Sunday, November 19, 2006

I Don’t Do Vulnerable

More and more I see a lot of our kids’ behaviors as desperate attempts to avoid being vulnerable.

Priscilla tells me she does not care about her foster parents. Why do I keep asking how she feels about their divorce? Nothing that happens with them affects her, why would I imagine it would? They are just people she happens to live with.

Joey, a boy who is small for his age, enters the unit insulting everyone, making death threats, talking about his gang affiliations and the weapons he claims to have hidden in his room.

Aaron is scheduled for discharge. He becomes aggressive and angrily attacks his favorite child care staff.

Katie is desperately hurting herself, refusing all offers of help, screaming that she needs to go to the hospital shortly after moving to a new group home. She finally says how unsafe she feels the place to be, the locks do not seem secure, it is in the middle of no where, who knows what the neighbors are like, and she’s not all that sure about the staff.

I think we can go far by looking at every episode of aggression we see and think: fear. When we observe unexplained anger, look for anxiety.

The video "Multiple Transitions: A Young Child's Point of View on Foster Care and Adoption" available from The Infant-Parent Institute is a profound and moving story of the child welfare system from the child’s point of view. One part that has always stayed with me is:
"Did I mention how much I am growing to hate smallness, and weakness and defenselessness? It's getting so the only thing I know how to do is to just be as tough as I can, and to try to rub out smallness and weakness wherever I see them:
In the kittens that get hung by the clothesline in the backyard and squished with a tennis racquet.In the babies in my recent foster homes who turned up scratched. In my own Self, which I attack, particularly when I am feeling small or scared, and I need to beat myself into more toughness."

Our kids have seen weakness and where it leads. They have been vulnerable. They have seen their mothers beaten and bleeding. They have been too small to stop the hitting. They have been molested and been unable to protest. They have had it with being too small, too weak, too powerless, too vulnerable. Now they are going for power and protection, whatever the cost.

So what does this mean for us? Try to keep the vision of the hurt little child in your mind’s eye when you relate to the raging teen-ager. Validate the anger and (when you can) identify the fear underneath, and validate that. Understand that the child has real and necessary reasons to hate the softer feelings. Mostly create a caring and respectful environment in which the child can relax and feel safe enough to dare to share how scared she is.

And this will be the priceless gift that you can give these kids.

No comments: