The front of one card may look like this:
I feel disgusting. The hurt part tells me that I am gross, and that is why my birth family let me be adopted and people kept hurting me and sending me away.
When I feel disgusting, I usually
*do stuff to annoy people, so they will also think I'm bad
*do things to gross people out
Then, we flip that card over and state the truth. I ask them to come up with some OTHER things they could do instead of the regular behaviors. We talk about how it's easy to do the old stuff. Anybody can do that. But strong kids try new behaviors. The other side of the card might say:
This one was a biggie, and painful for my child. We went through closets and drawers to make some changes (and trash things that needed to go). We discussed how on the really tough days, they could ask their older sibling to help them get ready - how they should not just dress okay, but dress EXTRA special on the hardest days, smell EXTRA special on the hardest days. Also, I was clear that they would still feel disgusting. The feeling does not go away just by dressing, smelling and behaving the truth. You can't help how you feel. We talked about what it might be like to feel that feeling, but make the positive choice anyway.
I am beautiful, pure, clean and lovely. I will
*use my words to make people feel great
*smell extra lovely
*act in a way that makes people want to be near me
So, that's where we've been. Fast forward to yesterday. We had one minor incident at the store, so I just kept that child with me and my youngest for that short trip (their older siblings got to look at toys). On the way out, they were carrying our 500 lbs of toilet paper we had just purchased. I very clearly told them they could put it in the front passenger's seat. Everyone was trying to pile into the car, and there that child stood, crouched over in the middle of the van, blocking the rest of their siblings from getting in. "Um, what am I supposed to .. where do I put it?" They were in the play-dumb mode. I IMMEDIATELY started to churn my brain on what I would do when they refused to let me talk them down and stay dysregulated til we got home. Once this particular child is there - in it - they never come out until later. So, I was prepared for the dance.
If you parent kids from the hard places, you know what I'm talking about. There is "slightly dysregulated." There is "kind of a rough day." There is "getting on top of it before it even starts." But then, there is full-on, already THERE. When they are THERE ... you just get comfortable and buckle up for the ride, doing everything in your power to keep it from complete explosion.
"Babe, this is one of those times we have talked about. You are feeling one of those big feelings right now. The hurt part is telling you not to listen to me and not to show me any respect. If you do, it means I'm the grown-up, and I may harm you. It's time to tell the hurt part to STOP. You know you can trust me. You've tested me, and I passed ... for 2.5 years, I have shown you. Normally, you would pretend not to know what you should do. I will probably have someone else tell you or do it for you, and you'll put some love back into them later. OR, you could try really hard to do the strong thing. You could tell yourself the truth, and make the positive choice, EVEN THOUGH YOU STILL FEEL THAT BIG FEELING. Your choice."
Their face did not change. Their hands were actually shaking ... but ... guys, MY KID PUT THE TOILET PAPER IN THE PASSENGER'S SEAT!
In 867 days (yes, I counted), that child has never, ever, when stuck in the moment, EVER DONE THAT! OMG!!!
They just stood there for a minute. They weren't sure what to do. No one did. It was a temporary, complete silence. Like a dream. I finally said, "Um," (started to smile), "holy crap!" THEY finally smiled. "Well, why don't you sit in your seat. I guess we get to find out if you can have a big feeling, make a positive choice and NOT die. Of course, if you DO die, what will we do?"
"Have a nice service and play my favorite songs."
Their brothers and sisters broke out in applause, which was really sweet and made them smile bigger. Yeah for them. They knew it was the right thing to do, and they wanted to honor the magnitude of what their sibling had just done.
They did not do one single thing the rest of the day to go back to dysregulation. Have I mentioned that this is during the time over the last few months when we have been struggling severely? Oh, and this week is their BIRTHDAY (which they have sabotaged the last two years)! Should I say that part again, just for emphasis?
OH MY HOLY HOOCH, YA'LL!
My kid was so very far gone when they came to us. The way they did and did not behave frightened me. I used to fear they had ZERO attachment to any human being. They could shut down easily, and completely disassociate from their own body and the world around them ... not for hours, but for days ... weeks. I have spent nights crying and worrying about their future, and all the many people who would cross their path and be affected by their own inner turmoil.
Yet, yesterday ... my kid put the toilet paper in the passenger's seat.