ANATOMY OF A TANTRUM
We'd had a good Sunday, looking forward to swimming. This fostered child, age seven, likes swimming. We make swimming the focus of Sunday, so the later we go swimming the longer the happiness of looking forward to it. The morning slipped by sweetly, we got a few jobs done, we and the child pottered happily.
We swam, came home and brewed some hot chocolate which went down well.
I should add, the child had Contact the previous day, and we've learned that if there is an emotional backlash, with this child it comes about 24 hours later.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, "Contact" is when fostered children have a meet-up with their real parents, or other family, maybe sisters and brothers, grandparents, maybe family friends. It sometimes unsettles the child.
It's 4.00pm, that awkward time on a Sunday. What is there to do? We find anything we can find to airbrush out the thought that it's school in the morning.
Child asked to have a play on a laptop game site. We have a laptop with full parental controls, and insist it can only be used by our children with myself or partner in the room. I was using that particular laptop myself, so I switched to the private one which is password protected - it has documents on it relating to fostering, and as we are reminded every chance Blue Sky get, you cannot be too careful. Suppose a child pulled out an email about themselves, or worse a half-finished report detailing something they'd done and our analysis of it.
So child, apparently, is in a state of bliss, on the sofa between myself and my partner who is watching some TV. Child fires up the game site. Fine. Child pumps up the volume to the max. So loud it fills the living room. Partner cannot hear the TV. I cannot concentrate on my laptop. I look at partner, partner looks at me. Child knows we are exchanging looks.
I say "Could you turn it down a bit please, it's a bit loud?"
That's all I said.
One minute child seems just fine, then, from apparently nowhere child's body jerks rigid in absolute rage. Screams;
"I'M TRYING TO PLAY A GAME! ALRIGHT! SO. SHUT!!!. UP!!!! AAAAARRRGH!!!"
So here we go.
Partner and I think, think, think. We can leave the room, stay and put up with it, or ask again.
"It's very loud, can you just turn it down a bit please?"
"NOW I'VE LOST MY PLACE. AAARGH! AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!"
Child now screws up face, clenches fists, screams like a banshee and sobs, sobs sobs. Drawing in huge loud gasps of air to fuel earsplitting roars of rage.
Okay, next move?
"Calm down, we know you need to hear the sound, I'll get some earphones for you."
No dice, the earphones. "They don't fit my ears, they keep falling out... STOPPIT I HATE YOU! AAAAARRGH!"
Child shoves laptop to one side and runs out of the room. Flits from place to place spitting anger and trying to provoke a reaction.
We start cooking Sunday dinner. A roast. Child joins us in kitchen, gets a couple of cooking tools out out a drawer. Could have been a carving knife or a bread knife. No. Chooses a spatula and a metal knife sharpener. Runs around waving them like swords.
Dinner. Fine. Food always settles. We do the washing up. Now it's bedtime. We know what's coming. Stay neutral. Bath first. Bath-time goes well, warm water always settles.
Child comes downstairs for a hair dry in the kitchen.
Time to go back up to bed.
"I'm not going to bed!"
Child picks up a soft toy and throws it at a window. We usher child up the stairs.
"I'M NOT GOING INTO MY BEDROOM! AND YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!!!"
Now you have a moment. You have yourself a looked after child you care about, who is planning an all-out assault on your authority, challenging everything you want to do. You could let the child run free around the house until it's your own bedtime, or show the child how much you care by keeping control, and devoting yourself to the right thing.
The child makes to run downstairs. We stand in the way. The child tries to dodge past. Take hold gently by the shoulders. All the while saying softly "It's bedtime. You have to stay in your room."
Child launches. Yelling and throwing toys. I pick child up and cradle, baby style. Partner stays by my side. Child is shouting to be let go. This lasts 10 minutes.
I put the child on the bed. Child hits me, not hard, with favourite toy. Winnie The Pooh. I say "If you hit me with anything again, I'll take Pooh away. Child gives me a mild whack with hand. I take Pooh away.
Child says: "You said if I hit you with anything else you'd take Pooh away, but I didn't hit you with anything else I hit you with my hand, so you can't take Pooh away."
Half an hour later we gave child back the Pooh toy. Child smiled. We said "You okay?" Child replied "Yes, Because I won!"
Partner and I sat up talking about it as you do. We worked out the reason child exploded over the laptop was because it wanted one or both of us to watch it play, but felt embarrassed to ask, so just cranked up the volume to get attention. We missed that.
We shouldn't have brought child downstairs for a hair dry because the transition upstairs is huge and if you've got your child in a good place, and upstairs, at bedtime, keep it there.
The child's violence, such as it was, stayed inside the line. Throwing a soft toy at a window isn't going anywhere, and choosing harmless kitchen equipment for fighting when there's serious stuff like knives shows the child is dealing in symbolic aggression not the real stuff.
But the main thing we talked about, because we've seen it many times before, is that when they go into tantrum mode, they are more likely to be in cunning control of everything than we are. They are often highly experienced in chaotic confrontations.
These poor little people. The things they've been through.
I'll never forget how this child went into lawyer mode and quoted the exact precision of a clause about Pooh Bear which was legally correct, probably enforceable in law and something I was blurred on because I was flustered. This child was cooler in chaos than me.
This child is a love of our life. The reasons for this child's problems, I would love to share with you. There are two reasons why I can't. One is the child's right to privacy, which is sacred. Two, you wouldn't believe me. Honestly, you wouldn't.
Child is making great progress, slowly but surely.
Child is my hero, in fact. As is my partner, the more so for being a foster carer who's embraced, with me, the whole incredible fostering experience.
We love it, it's just the best thing you can ever do.
The Secret Foster Carer