I took The Great Behaviour Breakdown course to manage his
behaviour. Tell him you know how angry
he is, they said in the classroom.
Jump up and down with him when he’s angry, they said.
Try to get him spinning, they said. It regulates the vestibular system in his
I jumped. I
spun. I shouted.
“I would be so angry too,” I shouted. And my son screamed at me, so high and shrill
and then he hit me harder and opened his jaws as if to bite. It
made it worse.
“It doesn’t work,” I told my husband. “This Great Behaviour Breakdown system. I understand why they teach it. But it’s not working. People say it’s great but it just isn’t for
I reviewed the handbook.
I had used the correct script. “I
know how angry you are.” We had been
there and done that one now.
We called a parental meeting in a coffee shop. All the other customers stared silently into
their Macs, exposing our conversation.
We talked for a very long time about boundaries. About hitting and scratching and biting. We
made a bullet-pointed plan. He needs traditional parenting, we decided. He’s strong minded. A firm hand. Get him under your thumb now, otherwise it
will be too late, my colleagues had advised.
One strike and he’s out. He goes
in his buggy.
We typed our plan, printed it at home and pinned it to the
fridge amongst the cat magnets and visual timetable (another failure) just in
case anyone wavered and went soft. My instinct was still saying there was trauma but
that approach had failed. We were going
to be firm from now on
The next evening there was anger. We fought it.
I felt trauma within myself. It
felt awful; physically like a knife in my back. Small stuff from the past but
unprocessed. I screamed and cried with
my son, disconnected. I don’t know who felt worse. A whole house full of hot tears and
remorse. “Nothing works,” I said. “I can’t cope now and he’s three.” I couldn’t wait to go to work the next day
and get away.
I took a step back for a few days. I switched off all social media, all
parenting articles. Spoke to no-one about
the issue. I walked a lot and I thought.
You can do this, a voice said within.
I went back to the original book of The Great Behaviour
Breakdown, the work of Bryan Post. Bryan said that all anger stems from fear. Tell them you know that they’re scared, he
In a concrete square in central London, my son decided that this
was the moment to sink to his knees. I
had seen the signs of dysregulation accumulating in a restaurant: the pushing,
the throwing of food. I squat down beside
my son on the concrete. The buildings grow
higher, the square grows wider, the ground is cold beneath our feet. My son throws off his hat off and it bowls away
from us over the square on the wind until it becomes entangled with someone’s
black brogues. “We’ve all been there” says
a kind male voice from above attached to a grey overcoat. It helps but it doesn’t. You haven’t really, I thought. The doorman came out of the nearest building
to ask if we are ok – meaning really that we were an embarrassment in the way
of the corporate glass doors.
My son was kneeling rigid on the ground. Fist clenched, eyes
looking downwards. We were marooned on
our own island of trauma in the middle of this civilised square with its window
displays of designer handbags.
I sat down on the ground.
I didn’t care about the doorman.
This was only about us.
“You’re scared. I
know you’re scared,” I said. I paused to
let this sink in. “And underneath that, I feel that there’s real sadness in you
There was foot of space between us, as near as he would let
me, yet in my head I feel an overwhelming connection with him. I felt sad just saying this. I wanted to cry. His beginnings were too sad to contemplate. How could such a young life be so broken, so soon? As I spoke this, I saw his expression change.
His eyes softened. I have reached him.
Something had opened. There was a way in.
I held out my hand. The wind was cold on my skin. His skin looked cold too. Recently he had taken to refusing to wear a
coat or long sleeves. He reached out his hand, so slowly, as if
every inch he moved was with fear. That
movement was a huge journey of trust.
He allowed me to pick him up. “You must be so, so scared. So scared,” I whispered. He has a deep mop of hair and I buried my
face into it, smelling hair oil and feeling the warmth.
His arms were around my neck now, clinging. We staggered over to a bench. The walk felt momentous, as if we had somehow
reached shore, our huddle of dysregulation, of disorganisation, clothes
dropping out of bags, the hat flying away again, my hair undone and on my
face. We had made it to the bench. He clung to me and sobbed, so hard. I was crying too. We were both scared but we
had connection. Somehow,
this time, I had got through. We were only through this moment but maybe,
just maybe, we can do this.