We have a volcano living under our roof, in the shape of our 9 year old foster son.
99% of the time, he is delightful, eccentric, affectionate and good humoured. The other 1% of the time he is an eruption of fury and aggression, mowing down any children, adults and pets who stand in his way.
There is no gradual build up to these outbursts, no obvious or avoidable trigger. Something inside him snaps and explodes, the proverbial red mist descends and he turns into a savage.
The worst incidents happen at school. He has lost all his close friends; there are no more party invitations or play dates. People are begining to avoid him, although with sympathetic glances in my direction.
Luckily he has a wonderful, understanding teacher, who states happily that she is always five steps ahead of our foster son, attempting to distract him away from challenging situations or children he regularly clashes with.
At the moment he is manageable, helped by the fact that he is very small for his age. His head master can still pick him up under one arm and deposit him somewhere safe if need be. Once the eruption has happened, this tiny child is befuddled, confused, doesn’t understand the whys and wherefores of his own actions.
We struggle to understand them too, but we know the anger stems from trauma and developmental delay, due to the abuse meted out by his birth parents. Trauma shapes a child’s brain and learning, it stunts their understanding of the world around them. It stops them learning to cope with stress and shame, and in our foster son’s case, it prevents him from controlling his impulses.
He sees a cake, and wants it. If anyone gets in his way, they are pushed over, trodden on, kicked, punched or slapped.
He wants to sit in a certain seat, drink from a specific cup, open or shut a particular door, be at the front of the queue, be equipment monitor, hold someone’s hand etc and if those things don’t happen, he doesn’t sulk or shout or make rude comments, he immediately and spectacularly explodes.
A 9 year old having a violent toddler tantrum is not a pretty sight – it alienates his peers, it shocks teaching staff and leaves us despairing.
This child has been living with us for six years, hasn’t seen his parents for 4 years, and yet their neglect and abuse, their inability to nurture and guide him through those early developmental stages still blights him. Will he ever change? will we be able to show him that not sitting where he wants, not opening or closing the door, not being first in the queue….simply doesn’t matter.
At the moment, these tiny annoyances are end of the world scenarios to him.
His teacher describes him as a work in progress. We love him to pieces, but he scares us. What might he be capable of when he is 12? 16? Will he end up hurting one of us and causing the end of the placement, or will we find a way of channelling his fury in a productive way?
Fingers and legs very firmly crossed.