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Foster Carers' TSD Standards covered:

Author Details


Name: Sally Donovan, Adoptive Parent and Author

The Small Stuff

They say that the weight of all the plankton in the world’s oceans is greater than the combined weight of all the whales, dolphins and fish put together.  If the ocean is life as a therapeutic parent (stick with me), fishy things are the Big Stuff that happens and plankton is the Small Stuff that happens, then I reckon that this is a close mathematical analogy. 

The Big Stuff (rages, stealing, lying, withdrawing) can be shocking, scary, unbalancing and need the right therapeutic interventions.  The Small Stuff comes at you the entire time and is almost unnoticeable on an individual level, but as a whole it can be just as heavy and wearing as the Big Stuff.

The Small Stuff is the hole in the cushion cover, the gauge in the doorframe, the nail varnish on the carpet, the bite out of the newly iced cake, the deletion of the television settings.  It is never being able to clean your teeth undisturbed or hold an uninterrupted conversation, it is the rumblings well past bed time, the cat not left alone, the raided box of Mother’s Day chocolates, the disappearing twelve pack of Quavers.

Now if you don’t parent traumatised children, or your’s are tiny babies, or you are a robotic parent with all channels set to ‘patient’ you may be tempted at this point to utter the words, ‘well all children do that don’t they?’ (in may I most humbly suggest a rather patronising tone ).  Don’t.  All children may or may not do one or several of these small things for a little while, on and off and then they will move on and find something else irritating to do.  No it is my experience that traumatised children do these things day in day out, for years on end.  And they don’t just do one or several of them at a time, they do all of them.  And it doesn’t matter how therapeutically or otherwise you may try and show them that a particular behaviour is undesirable, they will nod, look beyond you somewhere, change the subject and do it again.  And again.

They don’t mean to.  Of course they don’t mean to.  They don’t deliberately set out to load our brains up with super-irritating, nerve-jangling behaviours.  They have learnt that it is best not to get forgotten and I would guess have also missed out on some of the tactile, messy play stages of their development.

This series of articles written especially for PAFCA will take a look at The Small Stuff.  It will try and add some humour to what can feel relentless and soul-destroying and I’ll look at some of the strategies which have worked in our family.  I have tried lots of disastrous strategies too so I’ll share some of these with you (believe me there have been some shockers, I don’t know what I’ve been thinking some of the time).

Next month I am going to kick off with Exit Through the Gift Shop, a piece which has been inspired by the school holidays.


SD book cover

You can read more of Sally’s experiences and insights in her book No Matter What: An Adoptive Family’s Story of Hope, Love and Healing

  • Amber Elliott

    So pleased to have you here Sally and very much looking forward to your next blog post. Thanks, Amber

  • Claire

    Ain’t that the truth!

  • Threebecomefour

    Hi Sally! Love this post and the fishy analogy. Thank you for a time,y reminder that our children aren’t always doing things deliberately. Needed to remember that.

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