We’ve all done it. We arrive at a support group meeting singing the praises of the child who has just arrived to live with us, and who had a reputation for very challenging behaviour but it is now an angel. We give ourselves a little pat on the back. It was easy really. We started as we meant to carry on and put in place the boundaries for good behaviour, and the child or young person responded. There was also some suggestion that there might have been a personality clash between the child and the previous carer’s family, so all in all the move was better for everyone. The child is settling in well and all is rosy.
A month later we slink into the next support group meeting somewhat subdued. We confide quietly to those closest to us that we are exhausted, at our wit’s end, and are going to ask for respite to support the placement. The angel has turned into a monster and it’s impossible to equate the child who first arrived with the one we are struggling to care for now. The honeymoon period is well and truly over, and the carer is likely to be in for a very rocky ride, possibly lasting for many months before everything settles down again.
If you are looking after a child whose behaviour seems too good to be true, then the chances are it probably is. A child can only internalise pain for so long and then it has to come out. Challenging behaviour tests the boundaries and will also test you. The child wants to know if your love and concern is strong enough to stand his or her testing, or are you going to confirm what the child suspects: that they are bad and worthless and need to be moved on.
Many children behave well in the early weeks of a placement as they seek to ingratiate themselves into their new family and win their love and approval. You and your family in return will be going out of your way to welcome and include the child, compensating (possibly over-compensating) for the fact that the child is not able to live with his or her own parents and has led a very sad life. This is only natural but the honeymoon period can’t last for ever. Routine and familiarity will set in and the child will start to test you.
The good news is that with patience, time, boundaries, love and concern the child will turn a corner and the situation will improve dramatically. I’ve seen this myself countless times and it is one of the reasons I wrote Happy Kids. I’ve also had many emails from carers who have come through this difficult time to enjoy a new and improved relationship with the child. You won’t see the angel reappear but what you will have is a child who has strengths and weaknesses, good and bad days, demands and needs, and who is a fully integrated member of your family.
Cathy Glass (www.cathyglass.co.uk)