I've picked up some tricks in fostering. I don't need any at the moment but I was reminded of a couple when I came across the phrase "Speak softly but carry a big stick".
We had a young lady arrive at our house, aged sixteen, nearly seventeen, my goodness she had some stuff. Five large cardboard boxes of various party clothes and soft toys and make-up and hair tools, and enough onesies to kit out an army.
She also had a short fuse.
Looked-after children can sometimes have their tempers triggered by things you wouldn't think of. If she was up in her bedroom and you went upstairs for some reason, if you even paused outside her door it could annoy her to bits. Maybe scare her to bits.
We carers are given as much information as possible by Blue Sky when a child is on their way to us so we can prepare, maybe even adjust a few things in the house to help keep the child on an even keel. But it's never possible to know the child's full story. Often they don't really know it themselves, they blank certain bits, or worse they bottle them up wrapped in denial and even some deep-rooted excuses and justifications for the way they were mistreated. It's amazing how many damaged children appear to believe they somehow had it coming; their just desserts for being so bad.
Anyway, back to short fuse. We gradually realised she didn't like shouting. If you called out "Tea's ready!" there'd be a growl followed by a grumpy thumping down the stairs and a blunt remark or two about not pasta again. Bedtime in our house on weekdays is ten thirty, for everyone. No exceptions. But several nights running we'd had a battle. When I say a battle I mean I'd call out through the door "Half ten, time to call it a night!" or something like that. And I'd get back "Grrrrr I'm busy". It became a mini war of wills. I'd call for lights out and go to bed. Half an hour later I'd go onto the landing and see a light coming out from under her door.
By "busy" we reckoned she meant she was surfing on a phone. We suspected she had two phones, one cheap effort she left on the hall table, and a secret one for secret use. Apparently it's a well used trick among our youth. We couldn't prove it; you can't turn over a child's bedroom trying to find a phone. She wore several layers all the time, there was probably a slim phone in there somewhere. Anyway she's nearly seventeen. Blue Sky advised us to stay vigilant, but respect the young person's rights and privacy.
But my eldest showed us how to see if someone is using your Wi-Fi serruptiously. You turn the router off in the middle of the evening and if, five minutes later, someone comes downstairs and is interested in what you're doing with your laptop, you can bet they've lost the signal and are wondering if it's a general blackout or their phone. And that's pretty much what happened.
Next morning she was watching GMTV before college still in her Scooby Doo onesie. For some reason I whispered, very softly, something like "We've decided to turn the wi-fi off after tea so we can have a break from the internet. Although we'll turn it on at weekends if everyone has followed lights out at half past ten."
It worked. Well, kind of. I think we won, if you can call it that.
Short fuse was a wonderful girl, she'd had a truly horrific time. Her own bedroom, wherever it was, whoever's house she was in, the bedroom she was given to sleep in, held terrible terrors for her, that's all I can tell you.
From then on I generally spoke in a whisper when telling her things she didn't want to hear. Stopped calling out loud for the whole house to hear. Spoke softly. Tried not to walk upstairs and past her bedroom door when she was in there, especially late at night.
My "big stick" was her wi-fi access, and we knew she knew that we knew that, so there was what the French call an empasse. What Bill calls a score draw.
She left us after about 3 months. I'll never forget her brief, stumbling, but tearful goodbye. She'd appreciated being cared for.