Since Juliana first came home direct communication has been hard for her. It was for Ally, AJ and Bowen too. It was with her though that I first noticed lack of eye contact, inability to match her feelings to her body language, and staring in response to questions posed to her in high stress moments. These are all common traits or responses of children from hard places.
All of my children who came to us older than 6 months of age respond to stress in a fight, flight or freeze pattern. They’ll try to physically stop someone from doing something they view as a threat (fight), or they’ll try to get away and hide to block it out (flight) or they will simply go glassy-eyed and stare at me (freeze). When that happens, I know we’re lost. Not forever, just for the moment. It’s not that any one of them responds any one way each time. They switch it up on me constantly. The situation, the moment, the child’s place in their development, it all seems to factor into their response.
I had to decide a very long time ago what I could do when I lost them to the fight, flight or freeze. Actual fighting is something that dies pretty quickly in our home. I have been able to, thus far, end the physical attacks on me, and there have been many, within a few months of a child coming home. Even our younger kids have done it too. I’m new. I’m scary. They’ve all tried to knock me around a little to see if I bleed. More importantly, they want to know what my response will be to the bleeding. Will this make me go away? Some of them want me to. Some of them desperately want me to stay and they just don’t know how to say it. Fighting is usually a test.
Flight gets some space. Not ‘go to your room!’ kind of space, because, really, isn’t that what they want? They want a space to hide and not have to deal with all these big feelings they’re having about conflict or transition. I don’t let them hide. But, I allow them to stop talking to me for awhile. Who wants someone to follow you around and be all up in your business while you’re trying to process something emotionally. Read a book. Do some yoga. Jump on the trampoline. Do some work in a body sock. But, then the key for me is to remember to revisit and reflect. Sometimes, life is so busy that I have to set a visual clock. I let them use a strategy until the red runs out and then we try to chat again.
Sometimes, revisiting and reflecting the stressor that caused all this only gets me a glassy eyed stare. Sometimes it gets me the death stare. Juliana is the master of the angry face. Her eyes will practically burn me where I stand and she will simply stop responding to my questions. She’s not listening anymore, and she’s not responding. When that happens, she is offered her journal and a topic to reflect on.
Today’s topic was “What made the school to home transition for me so hard today? What could my mom and do to help me more?” In her first days of journaling, I would give her a topic and she would write three words…
I don’t know.
Her therapist won’t accept this. She has laid the groundwork for me by saying ‘that’s a cop out answer because you don’t want to the emotional work you’ve been asked to do. You’re pushing everyone away when you do that. That one earns you a re-do, please try to go deeper.’ Juliana is very responsive to this.
My mom hates me.
‘Nope. She doesn’t. Her body language and her words tell you she doesn’t, and that’s not reflecting on your feelings, that’s trying to deflect by discussing what you think your mom feels. Try again.’
Today she told me I could share with you some of her journaling.
“Today I hit Bowen in the head with a book because I was angry I was told I had to get down fro the computer counter. Whenever I come home I am BORED, BORED, BORED! And whenever I ask to do something it’s no lots of times. “NO!” And a lot of times when I’m playing around at bed time it’s because I have too much energy.”
The cold cocking of Bowen with the book was what had earned her a ticket to reflection and revisiting, but obviously, bed time is stressing her out. And, it should. She has been a complete pill at bedtime lately. She ends up laying on the living room floor a lot of nights until her sister, who she shares a room with, is asleep. She bugs everyone. Her body can’t stay still. We’re locked in battle at bedtime.
Her insight is good. She is told no a lot. ‘Can I ride my bike?’ ‘No Juliana, you’re not safe on your bike. You didn’t follow the safety rules last time and you roads out into the street.’ So, she has to sit and read. She likes reading, but she needs physical activity. She swam every day, 2-3 hours a day all summer, and bedtime was NEVER a battle. Swim team, dive team and swim lessons ended and the battles began.
Joe and I are both runners. There’s no reason she can’t run with us, other that the fact she emotionally wears me out. It’s true. Trauma wears me out too. So, we’ve agreed to alternate running with her for awhile. I’m also not above telling her “Okay, I can’t talk anymore while I run. Let’s focus on our breathing now.”
–FullPlateMom, who is unashamed of her intolerance for endless chit chat, even when it is coming from her children.