It’s that time of the year again when our minds turn to some of those stranger traditions we have – Halloween to be specific but also some of the myths and legends around Christmas. If you’re an avid reader of my musings you will know that we have three adopted teenagers and I seem to live in this surreal world of fantasy or reality most of the time.
I will also confess that my favourite TV programmes are monster programmes such as Vampires and Werewolves. I know, not a great thing to admit for a 47 year old, but I’ve also noticed that my love of fantasy has increased since we’ve had our children. The only thing I can put that down to is life is a little bit more intense so watching soaps or reality shows to wind down just makes me more wound up. Whilst it would seem, vampires and werewolves tearing each other apart seems to relax me!
So what on earth has this got to do with vulnerable children? – I hear you say.
Well there are often fantasies that adopted children have about their past and especially their birth families. Some children, like mine, are a bit more realistic about what has happened as they were old enough to understand a little bit more about what was going on. Also, with the increase in violence on TV it’s not surprising that the lines between fantasy and reality can get blurred for children and young people. My sons, for example, love the same kind of things that I do and actually the more violent the better (which isn’t great I know). However, something happened in real life a few weeks ago that brought back to my mind the reality of how they might actually handle trauma.
Both boys were walking home from school with a friend and this friends little brother (about 5 years old) came to meet them with his Mum. He ran away from his Mum across the road and was hit by a bus. My boys were traumatised to say the least. The little boy was ok but the sight of him flying in the air and the not knowing how he was really impacted my boys. They ran home, rang me and I came home from work to see them. For a few days they were both affected by this, expressed in different ways, but none the less the reality was far more gruesome than any episode of Walking Dead.
It made me consider once again what have they done with the early trauma they have experienced? Is it buried deep inside of them waiting to jump out one day or has the process of time healed something of that? I have no idea to be honest. One son is very private about his thoughts and feelings and the other is the total opposite but both are very sensitive and feel a great deal.
I’ve also been thinking about Halloween and Christmas coming up. Whilst we try to make these fantasy characters scary and fun for our children I do wonder for those who have had real life monsters to contend with – how does it impact them? Witches, ghouls, Dracula and all manner of scary costumes, old men in suits climbing down your chimney or just coming into your room when you’re asleep – for most of us these things may not matter at all. But what about those children who have experienced horrible things at night or who are just so on red alert for danger that any ‘fun’ scary experience might trigger early trauma?
Bonfire night is this weekend too. A night my daughter particularly dislikes as loud noises scare her, in a way that she cannot rationalise. Something about her past trauma is associated to these loud noises and makes her anxious for those few days when the town around us celebrates with fireworks at all hours of the night.
I’ve come to understand that we can use all these daily experiences to help our children process their early lives. We take our daughter to a firework display but we show her that we know it’s hard and we will do all we can to keep her safe. We watch fantasy shows together with our children and talk about what’s real and what isn’t. When they see things like a small child being knocked over by a bus we comfort them for as long as they need – understanding that even if we might have got over it quicker everyone is different and may need more time to process things.
So, whether you like to live in fantasy or reality this time of year I recommend that you notice those children and young people around you – what is their response to these things? Are they nervous, overly excited to the point of hysteria, struggling with past triggers of trauma or with the fear of something that we see as fantasy but they see as reality?
If they are – how can you help them process these feelings and especially distinguish between fantasy and reality? Let’s make this time of year a time for closeness and connection.