AFCchat #1

AFCChat #1: 7/4/13 – self-calming and anger – one hour session 9-10pm:

For the inaugural Adoption Fostering and Care Chat session held on Twitter, we chose a loose theme of ‘Calming’ – for you, me, and children.

Conversation got going really fast, and the hour flew by with well above 30 participants contributing.  This was a vibrant and intense hour, which seemed to be well received by everyone so it’ll be same time same place next week: Sunday 9-10pm BST on twitter using the hashtag #AFCchat.

I promised to write up the conversation; there were so many great and helpful ideas and discussions this was not an easy task.  But luckily there were some distinct themes.


Some people shared what they had noticed about stress points for the children: the things that can trigger stress or anger or heightened/upregulated behaviour and moods.  Do you recognise any of these?

- Endings: end of playtime, a game, an activity drawing to a close.

- Holidays: Lots of people clearly find it hard in holidays.  Reasons given: included changes in routine, the intensity of time together, weather restrictions. One longer-term adopter also noted the increase in triggers once school had ended for good. being organised helps. NB: Some contributor’s experiences were the opposite, with holidays being calmer and more relaxed, probably due to there being no rushing for schools, buses, timetables etc.

- Change: the need to prepare for this.  Need time to settle into routine.


a) Situation specific calming techniques and tools:

- Change:  being organised, lead in times, warning systems, calendars. I always think of this as ‘orientation’.

- Bedtime: no TV for good period before hand, quiet time, puzzles, no physical stuff, etc.  Sleep therapist mentioned (@ThefamailyofFive), chill out time.   Weighted blankets (@Wendys has a local contact).

- Sleep: Weighted blankets, calm music, lights

- School: - not trying to squeeze them into a structure that doesn’t fit, Ear defenders, chew toys, fiddle toys, safe space, parent teacher communication.

- Violent/Dangerous moments: safe hold

NB1: safe hold prompted a two-way debate – see discussion section below.

NB2: A point about raising with Martin Narey the need for Training around Safe holding.

b) General calming techniques and tools: These fell into some categories.

i) Physical energetic activity – that may be called into play as an instant calming response, or used as a more generic everyday tool (like a regulator)

- Exercise: dancing/jumping sport, Yoga etc

- Physical games: rough and calm, pillow fight, twister, musical statues.

- Practical games: play dough/colouring

- Touch: tactile/massage/Hugs/Tight hugs.

NB1: with touch there was a definite split opinion.  For some the physical touch side was definitely NOT GOOD.  see discussion section below.

NB2: A point about raising with Martin Narey the need for Training around Massage.

ii) Distraction:

- Films: watching a film (NB is this distraction, or familiarity, or just switching off/down?)

- Social stories: ??

- Changer: purposeful changes in atmosphere, activity

- Music: (could also be sensory) calming, or directing energy/grounding

- Working things off :( see physical above)

- Making ‘Slime’: – nh will send recipe!

iii) Sensory Tools:

- Special cover/blankets

- Ear defenders: really cool in school too

- Weighted vests/sandbags – Squeeze vest.

- Warm air: lay on front of fridge vent, bonnet hair dryer.

- Quiet: finding a quiet space/room

- Dark: sitting in the dark

- Water: having a bath

- Sensory exercises:

- Rocking: chairs, recliner, swings

- Stroking: pets, dogs

- Therapy swing:

NB: the therapy swing raises the issue of having a ‘special place’ or ‘named thing’ for calming; liminality.

iv) Practical tools

- Emotional Freedom Technique (add links- seeing it coming

- Breathing

- Traffic lights– for child and parent to recognise, name and identify emotions ‘going up’

- Ear Defenders

v) Therapeutic input ‘from the outside’

- Theraplay

- Therapists

- Osteo cranial massage restore effects of trauma

- Massage – feet good place t start.

- Theraplay – talcum powder hand massages, face painting etc

- Somatic Experiencing Therapy

NB: for SET see Peter Levine’s Trauma work in his book ‘Trauma Proofing your Kids’


- It seems for many it takes a long time for a child to ‘let the carer in’ and allow that influence to happen at all.

- Calming as ‘the body that needing to let go of trapped emotions’.

- Many contributors to the debate felt ‘calming’ can have the opposite effect, and even escalate stress/fear/anger.

-This was felt to be especially so when adoptees had pre verbal trauma; and in these cases the non-verbal approaches were felt to be best (ie yoga, somatic)

- there may be interesting further reading her on regulatory tendencies – are you/the child an emotional increaser or decreaser?  Do you know?

NB1: and what exactly is being calmed here? For some it is anger or panic, others being overwhelmed with emotions or hyper excited.  Being ‘scared to be angry’, making themselves sick,  self harming were also touched on.

NB2: important we remember that regulation is different for everyone – at different stages and with different issues,


A strong theme to emerge was that we would be mistaken to think calming was something that only happened as a ‘response’ to agitation: a) calming techniques needed to be introduced and practiced out of context skill teaching, and more importantly b) there is a wider more patient need for focus on the issues underlying emotional dysregulation, and c) understanding ‘how we/our kids operate.

- Recognising: learning recognition of changes in mood and the onset of dysregulation

- Naming: learning to name moods

- Understanding: The need to work on the ‘root of trauma’ not just the behaviour which is the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

NB: But sometimes this is unfathomable – so calming/emotional recognition important alongside.

-  Normalising: crucial importance of knowing /kids knowing that having anger about your experiences is normal/correct, and in no way a bad thing; but finding better, safer ways to express it is good.

- Timing: choosing your moments: importance of regulating before sorting things out.  Keeping the issue and reaction – separate!  Can’t address anything mid rage; teach/exemplify/practice techniques ‘away from the red zone’. Also needing the ‘space’ to deal with it – both time, social, brain space.

- Exemplifying:  This point is also covered elsewhere, but the overriding feeling was that calming was – in fact – all about US. Making sure we stay ‘in the right place’ to deal with them.  Be the change we want to see! We need to deal with our own anger as parents and ‘claim it’.

- Sensitivity: How hard is it to help when caregiver is also a source of the trauma i.e. the rupture  paradox of being an AP.  There is a definite paradox here – the push-pull in the AP/Adoptee relationship.


Our third and strongest debate centred around the fine line between calming and supporting an adoptee, and ‘breaking’ their behaviour/character/spirit.   Consider that adoptees by nature are ‘resistant’, and that “calming” can equates to breaking this resistance down.

- Support: calming is not an ‘authoritarian’ process to push a ‘round peg into a square hole’.

- Backlash: there were worries about calming having the adverse effect of adoptees/fostered kids bottling and internalising stuff that would ‘bite you later.

- Paradox: ‘acting out/non acting out ‘adoptees (see Daniel link on his website RAD

- Terminology: there are semantic problems here of accidentally (or otherwise!) siting ‘the problem’ with the child, when problem lies elsewhere.

- Social conditioning: Anger and dysregulation as a natural, valid, chemical response to trauma – ongoing trauma.  But can all too often be seen by society as negative, defiant (see Anti Victim Prejudice)

NB: BUT denying adoptees need help would be wrong & dangerous


FIRST: the importance of learning joint soothing (allowing and asking someone else to help/gain comfort from) as well as self-soothing. Some research here needed on SRS Stress Response Systems.

SECOND: what do we do when there is no time for techniques; when violence and aggressive physicality require damage limitation?  Many of our number had experienced violence, of which a large number lived with it – or the threat if it – regularly.  Safe holding was discussed both as necessary safety method and as a terrible suffering/infringement on human rights.  More needed here in future, I feel.


More on anger

More on staying calm as parents/coping

Complaints about social care

Calming in schools

Violence/physical aggression/Safe holding

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