I wonder……

This last week we have attended a feedback session from a theraplay assessment we had at home, and I attended some brilliant PAC-UK training at our adoption agency. The main take home message for me from both for me was ‘I wonder…..”

What I am about to discuss may seem obvious to some people, and in adoption, it should be, but I am just starting to understand the importance of it, and hope that someone reading may benefit from this knowledge too.

A few weeks ago our daughter’s social worker came to do a MIM (Marschak Interaction Method) assessment with the 3 of us at home. This is a theraplay based assessment which is used to observe and assess the quality and nature of the relationship between the caregivers and the child. It consisted of play based activities that we completed each on our own with our daughter, and also the 3 of us together. The social worker filmed it, and it was sent to a therapist to analyse. We went this week to have the informal feedback.

The good news was that the therapist said that our daughter has a good attachment to us, and clearly wants and likes to be with us. This was encouraging and we feel this is due to lots of hard work on our part.

The more challenging news was that even though she appears to be engaging well with us, this can be quite superficial and the deeper attunement (non verbal and ‘in the moment’) needs to be developed and encouraged. being told that your child is disengaged to you is pretty hard to hear actually as we thought we are doing well. Then I realised we are doing well, it’s early days, and to have that determination to get it right and learn how to parent better can only be a good thing. If we can get this right it will help her recognise and manage big emotions, and will help in every area of her life as she grows. No pressure then……

Some ideas that he gave to increase that attachment/attunement to create a non-verbal connection of togetherness are:

  • voice her thoughts, e.g. does it feel like….. I wonder…..
  • She can be quite hyperviligent and anxious, and will ask lots of questions (e.g., who’s that man?, what’s that noise?) He suggested we create stories so that she understands in the moment, and knows that we acknowledge how she feels. It voices that you are thinking the same as she is, and creates that togetherness. He suggested that she will use the feelings to go back to a time when she felt them before, and we need to help her match those feelings to current experiences. (e.g., ‘that man is just going for a run, maybe he’s going to get a medal. I wonder if sometimes when people run around and surprise you, it makes you feel a bit anxious and scared. Mummy and daddy will keep you safe so you don’t need to be scared.)
  • match her emotion and shift, e.g. if she is frowning, frown, then smile. This can be done as a game, and she quite enjoys this. It encourages positive eye contact.
  • do lots of non-verbal contact (theraplay games can be useful here)
  • narrate lots, it’s what you’d do for a baby, and she may have missed out on this stage. It enables her to understand emotions/feelings and make sense of the world
  • don’t ask questions, just lead, she’ll follow & learn to internalise.
  • if you ask questions, this may lead to stress and panic, and she won’t actually be able to process and remember. Questions put her under pressure.
  • she needs to know that you know, it encourages trust because if she believes you don’t know that answer, that’s stressful to her.
  • she needs lots of feedback that she’s a joy to be with, otherwise she’ll internalise that she she is not worthy. Just a frequent smile helps with this, everytime she looks at you. Give lots of encouragement.
  • blank or disappointed faces can be interpreted as anger.
  • always respond with empathy first. (e.g., ‘that must be really hard’)
  • Once you disconnect from her, she will stay disconnected for 2hours, so any chance of progress is gone.

I also attended some training about ‘managing difficult behaviour’, and really the message was very much the same. The trainer also said that being sensitive to emotion ( and the reason for them) is one of the most important concepts. She said that naming and exploring emotions with children is so valuable because it means that they feel heard and listened to. Their emotions feel valid, and they learn that there are ways to manage emotions. It reassures them that you know what you’re talking about, and then trust increases. she says always think before you respond. Like the therapist she said avoid questions. She talked about ’emotion coaching’, which uses empathy and specific ‘scripts’ that you can adjust as you need. She also said using ‘I wonder….) is the best thing you can say.

So, after all this training (and driving to them), I feel exhausted with all this new information, and disappointed in myself for not getting it before now. But, I have the knowledge to make positive changes, and it makes so much sense to me. I’ve already started to use some of the techniques, and it seems to be helping, even if it just prompts me to think first before I respond to my daughter. I think it’s helping me be more empathetic, and calmer. I know that the tantrums and difficult behaviour are not going to disappear over night, and that it’s a work in progress but I’m hopeful that it will make a positive difference to my daughter, and that can only be a good thing…..


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