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Flashbacks at 3 - could it be?

(14 Posts)
Hels20 Sat 29-Nov-14 01:46:44

Our DS has been with us over a year. DH's family lives abroad so we recently spent a week visiting them.

It went well - DS loved his cousins and loved being the centre of attention.

However, a couple of nights he got over tired and despite best efforts to get him into bed - he refused. He then got into a massive state - screaming, shouting he didn't want me anywhere near him (I have to learn to toughen up and have a thicker skin) and we couldn't comfort him. It was like he was having an out of body experience.

I would put it down to an over tired 3 year old - but he said a lot of worrying things like "don't take me!", "stop. Don't leave me." And such like. He was inconsolable, and it took about 90 mins to calm him down.

He was taken into care when he was around 9 months - in pretty scary circumstances. BF has never really been around.

Do you think it is possible he is having flash backs? I have just spent a couple of hours crying about this - didn't cry in front of him - DH and I just held him and tried to stroke him and reassure him.

We haven't had anything like this before and I wonder if the change of house (we were all sleeping in same room and frequently he was sleeping in same bed) could have triggered this.

Any suggestions/thoughts? Has this happened to anyone else? Could a 3 year old have this sort of flash back?

HerrenaHarridan Sat 29-Nov-14 02:25:26

Yes they absolutely can. sad all this bull about it bit hurting if their too young to remember it is ridiculous.

Sound like you dealt with it as well as you could. As an adult who has suffered with flashbacks all her life I would give you this advice
1) write down things he says to refer to later. At some point it may be relevant to discuss with social worker, child psychologist or even with your ds when he's older and trying to figure it out. It will help you build up a picture of what's going in in his head at these times that you can refer to when YOU are less distressed.

2) flashbacks are a full sensory experience. It is literally reliving an experience and can in extreme cases take weeks to recover from. It does get easier.
You cannot stop it once it is in progress so don't ever try and shock him out of it. Also do not force physical contact, change location unless unavoidable or introduce an unfamiliar person.

There is no magic fix but sine things you can do to help in the moment are open a window fresh air is calming and lowering the temp slightly when someone is working themselves up will help prevent them overheating.

Cuddle them if they will let you of not sit as close the them as they will let you and talk the the calmly. Not necessarily trying to engage but just keep up a gentle monologue. Try to talk about the present. Where and when you are. Good experiences and memories you share, plans for the future, the dog you saw in the street yesterday. The aim here is to give their brain something to cling to and head back towards.

3) once the initial incident is over the after effects can last for sometime. This lessens as time goes on.

4) although it can be tempting to avoid all potential triggers don't restricted your lives like that. As hard as it is to see it is actually a part of the healing process. Try not to be afraid of it happening rather see it as another step to clearing out the attic.

Flashbacks come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes I could still sense my present reality but printed on the top were the things I was trying to suppress, other times I was completely unaware of the present day and remained disorientated and emotionally regressed for sometime.

Don't be surprised if your ds is more weepy/ seems regressed behaviourally over the next few. Reinforce to him at every opportunity that you love him and will always be there for him.

Poor wee soul, I really feel for him and can only imagine how upsetting it must be for you especially considering how hard it can be to get any sense out of a 3 yo when you actually need it.

Sorry this post is so epic I was just hoping to give you a little insight

VenusRising Sat 29-Nov-14 02:36:23

Nice post herrena, and I agree.

Children do remember things from before they're verbal. My earliest memory is from 17 months.

Have you tried looking at EMDR?

Best of luck with it all and hugs.

Hels20 Sat 29-Nov-14 11:07:54

herrenaharridan thank you for taking the time to share your own experience. It really helped me. I was so frightened by what my little boy was saying and just found it hard to process - but your post has helped. I did write down what he said. Thank you.

HerrenaHarridan Sat 29-Nov-14 11:39:58

No problem. Good luck hels. Feel free to pm if there's anything you want to ask

Italiangreyhound Sat 29-Nov-14 11:49:54

Hels I am so sorry and it sounds like you handled it brilliantly.

HerrenaHarridan what a brilliant lot of advice.

I feel this advice should be more readily available to all adopters as we never know when this may happen. i am going to save this advice for later, hope I do not need it but will feel more prepared if I do.

All best wishes, Hels.

fasparent Sat 29-Nov-14 13:22:46

Trauma, Post traumatic stress, separation and loss, attachment disorders are unfortunately not fully understood in children/baby's aged 0 - 12 months. Can surface at any age and into adolescence. Not just exclusive too adoption. SID problems, and other Development/health issues may contribute

Kewcumber Sat 29-Nov-14 19:18:43

Kate Cairns covered this exact issue in her conference. Implicit memory.

Just because the brain has not developed the neural pathways to store and access memory before about 2yrs doesn't mean its not in there somewhere.

Professor Winston did an unscientific study I believe to illustrate the point by taking a group of 10 year old into a neonatal care unit. Half of them had been in NCU as babies but couldn't remember it and all recovered. The children who had been in NCU registered raise blood pressure and other indicators that their body could remember without being able to summon up the memory.

IMplicit memory (which I understand is that memory which allows you to remember how to do stuff without thinking about it) uses a different part of the brain to explicit memory and crucially it has been shown to use the amygdala which is full formed at birth rather than the pre-frontal cortex which takes much longer to develop.

IN children who are securely attached the presence of an attachment figure allows them to process the scary memory and decide it isn't a threat fairly painlessly. Not so easy for a child who might not be securely attached or who is regressing back to a feeling when he he didn't have a safe adult around. Continuing to build self esteem and attachment to you appears to be the key according to her including helping him co-regulate to you (ie you showing the way - calm, contact (not necessarily cuddle but maybe stroking an arm?) childrne find it hard to co-regulate their emotions to someone else from a distance (adults are generlaly much better at this).

She gives five to thrive: Parental activies to engage good brain development

respond (settle the nervous system and activate the brain)
engage (connnect)
relax (self regulate)
play (this is a bit misleading - from memory play was more about letting them see your facce and read your emotions and body language - non-verbal communication)
talk (creating a narrative), taking turns in talking

Some of these things are/can be done simultaneously.

Sorry thats a bit of a brain dump

Jamfilter Sat 29-Nov-14 20:04:23

Kew that's so interesting. My DD was recently in hospital for a few days as an emergency. Her level of distress was very extreme even allowing for her illness, and at the time I was fairly confident she was "remembering" early life experiences in the NICU. It doesn't surprise me to read the info in your post, but it's very reassuring that (in that way at least) I'm not bonkers.

Hels hugs to you and your DS. It sounds scary for both of you, but that you handled it sensitively and with huge support for him.

MerryInthechelseahotel Sat 29-Nov-14 21:06:27

Hels sounds like you handled it really well. Poor little one.

Some amazing advice. I will print off this page.

herrena thanks

Hels20 Sun 30-Nov-14 09:28:20

Thanks everyone and thanks Kew. I have thought a lot about what he said and the state he was in - and am sure it was a flashback - maybe brought on by being in unfamiliar surroundings.

The difficulty for me is that I have never had flashbacks so had no idea really what they were - so Harridan your post helped me a lot.

I need to start investigating some seminars - Kate Cairns sounds amazing.

Threesocksnohairbrush Sun 30-Nov-14 09:38:34

I don't doubt it. Poor little man.

One of my DC witnessed DV at an age way before the ability to process verbally. They are terrified by people shouting and have a visibly anxious and 'watchful' look if we happen to see anyone who looks like the perpetrator. I don't think they would even be able to identify the individual with their conscious mind, and they certainly don't consciously remember any of the Dv.

The phrase is 'the body remembers' and I think all you can do is be the aware and supportive parent you obviously were.

DwellsUndertheSink Sun 30-Nov-14 10:36:48

Im a Foster Carer and my last DFC was only 3 when he left, but remembered lots of awful stuff. he would wake in the night with flashbacks and shouting about stuff that happened when he was pre verbal. During the day, certain situations would trigger the fear responses in him, and he would come out fighting in fear.

He had 6 or 7 sessions of EMDR - Basically I would hold him at a calm time and pat his back rhythmically, while the therapist told him he was safe and all the lovely things that I did for him (cuddles, kisses, dinosaur blanket, favourite juice, fish fingers etc) - all trivial to an adult but all words that could later act as safe words and associated safe and comforted feelings.

I believe that the principle is that terrible memories are stores in the very primitive part of the brain, (the limbic system?.) When the child has a trigger moment, this part of the brain comes online, and the primitive memories and emotions are as fresh and as vivid as they were when they were stored there. But not necessarily as clear images. Because the human brain cannot keep this bit of the brain online for any length of time, those memories are never dealt with properly, so the fear response to a danger situation remains in all its terrifying vividness - even if a child cannot tell you why. EMDR has been found to activate the primitive part of the brain and allows you to deal with the underlying fear/anxiety, by replacing it with safe and comforting feelings and emotions, effectively letting your brain deal with underlying trauma.

I was very pleased with the result, which led to a big reduction in traumatic responses. WOrth considering for your child.

greengoose Mon 01-Dec-14 23:43:41

I used to work in a therapeutic community, and the kids there had all suffered trauma of some sort pre 1yr, that was the linking factor between them. Many were failed adoptions. Most had panics, or flashbacks, to pre verbal states. This absolutely does happen. 'Nameless dread' was an expression used to describe the feeling.

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