Dealing with Severe Behaviors

Beyond Fed Up – Dealing with Severe Behaviors

Does your child lie or steal? Is your child defiant and/or aggressive beyond age appropriateness?

I have the book for you: Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control by Heather T. Forbes and B. Bryan Post.  Check out the website:

Three years after we adopted our child from foster care, I was so fed up with the lying, stealing, and defiance. Beyond fed up. There were days when I could barely look at her, I was so fed up.

I am a reasonable person. I handle stress and frustration in decent, appropriate ways. And yet, three years of nearly daily misbehaving, I said out loud to my spouse: I wish a caseworker would pick her up.  

I reached my breaking point two weeks ago. She had been stealing items from lockers at her school, en route to and from the restrooms. Her teacher implemented the buddy system at my request, for my child’s “special needs.” Still she continued to find opportunities to steal from others. Her teacher would gently pull her aside and question her. She would flat out lie.

I asked her to think about the other child. “What do you think that other kid is feeling, huh? You took his or her ________?” (Fill in blank: snack, hair barrette, pencil, book, homework assignment, sandwich, bead.)

“I dunno.” She shrugs.

I turned in private to my spouse, “She doesn’t care. There’s nothing. What a disrespectful brat.”

The lying and stealing occurred at home too.  But the defiance; that was the behavior that broke me.  Over anything and everything five times per week, then pure joy over the same anything and everything once or twice weekly. What the hell? It was too much.

I pleaded with my therapist. “Are there any medications to help with this?” My therapist answered, “Have I recommended this book yet?” She held up a copy.

I skipped ahead and read the chapters on lying, stealing and defiance. Our triad. Chills went up and down my spine. Did they know my daughter? I wanted to ask the authors: Were you a magical fly on the wall, watching us the past few years?

I read the testimonials of parents who had (yes, past tense) children exhibiting these awful, maladaptive behaviors daily/weekly for years. The parents admitted to hating life and having homicidal impulses. I could relate.

I felt comforted reading. There was hope.

I felt guilty and defensive. I had been trying my best here, my intentions were always good.

The authors explained where these behaviors come from, there were detailed explanations. I went back to the beginning of the book and started with Chapter one. The explanation that most resonated with me was: these kids are poor self-regulators. No one did it properly that first year, or those first few years. And they use these extreme behaviors to survive.

My daughter was gypped her first year as a baby, she was neglected by her birth parents. She lived in the same foster home for a few years and did not have her emotional needs properly attended to, resulting in almost four years of being in survival mode.

Lying, stealing and being defiant are her ways to cope with life.

She holds onto her lie, like fingers gripping the edge.

“I saw you do it.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“I just saw you do it, right in front of me.”

“No, I didn’t.”

It was maddening to deal with this daily.

Her stealing behavior is likened to having a drug addiction the authors Forbes and Post reported in their book.  It’s a quick fix to feeling agitated and stressed. One time, two times, multiple times a day a child will steal to alleviate the discomfort. Problem is, it’s a quick fix and does not last.

The defiance– old school theorists wrote about the child wanting control. Forbes and Post write about their new view on this behavior. Again, discussing how the child is not able to properly regulate and living in a state of fear.

I am about a week in to trying to parent differently. I have noticed moments of a calmer state. For her and for me.

I am better about addressing the cause, and not getting all wrapped up discussing the situation.


“Yes, sorry you’re having such a hard time. Whenever you’re having a hard time, you steal stuff.”


“Can we go out for ice cream?”

“Nope, not today. When you make better choices we can. Didn’t your teacher tell you about  quiet area in the classroom, or how you can raise your hand for her help, or you can always go read a book on the rug?”


“Ok, so those are better choices. Stealing is not a good choice.”
It’s a relief to know that we are not raising a criminal. There’s hope. I don’t understand why after three years she is still in survival mode. But at least I have an explanation.  I feel I can move beyond our despair. 

Zumba – a Form of Mindfulness


I took a Zumba class. Yes, that’s right, Zumba. I had dismissed the notion of this class before, thinking only seniors took this class, or people who don’t take real aerobic classes, and even thinking this is for women who just want to do silly dance movements. I was in the group that took cycling classes, weight lifting classes, and yoga. We worked our muscle groups, we got breathless, we strengthened our pecs.  One day I went to get a drink from the fountain. The studio door was open and I heard fun, lively music. I looked inside. Hmmmpf, that could be interesting.

And there I was later that week in a sea of all ages of adults, both sexes, and a range of skill. I was at the low end. I could barely keep up with the Samba steps, the hip-hop pelvic thrusts, the Mambo movements and the pony. I love to dance! But this class put me in my place. That class is now on my desk calendar and entered in my phone as a weekly event, to avoid scheduling appointments that conflict with the class time. After each song, some people laughed or clapped or let out a whoo-hoo. There was so much positive energy. I love it, I need it.

There is so much talk and concern related to mindfulness. The roots lie in Buddhist meditation, and yet these days it’s a popular concept.  Just like acai berries and echinacea and vitamin C, these days the catch word and catch-all remedy is mindfulness.  The idea of being aware, of being focused on using active attention to the present moment. The mental energy open, the benefits endless.

In Zumba, the class time is exactly 55 minutes. There is no time to goof off. I cannot let my mind wander during class. I need to position myself right behind the instructor. As she gets the music going and adjusts her mic I apologize to my neighbors: sorry, I am such a spaz, just want you to know! They smile politely in return, their feet have started to tap, their hips already wiggling. I’m not skilled enough to look at the mirror’s reflection and translate for my left and right feet. I watch the instructor’s feet like they are highway signs announcing upcoming exits. I don’t want to miss it!  I think some people are naturally inclined to follow choreography, to turn off their thoughts, to take in visually the movements and replicate. I lack that gene. In Zumba, I am moving. I am operating my limbs. I am not actively attending, I am clumsily receiving.

We take two steps to the right, then one to the left, thrust out our chests and swivel our hips. Repeat! I quickly stole a peek at myself in the mirror.  I smiled back, yes I am having fun. I look around. The instructor has moved on.  The class is sashaying towards the front. Ooops! Sorry, I was just lost in a thought.


I Have Breast Cancer

I had it. You have it. Breast Cancer sucks.

I looked at my phone wondering why she is calling me. Our kids no longer attend the same school. We are at most casual acquaintances. I answer a little hesitantly. She identifies herself and pauses. Then she continued: I had a mammogram, and I, well I heard that you too, uh….um. I have what you had, I have DCIS in my breast. I have breast cancer.”  Her voice is trembling.  The former social worker in me surfaces. I ask direct questions so that she can regain composure:

When was your mammogram, where did you have it done? When is your next appointment? With whom? Have you met with a surgeon yet?

She answered each question. She took a deep breath.

I said, “I’m so sorry. I am sorry this is happening to you. You must be overwhelmed. It’s strange to hear the words breast cancer.”

She agreed and added, “Why is this happening to me?”

I wonder that too, every day. And yet it is happening. My friend summarized it as: we all got married, we all started having kids, our kids started school, then sports, and now we’re at the age where some of us are getting breast cancer diagnoses.

Can we chalk it up to a developmental milestone?

After my caller went through her series of appointments, I gave a brief version of my summer. My June of being diagnosed and agonizing over treatment options, my July of surgery and recovery, and then August finally ending my summer of 2016. The kids returned to school. Labor Day is here. I am ready for the summer to be over, for my recovery time to be completed, for this ordeal to be ending.

I hope I was supportive. I hope I was educational and helpful. I hope she felt heard.

It’s strange to hear the oncologist say to me: come back in three months for your follow-up. It’s strange to have conversations with people about having breast cancer. It’s strange to experience a thrill over being contacted, being someone who has gone through something and can offer guidance.

She agreed, “It is strange to now be seeing an oncologist.”

My follow up is at the end of October. A ways off. Strange how much can happen in a few months.


Sandplay Therapy

Sandplay Therapy

My daughter is doing sandplay therapy.  Our counselor discussed the concepts and I consented to this form of therapy.  The two of them are in a room with a sand box table. They sit opposite each other. Along a wall are a few long shelves crowded with figurines, dollhouse furniture, beads, stones, and animals — all sorts of props. The therapist gives a simple instruction– create something, or set up a situation, or go ahead. 

Near the end of the session time, I am invited in. My daughter points to what she has placed in the sand and tells me a comment or two about what is happening. “The lion is sitting near the tree, getting shade. This stone here is for the lizard to lounge on.” That sort of talk. After she leaves the room, our therapist offers a few interpretive statements. “It’s very early, it’s only our third session. But again today, there are mostly animals, only 1 or two people, well one is a fairy, and there are situations that involve safety.”

Am I up for this?

We have returned to therapy after two years. Last Spring, we started her on psychotropic medications prescribed by the clinic’s child psychiatrist. I’ve attempted to follow through on our therapist’s recommendations at home.  But she continues to stump us.  Even our therapist said to the psychiatrist during the last medication appointment: There is something unusual about her, I can’t pin point it.

So for various reasons, I agreed that using sand therapy to tap into her unconscious struggles would be of benefit. I am very curious about this process. I am mixed about receiving valuable information, and being confronted with my difficulties. I even entertain and prepare myself for possible themes:

Mean, restrictive mother

Appeasing, inconsistent father

Rejecting, older brothers

Harsh homelife with too many rules

I asked Beth, “So….I’m just wondering how this works. Do you plan for eight sessions, or do you go week to week and decide when you have themes?”

Beth explained she follows the child’s work and when there appear to be consistent themes, they’re done with the sand therapy.

Somewhere deep in my mind, I hope that we will get some answers. Some treasure that has been hiding, buried for years. Latent explanations for the lying, sneaking and stealing behaviors still plaguing our weekly lives. I understand she engages in these primitive antics when anxious. Yes, I understand. But what is driving the anxiety? What is it?

Raising Teens in 2016

Raising Teens

We had been hearing her name a lot over the course of a few weeks: Maria is traveling to Canada for Spring Break. Oh, Maria is so tired from the traveling. Maria loves pancakes. Yea, Maria really enjoyed that movie too.

That sort of talk from my fourteen year old. Every weekend he sleeps in each morning till we notice the late hour and call out. He eats breakfast at 11A and lunch at 3P. I guess it didn’t bother me so much. He was bringing home good grades from honors classes. He’s still going to two hour sports practices each week. I wished he would be more social with friends face to face. During this school year, we noticed a dramatic increase in gaming online with a group of people. They chit chat about their lives, tease each other, tell jokes. But we don’t know these kids, their families, the locations of their homes. This year, my son has spent less time inviting friends over.

One day, he took a shower, came running down the steps and announced he was meeting up with friends at the school. He hopped on his bike and said he’d be back in a few hours. This was before 10a on a Saturday. Who are these people? I later found out SHE had texted him with the invite.

In the weeks that followed, he seemed in a stable, content mood. He settled into a routine every afternoon after school of having a snack while texting on his phone. He reported a bunch of kids were eating their lunches in the science teacher’s room these days, “It’s fun, a nice change from the cafeteria.”  So I started.Raising teens

I guess I was curious and not satisfied with the limited information I was getting verbally from him. I guess I wanted to assess the language used in the texting. And I just wanted to make sure they were not getting carried away with exchanging photos of a certain nature. I read the news, too. I was aware of what was happening in the world of teens and various forms of social media.

Their conversations were sweet — asking about homework, commenting on something that had happened in a shared class, a question about the other’s home life. I peeked in on these exchanges every few days. I felt guilty but justified. My friend supported me, telling me that she too had read her daughter’s phone messages. “So it’s not like the tv movie mom finding the diary under the mattress and then ruining their trust?”  Not in this day and age! Was her response. We need to know what our kids are doing, saying and sending each other.

The end of the year there was a field trip and a dance. There appeared to have been some events that occurred on the bus ride back to the school as well as the dance the following day. She inquired about his reaction on the bus. He explained in detail. Seemed to make sense to me that he didn’t feel like answering a truth or dare question from her friend.

“But why?” she persisted in her questioning. But why, what? I wondered. He didn’t feel like answering.

And later, my son wrote that he was upset, “Could you please let me know things are ok, I need to hear from you this weekend.” I ached inside for him. What happened? Could she write back soon to relieve the suspense?!

That week, he seemed more sullen.  I tried to be the cool, available mom. I waited patiently a few days, then asked, “Hey, I haven’t heard (her) name is a while, anything happening?”

My son replied, “Oh, not anymore. There were some things that happened at the dance. I thought she wanted to dance, then I couldn’t find her. Then I heard she was looking for me. It was messed up. I can’t really deal. I don’t know what she wants. It’s no biggie. We’re still friends.”

I was privately sad and proud of him. He seemed to really enjoy the flirting and the fun. But I respect that he didn’t have the interest for ambivalence.

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Parenting and Sports

Parenting and Sports

Reflection – Sunday

I’m sitting here with a chilled Warsteiner, drinking straight from the bottle thinking about this past week. I’m listening to Mumford & Sons’ Babel.

My eldest went to sleep away ultimate (frisbee) camp this past week. Yup, it was expensive. It was also the only away from home experience for him this summer. Plus, I want to encourage him to remain in sports.parenting and sports

We got a few text messages the first two nights– complaints of how it was not fun, the opposite of what Mom had said it would be, and that it was demoralizing. He wrote he was hating it. My son admitted to feeling troubled over being at the bottom of the heap in terms of skill. I cringe and laugh every time I get blamed for something. How would I possibly know what sleep away ultimate camp is like?  From my years of running track and playing on the tennis team at my small town public high school?!

Where I grew up and when I was growing up, most of us played at the rec level. We did not have tryouts. We did not have club. There were a handful of kids whose parents invested in private lessons. There was a country club in our town and a tennis club in the next one over. But a week long camp at a college where he slept in a dorm room? I felt thrilled that we could give him this opportunity.

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Recovery from Mastectomy and Reconstruction

Recovery from Mastectomy and Reconstruction

Part III

DCIS diagnosis. Mastectomy and Reconstruction.  To tell or not to tell.  When do we share important information. And how do we know with whom to share? I know of someone in my social circle who openly revealed on Facebook her week by week experiences of chemotherapy. BTW, she is doing great. I asked my hubby, “Why would you do that?” A perfectly natural question coming from someone who does not readily solicit support from others. He answered, “To get support!”recovery from mastectomy and reconstruction

I’m thinking of my uncle, childhood piano teacher, high school classmates, and acquaintances from our kids sports teams as my people on FB. Would I want them all to know of my diagnosis? I’m not that type, I decided. My diagnosis of DCIS is to me like having a concerning mole on your upper arm. The dermatologist says, “I don’t like the look of that. I’m going to recommend removing it and sending the tissue to the lab for analysis. Let’s get you in sooner rather than later.”

My oncology surgeon said to me, “Let’s take care of this over the summer.” Shortly after the biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of DCIS in early June, I explored treatment options. I decided on a single mastectomy. My surgeon said, “Just a bump in the road this summer.” The surgeon’s assistant coordinated with the plastic surgeon for immediate reconstruction. She handed me a card: July 1st.

Now to the root of the issue. It’s interesting how little information is easily accessible on the web regarding post-mastectomy recovery. I wanted answers to my questions; I surfed the web, searching. Weeks later I came across this amazing personal story/website: 


As part of my recovery, I feel the need to share my experience:

I checked into the hospital at 8:30A for an 11:30 scheduled surgery time. I went through a few procedures before surgery. I woke up in the afternoon in the recovery area. I was transferred to a private room by late afternoon. I had a soda, then juice, then soup and crackers over the course of 10 hours. I was starving the next morning, I could not wait to order a full blown breakfast meal.

In the hospital the RN staff took my vitals and assisted me in using the bathroom. In the hospital I phoned in my meal orders. In the hospital I pushed buttons to move my bed and to change the channels of the tv. The nurse discussed the drains and caring for them. A physical therapist showed me arm exercises to do ASAP to condition and encourage range of movement. My surgeon visited me and prescribed medications. The plastic surgeon warned me to avoid the raised arms touchdown motion. Yea, no problem the Steelers are not on tv at this time. I felt comfortable having everything and everyone within reach.  I asked if I could stay for lunch. Yes, you can order the hospital lunch and then it’s time to leave. I was a little nervous about returning home. The medical staff was so helpful with assisting, demonstrating, and then asking: Is that clear? The recovery process I was about to experience in my home stretched out ahead – a murky fog.

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What is the Right Dosage of Ritalin

June 20, 2016

We are in the process of determining the right dosage of Ritalin for my kid. We went in for another medication review appointment with a child psychiatrist.  I noted the improvements — there are two. She has been better about taking re-direction and there has been a noticeable decrease in emotional meltdowns at home. However, the non stop chattering, interrupting, and pestering remains the same. Likewise, her teacher noted she still has strong reactions to little things in the classroom to the extent of requiring a school staff person to be called in to help calm her down.  In her defense, the end of the school year can be difficult for a lot of children. It’s emotional.  The psychiatrist discussed things further with me — asking questions, asking for descriptive situations. The doctor recommended a slight increase in the dosage, a slight titration. We would meet for another medication review in a month.Right dosage of Ritalin

The bio-chemistry relationship involved with psychotropic drugs continues to fascinate me.  Could we have a little more of this so that we get a little less of that? A little more chemical input to decrease the behavioral output. I was hoping that once my daughter could pull in the reins on her running thoughts, I would be able to do therapeutic exercises to help her stop, pause, and make a good choice.  Maybe medication is similar to finding a fertilizer that works best on the yard — bringing out the desirable green grass, encouraging new growth, and suppressing the unsightly weeds.

I tried not to examine each blade of her existence. Yet, I wanted to carefully keep note of behaviors improving, antics remaining the same, or difficult ones increasing in frequency. We had a little of each. What a relief to have fewer emotional meltdowns over for example, “Please go play outside, it’s nice and sunny and your brother wants to practice his drums in the playroom.” Still the same ones of non-stop chattering and nonsensical arguing. And then the last one. More stealing and sneaking behaviors– taking notecards from my desk, emptying out brother’s emergency inhaler (placed on his bedside table), and climbing onto the counters to reach an item on a high shelf. I even tried out this one because I doubted her abilities. I climbed up on the countertop. I remained on my knees to account for her 42 inch height and reached my arm up high. Yup, it was doable. It was totally possible to reach the now consumed 8 pack hamburger bun package. Silly me for placing it there, for thinking that our family of five could have Sloppy Joes later this week. Instead we had pasta with meat sauce, a tangy BBQ flavored meat sauce.

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DCIS Treatment Options

DCIS Treatment Options 

Part II

Ever since I got the voicemail. I feel different — my outlook is different, I breathe differently.  My doctor’s nurse left a message informing me to come in the following morning with my spouse to discuss the findings of the biopsy. We knew this meant the cells are not benign.

Everything was different now. I had been struggling with identity issues related to being a stay at home parent and unemployed. I had been feeling depressed. I had been feeling concerned about my life goals. Now, I’m not yearning for anything. I’ve moved away from a feeling of wanting to take inventory, wanting to move forward, wanting to accomplish.  I don’t feel that way anymore. I feel that would be indulgent– to want. I feel a strange calmness.

After I heard the message, I went through something. Nothing amazing or poetic, I didn’t see a different spectrum of lights or an amazing palette of colors or hear angels trumpeting. I just went through some typical Kuebler-Ross stages on and off, quickly, and out of order. I blamed myself for increasing my alcohol intake to a daily drink in the past year. I blamed myself for not running weekly and feeling lazy about working out. I felt anger about worrying so much over family members, so much that I had developed cancerous cells. I hoped and prayed that if my prognosis is good I would make significant changes to my diet and lifestyle. I got weepy looking around the schoolyard at dismissal time. I hoped to have many years of waiting for my 6 year old to be released by her teacher, to watch her classmates disperse to the field, parents, and play structure. I didn’t care about finding employment or my identity again. I knew what I wanted: to live and to be with my kids. It was a long night.

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Mammogram Results

I had my annual mammogram done mid-May. I started going in for yearly ones in my late 30s; I’ve done the routine many times now. Yes, I know you will call me if there are concerns.

I got the call two days later. The radiologist saw something that was apparently not visible in the  year before– she had compared the films. I was instructed to come in for a more detailed mammogram. I returned later that week. This time the focus was on my right breast – a few specialized images were taken. The technician waved me over to look. In the magnified film of my breast are 5 white dots. Teeny tiny round dots, likes ones a finely sharpened white pencil would make.  A few together and two scattered. My initial reaction was: how did they see those in the one taken during my first appointment?  The radiologist came in and explained the dots are circular in shape, there are only a few, they were not noticed last year and appear to be new, and many women in their aging develop breast calcifications. All of these factors are not red flags. However, she continued, one time she let it go and her patient developed cancerous cells a year later.  Again, I was urged to continue with another more detailed procedure. I agreed to a biopsy for the following Monday.

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