There are some unbelievable things happening in this story. Nothing seems to be going according to plan. First off Harry and the Weasleys have a hard time getting to King’s Cross Station because of everyone’s forgetfulness and return trips back to the house. Then Ron and Harry are separated from the family. Lastly, they steal Mr. Weasley’s car. What?! They steal a car?!
This doesn’t sound like something that Ron and Harry would ever do on a normal day. The problem is that this wasn’t a normal day. What would the day have looked like if it was normal?
“Ron and Harry would’ve gotten dressed, gone to King’s Cross Station with the family and made it through the barrier fine. They would’ve then gone to school and studied with no problems,” explains our middle son, Matthew.
Even though the day didn’t go as planned, I still couldn’t figure out why Ron and Harry would steal the car. If the Weasleys were planning on having ice cream for dinner and Mrs. Weasley declared that they were going to have pie, how would people react?
“I would just say, ‘eh.’ They should actually be excited about getting pie,” offers one of our kids.
What’s the difference between a change of plans for dessert or getting left behind/alone?
“On a scale from 1 to 10 on being scared I’d be a zero for getting pie instead of ice cream. I’d be a 10 if I got left behind though,” states one of our children.
Fear. Anxiety. Stress. All of those feelings can make people do strange things that they normally would not do under normal circumstances. How do you act when you get stressed?
“I go all, Whaaaa!” exclaimed one child with crazy whiny faces.
“If I’m not stressed, I’m all like whatever and just do the new plan. If I’m stressed, I act a lot different,” thought another child out loud.
In fact just a few weeks ago one of our kids had to cope with stress and a meltdown. Someone had bought our kids McDonalds for dinner. Now you have to understand that given the size of our family and the fact that we strive to eat healthy, our family probably has McDonalds two or three times a year. This is a HUGE treat for our kids. There were six hamburgers given to our kids. They all quickly and ferociously attacked their first burger and pile of fries. Dalton declared that he didn’t want an extra burger which meant there were two extra burgers for three kids. All of the kids were ecstatic about the chance for a second burger but super stressed that they might not get it if the others kids got to them first. One child could see that they wouldn’t finish their food before the others and made a quick snatch of one of the burgers. I (Darren) asked that the child split the burger fairly with everyone, but the child was so hyped up that they couldn’t think and began to get angry and yell. Long story short, it took the child an hour to calm down and be able to think that it was wrong to take the burger for themself.
Does that sound like a weird thing to get angry about? Well, we all do this to an extent when we’re stressed out. Margie and I admitted that there were times that we expected plans to go a certain way. However, when something makes us stressed and plans changed, that’s when we tend to start yelling over something little.
There are two parts of the brain that people talk about in these kinds of situations. Put your hand at the back of your head where your head and neck meet. This area is where the basic thoughts to keep you alive are thought about. This area is concerned with helping you just survive. Now put your hand on your forehead. This is the area of your brain that thinks about more complicated things. If a huge and scary dog came running and barking next to you, the back part of your brain would tell you, “Run! Get out of here! Danger!” Once you were a little ways away and knew you were safe, the front part of your brain would think more complicated things about the situation like, “That dog was just protecting his house, but it’s a good thing that I ran because his teeth look sharp and he looks like he would have bitten me in order to guard his home.”
Do you see the difference? The back part acts more during stressful times, while the front can think better during safe times.
The hard part is that when you have been taken away from your biological home, your brain has been taught to think with the back part. Just like when you lift weights and exercise to make your muscles big, bad/scary things have made the back part of the brain the stronger thinker. That’s why it’s easy for a foster or adopted kid to get angry when asked to share a hamburger or punch a parent who wants them to go to bed. Actually, here’s something your mom and dad probably didn’t know. The same stress chemicals given off in the brain when something bad happens are the same ones given off when something happy exciting happens. That could be why some foster kiddos have a meltdown or get stressed during something exciting like Christmas morning or a birthday party.* Did your mom and dad know that?
How to React When Someone Else has a Meltdown
Here are our adopted kids’ top 3 suggestions for interacting with someone after a meltdown:
- Give them space
If the person is still stressed or anxious, it’s best to give them a little time to be alone.
- ASK them if they want a hug
It can be nice to get a hug. It lets you know that you’re not crazy, someone cares, and people want to be around you. However, some people don’t like to be touched or get scared when you rush in for a hug. ALWAYS ask before giving a hug to a friend. If it’s a stranger, a hug is NOT okay but asking to put your hand on their back could be fine. Also, side hugs are great for people that are of the opposite gender and are just as comforting.
- Start Again
Make the person feel normal again by picking up where you left off. If you were playing a game with your brother, then ask him if he wants to finish the game. If you were watching a movie, ask you friend if they want to finish watching the movie. The kid that had the meltdown is probably embarrassed about their behavior and doesn’t want to talk about it or think about it anymore.
Now It’s Your Turn:
Sue goes to school with you. She is a foster kid and is happy in her foster home as far as you know. What you don’t know completely is that Sue is super stressed today. She has to go visit her biological father this evening and her father has hit her in the past to the point that she has had to go to the hospital. Sue is really scared about the visit. She is also really nervous about the history test today. If she gets a bad grade on the test, she’ll have to go to summer school. On top of all that, Sue got water on her pants while at the water fountain and kids have been making fun of her for wetting her pants all morning long.
At lunch time a girl Sue is friends with sits down next to Sue and accidentally bumps Sue’s arm a little bit while trying to sit next to her. Sue jumps out of her seat and yells, “Why don’t you watch where you’re going you fat cow?!” Sue grabs her pizza and shoves it in the girl’s face before pushing the girl off her chair.
One teacher attends to the girl on the floor who isn’t hurt. Another teacher takes Sue to the principal’s office to talk and calm down.
You see Sue later in the day.
What do you do? What do you say?
Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. Help others learn what they should do.
* Fact taught at The Empower To Connect Conference 2015; Dr. Karyn Purvis