Meet my little one, whom I shall call Peanut. She is 5 years old and will happily sit on my lap and let me comb her hair or put her to bed. She gives me cuddles and says she loves me when I tell her that I love her. All things that biological kids would usually do, right? But we know that our kids are different. Our kids are not just adopted kids, they’re traumatised kids.
Now, cue back 2.5 years ago and it was a whole different story. Peanut wouldn’t let me do any primary care things: she wouldn’t sit on my lap, wouldn’t look at me, wouldn’t talk to me. I dreaded going home to see her. It got to a point that my partner got so frustrated with the situation and having to do everything that she would tell me to do bedtime and leave me and Peanut to it, shutting the door behind her. Peanut would react as if she was locked in a room with a murderer. Her tiny fists would bang on the door and she would scream and plead to be let out. I’d watch this with overwhelming sadness. Finally, after she had worn herself out and realised that her cries were futile, she would let me comfort her and put her to bed.
All the while, I would wonder what had gone wrong.
We had adopted her when she was 10 months old. She was generally a happy baby, but with a weak attachment. In baby groups, she would fixate on other women (generally with dark hair) and sit on their lap ignoring my partner. She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, play by herself and we couldn’t go near the kitchen or say the words “lunch” or “snack” as Peanut would anxiously demand food, even if she had just eaten.
When I returned to work, Peanut rejected me and saw my partner as her only parent. Peanut would sit on my partner’s lap and would push her forehead really hard against my partner’s forehead, as if trying to get inside , or she would lick her face. Both would leave my partner feeling very claustrophobic.
She clearly felt safer with my partner, but not safe enough to lash out. Instead, I was the punching bag. Whenever she was annoyed or just being a toddler and fascinated by the reaction she got when she hit, she would slap, punch or kick me. There would be times when Peanut would run in from another room and hit me which, to me, seemed like it came out of nowhere. It transpired that my partner had told her off and Peanut wanted to retaliate, but didn’t feel her relationship with my partner was safe enough to do it to her.
We were at our wits’ end when an adopter friend suggested the Great Behaviour Breakdown, or ‘GBB’. We did the introductory course and applied to the Adoption Support fund to complete the full training.
GBB was founded by Bryan Post. He was in care as a child, then adopted children as an adult. Its premise is based on brain development and the stress model, and how kids who have experienced trauma are less able to regulate themselves than neurotypical kids. So, when a traumatised child is seeing red, they are literally seeing red and neither they nor their parents can stop them. GBB techniques enable the parent to spot the warning signs and to act as the midbrain. i.e. the calming bit before they see red. There are also techniques to help children to become emotionally literate and to help them be “in relationship” with their parents. Without going into too much detail, GBB gives you a toolbox of techniques to use.
Training was intense but eye-opening. It made me realise how traditional parenting techniques are all based on fear (“Stop that or you can’t have this,” or “I’m going to count to 3…”) and it doesn’t work for our children. I also realised how unfair I was being to my child and that my own issues were exacerbating the situation. As I imagine with all therapeutic patenting courses, it made me take a good hard look at myself and what I was doing to improve or worsen things.
So, full-on humble pie, we tried really hard to incorporate the techniques into our parenting. It felt forced and unnatural at first, but we stuck with it and some techniques have become second nature.
We also had to gauge when to push the techniques and when not to. At first Peanut was resistant; she would shout at us to stop or cover her ears when we “shone a light” (a GBB technique). When we felt that pushing this was more damaging than good, we stopped and broached it again when she was calm and regulated.
After months of hard work, it started paying off little by little and I started to realise that Peanut and I were “in relationship” with each other. We actually liked each other again. I couldn’t believe that these seemingly innocuous techniques proved to be highly effective.
Sometimes, I look back and wish I could relive those sad toddler years knowing what I now know. But then I realise that it’s pointless to regret the past. Instead, I focus on the relationship I have now with my daughter. We still have our quirks and it’s not all plain sailing but, thanks to GBB, we have finally become a family.