The first time my daughter hit me, she’d been living with us for 5 weeks. It wasn’t a huge hit, it was a ‘I wonder if I do this, what will happen?’ kind of hit. I remained calm, spoke clearly about why we didn’t hit and tried to talk to her about why she might be doing it. (The fact that she was scared, fearful, feeling vulnerable….) She told me to shut up. I did.
The second time she hit me, she pushed me into the door. She was only 3 at the time so you can imagine how angry and scared she must have been to shove me and move me. I have taught children who could move from ‘I’m fine’ to ‘aaarrrggghhh’ in the space of 1 millisecond. I thought I had some strategies with which to deal with it. I didn’t. I could only move Little behind me and hope that I could distract her enough to not get in the path of Big. When the mist had lifted, I again tried to talk about it. I used the ‘I wonder…’, I used the ‘Sometimes when I’m…”, I tried many different ways to try to help her talk but she was and still is unable to talk after these events. There is never any reconciliation or reflection. I give her a kiss and hug, tell her I’ll always love her, that she’s safe here. She asks me what we’re having for tea.
The third time she hit me, she kicked me in the face twice whilst I was getting her into the car. The system I’ve developed is that I open the door for Big, she climbs in, I shut the door, run round and put Little in then come back round to fasten Big in. On this day when I went to shut the door, she scratched my hand and screamed so loud I’m surprised the playgroup leaders didn’t come out to see what was going on. I managed to get the door shut but then had to get Little in with Big incredibly angry, hitting and spitting in the car. I managed to get her in then ran round to Big. As I was putting her in the seat, she looked at me and kicked me in the chin, twice. I somehow managed to fasten her in before I burst into tears. (It hurt and I was in shock.)
I drove home in tears, made lunch in tears and welcomed our social worker in, in tears.
I had effectively just had to use a TEAM TEACH move on my child. If I’d had to do this at work, I would be removed from the situation, been offered someone to talk to immediately and would have been made a cup of tea. In this instance I had to carry on, performing tasks in a complete state of shock.
I think the thing that shocked me the most was that she appeared to be completely unaffected by the whole thing. She asked me the same questions she asks me every time we have lunch, she was completely unmoved by a sobbing mum at the table and she literally behaved as if nothing was any different.
If I’m honest, I’ve found this part the hardest to understand and to come to terms with. After any episode where we’ve had furniture going, things being thrown, Little being hurt, there has been no reflection whatsoever. At the moment she is completely unable to engage in any kind of talk about how she is feeling. Even me talking about ‘I wonder” is enough for her to scream ‘SHUT UP’ in my face.
Since then we’ve had almost daily incidents of violence and aggression. Not always on a huge scale but enough to leave you feeling, ‘when, what, why will it happen today’. And it makes you feel like you must be doing a bad job because usually the way things work is that the longer you do something for, the better it gets. But with every passing day she spends in a (relatively!) calm home, she realises that actually what’s gone before is something that is not ‘normal’ and that is scary. And quite rightly, why would you want to talk about it. Why would you want to make the safe place part of the scary place. Will we reject her too? We can’t love because she’s a ‘bad’ girl. She made all those other things happen so to protect herself she keeps a tight bubble of protection around her. And the shame and fear get bigger somehow, not smaller.
So I”m finding myself desperately wishing time away to a time when she can talk about it and I’m missing out on the here and now because I so desperately need her to engage with this.
And that’s where I’ve been going so very wrong. This week I read a fantastic piece of writing from The Open Nest about keeping children safe and it really hit me. My little girl does not feel safe. Imagine being 4 and not feeling safe. Imagine being 4 and home not being a place of comfort, security and safety for you. Imagine being 4 and being terrified of how you are feeling. I can’t. I can’t even begin to imagine that because it is so far away from the childhood that I experienced.
So until she feels safe, this will continue to be her way of reacting to things. And, although it sounds very negative, there is a chance that she will never feel truly safe here. I hope that she will begin to trust and feel more secure but ‘safe’ is such an enormous thing. Hopefully with trust comes some feeling of safety.
It’s a hard thing because I think as parents we all try to understand why our children do this to us and I think we’ve all read about the ‘whys’ and the ‘wherefores’ and afterwards we try so desperately to do some repair. But in the moment when it’s actually happening, I’m scared. I’m scared for Big, I’m scared for Little and I’m scared for me. I’m scared that this is our future.
So we will continue to repair and we will continue to try to help her understand her feelings and continue to try to give her other outlets for her anger, her shame and her fear. And if I’m honest we will accept that we will be doing this as a family. No one seems to understand/believe us when we tell them how it is so we’re beginning to realise that it’s down to us.
And the wonderful, lovely people on Twitter, who over the last two months have made me smile more than in the last 10 months. They understand and they listen and I thank them profusely.