing in our ears
  • the flapping of wings

This is what we have noticed today.

Aching muscles, processing pain.

It’s hard for Caitlin to understand pain. Well, her and Logan both in all honesty, but her more so. When she first came to live with us I remember her being jabbed with 2 needles and not even knowing if it had happened. She genuinely asked me if they had done it yet. Or when she fell over, she might cry as a shock reaction, or even have a panic attack if it triggered a violent body memory. But she never could express, or recognise the pain.

Slowly through melodrama, lots of plasters and overreactions on her behalf, and lots of sensory input about soft touch. She’s started to recognise these things. So, when she was younger, and her mobility and muscular issues were still an unknown problem, she wasn’t able to alert anyone. However, she’s able to tell us about her aching muscles a little more now. Not always in time for us to be able to prevent her getting too bad, but significantly more than previously.

This weekend, she tested her climbing frame, she had a few falls, she was running back and forth, we have steep stairs. It all adds up. I look at it like someone on a diet – if you have had a fat slab of cheesecake, you can’t really get away with a sneaky glass of wine and a bar of chocolate, hips don’t lie! 😉 For her, each activity would be representative of food. Walking on the flat, whilst wearing supportive shoes and her orthotics is relatively low impact. And whilst she cannot walk on the flat indefinitely, it’s not the most taxing. Going up and down stairs is like a having something out if a box of chocolates, in moderation is ok. Rock climbing, soft play, the park… These things are all like the fat slab of cheesecake, you can technically have the other bits with them but “hips don’t lie” (in this case her muscles) and so she’s woken up today on the wrong end of activity binge.

This morning we have had tears, screams, drama. Today is going to be low activity, low impact. Wheelchair restricted when out, sofa/bath restricted at home. These are the days people don’t see. That people say I exaggerate for my “life of luxury”. I’d give up any of the things to not have to see her suffer, to watch her be included at the same level as her peers. But for today, I’ll just give her what she needs. Rest and nurture.

Parenting a self harming child

It’s hard to think that a child as young as 4 or 5 could be so ashamed of themselves (their actions, or even their identity) that they’d physcially harm themselves. But, it really does happen. And it really is hard to witness.

I don’t want to sit here and tell people how to deal with things, ’cause frankly, situations like this are all very individual… but I can say that what the person needs to feel is acceptance and not more shame. I have had input from various places, professionals included, that have stated that I need to make the child understands their behaviour is “wrong” and “naughty”. Surely, harm born of shame shouldn’t be shamed in such a way???

Well, I don’t care about what your training and qualifications are… that’s not for us, and it isn’t going to work here. Instead, we have greatly reduced the behaviour by identfying anxiety tiggers, and where possible removing them. That’s not to say we avoid things as such, but we do it on our terms, like going to the supermarket when everyone is at work/school. Also, by noticing times when anxiety will be higher and ensuring that, during these times, there’s a higher level of affectionate input, reassurance and comfort (and being extra vigilant).

Doesn’t solve it, but greatly reduces the frequency, and we are finding that with reduced frequency we also get reduced severity. That means that the child doesn’t feel shame as often (about these actions) which can quickly, and very easily, move toward becoming a downward spiral of self harming behaviour. And when situations do arise, it’s not met with anger, it’s met with acceptance. “Ok, Mumma can see you are struggling here, let me help. I am not cross with you, I am not upset with you. I love you and I want to help you if you will let me…” and then it goes from there.

We try to always (if feasible) get them into the bath. Warm water for comfort, familiar smells that we know they find comforting. Foaming bath soap that clings to them and stimulates feelings of gentle touch even after the hands have rubbed it on. Using a cup to gently rinse off the foam. Swaddling them like a baby in a soft fluffly towel after the bath, and cuddling and rocking them. Showing love and nurture, and overwhelming the body with feelings of gentle touch and nurture. Hopefully this need to hurt when feeling shamed can be associated with feeling nurture and comfort,,, and eventually the hurting part can fizzle out.

They are very much babies in older children’s bodies, handling adult level emotions without the world understanding, or emotional skills to process it properly. Sometimes not even the verbal skills. So how can we tell them they are wrong in their actions, they don’t even understand what they are doing? All they understand is this feeling (shame) is overwhelming them, and it’s horrible, and it’s making them feel horrible and they want it to go away. When this feeling has been treated with anger, or violence, by adults in the past then in their heads it’s the right thing to do… respond with anger or violence to themselves.

As a parent, who loves the child that’s so visibly torn, it’s draining to witness and be privvy to. But as the parent, how you suffer in this scenario is unimportant. As the parent, your pain at seeing your child hurt has to be pushed aside and filed under “to deal with later”. You have to be there how they need you, for however long. But as a supportive figure. Not authoritative. Not shaming.


Confusion: Logan and birthdays

ARGH… we thought we had it, we really did…

But despite being involved in the planning and prep, despite having it said to him over and over… because the Birthday Treasure Hunt was held on Caitlin’s birthday weekend, Logan has gotten it into his head that it was her party and he’s not allowed one.

Now that we know and we’ve talked it through with him “what did you ask to do? Who did you invite? Who did we sing Happy Birthday to? When are you getting your cake?” He is feeling happier and understands, but he’d been thinking about it for days. He holds these thoughts in and keeps himself awake lingering over them at bed time, working himself up about how everyone hates him and everyone loves Caitlin. How he’s rubbish and evil and unworthy and to blame for all the rubbish that has happened to him ever.

But we are getting our two pennies worth in, slowly working our thoughts and weaving doubt into his solid logic that he’s so unvalued and worthless. Opening up the idea that maybe he’s not, or at least not all the time. Perhaps he could be liked as himself, and appreciated and valued. And that these things we do aren’t empty “we have to do them” gestures, but instead active, willed and conscious choices.

It’s only a slither of door that’s opened, but that slither shows that there is hope, that perhaps if we keep trying, one day we could open up that world of possibilities to him. Perhaps he could feel comfortable in his own skin. If he achieves nothing else, this is the thing I most want for him. I’m exhausted watching him trying to be what he thinks everyone else wants him to be (often he’s incorrect and ends up geting it totally wrong). And more importantly, watching people respond in a way that further reinforces his incorrect idea of this being the way to behave. It increases his thoughts of not being worthy and says that he should be someone else to please others.

Where’s that magic wand???


Triggers: small and misread

Caitlin was at craft club at our Gym. She fell over, and bumped her head. They checked her over and saw she was ok, physcially, but they aren’t aware of the mental implications. Caitlin withdraws in times of anxious-ness, so instead of crying and showing she’s hurt or worried, instead of saying she needed to go to Mumma or Daddy, instead of saying she feels she needs comfort, she holds it in.

This is what happened at craft club. She held it in. She didn’t get the comfort she needed, Mumma always gives her arnica for a bumped head – this is a sign she’s being looked after and being kept safe. This is not a “normal” response for places like the gym, so naturally she didn’t get it. To her this felt like neglect. She’s only recently learned how to protect herself when falling (arms out). So when she falls, she gets super worked up inside (like someone is trying to hurt her), she needs to be comforted and talked back around from this.

Now, I am not writing this to bash the gym in the slightest; without producing a binder of “Caitlin psychology” I am not possibly going to be able to cover every action/reaction/consequence with them. Instead to highlight how easy it easy to not see what’s really going on, and what the consequence of that is.

So onward to the consequences…

By the time she got home, she was frantic. It was actually Daddy Bruce who’d taken her to the gym – Mumma had stayed at home to do some work. Daddy Bruce and Caitlin still have some patches in their relationship (due to some of the issues of Caitlin’s past) so when she’s at her most anxious it’s only Mumma that can console her and bring that anxiety back down. They had been due to stay for a play in the soft play afterwards, but that couldn’t happen, Bruce could see there was no point so he’d headed straight home.

Some arnica and some rescue remedy later and she was calm enough to have cuddles, but at this point needed to feel the nurture, care and safety she required right down to the core. I asked her what would help and threw some suggestions out there. The response was effectively to become a baby; a bottle of warm milk, some cuddles with Mumma, a blanky, a nappy and some time. She was extremely clingy for a few hours, but once she could settle her mind back into feeling safe and cared for, all was good.