Two of the all to familiar triggers for behavioural issues experienced by children in care are rejection and the fear of failure, for some it can be all consuming, overshadowing their lives in the same manner which someone with OCD may experience. They yearn for a level of acceptance and love that they have yet to experience in their lives and with each step forward for them comes with it a very real fear that they may fail, fail to impress, fail to achieve, fail to succeed. From getting dressed in the morning to reading a book or writing a simple sentence, each of these things present themselves as a challenge to a child that they may fear they are incapable of fulfilling, creating a cross section in their decision making, do I attempt this? or do I give up and cry because failure comes about so often, how can I possibly succeed?
Rejection comes hand in hand here, all too often their lives are established on the foundations of rejection, they feel that people will not like, cannot like them or love them. When they take steps forward and attempt to make these things happen and they feel a sense of rejection or failure the consequences for them can vary from the quietest and most gentle of reactions, to behavioural explosions that leave you reeling and wondering what just happened?
In the first few weeks as we got to know him we would visit his place for short visits and he would visits ours in turn, working our way towards sleepovers and eventually moving in with us. During his first visit I remember all to clearly experiencing his fear of failure and rejection, which took us completely by surprise.
He arrived for his first visit at our house, wide eyed and eager, wanting to know every detail about everything;
“How long have you lived here?”
“How many rooms are there?”
“Like, um, do you have lots of visitors?”
“Will you live here forever?”
“Which room will be my room?”
Once he was satisfied he knew everything he wanted to know and we had eaten (Spag Bol, his favourite), we decided to play Mario Kart, an easy enough game which he was incredibly excited about. He was so excited, he didn’t seem like he could lose the smile on his face but we didn’t have the heart to really compete against him, we just wanted to enjoy our time together. Admittedly however, his skill level wasn’t quite up to speed with ours and after a few races he eventually lost. Before we could figure out what had happened the controller was on the ground, he was on his feet and out the door as fast as his little feet could take him.
We were slightly bewildered as to what had just transpired and looked to the youth worker who was sitting in on the visit, he reassured us it was ok and went out to see if he could calm him down. It didn’t take too long before he was back inside and ready to play again, meanwhile we were still scratching our heads, had we done something wrong? As they left we both got huge hugs whilst being strongly reminded of our next visits and requests for food and entertainment and even a promise to call him in the mean time, we also got a moment to debrief with the youth worker as to what had transpired.
He felt like a failure, in that moment when he was so desperately trying to impress us and show us how fantastic he could be he had felt his inability to beat us in the game had shown some weakness, he thought we wouldn’t like him, we wouldn’t want him, he had completely blown his chance as living with us. In that moment he’d decided to give up and leave, feeling rejected and like a failure, over such a minor thing.
We were to find out over the course of the next 2 years that this behaviour would become all too familiar, particularly socially around other children as he struggled to make friends and adjust. Situations where other children didn’t show interest in playing with him could trigger complete meltdowns involving swearing, kicking, screaming and breaking of poor defenceless inanimate objects. It was something you could never predict and something we could only try to work with in building his confidence through love and support.
Ultimately what we couldn’t predict was the leaps and bounds that he could progress with this behaviour, in the early days sitting and discussing these things with youth workers, teachers, case workers and the like we were reminded that things like after school care, parties, sleepovers and such would be out of the question for a considerable amount of time, they reminded us that it would be a very long time before anyone expected him to be able to break down these barriers and work past his fear of rejection and failure.
Proving people wrong is always a great thing and today it really feels like we have, the fear is still there, but it is worked through, he is confident and brave, he tackles it head on and when it hits him he works as hard as his little mind can to process it and deal with it in the best way he can.
We did something with him last weekend that they never thought we would be able to do, we went to a party.
It was a great night, a grown ups party that was planned to accommodate the 15 odd children that were in attendance as well, including a jumping castle. Yes, that’s right, a jumping castle all to themselves.
It was fantastic to watch him ditch as soon as humanly possible and take off to the jumping castle and photo booth with the other kids, returning only to be fed and watered at appropriate intervals, until an hour in when I spotted him power walking through the event, that steely look in his eyes that I knew something had happened. He reached me and I managed to stop him;
“The older boys just stopped playing with me! They went outside and they said I can’t go with them!”
“That’s right mate, you can’t, but it’s ok there are still heaps of other kids to play with, they’ll be back”
Two years ago he might have exploded, blown up, thrown things, cried, kicked or screamed, instead that night he gave me that indignant look that I thought was generally reserved for teenagers who’s parents don’t know anything particularly useful in times of great importance, turned on his heel and headed back to the jumping castle. I followed closely behind and watched him march over behind it, take some deep breaths, mutter something underneath his breath and low and behold he went back to the other kids, who by this stage were now mostly young ladies. I kept my eyes on him for a few more minutes, he was still calm and he had even started smiling again, the other boys seemed to be furthest from his mind now.
Several minutes later he strode up to me with a proud pronouncement;
“Dad, I’m going to get a date!”
Then turned on his heel and marched off.
To my utter amazement he asked 3 young ladies who all politely turned him down, each time without missing a beat he continued on until lucky girl number 4 conceded or was won over by his dashing outfit purchased by his stylish fathers and carefully chosen by himself for this evenings event. Regardless he had single handedly taken 3 consecutive rejections and persevered without incident, we couldn’t have been more proud. As he marched over to us hand in hand with the young lady he proudly announced upon his arrival;
“Dad! I found one! This is….”
He turned to her, “What’s your name again?”
“Jessica, this is Jessica, she’s my date!”
Off they strode together to the dance floor, where they proceeded to dance hand in hand, complete arms length apart awkwardly swaying side by side for about 2 complete songs before two of the mothers intervened to help them shake it up and enjoy the dancing.
He has had some pretty adorable moments from time to time, but this was certainly near the top of the list.
Although the date was adorable, the simple fact that he was able to socialize, take risks, feel rejected, handle his emotions and continue to enjoy himself was a beautiful testament to the incredible steps forward he has taken in his journey. He is complex, beautiful, daunting, challenging, emotional, moving, draining, loving, caring, thoughtful, dramatic and everything in between and most specially, he is our son.