This story is written especially for those adopted children, who worry dreadfully that even though they have a forever family, they might lose them. Freddie Fretter loves his new home, but he starts having nightmares that he is going to be sent away again. Every night Freddie is visited in strange dreams by a big and very smelly Dread Monster, that bars his way into the forever family room, like a nasty nightclub bouncer. At first, Fred tries desperately to cope with this all by himself but over time he learns that his parents really can help him and together they can beat the monster.
So many adopted and fostered children that I have worked with in therapy have terrible worries that good things won’t last. Their experiences of loss, abandonment or multiple moves and changes of carers in the past, have taught them not to trust the adults that say it is going to be different this time. So very sadly, they often have internalised the belief that they are to blame for the bad things that have happened to them and that they don’t deserve to be happy. The more they begin to invest emotionally in the parents that are showing them love and nurture, the more terrifying the thought of losing them again becomes. The foul Dread Monster blocking Fred’s way to connecting with his family is a powerful, visual representation of this fear.
I often hear adopters and foster carers express their confusion that even when they have had a nice day with their child and done lots of lovely things together, it is as though their child quickly forgets about it. Or only remembers the one small part of the day where something went wrong. Another all-too-common experience is when a family activity is going well until the child, seemingly inexplicably, decides to ruin it – tearing up the artwork or throwing the ice cream on the floor. Children with unresolved trauma find it harder to hold onto good memories than bad ones. Their brains are hypervigilant for danger and they look out for any evidence to confirm their view that the world is a scary and unpredictable place. This is also why they can be prone to self-sabotage. Far better in their minds that they decide when something good is going to end, rather than wait for someone else to end it for them.
When parents understand this fear of loss that their child carries and the way that it impacts on their behaviour, it helps to increase their empathy. Then parents can reframe the meaning of the tantrum in the middle of the family outing; or how hard their child finds it to notice all the affection they try to give them but worries endlessly about the times they have been cross with them. Or how, like Fred, they feel they have to try and fix everything for themselves because soon they might be alone again. We work together to create stories for their child – empathic narratives as therapists like to call them – that will help them to make sense of why they behave in these ways, and how their experiences have influenced this. It is so important to help them learn that they are not a bad child, they are a hurt child.
Fred and the Dread Monster is a great resource for parents to help explore their child’s sense of not deserving their place in the family. It also offers a host of ideas for dealing with ‘dread’. There are some creative connections made between emotions and how they might feel in the body – such as dread feeling like a bag of cement in the tummy – and Kev Outbridge’s colourful illustrations really bring the story to life. Fred’s parents play a key role in supporting him, which nicely reinforces for the child that it is ok to ask when you need help. Bryony Irving is both an experienced therapist and a wonderful weaver of healing stories and this book is empowering for parents and children alike.