In the early days, not long after he had moved in, our greatest test began, his behaviour.
It’s hard to describe what it was like as it was so inconsistent, erratic, irrational and constant.
The slightest thing could set him off and we could have screaming, crying, swearing, throwing, running, you name it, he had it in his arsenal and every single moment of it was a test of our patience.
A lot of it stemmed from his time in residential care, in a world where you grow up with no adults, just youth workers, in a house that is not your own, where rules cannot be enforced and there are no consequences, you begin to make your own rules. His time there had taught him very little, except that if he didn’t get his own way, he only had to scream and cry, which would usually result in negotiations to avoid an escalation, when negotiations failed, get physical, escalate.
When we had visited the house in our first visits there were holes in many of the walls, several walls missing large areas of plasterboard, his bed at the time was broken at the end and he slept on somewhat of a slant. This was the nature of his understanding of consequences, “natural consequences” they called it. In the absence of discipline in any way their only option was to allow him to live with the results of his behaviours, in this case, the damage around him. How effective that choice was is debatable, after having lived with the repercussions of this method we found ourselves questioning it’s validity.
The advice we had been given was to be consistent with rules and expectations, set clear boundaries around what was ok and what was not and to ensure we explained the nature of consequences.
And so we did.
And so it was good.
What we could never account for was the sheer volume of the “escalations” as we came to call them when reporting them to the department, yes each escalation required a report, every time. Some of the early ones were the little ones, the running away at shower time, that was the easy stuff, the tough stuff came when we really had to follow through with what we said.
With limited options at our disposal, we had to go with the basic consequences, taking away small privileges for wrong doings, things like dessert, TV, play time, early to bed and taking away toys, unfortunately it was the consequences that quickly proved to be the trigger to our escalations.
Our rules were pretty simple, primarily focusing on basic expectations around following instructions and basic manners as well as good behaviour at school and at home, we didn’t want to set the expectations high, but we had to set them firmly.
The first time we sent him to bed early I was pretty sure our neighbours thought we were murdering him.
The reaction was something from another world, it was like watching the 7 stages of grieving fast forward in front of you. He would plead, beg, apologise, cry and then started the yelling, kicking and screaming. He threw himself on the lounge room floor and howled
“No dad no! Please! NO! DON’T! PLEASE! NO! I’LL DO ANYTHING!”
He knew how to work the system, but we were prepared and stuck our ground.
By the time he got to his room he had turned angry and started screaming, he had headed for the hallway and ran full pelt at the wall at the end, threw himself at the wall and dramatically slid himself to the ground.
He howled, jumped up, ran to his bedroom door and started screaming
“I HATE YOU! I DON’T WANT TO LIVE HERE!”
We tried to remain as calm as possible, reminding him of why he was going to bed early and that if he continued, there would be more consequences. None of this appeared to help, once in his room he screamed louder, we could hear him start to kick walls, throw toys, scream and yell, by this stage I believe the neighbours may have thought we were killing a village of small children judging by the amount of noise he was creating, but we persevered.
Eventually he would settle, often not until he had upturned the contents of his room, his bed or succeeded in rousing a reaction from us that would require us to re-enter the room to check on him. Sadly as we were warned, things would only get worse before they got better and as he continued to test the boundaries that we set his reactions intensified. Within a few small months we had 3 different holes in the walls in his room, we had heard every swear word imaginable and seen some distressing reactions that had shaken us.
Some of the most distressing behaviour was his disregard for his own safety, he would use threats against himself as a means to test us, trying desperately to see if we would really care at the same time as trying to act out against us. This disregard sometimes had to be taken seriously and sometimes we had to show him we weren’t going to react and continue as though nothing was happening.
One afternoon he took to throwing himself against the wall, rolling on the floor and screaming and we had to restrain and calm him, another evening he ran back into the kitchen and grabbed himself the nearest knife, quickly I managed to retrieve it and sent him back to his room. But as he continued to escalate the behaviour our resolve continued to grow, he stormed into the kitchen another evening as I was washing the dishes while he’d been sent to his room, he grabbed the nearest knife (a butter knife, bless) and pointed it at his arm.
“You don’t love me! I’m gonna cut myself cause you hate me!”
By this stage, these outbursts had become almost daily and whilst being aware of how far he could go and the likely hood of his actually following through I simply took a deep breath and turned to him calmly,
“I love you, but you’re going to need to take that outside if you’re going to do that”.
It was as though I’d slapped him.
He stopped, stunned and just stared at me, knife poised in his hand, caught off guard.
I smiled at him calmly and turned back to the dishes, moments later he walked up to the drawer, put the knife away and walked back to his room. It was this sort of attitude and approach that we had to adopt, we had to call his bluff, we had to know that what he wanted was a reaction, he wanted us to freak out and come running and although our natural instinct was to help him, to hug him, he had to know that this was not going to work.
Perhaps the point at which the behaviour hit it’s peak was one of the scariest both for us and for him.
During his end of year break up party at school he came home on a sugar high unlike anything else, heavens knows what he’d been fed, but he was bouncing off the walls, almost literally. As he arrived home he had reached his peak and was slowly coming down and as he did so the behaviour continued erratically until he was told he needed to go to his room to calm down and that, was when hell broke lose.
The screaming began.
Outside he ran to the fence and back inside, he tore up the hallway and into his room, he screamed, he kicked and he threw.
With only one of us home he was testing the boundaries even more and the decision to sit and wait it out was the only option.
Minutes passed and suddenly silence.
Minutes passed again and suddenly a sound outside.
Walking outside and looking down the stairs, below his 2nd story bedroom was a little body lying perfectly still on the ground.
Thankfully “Daddy” was the parent home for the afternoon, quickly he rushed down the stairs to check him.
“Mate, are you ok?”
“Yes, I think so…” came the shaky reply.
He checked him over, somehow, he seemed fine, somewhat shaken, but fine.
“Good, you need to go back to your room now.”
Evidently, boys can’t fly, but they do know how to give you a good scare. He had expected a reaction, he wanted one, he wanted something, somehow he wanted to take back control on the situation, but we couldn’t give in to what he wanted.
After he’d gone back to his room he settled until we were both home together again to talk through the afternoons events.
Evidently he’d been very calculated, climbing down and hanging from his windowsill before dropping himself from the lowest point for dramatic effect, cleverly making it look as though he had leaped the full 2 stories.
This was life for so long, test, trials, screaming and yelling. But it wasn’t all bad, in between was the beautiful good natured boy who just wanted to be loved and make friends. Whilst his methods weren’t optimal they were expected and were the only thing he’s ever known, it made it tough for him and tough for us, but we all persevered.
These days when you meet him you would never believe that he had ever behaved like this, he has adapted and learnt, he knows boundaries and he respects them. His consequences have reduced themselves through consistent good behaviour and this school term marks the first term he has been without a suspension of any form from school.
Whilst we may have taught him about rules, boundaries, respect and consequences he has taught us about patience and unconditional love, he’s tested and tried us and ultimately we’ve all come out on top.