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I have been responsible for the oversight and management of large groups and small groups of employees over the span of my career. Many years ago I coined the term “quirk dynamics” to describe this experience. Diversity in the workplace brings many gifts but it also brings many misunderstandings and conflicts as a result of those misunderstandings. Some are so minor as to blow over without any attention but others require thoughtful intervention. Most people come to these moments with an agenda. They don’t really want to compromise or negotiate they just want things to go their way. I learned to assume an attitude of non-judgmental curiosity in these moments. I also learned to ask 5 Why questions.

Expectation A (a report) was not satisfied. Why?

  1. The data was not available. Why?
  2. The teachers did not submit the form we need. Why?
  3. They need more training, I guess. They are great a submitting a different form, though. Why?
  4. The other form contains directions about where to send it. We don’t have those directions on the form in question. Why?
  5. No reason, just an oversight, I guess. Let’s arrange to add that information to see if data collection improves. Great idea.

I like this strategy because it avoids blame and keeps the conversation going until a true solution is found. In C, we were close to blaming the teachers for the missing data but with one more question we were able to realize the true source of the problem: the missing set of directions on the form. It proved to be the solution we needed.

As a caregiver, I am constantly wondering when I should intervene and when I should just let the kids problem solve on their own. The 6-year-old is quick to shrug when she is cranky but thrilled to rise to the problem solving occasion when she is calm and cooperative. Until the source of her crankiness is addressed she really isn’t able to problem solve very effectively. This is often chalked up to hunger, needing some time in the bathroom, or hurt feelings over something that happened with a friend. I have to decide if I am patient enough to help her resolve the source of her stress and return to the problem at hand or just solve the problem for her. She will benefit when I can find the patience.

Many of the children in foster, kinship and adoptive homes who have experienced chronic trauma in their early years come to even mild conflict in a heightened state of arousal and negative expectation. In the past, conflict escalated quickly and often dangerously. You may be the first person to offer a different experience. Unfortunately, the brain that survived under the circumstances of constant threat is not able to adjust quickly to the person that you are and the home environment that you want to provide. Sometimes, the anticipation is so intolerable, the child will actually precipitate the conflict just to get it over with. Will you pass this test? Does your tool chest have what it takes to navigate a moment designed to get you to lose your temper? Have you learned where you are vulnerable to provocation? Intellectually, we know we want to be above such nonsense but, emotionally, most of us have buttons available for pushing. We have to keep track of our tender places as well as we keep track of those sensitive places in the children we hope to heal.

I love beautiful journals. I must have 6 of them. The other day I flipped through a few of them.  I found entries in one after I had a miscarriage and when I was navigating a cancer diagnosis. The time span between these two entries was 30 years.  No one would accuse me of being a compulsive journaler. I don’t recommend myself as a role model. I also know that these pricey journals aren’t reasonable for the amount of information you need to track about a child newly placed in your home.

I remember when the twins were born. I was out of my depth caring for two infants. Just the physical act of holding two bottles at once proved to be an unexpected challenge. Because their mom ultimately went back to work, it became important to both of us that I keep her up to date on their appetite and general well-being. New technology made this so easy. I could just text her with news and send photos of the sweet things they were doing. It still tickles me to see how these little beings have revealed themselves to be very unique in spite of a shared birthday and shared caregivers. Max loved the swing but Nora really hated it.  Nora had a good appetite but Max dragged lunch out longer than I thought was humanly possible.

How do you keep track of what you are learning about the children who have come to live with you? How do you keep track of what seems to work well and what just makes things worse when they need comforting/de-escalating? How do you keep track of the tiny changes? On tough days, how do you keep perspective on the progress you’ve seen? Have you noticed what they do that tends to get on your last nerve? What is the best strategy for calming yourself quickly? How do you keep track of Plan B when Plan A doesn’t work? Where do you celebrate your success?  Where do you express your frustration and sadness?

Keeping track is not a test. No one will check your spelling or grammar. Keeping Track is a tool for recognizing what does and does not work in the growing relationship between you and a child. Everything that follows depends on the quality of that relationship. Keeping Track focuses future efforts on strategies that have proven successful and documents where to be alert to everyone’s soft spots.

Thanks for listening. Take care of yourself.