This sweet book tells the story of a Mummy Rabbit, who brings together a group of disparate, little ones to create a special family. They look very different and have their own ways of doing things, but they all have a special song that they sing together. It is a story that celebrates difference, as well as everything that binds us together.
Part of therapy can be exploring what it means for an adopted or fostered child to have another child living with them in their family. So often parents and carers tell me about the challenges posed by the sibling rivalry and conflict between their children. How their children always seem to be on the lookout for whether they are being treated equally and how huge the meltdowns can be if things don’t seem fair!
Early experiences of abuse, neglect, loss and rejection can lead children to feel terrified about whether they deserve to be loved and whether there is enough love to go round. They have become hypervigilant for any evidence that confirms that they are bad or worthless, and so they obsess over whether their slice of cake is as big as their sister’s, or whether they were allowed as much time on the computer as their brother. Any child can feel big emotions about their siblings, but when you have had a bad, sad or scary past, those emotions can get a whole lot bigger, very quickly.
I work with parents and carers to look behind the tantrums and the fighting to see the fear and the sadness that are there. To understand how old body memories, thoughts and feelings can be triggered for their child during ordinary, family activities. When parents become more open to doing this, it is easier to stay calm and to help their child regulate more quickly. Then we can help them make sense of why they might have felt so jealous or upset. When the child sees that we ‘get it’, not only can their understanding of themselves increase, but they can become more receptive to thinking about how to do things differently next time.
As well as exploring the impact of old hurts on the here and now, an important part of helping a child feel more confident about their place in the family and building sibling bonds, is taking opportunities to celebrate what family members have in common. A family developing ‘rituals’ – their own, unique take on events, such as adoption day, or birthdays – is one way to provide such opportunities.
In therapy, one of the rituals we often enjoy together is reading picture books. I love ‘All Together Now’, as not only does it communicate that all the children in the family are loved and valued, it provides a great excuse to sing & drum and stamp our feet! As an EMDR practitioner, I’m always on the lookout for fun ways to introduce bilateral stimulation to children – any visual, auditory or tactile experiences which occur in a rhythmic left-right pattern, to facilitate emotional processing and build positive memories. It’s interesting to think that people have naturally gravitated toward right-left movements in many healing rituals across the world, that have been passed down through generations. They often involve drums, movement or walking. So, after we have worked on ‘sorting out some muddles’, when a child is settled and snuggled with their parent; singing the special little Honeys’ song and playing the Thump-Your-Great-Big-Feet game from the story, can be a wonderful way to start tapping and enhancing good feelings.