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Blow ups and how to avoid & move on from them for adoptive, kinship and permanent care families.


One of the challenges of gaining cooperation from young people in permanent or kinship care can be due to them operating in a more stressed state. However, the reaction we see is not necessarily the real driver of the reaction. For young people from a traumatic life experience, the idea of not being in control is incredibly triggering and their reactions can reflect those triggers. Sitting down to learn in a home-schooling environment, for example, with good intentions, can quickly escalate due to two peoples anxiety around this. The carer: feelings of I’m not the teacher and being intense in the one to one teacher student situation. The child: feeling so ashamed and anxious about showing how much they don’t know. This can result in increased tension, verbal abuse, tossing of books, leaving the space or house altogether. This type of explosive situation leaves both with negative feelings. So how do you move on from negative feelings? One way is to use reframing. Have a curious mind and find out what is getting in their way and how you can help. Reframing can move young people on from feelings of frustration, guilt and shame to feeling supported and strengthened in the relationship. This is as important at home as it is in the classroom. Young people need support to learn how to meet their needs, manage stress and improve their skills. They need relateable families and teachers to help them get there. Sonia Wagner, PCA Families Project Manager speaks with Vicki Coverdale, PCA Advisor, school leaver and foster sister, to find out more about this topic.

00:00 - Start 05:56 - Don't judge the first reaction and find out more from the young person 10:37 - Strategies to reconnect in a meaningful way after a blow up 11:15 - Bruce Parry's 3R's: Regulation, relation and reasoned 15:49 - Brains in Pain or Chaos cannot learn: Move, focus attention and understand the brain 19:18 - Warning signs to look for 22:58 - How blow ups are experienced in permanent care, kinship and adopted families 25:40 - When and how do you get the school involved to minimise blows? 30:18 - Treasured memories of success in minimising blowups for a child 32:33 - Resources, books and websites 35:05 - Remind them you love them and are there to help


This is Sonia Wagner, representing PCA Families in one of our many recordings designed to capture lived experience and best practice evidence based learning that assist kinship, permanent and adoptive parents/carers in supporting young people.

Being able to learn from peers and connect with those who may help us is particularly important. Today we are discussing Blow ups: we have all had them and in some families they are exacerbated for various reasons.

Before we do I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet. We pay respect to Elders past and present and express our intention to move together to a place of justice and partnership.

Today Im joined by Vicki Coverdale. Vicki is a mother to two adult children, Vicki works for PCA Families as an adviser so she has a great knowledge of the types of matters that are important to permanent carers, adoptive and kinship parents or carers support. She is also our resident education expert and passionate about improving the school experience for children. Vicki is also part of an extended care family having grown up with siblings in care.


Welcome Vicki.  Perhaps you could tell us a little more about yourself and your background (your role, training and other important things that shape you?

I have worked in various community organisations over the years and various education settings, mainly in primary school community education, TAFE, Mackillop Family Services education services and Salvation Army Services. Also completed careers education certificate. Interested in young people who struggle. Came to it by accident and not having a great school experience myself. I was asked to leave in year 10.  I was a school refuser, disengaged in the classroom. Quiet rather than an outwardly troubled child. An impactful experience. After the no-man years I returned to education in my early 20s. My parents were involved in the Salvation Army so I also came from a strong social justice background. We lived with children in care until they turned 16. One brother from my mother but more brothers from other mothers. So a lived experience of caring for others as a sibling.


One of the things that you and I have discussed recently is the challenges of gaining cooperation from young people in out of home care where they are perhaps in a more stressed state, because they are in a remote learning situation for example.  You have mentioned to me that the reaction you see is not necessarily the real reaction. Can you tell me more about that?

For young people from a traumatic life experience, the idea of not being in control is incredibly triggering. Sitting down to do the learning tasks in a home schooling environment, with good intentions, but quickly things escalate due to two peoples anxiety around this. The carer: feelings of I’m not the teacher and being intense in the one to one teacher student situation. The child has the anxiety of showing how much they don’t know to their carer which is incredibly shaming.  This can result in increased tension, verbal abuse, tossing of books, leaving the space or house altogether. This type of explosive situation leaves both with negative feelings.  Similar to how when children need glasses and they throw the jigsaw puzzle – they are saying I can’t do this. What someone won’t do vs what they can’t do is important to identify.  It’s important to reframe. Find out “What is really hard for you?” “What can’t you manage right now?” Be curious and think about what you noticed prior to the outburst. Unpack it and figure out the behaviour.  Sometimes they didn’t sleep well and they are tired.  Sometimes its bit deeper than that. Always harder in a pandemic when stresses are heightened all around.


How can parents and carers come back together in a meaningful way.

You also mentioned that parents/carers need strategies to reconnect after a blow up as the most important objective is to maintain the relationship intact.  What does that look like to come back together in a meaningful way and what are the strategies?

Its challenging to repair relationships for anyone but particularly for young people whose relationships have been a little bit disrupted and distraught.  I like Bruce Parry’s 3 Rs model for reaching the learning brain.  This involves Regulate, Relate and Reason.

Regulate: support the child to do that and calm their freeze/flight/fight response. What might work to calm them down in that moment?  You may say just breathe and that will work but that wont work for everyone. When they do come back after an outburst, it may not be the moment to talk about it. Maybe just say well that didn’t turn out like we expected did it.

Relation: this is about connecting back with the child.  Its about being calm and connecting with dialogue.  Ask them what do you need right now and what can we do together? Maybe its getting a hot chocolate or getting the Lego out. Humour can be part of this but again it depends on the child. If they are in pain, humour isn’t the way to go, but once they have calmed down a bit it can be used. Dan Hughes is a good one to look at for that.

Reasoned: Their capacity for reasoning is generally not good when they are disregulated.  Most overused term “That behaviour was inappropriate”. Requires a whole lot of insight and reflecting back. You have to talk about what went on for them and what you noticed – be curious about what went on for them and suggest ways that you can try going forward. You tell children or suggest what to do, rather than what not to do. Lead with informing with what they can do and involve them in the solutions. As their capacity builds help them come up with the solutions too.  This is about teaching them the language of emotions and strategies to regulate.


There was a great article I read recently titled “Brains in Pain Cannot Learn”. The article explains how when we have experienced trauma or poor attachment, especially in early development, the skills of problem solving and emotional regulation are compromised or diminished. The article highlights that to learn and problem solve, it’s important to create calm and safety. The author suggests three solutions: Movement, Focused Attention Practices and Understanding the Brain.  Can you explain a little more about these and any others suggestions for managing emotional pain in young people.

Correct the brain in pain or chaos can’t learn. Regulating and feeling calm is critical. Going to the cognitive part of the brain is inaccessible if their emotions and feelings are putting them in a constant state of stress response. What’s your capacity as an adult to learn calculus when your distressed? With mindfulness techniques you can perhaps manage or recognise how to help with regulation. We had one teacher who started running the children around the oval before starting the school day. This meant the whole class began the class breathing heavily and would work as a whole class to bring their breathing back down. They would also do quiet reading for the first 10 minutes and then start the day. Giving them a choice about what they read too – part of the process of engaging young people.  Handballing a football and learning the six times table are other examples of engaging with movement and learning and regulating for safety.


Are there some warning signs to look out for in young people before an outburst, behaviours that can be observed or common triggers perhaps?

It varies so much with individuals. General themes like a trigger could be mother’s day stalls, drawing the family tree or grandparent’s days. Times where they may be be rejected by their peers are definitely circumstances of heightened risk.

For young people living in care or with grandparents there can be a particular resonance. They are not living with their first caregiver. It reinforces thoughts of not even my Mum or Dad wanted me. It cuts through to the primary source of the pain. Try and observe like a mini detective. What made that day a good day? Record good days and bad days. If you didn’t get called to school for two months, why was that? Recognise what was different when they weren’t misbehaving. Kids may not want to talk about their day every single day. Maybe on those days it’s a score out of 10, to start looking back at patterns. Once you have patterns you can explore further or identify where its beyond the skill set of yourself or the school. You may have to engage with a professional that could help with some strategies at times. Invite the child to get involved at that time. Role model. You can voice you don’t know how to help or manage and you think you could get help. What do they think? Model that kind of reflection and need for help so that it becomes part of their lives.


How do you feel permanent care, kinship and adopted families commonly experience blow ups? What are the biggest challenges for these families?

In some situations school is fine for children and in others its home that’s fine. For grandparents it can be a mixed bag: pleased you have the children but heartbreak also. Carers talk about the challenge of contact: there may be a good relationship yet there are still ups and downs to it.  Before or after a visit can result in behaviour escalation. When things happen such as parents failing to turn up, emotions escalate.  The trick is to pre-emptively work out triggers and have the best relationship you can with the school. Primary school is easier as you have a central teacher and point of contact so you can develop a rapport and relationship. Perhaps create a book about the child that introduces them – things the child is comfortable sharing – what they like doing and who they live with. Gives the teacher a headstart to develop their relationship with your child. Relational teaching is important. They need to feel safe.  Preempt things at the start of the year – start talking about the family tree for example and how to respond when that comes up.  Prep the child before they start the school year. Think about scenarios they may be worried about. For example, what if someone asks you “Why do you live with grandma?”. You could say “Because I do” or “Because she is fun”.  Also look at if something goes down, how do you manage that with the school? For example, would it be possible that they could spend time with X and do coloring in when they are in a heightened state? For working parents, chat to the school and let them know that there may be situations, not every day, but you want to be able to let them know that something has happened and they are a bit more fragile? Is it email, text, a note in the bag? How do we open up communication?


Do you have any treasured memories where you have calmed a child down or used these strategies to achieve better outcomes?

Worked with one child who had Autism and there were inappropriate things going on. Firstly we discussed with the school. We worked out that telling the child to breathe and calm down didn’t work.  But we were also able to identify that this child was involved in cricket and we found information on a website about athletes breathing and how they manage their breathing. This resonated with the child and we were able to refer to athletes breath as a means of calming down. Another option is to look at and ask the child “What do you need right now?” rather than asking them to breathe or calm down. We do a little less on needs literacy and more on maths literacy, yet the needs literacy is so important.


What are the resources, whether books, websites or otherwise, that we can look at to understand more about this topic?

My go to website for trauma informed information is Beacon House, a UK website. If your child’s on the spectrum then Tony Attwood or Sue Larkey’s work is useful. There are lots of books for emotional regulation and story-telling. It takes them outside themselves, talking about a person with worries, discussing the issues without the intensity of the self-focus.   


Any last thoughts or comments?

It’s a huge role and letting your child know you don’t always get it right but that you are always there for them is critical.  Let them know you can have a go at working it out together and you still love them even when you don’t love the behaviour. Remind them you love them.

Thanks Vicki for your wonderful insights that I am sure will be of value to other families.

To anyone making the time to listen to this recording, thank you for giving up your valuable time for the benefit of the young people in your life. 

If you are a permanent care or parent needing help or support please contact PCA Families at or call us on 03 9020 1833. 

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