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My partner and I adopted our son two and a half years ago. Every day I learn something new about him and wonder what happened to him during his 8 months with his birth family and 22 months in care to produce such anger and anxiety.

When he first came to live with us he was like a compliant robot for about a month. He followed every request, went to bed, slept, ate and played almost to command. Then, as he began to realise this was his new home and he became more comfortable the real emotions began to appear.

The anger first started when I returned to work. When I returned home each night I would be welcomed by a hyperactive pummelling of fists and then cold stares, impressive for a two and a half year old. Towards bedtime I would often be bitten, not just nips but blood drawing clamped down jaws onto whatever body part I mistakenly left close to him. This would often build towards bedtime and over the months into a routine of us removing all items from his bedroom and to prevent them being hurled at our heads.

The books, blogs and theraplay advice taught us to go back to basics and rock, cradle and nurture our son to help reassure and establish close connections. No amount of reading or courses fully prepared you for an angry two and a half year old. However, the realisation and understanding this anger is seated in anxiety from chaotic routines, domestic violence, exposure to drugs and early weaning to name but a few of his childhood trauma experiences helped contextualise these events.

Each time he hits, bites, shouts and throws is an opportunity for empathy and understanding about the route of what my son could not verbally express. Over time by rocking, bottle feeding, cuddling, tickling, cutting the grass together, lying on the floor together, stroking each other’s hair we have established a non-verbal understanding of his daily struggle with anxiety.

What helped us most was considering our sons general level of anxiety each day on a percentage scale which we quickly applied to our own stress levels so we could tag team each other when the going got too much. Some days he would be at 10% but would rise quickly to 50% if he heard a loud noise or someone shouting. We learned to calm, soothe and reduce his percentage of anxiety and through verbally expressing all our feelings helped him name his frustrations so at 3 years of age he could show us if he was angry or upset by just screwing his hands up when we asked did he feel like an open palm hand for relaxed or tight fist for stressed when words were not enough.

Over time he has learnt to tell us when he is frustrated, upset and cross. We validate his feelings and remind him it is ok to be cross. We distract, we listen, we support but most of all we remember that the trauma is a scar that will always remain. It may fade in time but it can always be felt and when old feelings are rekindled we resort to lying on the floor, stroking each other’s hair and allowing him to just be how he feels.

We have a strong five year old son who is every day learning new ways to express himself, learning about friends and other people’s families and how to survive away from us at school. He will always be my baby and I am ready to snuggle whenever he needs the comfort to help soothe that scar that was inflicted upon him by the people who are meant to protect and nurture.

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