They say dogs grow like their owners, or maybe it's the other way around.
I remember a training session from way back, where we learned about "Centering" (the American spelling). It's where a therapist who wants to pull someone back from bad ways begins by signalling her good intent by becoming a bit like the the person she's treating. The idea is the person unconsciously does the same thing back and becomes a bit like the therapist. It's based on the human need for approval and connection. Of course it takes time to work.
But who spends more time with people who might have bad ways than foster carers?
You start to notice this "Centering" with your foster child in little verbals tics. My partner, instead of saying a plain "yes" to a suggestion, says "Good idea!" It seems to take a week to ten days for a new child to start saying it. And only a bit longer for us to pick up on some of theirs. Suddenly you hear yourself describe the new cereal you're trying out as "Epic". Or even "Sick".
Does it go deeper though? I reckon it can, the longer the child is with you.
Last week I was writing up my records for one of our children and I get on the phone to our Social Worker. After a bit she said to me, in a very kindly way, "You OK? You sound a bit grumpy, that's not like you." I replied "I'm fine, just fed up with... (blah blah blah - whatever it was I was fed up with)".
When I put the phone down I had a quick think. I noticed that recently a lot of people had not been doing their job properly. Around the house, on the fostering scene...my partner had not been coming up to scratch. And every time, it fell to me to sort things out.
And at the same time, I got prickly that someone thinks I'm being difficult. So I went back to filling in the records. I wrote, (approximately);
"This child, who has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder*, though improving generally, continues to display disapproval of (almost) everything anybody does, either for or with the child. This morning the child disapproved of: the way breakfast lay on the plate, the parking space I chose, the T shirt I had on, the pace I was walking to school at, the tune I was humming, me bending down in the playground to whisper something..."
And as I wrote a huge penny dropped.
Maybe I'm getting ODD?
Not full blown; haven't hurled any metal toys at anyone's head or threatened to open a vein (not yet anyway). But I have become less tolerant and more pass-remarkable the longer this particular child has been with us. I disagree, where before I'd compromise. I've even picked up the child's low growling noise "Grrrrrrrrrrr!"
Except I don't incline this way towards any of the children, and especially this particular child. Who can be, as they almost all can, incredibly infuriating plenty of the time.
In fact, the harder the children push, the more I consciously try for patience, understanding, and a helpful response to their behaviour. Of course, being honest, there are times when it's simply not possible to come back with anything other than a a firm rebuke in a strong voice, backed up with what they call "that look".
Why do we go the extra mile for them? Maybe it's because, provided you're on the look-out, you see them being kind where before they'd been selfish, go fetch a glass of water for you to take a paracetamol where before they'd have gone "Har Har" about your headache.
Then with some children, the best you can hope for is to stem a downward spiral; they might not make upward progress, but they have stopped declining, and that's a kind of progress.
I've been giving this a lot of thought since I spotted it. I'm sure part of it is that I'm still cream crackered after the school summer holidays and fed up with the rain and the doom and gloom on the news.
But I think there's something in the idea that our looked after children affect us in ways we know, and ways we don't know. I just hope we affect them right back. In every way possible.
The Secret Foster Carer
* As I find so often, there's not much out there on how to deal with a child who has ODD, but with this particular disorder there's precious little on the cause or exact identifying traits either. But hey, it's got a name, and a memorable one at that, so maybe there's something in it...
"How true I thought I was going mad? and the child's medication was not working, the web site you sent us to explains my child to the letter. I have never heard of ODD before but it explains a lot. I will now have to talk to the Doctor about this. But I suspect they will say it is Attachment Disorder as this is what they said about ADHD."
"I hadn't heard of it until one of our looked-afters had to have a "360 degree" psychiatric analysis in connection with a separate issue, and the psychiatrist listed ODD on the report. We looked it up and it fitted like a glove.
We have a strategy we are trying out to adjust it and it's slowly working. We largely ignore blatantly ODD oppositional remarks and defiance. For example, child is requested to come and eat tea, child replies "Don't wanna have tea. I'm watching TV". We don't react, don't say anything, just sit down at the kitchen table. After 3-5 minutes the child comes to eat. We don't refer to the ODD response, just act as if it never happened. The child may say "Why did you start without me?" If it's a bona fide hurt, we say "We'd never do that, we enjoy eating with you." If it's an ODD whinge we skip it and go straight to: "Who's had an interesting day?"
We respond and discuss with the child non ODD opposition (say for example, child doesn't want to go to school, which is pretty normal).
It's the ODD knee-jerk, automatic: refusals, disagreements, doing the opposite of whatever they're asked, that we are not rewarding with any focus (unless of course the child risks himself or others)."