This is a story submitted by an ETC Trainer.
Photo courtesy of Jake Hill / Unsplash.com
We were journeying with this family for a couple of weeks and knew them through our community groups. They had 2 foster children in their home for a couple of weeks–boy – 12, girl – 10–both from acute trauma. The foster parents are first time parents.
I got a call from the mom that said there had been a blowup with their son and that he had left the house and that his dad was following him. (The parents are basically walking on egg shells around the house at this point, so they don’t upset the son. He goes into flight, fright or freeze very easily, and he had definitely gone into flight.)
They were walking in the neighborhood but he was heading toward a 4-lane street. Heavy rush hour traffic had them concerned for their son’s safety. When I called the dad, he said that they were now walking down the side of the busy road. As we talked I reminded him to do a couple of things–walk along side of him (not behind him), be in sync with him as he is walking (this will help to calm him similar to rocking a child), and let him know that you are going to be with him. Additionally, let him know that you will walk with him for as long as he wants to. This will let him know that you are going to meet whatever need he has and that you are going to be with him for as long as he needs you to be. Just let him walk, and walk until he decides to stop.
The keys for making this successful are to do it willingly, without resentment, and with true peace. If a parent angrily stalks beside a child, it can be perceived as spiting him and escalate the situation. Faking it to make it in these situations won’t always work because that sixth sense that kids from hard places have will be on high-alert.
They continued to walk, crossed the 4-lane street and, ended up at a local fast food join. They both got something to eat, and the son told the dad that he didn’t want him sitting next to him and to sit on the other side of the restaurant, so he did. This went on for about 15 minutes.
This is a point when the bar is lowered. You may have a family rule about sitting together or just not want to give in to the request out of anger. Often a demand of something like this triggers parents. Retaliating with a re-do that requires the child to ask with respect instead of demand may only start a control battle. Try, “I’d love to let you get some time by yourself. Next time I’d prefer if you asked with respect.” A re-do can be re-visited once re-regulation occurs.
I was driving toward their location to just observe and be there in case the dad needed support. I was going to stay outside in my car and just wait, but decided to go in to get a drink. When I walked in, I noticed the dad sitting by himself, but did not acknowledge him so that their son would not get suspicious and retreat further in fear. I could not see the son because of a wall. I ordered a drink and walked back to the area where they were sitting and noticed something that blew me away.
The dad was now sitting with his son playing a game of electronic chess, a very sweet moment. I walked out of the restaurant and got into my car and the dad texted me, “Amazing”. He couldn’t believe that after all they had been through that his son invited him over to play with him.
Isn’t it amazing that when we meet our children’s needs, using these principles, even in the midst of a storm and our kids pushing us away, that they truly want us to be engaged in relationship with them?