Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Celebrations as Triggers

One of the things I wish I had known when I brought my children home from Ethiopia is that speical events would be a major trigger for our kids for the first year they were home.  A special event is something out of routine:  any holiday or event or celebration that people get excited about or put time into preparing for or talk about ahead of time.
I first clued into this when it was time for school photos.  No big deal, right?  It's just a picture.  "Dress up a little today because they are going to take your pictures at school."  Well, several stubborn fits and one all-out meltdown leading up to this event got me thinking.  Oh, the times they had photos taken at the children's home, they were told to smile nice and a family might choose them.  Or something like that.  When it was picture time, I'm sure all the kids were full of anxiety about whether they would ever have a family. 
Valentine's Day - anything the teachers and kids at school talked about as a future event - sent my kids into Anxietyville.  They didn't know what to expect, they could sense that these things were not ordinary things, and they were out of routine.  At the children's home, knowing what was coming next (routine) was one of the few comforts they had.  Surprises, even good ones, were not good.  When they don't know what to expect, there is a little part of their broken hearts that says "hey, this is what it felt like when they put us in a car and sent us to KM and our whole world turned upside-down" or "hey, this is what it felt like when mom died" or "hey, this is what it felt like when we got on the plane and left everything we knew."  It would be enough to make me want to hurl.  But my kids have learned the survival skill of "appearing to have it together."  The "keep it under control" coping mechanism is well-honed in these three.  So, when their anxiety bubbles up to overflow, it comes out as misbehavior. Bossing people around.  Stubborn refusal to do what is asked.  Explosive frustration.  Stomping aways muttering under their breath or screaming "I hate this family!"
So, I learned to sit them down and talk through the event, what might happen, what kinds of feelings they might encounter, what kinds of food there might be, what people usually do, what people usually say, why people do these things.  I let them know how not a big deal it is.  I think of everything I might have worried about when I was 10 or 11 and try to prepare them for that.  I remind them that they are safe, and loved, and this thing is just for fun, or it is to honor and respect someone, and here are the good manners you'll need.  I tell them ways to make it fun.  I tell them we've got their back.
I've come to understand that almost every time one of my kids is misbehaving, it is because they are worried about something.  Medical procedures, trips in the car, visits to people we don't know, someone coming to visit.  Everything that is not routine. Everything that makes them think maybe they don't have any control over the situation. 
They have been home for almost three years now.  Last week, we attended my dad's memorial service.  Laird coached them a lot in the car on the way to Pennsylvania. Rediet has some "selfish brat" moments in the morning, but nothing huge.  At the service, they were respectful, they participated, they had feelings and sought comfort, and they listened.  They were amazing.  My dad would be proud.
(Tonight, I'll add the video of the 18 grandkids tribute to their granddad.)


Meg said...

We arrived home in August wiht our 4 1/2 (likely 5 1/2 ish) son and 2 year old sister. Halloween was ok, some nerves at first, but we kept it short and stopped while we were ahead. Thanksigiving was a complete disaster. Family in and out, crazy routines, I had just returned to work, he just began full time preschool == it was awful. Huge tantrums, he felt completely out of control. We kept Christmas lowkey with just the 4 of us and it was much, much better. It's so good to hear how well your kids are doing. Gives me hope =)

Meg said...

We've been home almost 8 months and can relate very well. This post is a reminder that I need to do a better job prepping my kids for these events. After changes in routine, holidays, new visitors, weekend trips...we get bad behavior. I worry that it will always be like this. My husband was out of town this past weekend and we've had terrible morning with our older boy the past few days...I'm guessing there is a connection. Even though Daddy came home, those emotions were stirred. Great reminder. Thanks.