After many comments, emails and conversations discussing the merits of our happy/sad faces, the NC and I decided to look more closely at the sad face. Many people seem for it, many people are against it. All have their own reasons and can defend their opinions. For some it helps manage behaviour, for others it worsens behaviour.
Mini hasn’t been on the sad face for….well I can’t even remember the last time now. His behaviour has been changing for months now, but over the last few weeks we seem to have reached a point where I’m not sure it could get any worse! Most of Mini’s recent actions have been aggressive and violent, and we have never used the sad face for that, instead we’ve administered a time in hug, in a time out place. (That doesn't make the violence stop, but it sends a message that we love him regardless of the punches he's throwing!)
Mini is now less bothered about what happens when he moves onto the sad face. The first step is toy removal, but now Mini couldn’t really care less about toys being removed, which says to me that he doesn’t really care about himself either.
As we’re learning more, we’re beginning to understand about Mini’s feelings of shame. Clearly imposing more shame on him is not healthy or good.
A few months ago when we started using the faces we wanted to stop all the things we saw as unacceptable – hitting, screaming, pinching, biting, non-compliance in all sorts of things, drawing on walls/furniture/toys, climbing on furniture, jumping on the sofa in an effort to break it.
Now, as things appear to have reached a peak, we want and need to concentrate on the most serious stuff – hurting others. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to think about the other things, but we’re looking at different ways of dealing with them. We have not only toddler-proofed the house for Dollop, but are in the process of Mini-proofing too! We’re trying to use more consequences too (natural consequences where at all possible). And we're looking more at how to help Mini manage his feelings and how we can re-wire his brain so these issues don't manifest in these undesirable ways so much.
Mini no longer has free access to his pens/pencils, he has to ask, and is supervised when using them. The supervision means it’s now a nice close activity too.
Out of fear (following the threats of stabbing with cutlery, and other similar threats) we have moved our kitchen knives out of their block (which Mini could have reached if he really, really wanted to and was in a climbing frame of mind), and onto a magnetic strip on the wall where Mini has no chance of getting to.
So, given that we’re learning more about shame, and given that we’ve not used the sad face in ages anyway, it’s coming down. Right now. *Rushes off to remove sad face*.
Right, it’s down now, and ripped up and in the recycling bin so we’re not tempted to put it back up. I wonder if Mini will notice it’s disappeared?
I’m keeping the happy face and the super-happy face for now. Why? Because I think they are useful tools to reward and praise Mini. In the same way that some people put pennies or marbles in a jar, or dish out chocolate buttons, we move Mini up the super happy side. These moves are unexpected. Mini doesn’t work for them, because he never knows what we’re going to reward. The idea is that he does nice things when he can, and we have to spot those opportunities to reward him.
Of course we try to praise him all the time – for every little thing we can think of i.e you put your shoes away, well done Mini; it’s great that you put your knife/fork together on your plate Mini; you've been playing so nicely with Dollop; your hair looks lovely today Mini, you brushed it really well.
But the rewards are for being especially nice, things we know are hard for him, things that are outside of his normal routine, or good choices i.e you were really cross then Mini, but you made a really good choice to cuddle Dollop instead of hitting her; you remembered to do x,y,z even though you were feeling sad; I’m really pleased you were able to make a choice today Mini; look daddy, Mini’s eaten all of his dinner even though he didn’t really want to come to the table. Sometimes these things feel contrived and artificial, often Mini won't accept the praise, but sometimes he smiles and a glimpse of pride peeks through and his eyes sparkle like they used to.
We’re just realising that Mini isn’t just adopted, he has experienced early trauma; developmental trauma. These issues are not because he’s adopted, but because of that trauma and the damage that it’s done to him. It’s taken us a while to get here, for these realisations to dawn. Partly because so many people told us that we were wrong, that he was normal, that his behaviour was normal and because we were paranoid parents. So we’ve done things wrong that might have put us back a bit, we’ve listened to professionals – who have also been wrong, and put us back a bit, but we’ve moving forward now.